Part 2 out of 5
Egbert's mother said she was a little afraid about the one lump of sugar
that was left to him when he failed.
"The plan _may_ succeed," she said; "I am very willing that you should try
it; but I am afraid that when you are tempted to stop and play in the midst
of your dressing, you will say, I shall have _one_ lump of sugar, at any
rate, and so will yield to the temptation. So perhaps it would be safer for
you to make the rule that you are not to have any sugar at all when you
fail. Still, _perhaps_ your plan will succeed. You can try it and see. I
should wish myself to have the punishment as slight as possible to produce
By such management as this, it is plain that Egbert is brought into actual
co-operation with his mother in the infliction of a punishment to cure him
of a fault. It is true, that making such an arrangement as this, and then
leaving it to its own working, would lead to no result. As in the case of
all other plans and methods, it must be strictly, firmly, and perseveringly
followed up by the watchful efficiency of the mother. We can not
_substitute_ the action of the child for that of the parent in the work of
early training, but we can often derive very great advantage by securing
So true is it that the efficacy of any mode of punishment consists in the
_certainty of its infliction_, that even playful punishments are in many
cases sufficient to accomplish the cure of a fault. George, for example,
was in the habit of continually getting into disputes and mild quarrels
with his sister Amelia, a year or two younger than himself. "I know it is
very foolish," he said to his mother, when she was talking with him on the
subject one evening after he had gone to bed, and she had been telling
him a story, and his mind was in a calm and tranquil state. "It is very
foolish, but somehow I can't help it. I forget."
"Then you must have some punishment to make you remember," said his mother.
"But sometimes _she_ is the one to blame," said George, "and then she must
have the punishment."
"No," replied his mother. "When a lady and a gentleman become involved in
a dispute in polite society, it is always the gentleman that must be
considered to be to blame."
"But Amelia and I are not polite society," said George.
"You ought to be," said his mother. "At any rate, when you, an older
brother, get into disputes with your sister, it is because you have not
sense enough to manage so as to avoid them. If you were a little older and
wiser you would have sense enough."
"Well, mother, what shall the punishment be?" said George.
"Would you really like to have a punishment, so as to cure yourself of the
fault?" asked his mother.
George said that he _would_ like one.
"Then," said his mother, "I propose that every time you get into a dispute
with Amelia, you turn your jacket wrong side out, and wear it so a little
while as a symbol of folly."
George laughed heartily at this idea, and said he should like such a
punishment as that very much. It would only be fun, he said. His mother
explained to him that it would be fun, perhaps, two or three times, but
after that it would only be a trouble; but still, if they decided upon that
as a punishment, he must submit to it in every case. Every time he found
himself getting into any dispute or difficulty with his sister, he must
stop at once and turn his jacket inside out; and if he did not himself
think to do this, she herself, if she was within hearing, would simply say,
"Jacket!" and then he must do it.
"No matter which of us is most to blame?" asked George.
"You will always be the one that is most to blame," replied his mother,
"or, at least, almost always. When a boy is playing with a sister younger
than himself, _he_ is the one that is most to blame for the quarrelling.
His sister may be to blame by doing something wrong in the first instance;
but he is the one to blame for allowing it to lead to a quarrel. If it is a
little thing, he ought to yield to her, and not to mind it; and if it is
a great thing, he ought to go away and leave her, rather than to stop and
quarrel about it. So you see you will be the one to blame for the quarrel
in almost all cases. There may possibly be some cases where you will not
be to blame at all, and then you will have to be punished when you don't
deserve it, and you must bear it like a man. This is a liability that
happens under all systems."
"We will try the plan for one fortnight," she continued. "So now remember,
every single time that I hear you disputing or quarrelling with Amelia, you
must take off your jacket and put it on again wrong side out--no matter
whether you think you were to blame or not--and wear it so a few minutes.
You can wear it so for a longer or shorter time, just as you think is best
to make the punishment effectual in curing you of the fault. By the end of
the fortnight we shall be able to see whether the plan is working well and
doing any good."
"So now," continued his mother, "shut up your eyes and go to sleep. You are
a good boy to wish to cure yourself of such faults, and to be willing to
help me in contriving ways to do it. And I have no doubt that you will
submit to this punishment good-naturedly every time, and not make me any
trouble about it."
Let it be remembered, now, that the efficacy of such management as this
consists not in the devising of it, nor in holding such a conversation as
the above with the boy--salutary as this might be--but in the _faithfulness
and strictness with which it is followed up_ during the fortnight of trial.
In the case in question, the progress which George made in diminishing his
tendency to get into disputes with his sister was so great that his mother
told him, at the end of the first fortnight, that their plan had succeeded
"admirably"--so much so, she said, that she thought the punishment of
taking off his jacket and turning it inside out would be for the future
unnecessarily severe, and she proposed to substitute for it taking off his
cap, and putting it on wrong side before.
The reader will, of course, understand that the object of such an
illustration as this is not to recommend the particular measure here
described for adoption in other cases, but to illustrate the spirit and
temper of mind in which all measures adopted by the mother in the training
of her children should be carried into effect. Measures that involve no
threats, no scolding, no angry manifestations of displeasure, but are even
playful in their character, may be very efficient in action if they are
firmly and perseveringly maintained.
_Punishments that are the Natural Consequence of the Offense_.
There is great advantage in adapting the character of the punishment to
that of the fault--making it, as far as possible, the natural and proper
consequence of it. For instance, if the boys of a school do not come in
promptly at the close of the twenty minutes' recess, but waste five minutes
by their dilatoriness in obeying the summons of the bell, and the teacher
keeps them for _five minutes beyond the usual hour of dismissal_, to make
up for the lost time, the punishment may be felt by them to be deserved,
and it may have a good effect in diminishing the evil it is intended
to remedy; but it will probably excite a considerable degree of mental
irritation, if not of resentment, on the part of the children, which will
diminish the good effect, or is, at any rate, an evil which is to be
avoided if possible.
If now, on the other hand, he assigns precisely the same penalty in another
form, the whole of the good effect may be secured without the evil. Suppose
he addresses the boys just before they are to go out at the next recess, as
"I think, boys, that twenty minutes is about the right length of time for
the recess, all told--that is, from the time you go out to the time when
you are _all_ back in your seats again, quiet and ready to resume your
studies. I found yesterday that it took five minutes for you all to come
in--that is, that it was five minutes from the time the bell was rung
before all were in their seats; and to-day I shall ring the bell after
_fifteen_ minutes, so as to give you time to come in. If I find to-day that
it takes ten minutes, then I will give you more time to come in to-morrow,
by ringing the bell after you have been out _ten_ minutes."
"I am sorry to have you lose so much of your recess, and if you can make
the time for coming in shorter, then, of course, your recess can be longer.
I should not wonder if, after a few trials, you should find that you could
all come in and get into your places in _one_ minute; and if so, I shall
be very glad, for then you can have an uninterrupted recess of _nineteen_
minutes, which will be a great gain."
Every one who has had any considerable experience in the management of boys
will readily understand how different the effect of this measure will be
from that of the other, while yet the penalty is in both cases precisely
the same--namely, the loss, for the boys, of five minutes of their play.
_The Little Runaway_.
In the same manner, where a child three or four years old was in the habit,
when allowed to go out by himself in the yard to play, of running off into
the street, a very appropriate punishment would be to require him, for the
remainder of the day, to stay in the house and keep in sight of his mother,
on the ground that it was not safe to trust him by himself in the yard.
This would be much better than sending him to bed an hour earlier, or
subjecting him to any other inconvenience or privation having no obvious
connection with the fault. For it is of the greatest importance to avoid,
by every means, the exciting of feelings of irritation and resentment
in the mind of the child, so far as it is possible to do this without
impairing the efficiency of the punishment. It is not always possible to do
this. The efficiency of the punishment is, of course, the essential thing;
but parents and teachers who turn their attention to the point will find
that it is much less difficult than one would suppose to secure this
end completely without producing the too frequent accompaniments of
punishment--anger, ill-temper, and ill-will.
[Illustration: "IT IS NOT SAFE"]
In the case, for example, of the child not allowed to go out into the yard,
but required to remain in the house in sight of his mother, the mother
should not try to make the punishment _more heavy_ by speaking again and
again of his fault, and evincing her displeasure by trying to make the
confinement as irksome to the child as possible; but, on the other hand,
should do all in her power to alleviate it. "I am very sorry," she might
say, "to have to keep you in the house. It would be much pleasanter for you
to go out and play in the yard, if it was only safe. I don't blame you very
much for running away. It is what foolish little children, as little as
you, very often do. I suppose you thought it would be good fun to run out
a little way in the street. And it is good fun; but it is not safe.
