Disciplining Children, the Little House Way

No matter how much times change, human nature remains the same. Thus the lessons of child rearing we see in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, as explicated in this Crisis article, remain applicable today:

  1. Children need clear boundaries.
  2. They need consequences for transgressing those boundaries.
  3. They need to know trust is earned and can be lost and must be earned back.
  4. They need to be able to trust their parents not to be cruel or capricious, to love and respect them, not to ridicule them or hold them up for public mockery.
  5. They need to know that discipline is not just an anger response, but can be accompanied by love, caring, comforting, and even shared laughter. But it still must be discipline.

Although the Ingalls family lived in the nineteenth century, they still set an example for the twenty-first-century families who are faced with the knowledge of one thing that does not change: Children make mistakes. Knowing this, adults in positions of authority who want to discipline children with dignity can do what Pa and Ma did.

We can set clear boundaries. We can listen. We can talk privately and confidentially with the child. We can ask questions to help us better understand what happened. We can calmly determine sensible and just consequences—without forgetting to smile. We can believe the child can and will do better.

I don’t always live up to these ideals.

As I’ve heard snippets of the Little House books in recent years–in audiobooks during car rides, as Melanie reads aloud to the kids, and as Isabella has read them aloud to me–I’ve been impressed by the life lessons found there, whether about the dangers of the world, the way to be a family, or fair dealings in a market-based society.

Domenico Bettinelli, Jr., is a father of five and husband, a Roman Catholic, born in Boston, educated at Franciscan University of Steubenville, who has worked in Catholic media--print, broadcast, and online--since the mid-90s. Find out all about Dom on his About Me page. He is also the CEO of the StarQuest Production Network at sqpn.com. All opinions on this site are solely those of Domenico Bettinelli and do not reflect the opinions of anyone else. See the disclaimer for further details.