Handling misbehavior carefully
Many parents have asked me the question: “How did you discipline your children? How do you motivate them to learn?”
Love was Srila Prabhupada’s formula for discipline. He said that if we can get the children to obey through love then that is better than force or punishment. If there is love and trust between the parents and the children, then automatically the children will obey because they want to please their parents. Of course the center of that love is Krishna and when we serve Krishna together, a spiritual bond is established in the family which is much more powerful than the material bonds we already possess. Srila Prabhupada said in a letter, “…if we train children by developing and encouraging their propensity to love Krishna, then we shall be successful in educating them to the topmost standard. Then they shall always very happily agree to do whatever you ask them.” (Letter, 1972)
When we raise our children with Krishna in the center, they become saintly in character. The transcendental heroes of the Bhagavatam become their role models. The children emulate these heroes in their play and begin to reflect their character. For example, if one associates with thieves he will become a thief, or if one associates with a businessman, he will become a businessman. Similarly, one can become saintly in the association of saintly devotees.
Children take seriously whatever they see their parents do and if we are self-disciplined the children will also be the same. We should teach not just by precept but by example and see our children as servants of Krishna. This kind of understanding encourages a relationship of love and trust between us and the children. When there is love and trust, there is obedience. Then a child wants to please his parents, and discipline becomes very easy.
The desire to please the parents is natural for children if they are loved. Pleasing their parents becomes their reward for things done well. The parents shower the children with constant encouragement and applause. They show their love by feeding them nice prasada and working with them on all kinds of Krishna conscious activities. They chant and serve the Deities together. In this kind of relationship there is no pressure on the parents to give monetary or any kind of material rewards to the children and in turn the children feel happy and proud to be their students. Material rewards are not good because by that the children learn that the mark of success is material profit.
Give God Not Goods
Nowadays we see that parents give all material facilities to their children but will not allow them to read Bhagavad-gita, go to the temple, or join a spiritual organization. When the children are trained only for sense gratification, we should not be surprised if they become disobedient and disrespectful to elders.
Real love means to give our children spiritual training so that they become Krishna conscious. Parents who want to flood their children with material things and allow them to do anything they want without setting limits will not get good behavior from them. Rather, the children will develop low self-esteem. On the other hand, when parents force their children to obey out of fear of punishment, they may become rebellious later in life. But when parents give both love and good training, accompanied by their own example, the children will be disciplined, motivated to learn, and happy. Prabhupada said that children should both love and fear their teachers.
Prabhupada did not want teachers to use force or severe punishment to get children to do what is expected of them. Rather, obedience can be generated through proper training. Srila Prabhupada said, “Simply they should be engaged in such a way that they are somehow or other remembering Krishna at every moment, that’s all. It is not a mechanical process, that if we force in such a way they will come out like this, no. We are persons, and Krishna is a Person, and our relationship with Krishna He leaves open as a voluntary agreement always, and that voluntary attitude Yes, Krishna, I shall gladly co-operate whatever you say that ready willingness to obey is only possible if there is love.
(Letter, 18 Nov, 1972)
In a conversation, Srila Prabhupada also says, “Superficially, strictness may be necessary some material laws or basic principles and if they don’t follow, they’ll be reprimanded. But they should develop the idea of love.”
Dealing with Misbehavior
One thing that worked well for us in dealing with our children’s naughtiness and misbehavior was to keep them always engaged in some Krishna conscious activity. If the children are not sufficiently engaged it is natural that they will create problems and demand attention. We should channel their naughtiness into productive behavior, so that they can spend their energy and be happy and active. Children are playful by nature; we should not try to curb their playfulness but rather dovetail their energy to Krishna conscious activities.
The whole purpose of punishment is to change the heart, not just to instill fear. Prabhupada often gave the example of the thief who commits theft despite knowing that he will be punished, because his heart has not been purified. So the solution is to help the children control their senses through Krishna consciousness. The Bhagavad-gita says that by getting a higher taste one can give up lower tendencies. The same principle applies to children. If we engage them properly in Krishna conscious activities, they will give up their desires to misbehave, and even if they accidentally misbehave they will understand and reform quickly. If they still don’t reform some light punishment may be necessary.
Personally I did not punish my children but only verbally corrected them and scolded them when they were naughty or did not do what they were supposed to. A firm voice and stern look was usually enough. I tried to use the positive method as far as possible. They understood that Krishna would not be pleased with them if they misbehaved and in the process, we too would not be happy with them. I did not use the “grounding” or “time out” method. I felt that denying them some Krishna conscious time, food or association is unnecessary and goes against the principle of making them Krishna conscious. Children become irritable and resentful by frequent grounding, and ultimately begin to take it lightly.
Srila Prabhupada was against punishing children by not giving them prasada. It is very important for children to eat to their full satisfaction. He was also against any kind of forced discipline involving physical punishment or beating. Using force is not only against Vedic principles but can also drive away children from Krishna consciousness by giving them a bad taste.
“If there is need you may shake your finger at them but never physical punishment is allowed. Try as far as possible to discipline them with love and affection, so that they develop a taste for austerity of life and think it great fun to serve Krishna in many ways. Rising early and mangala-arati, this is enough austerity. Besides that, let them learn something, chant, dance, eat as much prasada as they like, and do not mind if they have playful nature let them also play and run, that is natural. It is nice if they eat often if children overeat it doesn’t matter, that is no mistake.” (Letter to Aniruddha, 1972).
Srila Prabhupada said that the children should be so trained that they enjoy performing austerities for Krishna. Good training can only be done if there is obedience, and obedience will naturally lead to discipline. Children obey because of affection and respect for their teachers and parents. This kind of environment motivates the children to learn and they become just like sponges for knowledge.
Aruddha Devi Dasi is a disciple of His Holiness Gopala Krishna Goswami Maharaja. She home-schooled her two children in USA, where she resides with her family. Her older son, Radhika Ramana Dasa (Dr. Ravi Gupta), holds a Ph.D in Hinduism from Oxford. He entered Boise State University at the age of 13, where he completed dual B.A. degrees in Philosophy and Mathematics with highest honors. Her second son Gopala Hari Dasa (Gopal Gupta) is currently working towards his Ph.D in Science and Religion at Oxford University. He entered Boise State University at the age of 12 where he completed a bachelor’s degree and M.Tech. in Electrical Engineering with highest honors.
Readers interested in learning more can join her internet group www.krishnahomeschool.com