By-and-by, when you grow a little larger, you won't be so foolish, and then
I can trust you in the yard at any time without having to watch you at all.
And now what can I get for you to amuse you while you stay in the house
Punishment coming in this way, and administered in this spirit, will
irritate the mind and injure the temper comparatively little; and, instead
of being less; will be much more effective in accomplishing the _right
kind_ of cure for the fault, than any stern, severe, and vindictive
retribution can possibly be.
_The Question of Corporal Punishment_.
The question of resorting to corporal punishment in the training of the
young has been much, very much, argued and discussed on both sides by
writers on education; but it seems to me to be mainly a question of
competency and skill. If the parent or teacher has tact or skill enough,
and practical knowledge enough of the workings of the youthful mind, he can
gain all the necessary ascendency over it without resort to the violent
infliction of bodily pain in any form. If he has not these qualities, then
he must turn to the next best means at his disposal; for it is better that
a child should be trained and governed by the rod than not trained and
governed at all. I do not suppose that savages could possibly control their
children without blows; while, on the other hand, Maria Edgeworth would
have brought under complete submission to her will a family of the most
ardent and impulsive juveniles, perhaps without even a harsh word or a
frown. If a mother begins with children at the beginning, is just and true
in all her dealings with them, gentle in manner, but inflexibly firm in
act, and looks constantly for Divine guidance and aid in her conscientious
efforts to do her duty, I feel quite confident that it will never be
necessary for her to strike them. The necessity may, however, sooner or
later come, for aught I know, in the case of those who act on the contrary
principle. Under such management, the rod may come to be the only
alternative to absolute unmanageableness and anarchy.
There will be occasion, however, to refer to this subject more fully in a
The mode of action described in the last two chapters for training children
to habits of obedience consisted in discouraging disobedience by connecting
some certain, though mild and gentle disadvantage, inconvenience, or
penalty, with every transgression. In this chapter is to be considered
another mode, which is in some respects the converse of the first, inasmuch
as it consists in the encouragement of obedience, by often--not necessarily
always--connecting with it some advantage, or gain, or pleasure; or, as
it may be stated summarily, the cautious encouragement of obedience by
This method of action is more difficult than the other in the sense that it
requires more skill, tact, and delicacy of perception and discrimination to
carry it successfully into effect. The other demands only firm, but gentle
and steady persistence. If the penalty, however slight it may be, _always
comes,_ the effect will take care of itself. But judiciously to
administer a system of rewards, or even of commendations, requires tact,
discrimination, and skill. It requires some observation of the peculiar
characteristics of the different minds acted upon, and of the effects
produced, and often some intelligent modification of the measures is
required, to fit them to varying circumstances and times.
_Obedience must not be Bought_.
If the bestowing of commendation and rewards is made a matter of mere blind
routine, as the assigning of gentle penalties may be, the result will
become a mere system of _bribing_, or rather paying children to be good;
and goodness that is bought, if it deserves the name of virtue at all, is
certainly virtue of a very inferior quality.
Whether a reward conferred for obedience shall operate as a bribe, or
rather as a price paid--for a _bribe_, strictly speaking, is a price paid,
not for doing right, but for doing wrong--depends sometimes on very slight
differences in the management of the particular case--differences which an
undiscriminating mother will not be very ready to appreciate.
A mother, for example, going into the village on a summer afternoon, leaves
her children playing in the yard, under the general charge of Susan, who
is at work in the kitchen, whence she can observe them from time to time
through the open window. She thinks the children will be safe, provided
they remain in the yard. The only thing to be guarded against is the danger
that they may go out through the gate into the road.
_Two Different Modes of Management_.
Under some circumstances, as, for example, where the danger to which they
would be exposed in going into the road was very great, or where the mother
can not rely upon her power to control her children's conduct by moral
means in any way, the only safe method would be to fasten the gate. But if
she prefers to depend for their safety on their voluntary obedience to
her commands, and wishes, moreover, to promote the spirit of obedience by
rewarding rather than punishing, she can make her rewards of the nature of
hire or not, according to her mode of management.
If she wishes to _hire_ obedience, she has only to say to the children that
she is going into the village for a little time, and that they may play in
the yard while she is gone, but must not go out of the gate; adding, that
she is going to bring home some oranges or candies, which she will give
them if she finds that they have obeyed her, but which she will not give
them if they have disobeyed.
Such a promise, provided the children have the double confidence in their
mother which such a method requires--namely, first, a full belief that
she will really bring home the promised rewards, if they obey her; and
secondly--and this is a confidence much less frequently felt by children,
and much less frequently deserved by their mothers--a conviction that, in
case they disobey, no importunities on their part or promises for the next
time will induce their mother to give them the good things, but that the
rewards will certainly be lost to them unless they are deserved, according
to the conditions of the promise--in such a case--that is, when this double
confidence exists, the promise will have great influence upon the children.
Still, it is, in its nature, _hiring_ them to obey. I do not say that this
is necessarily a bad plan, though I think there is a better. Children may,
perhaps, be trained gradually to habits of obedience by a system of direct
rewards, and in a manner, too, far more agreeable to the parent and
better for the child than by a system of compulsion through threats and
_The Method of Indirect Rewarding_.
But there is another way of connecting pleasurable ideas and associations
with submission to parental authority in the minds of children, as a means
of alluring them to the habit of obedience--one that is both more efficient
in its results and more healthful and salutary in its action than the
practice of bestowing direct recompenses and rewards.
Suppose, for example, in the case above described, the mother, on leaving
the children, simply gives them the command that they are not to leave the
yard, but makes no promises, and then, on returning from the village with
the bonbons in her bag, simply asks Susan, when she comes in, whether the
children have obeyed her injunction not to leave the yard. If Susan says
yes, she nods to them, with a look of satisfaction and pleasure, and adds:
"I thought they would obey me. I am very glad. Now I can trust them again."
Then, by-and-by, towards the close of the day, perhaps, and when the
children suppose that the affair is forgotten, she takes an opportunity to
call them to her, saying that she has something to tell them.
"You remember when I went to the village to-day, I left you in the yard
and said that you must not go out of the gate, and you obeyed. Perhaps you
would have liked to go out into the road and play there, but you would not
go because I had forbidden it. I am very glad that you obeyed. I thought
of you when I was in the village, and I thought you would obey me. I felt
quite safe about you. If you had been disobedient children, I should have
felt uneasy and anxious. But I felt safe. When I had finished my shopping,
I thought I would buy you some bonbons, and here they are. You can go and
sit down together on the carpet and divide them. Mary can choose one, and
then Jane; then Mary, and then Jane again; and so on until they are all
_Difference in the Character of the Effects_.
It may, perhaps, be said by the reader that this is substantially the same
as giving a direct reward for the obedience. I admit that it is in some
sense _substantially_ the same thing, but it is not the same in form. And
this is one of those cases where the effect is modified very greatly by the
form. Where children are directly promised a reward if they do so and so,
they naturally regard the transaction as of the nature of a contract or a
bargain, such that when they have fulfilled the conditions on their part
the reward is their due, as, indeed, it really is; and they come and demand
it as such. The tendency, then, is, to divest their minds of all sense of
obligation in respect to doing right, and to make them feel that it is in
some sense optional with them whether to do right and earn the reward, or
not to do right and lose it.
In the case, however, last described, which seems at first view to differ
only in form from the preceding one, the commendation and the bonbons would
be so connected with the act of obedience as to associate very agreeable
ideas with it in the children's minds, and thus to make doing right appear
attractive to them on future occasions, while, at the same time, they would
not in any degree deprive the act itself of its spontaneous character, as
resulting from a sense of duty on their part, or produce the impression on
their minds that their remaining within the gate was of the nature of a
service rendered to their mother for hire, and afterwards duly paid for.
The lesson which we deduce from this illustration and the considerations
connected with it may be stated as follows:
_The General Principle_.
That the rewards conferred upon children with a view of connecting
pleasurable ideas and associations with good conduct should not take
the form of compensations stipulated for beforehand, and then conferred
according to agreement, as if they were of the nature of payment for
a service rendered, but should come as the natural expression of the
satisfaction and happiness felt by the mother in the good conduct of her
child--expressions as free and spontaneous on her part as the good conduct
was on the part of the child.
