Good Kids Are Happy Kids



by Mary Ann Budnik

R.B. Media, 2003

384 pages, $16.95

To order: (217) 546-0558

www. rbmediainc. com

It's a sign of the times that the very concept of setting out to “raise happy children” strikes many as oversimplified. Old-fashioned, even. After all, we live in a complicated age.

Yet such is the straightforward and urgent message of Mary Ann Budnik's latest book, which has been sparking interest wherever the gist of its content has been presented.

In an age of divorce, blended families, same-sex unions, latchkey kids and absent dads — not to mention a growing list of pediatric mental-illness diagnoses — it is a welcome study. Budnik, herself a mother and a prize-winning journalist, gets down to business in the very first chapter. Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, she explains why virtue is a good habit that perfects the human person: a firm disposition to do good. Successful parenting consists offorming children in virtues, which will be the intellectual and moralpillars they will need for the rest of their lives.

Before that can happen, she explains, parents need to know their children. Outlining the traits of the four classical temperaments sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholy — she analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of each. She also mentions the different virtues that will help each child with his or her temperament, reproducing apagefromBenjamin Franklin's famousnotebookof virtues as a good way to assess progress.

The next chapter deals with the basic dispositions parents can try to foster while their children are between the ages of 2 and 7. Discussing ways to encourage obedience, sincerity and order, Budnik offers lots of practical tips and cites examples from the lives of the saints. The key cardinal virtue to work on during these years, she maintains, is justice. She also has a section on the theological virtues — faith, hope and charity — and shows how these manifest themselves, along with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even in very young children.

For children between 8 and 12, Budnik emphasizes the cardinal virtue of fortitude, which produces beneficial traits such as patience, perseverance and generosity. Turning her attention to youngsters between 13 and 18, she speaks of how the cardinal virtues of temperance and prudence should develop in an integral and natural way. Well aware of the fears and frustrations teens can go through, she has much practical advice for helping them to grow in self-confidence and make good use of their increasing freedom.

Throughout the book, Budnik tries to correlate the basic qualities that all happy children seem to evidence. She shows that no virtue is ever isolated; each one helps the other — and ultimately produces a much more stable and contented person.

“What is interesting about virtues is that they are all attached, like fingers to a hand,” she writes. “As a child develops one, others are also being developed. As your children develop virtues, they root out their vices, which cause unhappiness. The more virtues they develop, the happier your children become. The happier each family member is, the happier family life becomes. What makes children sad and family life difficult is the lack of virtue on someone's part.”

Budnik's new book is the third in a series. It follows her previous works, Raise Happy Children Through a Happier Marriage! and Raise Happy Children … Raise Them Saints!. A fourth is on the way: Raise Happy Children … Teach Them Joy! is due out next spring. At that time a growing group of appreciative Catholic parents will say: Bring it on. Which is exactly what many are saying right now about Virtues.

Opus Dei Father Michael Giesler writes from St. Louis.