The Gradual Development of True Values

By Phyllis Wallbank

William Blake:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

Up to the age of six, the young child is absorbing his whole environment and in a good environment he gets to know love. We can help him to learn the love of God through the sacraments and through helping him to know the life and parables of Our Lord. Everyone has to feel loved to be able to give love and so this is a very important stage for the understanding of love and the love of God.

The child blossoms as he gets recognition for kindness and truth, and when he is introduced to beauty within nature and in man's achievements, so he experiences goodness.

As he approaches the age of reason and sees the actions of friends and grownups in the wider world, he begins to wonder and question his own and other people's actions. This is the stage where we can help by discussion about true values, by giving the stories of lives of heroism, lives of the saints, and above all by getting to know Jesus as a friend as a result of talking to him through prayer.

This is a natural development following the experience and greater understanding of the Mass. When the child is six years old he is sensitive to morality. He often comes and tells you when he sees something done by another child that he now thinks is wrong. He comes and tells you to see your reaction. When he tells of someone's wrong-doing, it is really a question, "This is wrong. I think it's wrong, but I shall have to ask you to see if you are angry and horrified." We should therefore always say if the action is wrong. But now is the time to do three things:
  1. Show what you think and affirm him.
  2. Where possible get him to go to see if he can put matters right. (Do not run off to punish as a result of his telling!)
  3. Do show the difference between hating the sin and loving the sinner.

Now that he has grown to know and love Our Lord and has a personal relationship with him, he needs instruction in the Commandments of Our Lord: To love God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength; to love his neighbour as himself. We should not leave out that last part. We should always be careful to help him to hold his own uniqueness with real self-esteem as he is a unique person who is loved and wanted by God.

It is salutary if we examine our own conscience on each item and then help the child to examine his. This is best done by positive rather than by negative examination: At night, or whenever seems appropriate, look together at occasions when he showed love in each of its different forms and rejoice together each time. Everyone has a continual stream of reflective thought and this blossoms at this age at about six. This means that he uses an inner judgment to bring out the times when he achieved an action that exemplified Our Lord's Commandments.

When his own reflective judgment brings out the fact of a negation of love, then is the time to teach him to ask forgiveness. He must of course know what forgiveness really means and that the greatest love and forgiveness is as Christ showed us in the parable of the Prodigal Son. It is this inner reflectiveness that we should seek to develop by accentuating the good. In this way the person is affirmed and will be able to see the basis for his actions by his own reflection and not by external pressure. When he expresses consciously a weakness, then is the time for the help of Confession.

The First Communion may well have come before this or it may come together with Confession. The important thing is now to let a natural examination come from the spotlighting of the good. The inborn questioning and inborn reflectiveness will result in awareness of occasions that cannot be rejoiced about, because the good cannot be found without inward rejection of the negative. When the child is ready for confession, the priest will help the development of a new attitude to help him avoid the continuance of habitual sin. He will know that he can start again with a clean sheet and the penance, usually a short prayer, will fill the child with relief and love knowing that he can now begin again with added help as he will have the willingness to act with true values from a base of love.