The mother who understands the full import of this principle, and whose
mind becomes fully possessed of it, will find it constantly coming into
practical use in a thousand ways. She has undertaken, for example, to teach
her little son to read. Of course learning to read is irksome to him. He
dislikes extremely to leave his play and come to take his lesson. Sometimes
a mother is inconsiderate enough to be pained at this. She is troubled to
find that her boy takes so little interest in so useful a work, and even,
perhaps, scolds him, and threatens him for not loving study. "If you don't
learn to read," she says to him, in a tone of irritation and displeasure,
"you will grow up a dunce, and every body will laugh at you, and you will
be ashamed to be seen."
But let her imagine that she herself was to be called away two or three
times a day, for half an hour, to study Chinese, with a very exacting
teacher, always more or less impatient and dissatisfied with her progress;
and yet the irksomeness and difficulty for the mother, in learning to
decipher Chinese, would be as nothing compared with that of the child in
learning to read. The only thing that could make the work even tolerable to
the mother would be a pretty near, distinct, and certain prospect of
going to China under circumstances that would make the knowledge of great
advantage to her. But the child has no such near, distinct, and certain
prospect of the advantages of knowing how to read. He has scarcely any
idea of these advantages at all. You can describe them to him, but the
description will have no perceptible effect upon his mind. Those faculties
by which we bring the future vividly before us so as to influence our
present action, are not yet developed. His cerebral organization has not
yet advanced to that condition, any more than his bones have advanced to
the hardness, rigidness, and strength of manhood. His mind is only capable
of being influenced strongly by what is present, or, at least, very near.
It is the design of Divine Providence that this should be so. The child
is not made to look forward much yet, and the mother who is pained and
distressed because he will not look forward, shows a great ignorance of the
nature of the infantile mind, and of the manner of its development. If
she finds fault with her boy for not feeling distinctly enough the future
advantages of learning to lead him to love study now, she is simply finding
fault with a boy for not being possessed of the most slowly developed
faculties of a man.
The way, then, to induce children to attend to such duties as learning to
read, is not to reason with them on the advantages of it, but to put it
simply on the ground of authority. "It is very irksome, I know, but you
must do it. When you are at play, and having a very pleasant time, I know
very well that it is hard for you to be called away to puzzle over your
letters and your reading. It was very hard for me when I was a child. It is
very hard for all children; but then it must be done."
The way in this, as in all other similar cases, to reduce the irksomeness
of disagreeable duties to a minimum is not to attempt to convince or
persuade the child, but to put the performance of them simply on the ground
of submission to authority. The child must leave his play and come to take
his lesson, not because he sees that it is better for him to learn to read
than to play all the time, nor because he is to receive a reward in the
form of compensation, but because his mother requires him to do it.
If, therefore, she concludes, in order to connect agreeable ideas with the
hard work of learning to read, that she will often, at the close of the
lessons, tell him a little story, or show him a picture, or have a frolic
with him, or give him a piece of candy or a lump of sugar, or bestow upon
him any other little gratification, it is better not to promise these
things beforehand, so as to give to the coming of the child, when called,
the character of a service rendered for hire. Let him come simply
because he is called; and then let the gratifications be bestowed as the
expressions of his mother's satisfaction and happiness, in view of her
boy's ready obedience to her commands and faithful performance of his duty.
_Obedience, though Implicit, need not be Blind_.
It must not be supposed from what has been said that because a mother is
not to _rely upon_ the reason and forecast of the child in respect to
future advantages to accrue from efforts or sacrifices as motives of
present action, that she is not to employ the influence of these motives
at all. It is true that those faculties of the mind by which we apprehend
distant things and govern our conduct by them are not yet developed in the
child; but they are _to be_ developed, and the aid of the parent will be of
the greatest service in promoting the development of them. At proper
times, then, the pleasures and advantages of knowing how to read should be
described to the child, and presented moreover in the most attractive form.
The proper time for doing this would be when no lesson is in question--
during a ride or a walk, or in the midst of a story, or while looking at
a book of pictures. A most improper time would be when a command had
been given and was disregarded, or was reluctantly obeyed; for then such
representations would only tend to enfeeble the principle of authority by
bringing in the influence of reasonings and persuasions to make up for
its acknowledged inefficiency. It is one of those cases where a force is
weakened by reinforcement--as a plant, by being long held up by a stake,
comes in the end not to be able to stand alone.
So a mother can not in any way more effectually undermine her authority,
as _authority_, than by attempting to eke out its force by arguments and
_Authority not to be made Oppressive_.
While the parent must thus take care to establish the _principle of
authority_ as the ground of obedience on the part of his children, and must
not make their doing what he requires any the less acts of _obedience_,
through vainly attempting to diminish the hardship of obeying a command by
mingling the influence of reasonings and persuasions with it, he may in
other ways do all in his power--and that will be a great deal--to make the
acts of obedience easy, or, at least, to diminish the difficulty of them
and the severity of the trial which they often bring to the child.
One mode by which this may be done is by not springing disagreeable
obligations upon a child suddenly, but by giving his mind a little time
to form itself to the idea of what is to come. When Johnny and Mary are
playing together happily with their blocks upon the floor, and are,
perhaps, just completing a tower which they have been building, if their
mother comes suddenly into the room, announces to them abruptly that it is
time for them to go to bed, throws down the tower and brushes the blocks
into the basket, and then hurries the children away to the undressing, she
gives a sudden and painful shock to their whole nervous system, and greatly
increases the disappointment and pain which they experience in being
obliged to give up their play. The delay of a single minute would be
sufficient to bring their minds round easily and gently into submission to
the necessity of the case. If she comes to them with a smile, looks upon
their work a moment with an expression of interest and pleasure upon her
countenance, and then says,
"It is bed-time, children, but I would like to see you finish your tower."
One minute of delay like this, to soften the suddenness of the transition,
will make the act of submission to the necessity of giving up play and
going to bed, in obedience to the mother's command, comparatively easy,
instead of being, as it very likely would otherwise have been, extremely
vexatious and painful.
_Give a Little Time_.
In the same way, in bringing to a close an evening party of children at
play, if the lady of the house comes a little before the time and says to
them that after "one more play," or "two more plays," as the case may be,"
the party must come to an end," the closing of it would be made easy; while
by waiting till the hour had come, and then suddenly interrupting the
gayety, perhaps in the middle of a game, by the abrupt announcement to the
children that the clock has struck, and they must stop their plays and
begin to get ready to go home, she brings upon them a sudden shock of
painful surprise, disappointment, and, perhaps, irritation.
So, if children are to be called away from their play for any purpose
whatever, it is always best to give them a little notice, if it be only a
moment's notice, beforehand. "John, in a minute or two I shall wish you to
go and get some wood. You can be getting your things ready to be left."
"Mary, it is almost time for your lesson. You had better put Dolly to sleep
and lay her in the cradle." "Boys, in ten minutes it will be time for you
to go to school. So do not begin any new whistles, but only finish what you
On the same principle, if boys are at play in the open air--at ball, or
skating, or flying kites--and are to be recalled by a bell, obedience to
the call will be made much more easy to them by a preliminary signal, as a
warning, given five minutes before the time.
Of course, it will not always be convenient to give these signals and these
times of preparation. Nor will it be always necessary to give them. To
determine how and in what cases it is best to apply the principle here
explained will require some tact and good judgment on the part of the
parent. It would be folly to lay down a rigid rule of this kind to be
considered as always obligatory. All that is desirable is that the mother
should understand the principle, and that she should apply it as far as she
conveniently and easily can do so. She will find in practice that when she
once appreciates the value of it, and observes its kind and beneficent
working, she will find it convenient and easy to apply it far more
generally than she would suppose.
_No weakening of Authority in this_.
It is very plain that softening thus the hardship for the child of any
act of obedience required of him by giving him a little time implies no
abatement of the authority of the parent, nor does it detract at all from
the implicitness of the obedience on the part of the child. The submission
to authority is as complete in doing a thing in five minutes if the order
was to do it in five minutes, as in doing it at once if the order was to do
it at once. And the mother must take great care, when thus trying to make
obedience more easy by allowing time, that it should be prompt and absolute
when the time has expired.
The idea is, that though the parent is bound fully to maintain his
authority over his children, in all its force, he is also bound to make the
exercise of it as little irksome and painful to them as possible, and to
prevent as much as possible the pressure of it from encroaching upon their
juvenile joys. He must insist inexorably on being obeyed; but he is bound
to do all in his power to make the yoke of obedience light and easily to be
_Influence on the healthful Development of the Brain_.
