On Educating Children
(Clearwisdom.net) "Yan's Family Rules" addressed how parents should correctly educate their children to be good and moral people, instead of spoiling them. A translation of the Rules follows.
Children from the imperial family would become good and successful even without any further education, while ordinary people would not be the same as the imperial family despite education. Without education, however, most ordinary people will not know how to behave. Emperors and saints in ancient times already knew the "womb education" approach. When an imperial woman was pregnant for three months, she would go to another palace where she followed the rules of looking straight ahead without any bad thoughts and not listening to any bad things. When listening to music or eating foods, she would have to have the habit of kindness and etiquette. When the child was born and very little, teachers who were specialized in teaching imperial children would be hired to teach her piety, kindness, etiquette, and righteousness. Although children in ordinary families could not be the same as those in the imperial family, they had to be educated to know whether or not to do something as soon as they were old enough to know how to read other people's facial expressions and detect their happiness and anger. This way, after a few years, parents did not need to use punishment. When the parents have both dignity and love, the children have filial piety because of respect and fear.
But many parents in the world only know how to love their children but not how to educate them. And people do not take the issue seriously. The children behave according to their own wills. When the children do wrong, parents should warn and scold them. Instead, they praise them and smile at them. When these children grow up, they will think this is the way it should be. Their arrogant behavior is established. At that time, even if the parents want to educate their children, they cannot establish filial respect even if they beat the children. The children's anger will gradually grow until they hate their parents. These children grow into immoral adults. Confucius always said, "Habits formed in childhood are like instincts. Habits will become a person's nature." He expresses the same truth. As the proverb says, "A child's learning should start in his early childhood." It is truly important.
The reason that parents cannot educate their children well is not because they want them to step onto an evil path, but because they are not willing to hurt their children, mentally or physically. In analogy, when a person is ill, wouldn't we treat him with hot medicine or acupuncture needles even though they would hurt him? Think about those parents who do diligently educate their children. Are they really willing to punish or hurt their own children? No. They do it only because that is the right way.
The father and the son should be serious with each other, not frivolous or disrespectful to each other; the parents and children should love one another, but not be neglectful or lazy. Neglect and indolence will cause lack of love and piety, while frivolity and disrespect will result in laziness.
When parents love children, rarely can they do it equally. Since ancient times, inequality has been too common to be good. While bright and pretty children are certainly more lovely, naughty and slow children are worthy of more love. Despite their good intentions, some parents bring their child disaster by excessively favoring one child over the rest of their children.
There was once a scholar-official in the Qi Dynasty who told me, "My son is seventeen-years old. He is good at writing. After we taught him the Xianbei language and how to play the pipa (a musical instrument), he quickly mastered both. If he serves government officials, everybody will love him. I'm serious about it." I did not reply. How weird it is! Was that how he educated his son? If people were educated this way, I would rather not let them become the premier or ministers.