Indeed, besides the bearing of these views on the happiness of the
children, it is not at all improbable that the question of health may
be seriously involved in them. For, however certain we may be of the
immateriality of the soul in its essence, it is a perfectly well
established fact that all its operations and functions, as an animating
spirit in the human body, are fulfilled through the workings of material
organs in the brain; that these organs are in childhood in an exceedingly
immature, tender, and delicate condition; and that all sudden, sharp,
and, especially, painful emotions, greatly excite, and sometimes cruelly
When we consider how seriously the action of the digestive organs, in
persons in an ordinary state of health, is often interfered with by mental
anxiety or distress; how frequently, in persons subject to headaches, the
paroxysm is brought on by worryings or perplexities endured incidentally on
the preceding day; and especially how often violent and painful emotions,
when they are extreme, result in decided and sometimes in permanent and
hopeless insanity--that is, in an irreparable damage to some delicate
mechanism in the brain--we shall see that there is every reason for
supposing that all sudden shocks to the nervous system of children, all
violent and painful excitements, all vexations and irritations, and
ebullitions of ill-temper and anger, have a tendency to disturb the healthy
development of the cerebral organs, and may, in many cases, seriously
affect the future health and welfare, as well as the present happiness, of
It is true that mental disturbances and agitations of this kind can not be
wholly avoided. But they should be avoided as far as possible; and the
most efficient means for avoiding them is a firm, though calm and gentle,
establishment and maintenance of parental authority, and not, as many
mothers very mistakingly imagine, by unreasonable indulgences, and
by endeavors to manage their children by persuasions, bribings, and
manoeuvrings, instead of by commands. The most indulged children, and the
least governed, are always the most petulant and irritable; while a strong
government, if regular, uniform, and just, and if administered by gentle
measures, is the most effectual of all possible instrumentalities for
surrounding childhood with an atmosphere of calmness and peace.
In a word, while the mother is bound to do all in her power to render
submission to her authority easy and agreeable to her children, by
softening as much as possible the disappointment and hardship which her
commands sometimes occasion, and by connecting pleasurable ideas and
sensations with acts of obedience on the part of the child, she must not
at all relax the authority itself, but must maintain it under all
circumstances in its full force, with a very firm and decided, though still
THE ART OF TRAINING.
It is very clear that the most simple and the most obvious of the modes by
which a parent may establish among his children the habit of submission
to his authority, are those which have been already described, namely,
punishments and rewards--punishments, gentle in their character, but
invariably enforced, as the sure results of acts of insubordination; and
rewards for obedience, occasionally and cautiously bestowed, in such a
manner that they may be regarded as recognitions simply, on the part of
the parent, of the good conduct of his children, and expressions of his
gratification, and not in the light of payment or hire. These are obviously
the most simple modes, and the ones most ready at hand. They require no
exalted or unusual qualities on the part of father or mother, unless,
indeed, we consider gentleness, combined with firmness and good sense, as
an assemblage of rare and exalted qualities. To assign, and firmly and
uniformly to enforce, just but gentle penalties for disobedience, and to
recognize, and sometimes reward, special acts of obedience and submission,
are measures fully within the reach of every parent, however humble may be
the condition of his intelligence or his attainments of knowledge.
_Another Class of Influences_.
There is, however, another class of influences to be adopted, not as a
substitute for these simple measures, but in connection and co-operation
with them, which will be far more deep, powerful, and permanent in their
results, though they require much higher qualities in the parent for
carrying them successfully into effect. This higher method consists in
a _systematic effort to develop in the mind of the child a love of the
principle of obedience_, by express and appropriate training.
_Parents not aware of the Extent of their Responsibility_.
Many parents, perhaps indeed nearly all, seem, as we have already shown,
to act as if they considered the duty of obedience on the part of their
children as a matter of course. They do not expect their children to read
or to write without being taught; they do not expect a dog to fetch and
carry, or a horse to draw and to understand commands and signals, without
being _trained_. In all these cases they perceive the necessity of training
and instruction, and understand that the initiative is with _them_. If a
horse, endowed by nature with average good qualities, does not work well,
the fault is attributed at once to the man who undertook to train him. But
what mother, when her child, grown large and strong, becomes the trial and
sorrow of her life by his ungovernable disobedience and insubordination,
takes the blame to herself in reflecting that he was placed in her hands
when all the powers and faculties of his soul were in embryo, tender,
pliant, and unresisting, to be formed and fashioned at her will?
_The Spirit of filial Obedience not Instinctive_.
Children, as has already been remarked, do not require to be taught
and trained to eat and drink, to resent injuries, to cling to their
possessions, or to run to their mother in danger or pain. They have natural
instincts which provide for all these things. But to speak, to read, to
write, and to calculate; to tell the truth, and to obey their parents;
to forgive injuries, to face bravely fancied dangers and bear patiently
unavoidable pain, are attainments for which no natural instincts can
adequately provide. There are instincts that will aid in the work, but none
that can of themselves be relied upon without instruction and training. In
actual fact, children usually receive their instruction and training in
respect to some of these things incidentally--as it happens--by the rough
knocks and frictions, and various painful experiences which they encounter
in the early years of life. In respect to others, the guidance and
aid afforded them is more direct and systematic. Unfortunately the
establishment in their minds of the principle of obedience comes ordinarily
under the former category. No systematic and appropriate efforts are
made by the parent to implant it. It is left to the uncertain and fitful
influences of accident--to remonstrances, reproaches, and injunctions
called forth under sudden excitement in the various emergencies of domestic
discipline, and to other means, vague, capricious, and uncertain, and
having no wise adaptedness to the attainment of the end in view.
_Requires appropriate Training_.
How much better and more successfully the object would be accomplished if
the mother were to understand distinctly at the outset that the work of
training her children to the habit of submission to her authority is a
duty, the responsibility of which devolves not upon her children, but upon
her; that it is a duty, moreover, of the highest importance, and one that
demands careful consideration, much forethought, and the wise adaptation of
means to the end.
The first thought of some parents may possibly be, that they do not know of
any other measures to take in order to teach their children submission to
their authority, than to reward them when they obey and punish them when
they disobey. To show that there are other methods, we will consider a
Mary, a young lady of seventeen, came to make a visit to her sister.
She soon perceived that her sister's children, Adolphus and Lucia, were
entirely ungoverned. Their mother coaxed, remonstrated, advised, gave
reasons, said "I wouldn't do this," or "I wouldn't do that,"--did every
thing, in fact, except simply to command; and the children, consequently,
did pretty much what they pleased. Their mother wondered at their
disobedience and insubordination, and in cases where these faults resulted
in special inconvenience for herself she bitterly reproached the children
for their undutiful behavior. But the reproaches produced no effect.
"The first thing that I have to do," said Mary to herself, in observing
this state of things, "is to teach the children to obey--at least to obey
_me_. I will give them their first lesson at once."
_Mary makes a Beginning_.
So she proposed to them to go out with her into the garden and show her
the flowers, adding that if they would do so she would make each of them a
bouquet. She could make them some very pretty bouquets, she said, provided
they would help her, and would follow her directions and obey her
implicitly while gathering and arranging the flowers.
This the children promised to do, and Mary went with them into the garden.
There, as she passed about from border to border, she gave them a great
many different directions in respect to things which they were to do, or
which they were not to do. She gathered flowers, and gave some to one
child, and some to the other, to be held and carried--with special
instructions in respect to many details, such as directing some flowers to
be put together, and others to be kept separate, and specifying in what
manner they were to be held or carried. Then she led them to a bower where
there was a long seat, and explained to them how they were to lay the
flowers in order upon the seat, and directed them to be very careful not to
touch them after they were once laid down. They were, moreover, to leave a
place in the middle of the seat entirely clear. They asked what that was
for. Mary said that they would see by-and-by. "You must always do just as
I say," she added, "and perhaps I shall explain the reason afterwards, or
perhaps you will see what the reason is yourselves."
After going on in this way until a sufficient number and variety of flowers
were collected, Mary took her seat in the vacant place which had been left,
and assigned the two portions of the seat upon which the flowers had been
placed to the children, giving each the charge of the flowers upon one
portion, with instructions to select and give to her such as she should
call for. From the flowers thus brought she formed two bouquets, one for
each of the children. Then she set them both at work to make bouquets for
themselves, giving them minute and special directions in regard to every
step. If her object had been to cultivate their taste and judgment, then it
would have been better to allow them to choose the flowers and determine
the arrangement for themselves; but she was teaching them _obedience_, or,
rather, beginning to form in them the _habit_ of obedience; and so, the
more numerous and minute the commands the better, provided that they were
not in them selves unreasonable, nor so numerous and minute as to be
vexatious, so as to incur any serious danger of their not being readily and
[Illustration: THE LESSON IN OBEDIENCE.]
_THE ART OF TRAINING_. 101
When the bouquets were finished Mary gave the children, severally, the
two which had been made for them; and the two which they had made for
themselves she took into the house and placed them in glasses upon the
parlor mantel-piece, and then stood back with the children in the middle of
the room to admire them.
"See how pretty they look! And how nicely the work went on while we were
making them! That was because you obeyed me so well while we were doing it.
You did exactly as I said in every thing."
_A Beginning only_.
Now this was an excellent _first lesson_ in training the children to the
habit of obedience. It is true that it was _only_ a first lesson. It was a
beginning, but it was a very good beginning. If, on the following day, Mary
had given the children a command which it would be irksome to them to obey,
or one which would have called for any special sacrifice or self-denial on
their part, they would have disregarded it. Still they would have been a
little less inclined to disregard it than if they had not received their
first lesson; and there can be no doubt that if Mary were to continue her
training in the same spirit in which she commenced it she would, before
many weeks, acquire a complete ascendency over them, and make them entirely
submissive to her will.
And yet this is a species of training the efficacy of which depends on
influences in which the hope of reward or the fear of punishment does not
enter. The bouquets were not promised to the children at the outset, nor
were they given to them at last as rewards. It is true that they saw
the advantages resulting from due subordination of the inferiors to the
superior in concerted action, and at the end they felt a satisfaction
in having acted right; but these advantages did not come in the form of
rewards. The efficacy of the lesson depended on a different principle
_The Philosophy of it_.
The philosophy of it was this: Mary, knowing that the principle of
obedience in the children was extremely weak, and that it could not stand
any serious test, contrived to bring it into exercise a great many times
under the lightest possible pressure. She called upon them to do a great
many different things, each of which was very easy to do, and gave them
many little prohibitions which it required a very slight effort of
self-denial on their part to regard; and she connected agreeable
associations in their minds with the idea of submission to authority,
through the interest which she knew they would feel in seeing the work
of gathering the flowers and making the bouquets go systematically and
prosperously on, and through the commendation of their conduct which she
expressed at the end.
Such persons as Mary do not analyze distinctly, in their thoughts,
nor could they express in words, the principles which underlie their
management; but they have an instinctive mental perception of the
adaptation of such means to the end in view. Other people, who observe how
easily and quietly they seem to obtain an ascendency over all children
coming within their influence, and how absolute this ascendency often
becomes, are frequently surprised at it. They think there is some mystery
about it; they say it is "a knack that some people have;" but there is no
mystery about it at all, and nothing unusual or strange, except so far as
practical good sense, considerate judgment, and intelligent observation and
appreciation of the characteristics of childhood are unusual and strange.
Mary was aware that, although the principle of obedience is seldom or
never entirely obliterated from the hearts of children--that is, that
the impression upon their minds, which, though it may not be absolutely
instinctive, is very early acquired, that it is incumbent on them to obey
those set in authority over them, is seldom wholly effaced, the sentiment
had become extremely feeble in the minds of Adolphus and Lucia; and that it
was like a frail and dying plant, which required very delicate and careful
nurture to quicken it to life and give it its normal health and vigor. Her
management was precisely of this character. It called the weak and feeble
principle into gentle exercise, without putting it to any severe test, and
thus commenced the formation of a _habit of action_. Any one will see that
a course of training on these principles, patiently and perseveringly
continued for the proper time, could not fail of securing the desired end,
except in cases of children characterized by unusual and entirely abnormal
We can not here follow in detail the various modes in which such a manager
as Mary would adapt her principle to the changing incidents of each day,
and to the different stages of progress made by her pupils in learning to
obey, but can only enumerate certain points worthy of the attention of
parents who may feel desirous to undertake such a work of training.
_Three practical Directions_.
1. Relinquish entirely the idea of expecting children to be _spontaneously_
docile and obedient, and the practice of scolding or punishing them
vindictively when they are not so. Instead of so doing, understand that
docility and obedience on their part is to be the result of wise, careful,
and persevering, though gentle training on the part of the parent.
2. If the children have already formed habits of disobedience and
insubordination, do not expect that the desirable change can be effected by
sudden, spasmodic, and violent efforts, accompanied by denunciations and
threats, and declarations that you are going to "turn over a new leaf." The
attempt to change perverted tendencies in children by such means is like
trying to straighten a bend in the stem of a growing tree by blows with a
3. Instead of this, begin without saying at all what you are going to do,
or finding any fault with the past, and, with a distinct recognition of the
fact that whatever is bad in the _native tendencies_ of your children's
minds is probably inherited from their parents, and, perhaps, specially
from yourself, and that whatever is wrong in their _habits of action_ is
certainly the result of bad training, proceed cautiously and gently, but
perseveringly and firmly, in bringing the bent stem gradually up to the
right position. In doing this, there is no amount of ingenuity and skill,
however great, that may not be usefully employed; nor is there, on the
other hand, except in very rare and exceptional cases, any parent who has
an allotment so small as not to be sufficient to accomplish the end, if
conscientiously and faithfully employed.
In order to give a more clear idea of what I mean by forming habits of
obedience in children by methods other than those connected with a system
of rewards and punishments, I will specify some such methods, introducing
them, however, only as illustrations of what is intended. For, while in
respect to rewards and punishments something like special and definite
rules and directions may be given, these other methods, as they depend on
the tact, ingenuity, and inventive powers of the parents for their success,
depend also in great measure upon these same qualities for the discovery
of them. The only help that can be received from without must consist of
suggestions and illustrations, which can only serve to communicate to the
mind some general ideas in respect to them.
_Recognizing the Right._
1. A very excellent effect is produced in forming habits of obedience in
children, by simply _noticing_ their good conduct when they do right, and
letting them see that you notice it. When children are at play upon the
carpet, and their mother from time to time calls one of them--Mary, we will
say--to come to her to render some little service, it is very often the
case that she is accustomed, when Mary obeys the call at once, leaving
her play immediately and coming directly, to say nothing about the prompt
obedience, but to treat it as a matter of course. It is only in the
cases of failure that she seems to notice the action. When Mary, greatly
interested in what for the moment she is doing, delays her coming, she
says, "You ought to come at once, Mary, when I call you, and not make me
wait in this way." In the cases when Mary did come at once, she had said
Mary goes back to her play after the reproof, a little disturbed in mind,
at any rate, and perhaps considerably out of humor.
Now Mary may, perhaps, be in time induced to obey more promptly under this
management, but she will have no heart in making the improvement, and she
will advance reluctantly and slowly, if at all. But if, at the first time
that she comes promptly, and then, after doing the errand, is ready to go
back to her play, her mother says, "You left your play and came at once
when I called you. That was right. It pleases me very much to find that I
can depend upon your being so prompt, even when you are at play," Mary will
go back to her play pleased and happy; and the tendency of the incident
will be to cause her to feel a spontaneous and cordial interest in the
principle of prompt obedience in time to come.
Johnny is taking a walk through the fields with his mother. He sees a
butterfly and sets off in chase of it. When he has gone away from the path
among the rocks and bushes as far as his mother thinks is safe, she calls
him to come back. In many cases, if the boy does not come at once in
obedience to such a call, he would perhaps receive a scolding. If he does
come back at once, nothing is said. In either case no decided effect would
be produced upon him.
But if his mother says, "Johnny, you obeyed me at once when I called you.
It must be hard, when you are after a butterfly and think you have almost
caught him, to stop immediately and come back to your mother when she calls
you; but you did it," Johnny will be led by this treatment to feel a desire
to come back more promptly still the next time.
Of course there is an endless variety of ways by which you can show your
children that you notice and appreciate the efforts they make to do right.
Doubtless there is a danger to be guarded against. To adopt the practice of
noticing and commending what is right, and paying _no attention whatever_
to what is wrong, would be a great perversion of this counsel. There is
a danger more insidious than this, but still very serious and real,
of fostering a feeling of vanity and self-conceit by constant and
inconsiderate praise. These things must be guarded against; and to secure
the good aimed at, and at the same time to avoid the evil, requires the
exercise of the tact and ingenuity which has before been referred to. But
with proper skill and proper care the habit of noticing and commending, or
even noticing alone, when children do right, and of even being more
quick to notice and to be pleased with the right than to detect and be
dissatisfied with the wrong, will be found to be a very powerful means of
training children in the right way.
Children will act with a great deal more readiness and alacrity to preserve
a good character which people already attribute to them, than to relieve
themselves of the opprobrium of a bad one with which they are charged. In
other words, it is much easier to allure them to what is right than to
drive them from what is wrong.
2. There is, perhaps, nothing more irksome to children than to listen to
advice given to them in a direct and simple form, and perhaps there is
nothing that has less influence upon them in the formation of their
characters than advice so given. And there is good reason for this; for
either the advice must be general, and of course more or less abstract,
when it is necessarily in a great measure lost upon them, since their
powers of generalization and abstraction are not yet developed; or else,
if it is practical and particular at all, it must be so with reference to
their own daily experience in life--in which case it becomes more irksome
still, as they necessarily regard it as an indirect mode of fault-finding.
Indeed, this kind of advice is almost certain to assume the form of
half-concealed fault-finding, for the subject of the counsel given would
be, in almost all cases, suggested by the errors, or shortcomings, or
failures which had been recently observed in the conduct of the children.
The art, then, of giving to children general advice and instruction in
respect to their conduct and behavior, consists in making it definite
and practical, and at the same time contriving some way of divesting it
entirely of all direct application to themselves in respect to their _past_
conduct. Of course, the more we make it practically applicable to them in
respect to the future the better.
There are various ways of giving advice of this character. It requires some
ingenuity to invent them, and some degree of tact and skill to apply them
successfully. But the necessary tact and skill would be easily acquired by
any mother whose heart is really set upon finding gentle modes of leading
her child into the path of duty.
_James and his Cousins_.
James, going to spend one of his college vacations at his uncle's, was
taken by his two cousins, Walter and Ann--eight and six years old--into
their room. The room was all in confusion. There was a set of book-shelves
upon one side, the books upon them lying tumbled about in all directions.
There was a case containing playthings in another place, the playthings
broken and in disorder; and two tables, one against the wall, and the other
in the middle of the room, both covered with litter. Now if James had
commenced his conversation by giving the children a lecture on the disorder
of their room, and on the duty, on their part, of taking better care of
their things, the chief effect would very probably have been simply to
prevent their wishing to have him come to their room again.
But James managed the case differently. After going about the room for
a few minutes with the children, and looking with them at their various
treasures, and admiring what they seemed to admire, but without finding any
fault, he sat down before the fire and took the children upon his lap--one
upon each knee--and began to talk to them. Ann had one of her picture-books
in her hand, some of the leaves torn, and the rest defaced with dog's-ears.
"Now, Walter," said James, "I'm going to give you some advice. I am going
to advise you what to do and how to act when you go to college. By-and-by
you will grow to be a young man, and will then, perhaps, go to college."
The idea of growing to be a young man and going to college was very
pleasing to Walter's imagination, and brought his mind into what may be
called a receptive condition--that is, into a state to receive readily, and
entertain with favor, the thoughts which James was prepared to present.
James then went on to draw a very agreeable picture of Walter's leaving
home and going to college, with many details calculated to be pleasing
to his cousin's fancy, and came at length to his room, and to the
circumstances under which he would take possession of it. Then he told
him of the condition in which different scholars kept their respective
rooms--how some were always in disorder, and every thing in them
topsy-turvy, so that they had no pleasant or home-like aspect at all; while
in others every thing was well arranged, and kept continually in that
condition, so as to give the whole room, to every one who entered it, a
very charming appearance.
"The books on their shelves were all properly arranged," he said, "all
standing up in order--those of a like size together. Jump down, Ann, and go
to your shelves, and arrange the books on the middle shelf in that way, to
show him what I mean."
Ann jumped down, and ran with great alacrity to arrange the books according
to the directions. When she had arranged one shelf, she was proceeding to
do the same with the next, but James said she need not do any more then.
She could arrange the others, if she pleased, at another time, he said.
"But come back now," he added, "and hear the rest of the advice."
"I advise you to keep your book-shelves in nice order at college," he
continued; "and so with your apparatus and your cabinet. For at college,
you see, you will perhaps have articles of philosophical apparatus, and a
cabinet of specimens, instead of playthings. I advise you, if you should
have such things, to keep them all nicely arranged upon their shelves."
Here James turned his chair a little, so that he and the children could
look towards the cabinet of playthings. Walter climbed down from his
cousin's lap and ran off to that side of the room, and there began hastily
to arrange the playthings.
"Yes," said James, "that is the way. But never mind that now. I think you
will know how to arrange your philosophical instruments and your cabinet
very nicely when you are in college; and you can keep your playthings in
order in your room here, while you are a boy, if you please. But come back
now and hear the rest of the advice."
So Walter came back and took his place again upon James's knee.
"And I advise you," continued James, "to take good care of your books when
you are in college. It is pleasanter, at the time, to use books that are
clean and nice, and then, besides, you will like to take your college books
with you, after you leave college, and keep them as long as you live, as
memorials of your early days, and you will value them a great deal more if
they are in good order."
Here Ann opened the book which was in her hand, and began to fold back the
dog's-ears and to smooth down the leaves.
_The Principle Involved_.
In a word, by the simple expedient of shifting the time, in the imagination
of the children, when the advice which he was giving them would come to its
practical application, he divested it of all appearance of fault-finding
in respect to their present conduct, and so secured not merely its ready
admission, but a cordial welcome for it, in their minds.
Any mother who sees and clearly apprehends the principle here illustrated,
and has ingenuity enough to avail herself of it, will find an endless
variety of modes by which she can make use of it, to gain easy access to
the hearts of her children, for instructions and counsels which, when they
come in the form of fault-finding advice, make no impression whatever.
_Expectations of Results must be Reasonable_.
Some persons, however, who read without much reflection, and who do not
clearly see the principle involved in the case above described, and do not
understand it as it is intended--that is, as a single specimen or example
of a mode of action capable of an endless variety of applications, will
perhaps say, "Oh, that was all very well. James's talk was very good for
the purpose of amusing the children for a few minutes while he was visiting
them, but it is idle to suppose that such a conversation could produce any
permanent or even lasting impression upon them; still less, that it could
work any effectual change in respect to their habits of order."
That is very true. In the work of forming the hearts and minds of children
it is "line upon line, and precept upon precept" that is required; and it
can not be claimed that one such conversation as that of James is any thing
more than _one line_. But it certainly is that. It would be as unreasonable
to expect that one single lesson like that could effectually and completely
accomplish the end in view, as that one single watering of a plant will
suffice to enable it to attain completely its growth, and enable it to
produce in perfection its fruits or its flowers.
But if a mother often clothes thus the advice or instruction which she has
to give to her children in some imaginative guise like this, advising them
what to do when they are on a journey, for example, or when they are making
a visit at the house of a friend in the country; or, in the case of a boy,
what she would counsel him to do in case he were a young man employed by a
farmer to help him on his farm, or a clerk in a store, or a sea-captain in
charge of a ship, or a general commanding a force in the field; or, if a
girl, what dangers or what undesirable habits or actions she should avoid
when travelling in Europe, or when, as a young lady, she joins in picnics
or goes on excursions, or attends concerts or evening parties, or in any of
the countless other situations which it is pleasant for young persons to
picture to their minds, introducing into all, so far as her ingenuity and
skill enable her to do it, interesting incidents and details, she will find
that she is opening to herself an avenue to her children's hearts for the
sound moral principles that she wishes to inculcate upon them, which she
can often employ easily, pleasantly, and very advantageously, both to
herself and to them.
When a child is sick, it may be of little consequence whether the medicine
which is required is agreeable or disagreeable to the taste. But with moral
remedies the case is different. Sometimes the whole efficiency of the
treatment administered as a corrective for a moral disorder depends
upon the readiness and willingness with which it is taken. To make it
disagreeable, consequently, in such cases, is to neutralize the intended
action of it--a result which the methods described in this chapter greatly
tend to avoid.
DELLA AND THE DOLLS.
This book may, perhaps, sometimes fall into the hands of persons who have,
temporarily or otherwise, the charge of young children without any absolute
authority over them, or any means, or even any right, to enforce their
commands, as was the case, in fact, with the older brothers or sister
referred to in the preceding illustrations. To such persons, these indirect
modes of training children in habits of subordination to their will, or
rather of yielding to their influence, are specially useful. Such persons
may be interested in the manner in which Delia made use of the children's
dolls as a means of guiding and governing their little mothers.
Della had a young sister named Maria, and a cousin whose name was Jane.
Jane used often to come to make Maria a visit, and when together the
children were accustomed to spend a great deal of time in playing with
their dolls. Besides dressing and undressing them, and playing take them
out to excursions and visits, they used to talk with them a great deal, and
give them much useful and valuable information and instruction.
[Illustration: ROUNDABOUT INSTRUCTION.]
Now Delia contrived to obtain a great influence and ascendency over the
minds of the children by means of these dolls. She fell at once into the
idea of the children in regard to them, and treated them always as if they
were real persons; often speaking of them and to them, in the presence of
the other children, in the most serious manner. This not only pleased the
children very much, but enabled Della, under pretense of talking to the
dolls, to communicate a great deal of useful instruction to the children,
and sometimes to make very salutary and lasting impressions upon their
_Lectures to the Dolls_.
For instance, sometimes when Jane was making Maria a visit, and the two
children came into her room with their dolls in their arms, she would speak
to them as if they were real persons, and then taking them in her hands
would set them before her on her knee, and give them a very grave lecture
in respect to the proper behavior which they were to observe during the
afternoon. If Delia had attempted to give precisely the same lecture to the
children themselves, they would very soon have become restless and uneasy,
and it would have made very little impression upon them. But being
addressed to the dolls, they would be greatly interested in it, and would
listen with the utmost attention; and there is no doubt that the counsels
and instructions which she gave made a much stronger impression upon their
minds than if they had been addressed directly to the children themselves.
To give an idea of these conversations I will report one of them in full.
"How do you do, my children?" she said, on one such occasion. "I am very
glad to see you. How nice you look! You have come, Andella (Andella was the
name of Jane's doll), to make Rosalie a visit. I am very glad. You will
have a very pleasant time, I am sure; because you never quarrel. I observe
that, when you both wish for the same thing, you don't quarrel for it and
try to pull it away from one another; but one waits like a lady until the
other has done with it. I expect you have been a very good girl, Andella,
since you were here last."
Then, turning to Jane, she asked, in a somewhat altered tone, "Has she been
a good girl, Jane?"
"She has been a _pretty_ good girl," said Jane, "but she has been sick."
"Ah!" said Della in a tone of great concern, and looking again at Andella,
"I heard that you had been sick. I heard that you had an attack of Aurora
Borealis, or something like that. And you don't look very well now. You
must take good care of yourself, and if you don't feel well, you must
ask your mother to bring you in to me and I will give you a dose of my
medicine--my _aqua saccharina_. I know you always take your medicine like a
little heroine when you are sick, without making any difficulty or trouble
_Aqua saccharina_ was the Latin name which Delia gave to a preparation
of which she kept a supply in a small phial on her table, ready to
make-believe give to the dolls when they were sick. Maria and Jane were
very fond of playing that their dolls were sick and bringing them to Della
for medicine, especially as Della always recommended to them to taste the
medicine themselves from a spoon first, in order to set their children a
good example of taking it well.
Sometimes Della would let the children take the phial away, so as to have
it always at hand in case the dolls should be taken suddenly worse. But in
such cases as this the attacks were usually so frequent, and the mothers
were obliged to do so much tasting to encourage the patients, that the
phial was soon brought back nearly or quite empty, when Delia used to
replenish it by filling it nearly full of water, and then pouring a
sufficient quantity of the saccharine powder into the mouth of it from the
sugar-bowl with a spoon. Nothing more was necessary except to shake up the
mixture in order to facilitate the process of solution, and the medicine
_A Medium of Reproof._
Delia was accustomed to use the dolls not only for the purpose of
instruction, but sometimes for reproof, in many ingenious ways. For
instance, one day the children had been playing upon the piazza with blocks
and other playthings, and finally had gone into the house, leaving all the
things on the floor of the piazza, instead of putting them away in their
places, as they ought to have done. They were now playing with their dolls
in the parlor.
Delia came to the parlor, and with an air of great mystery beckoned the
children aside, and said to them, in a whisper, "Leave Andella and Rosalie
here, and don't say a word to them. I want you to come with me. There is a
secret--something I would not have them know on any account."
So saying, she led the way on tiptoe, followed by the children out of the
room, and round by a circuitous route to the piazza.
"There!" said she, pointing to the playthings; "see! all your playthings
left out! Put them away quick before Andella and Rosalie see them. I would
not have them know that their mothers leave their playthings about in that
way for any consideration. They would think that they might do so too, and
that would make you a great deal of trouble. You teach them, I have no
doubt, that they must always put their playthings away, and they must see
that you set them a good example. Put these playthings all away quick, and
carefully, and we will not let them know any thing about your leaving them
So the children went to work with great alacrity, and put the playthings
all away. And this method of treating the case was much more effectual in
making them disposed to avoid committing a similar fault another time than
any direct rebukes or expressions of displeasure addressed personally to
them would have been.
Besides, a scolding would have made them unhappy, and this did not make
them unhappy at all; it amused and entertained them. If you can lead
children to cure themselves of their faults in such a way that they shall
have a good time in doing it, there is a double gain.
In due time, by this kind of management, and by other modes conceived and
executed in the same spirit, Bella gained so great an ascendency over the
children that they were far more ready to conform to her will, and to
obey all her directions, than they would have been to submit to the most
legitimate authority that was maintained, as such authority too often is,
by fault-finding and threats, and without any sympathy with the fancies and
feelings which reign over the hearts of the children in the little world in
which they live.
SYMPATHY:--1. THE CHILD WITH THE PARENT.
The subject of sympathy between children and parents is to be considered in
two aspects: first, that of the child with the parent; and secondly, that
of the parent with the child. That is to say, an emotion may be awakened in
the child by its existence and manifestation in the parent, and secondly,
it may be awakened in the parent by its existence in the child.
We are all ready to acknowledge in words the great power and influence
of sympathy, but very few are aware how very vast this power is, and how
inconceivably great is the function which this principle fulfills in the
formation of the human character, and in regulating the conduct of men.
_Mysterious Action of the Principle of Sympathy_.
There is a great mystery in the nature of it, and in the manner of its
action. This we see very clearly in the simplest and most striking material
form of it--the act of gaping. Why and how does the witnessing of the act
of gaping in one person, or even the thought of it, produce a tendency
to the same action in the nerves and muscles of another person? When we
attempt to trace the chain of connection through the eye, the brain, and
the thoughts--through which line of agencies the chain of cause and effect
must necessarily run--we are lost and bewildered.
Other states and conditions in which the mental element is more apparent
are communicated from one to another in the same or, at least, in some
analogous way. Being simply in the presence of one who is amused, or happy,
or sad, causes us to feel amused, or happy, or sad ourselves--or, at least,
has that tendency--even if we do not know from what cause the emotion which
is communicated to us proceeds. A person of a joyous and happy disposition
often brightens up at once any little circle into which he enters, while
a morose and melancholy man carries gloom with him wherever he goes.
Eloquence, which, if we were to hear it addressed to us personally and
individually, in private conversation, would move us very little, will
excite us to a pitch of the highest enthusiasm if we hear it in the midst
of a vast audience; even though the words, and the gestures, and the
inflections of the voice, and the force with which it reaches our ears,
were to be precisely the same in the two cases. And so a joke, which would
produce only a quiet smile if we read it by ourselves at the fireside
alone, will evoke convulsions of laughter when heard in a crowded theatre,
where the hilarity is shared by thousands.
A new element, indeed, seems to come into action in these last two cases;
for the mental condition of one mind is not only communicated to another,
but it appears to be increased and intensified by the communication. Each
does not feel _merely_ the enthusiasm or the mirth which would naturally
be felt by the other, but the general emotion is vastly heightened by its
being so largely shared. It is like the case of the live coal, which does
not merely set the dead coal on fire by being placed in contact with it,
but the two together, when together, burn far more brightly than when
_Wonderful Power of Sympathy_.
So much for the reality of this principle; and it is almost impossible
to exaggerate the extent and the magnitude of the influence it exerts in
forming the character and shaping the ideas and opinions of men, and in
regulating all their ordinary habits of thought and feeling. People's
opinions are not generally formed or controlled by arguments or reasonings,
as they fondly suppose. They are imbibed by sympathy from those whom they
like or love, and who are, or have been, their associates. Thus people,
when they arrive at maturity, adhere in the main to the associations, both
in religion and in politics, in which they have been brought up, from the
influence of sympathy with those whom they love. They believe in this or
that doctrine or system, not because they have been convinced by proof,
but chiefly because those whom they love believe in them. On religious
questions the arguments are presented to them, it is true, while they are
young, in catechisms and in other forms of religious instruction, and in
politics by the conversations which they overhear; but it is a mistake to
suppose that arguments thus offered have any material effect as processes
of ratiocination in producing any logical conviction upon their minds. An
English boy is Whig or Tory because his father, and his brothers, and his
uncles are Whigs or Tories. He may, indeed, have many arguments at his
command with which to maintain his opinions, but it is not the force of the
arguments that has convinced him, nor do they have any force as a means of
convincing the other boys to whom he offers them. _They_ are controlled by
their sympathies, as he is by his. But if he is a popular boy, and makes
himself a favorite among his companions, the very fact that he is of this
or that party will have more effect upon the other boys than the most
logical and conclusive trains of reasoning that can be conceived.
So it is with the religious and political differences in this and in every
other country. Every one's opinions--or rather the opinion of people in
general, for of course there are many individual exceptions--are formed
from sympathy with those with whom in mind and heart they have been in
friendly communication during their years of childhood and youth. And even
in those cases where persons change their religious opinions in adult age,
the explanation of the mystery is generally to be found, not in seeking for
the _argument that convinced them_, but for the _person that led them_,
in the accomplishment of the change. For such changes can very often, and
perhaps generally, be traced to some person or persons whose influence over
them, if carefully scrutinized, would be found to consist really not in the
force of the arguments they offered, but in the magic power of a silent and
perhaps unconscious sympathy. The way, therefore, to convert people to our
ideas and opinions is to make them like us or love us, and then to avoid
arguing with them, but simply let them perceive what our ideas and opinions
The well-known proverb, "Example is better than precept," is only another
form of expressing the predominating power of sympathy; for example can
have little influence except so far as a sympathetic feeling in the
observer leads him to imitate it. So that, example is better than precept
means only that sympathy has more influence in the human heart than
_The Power of Sympathy in Childhood_.
This principle, so powerful at every period of life, is at its maximum
in childhood. It is the origin, in a very great degree, of the spirit of
imitation which forms so remarkable a characteristic of the first years
of life. The child's thoughts and feelings being spontaneously drawn into
harmony with the thoughts and feelings of those around him whom he loves,
leads, of course, to a reproduction of their actions, and the prevalence
and universality of the effect shows how constant and how powerful is the
cause. So the great secret of success for a mother, in the formation of the
character of her children, is to make her children respect and love her,
and then simply to _be_ herself what she wishes them to be.
And to make them respect and love her, is to control them by a firm
government where control is required, and to indulge them almost without
limit where indulgence will do no harm.
_Special Application of the Principle_.
But besides this general effect of the principle of sympathy in aiding
parents in forming the minds and hearts of their children, there are a
great many cases in which a father or mother who understands the secret of
its wonderful and almost magic power can avail themselves of it to produce
special effects. One or two examples will show more clearly what I mean.
William's aunt Maria came to pay his mother a visit in the village where
William's mother lived. On the same day she went to take a walk with
William--who is about nine years old--to see the village. As they went
along together upon the sidewalk, they came to two small boys who were
trying to fly a kite. One of the boys was standing upon the sidewalk,
embarrassed a little by some entanglement of the string.
"Here, you fellow!" said William, as he and his aunt approached the spot,
"get out of the way with your kite, and let us go by."
The boy hurried out of the way, and, in so doing, got his kite-string more
entangled still in the branches of a tree which grew at the margin of the
Now William's aunt might have taken the occasion, as she and her nephew
walked along, to give him some kind and friendly instruction or counsel
about the duty of being kind to every body in any difficulty, trouble, or
perplexity, whether they are young or old; showing him how we increase the
general sum of happiness in so doing, and how we feel happier ourselves
when we have done good to any one, than when we have increased in any way,
or even slighted or disregarded, their troubles. How William would receive
such a lecture would depend a great deal upon his disposition and state of
mind. But in most cases such counsels, given at such a time, involving, as
they would, some covert though very gentle censure, would cause the heart
of the boy to close itself in a greater or less degree against them, like
the leaves of a sensitive-plant shrinking from the touch. The reply would
very probably be, "Well, he had no business to be on the sidewalk, right in
William and his aunt walked on a few steps. His aunt then stopped,
hesitatingly, and said,
"How would it do to go back and help that boy disentangle his kite-string?
He's a little fellow, and does not know so much about kites and
kite-strings as you do."
Here the suggestion of giving help to perplexity and distress came
associated with a compliment instead of what implied censure, and the
leaves of the sensitive-plant expanded at once, and widely, to the genial
"Yes," said William; "let's go."
So his aunt turned and went back a step or two, and then said, "You can go
and do it without me. I'll wait here till you come back. I don't suppose
you want any help from me. If you do, I'll come."
"No," aid William, "I can do it alone."
So William ran on with great alacrity to help the boys clear the string,
and then came back with a beaming face to his aunt, and they walked on.
William's aunt made no further allusion to the affair until the end of
the walk, and then, on entering the gate, she said, "We have had a very
pleasant walk, and you have taken very good care of me. And I am glad we
helped those boys out of their trouble with the kite."
"So am I," said William.
_Analysis of the Incident_.
Now it is possible that some one may say that William was wrong in his
harsh treatment of the boys, or at least in his want of consideration for
their perplexity; and that his aunt, by her mode of treating the case,
covered up the wrong, when it ought to have been brought distinctly to view
and openly amended. But when we come to analyze the case, we shall find
that it is not at all certain that there was any thing wrong on William's
part in the transaction, so far as the state of his heart, in a moral point
of view, is concerned. All such incidents are very complicated in their
nature, and in their bearings and relations. They present many aspects
which vary according to the point of view from which they are regarded.
Even grown people do not always see all the different aspects of an affair
in respect to which they are called upon to act or to form an opinion, and
children, perhaps, never; and in judging their conduct, we must always
consider the aspect in which the action is presented to their minds. In
this case, William was thinking only of his aunt. He wished to make her
walk convenient and agreeable to her. The boy disentangling his string on
the sidewalk was to him, at that time, simply an obstacle in his aunt's
way, and he dealt with it as such, sending the boy off as an act of
kindness and attention to his aunt solely. The idea of a sentient being
suffering distress which he might either increase by harshness or relieve
by help was not present in his mind at all. We may say that he ought
to have thought of this. But a youthful mind, still imperfect in its
development, can not be expected to take cognizance at once of all the
aspects of a transaction which tends in different directions to different
results. It is true, that he ought to have thought of the distress of the
boys, if we mean that he ought to be taught or trained to think of such
distress when he witnessed it; and that was exactly what his aunt was
endeavoring to do. We ourselves have learned, by long experience of life,
to perceive at once the many different aspects which an affair may present,
and the many different results which may flow in various directions from
the same action; and we often inconsiderately blame children, simply
because their minds are yet so imperfectly developed that they can not take
simultaneous cognizance of more than one or two of them. This is the true
philosophy of most of what is called heedlessness in children, and for
which, poor things, they receive so many harsh reprimands and so much
A little girl, for example, undertakes to water her sister's plants. In her
praiseworthy desire to do her work well and thoroughly, she fills the mug
too full, and spills the water upon some books that are lying upon the
table. The explanation of the misfortune is simply that her mind was
filled, completely filled, with the thoughts of helping her sister. The
thought of the possibility of spilling the water did not come into it at
all. There was no room for it while the other thought, so engrossing, was
there; and to say that she _ought_ to have thought of both the results
which might follow her action, is only to say that she ought to be older.
_Sympathy as the Origin of childish Fears_.
The power of sympathy in the mind of a child--that is, its tendency
to imbibe the opinions or sentiments manifested by others in their
presence--may be made very effectual, not only in inculcating principles of
right and wrong, but in relation to every other idea or emotion. Children
are afraid of thunder and lightning, or of robbers at night, or of ghosts,
because they perceive that their parents, or older brothers or sisters, are
afraid of them. Where the parents do not believe in ghosts, the children
are not afraid of them; unless, indeed, there are domestics in the house,
or playmates at school, or other companions from whom they take the
contagion. So, what they see that their parents value they prize
themselves. They imbibe from their playmates at school a very large
proportion of their tastes, their opinions, and their ideas, not through
arguments or reasoning, but from sympathy; and most of the wrong or foolish
notions of any kind that they have acquired have not been established in
their minds by false reasoning, but have been taken by sympathy, as a
disease is communicated by infection; and the remedy is in most cases, not
reasoning, but a countervailing sympathy.
_Afraid of a Kitten_.
Little Jane was very much afraid of a kitten which her brother brought
home--the first that she had known. She had, however, seen a picture of a
tiger or some other feline animal devouring a man in a forest, and had
been frightened by it; and she had heard too, perhaps, of children being
scratched by cats or kittens. So, when the kitten was brought in and put
down on the floor, she ran to her sister in great terror, and began to cry.
Now her sister might have attempted to reason with her by explaining the
difference between the kitten and the wild animals of the same class in the
woods, and by assuring her that thousands of children have kittens to play
with and are never scratched by them so long as they treat them kindly--and
all without producing any sensible effect. But, instead of this, she
adopted a different plan. She took the child up into her lap, and after
quieting her fears, began to talk to the kitten.
"Poor little pussy," said she, "I am glad you have come. You never scratch
any body, I am sure, if they are kind to you. Jennie will give you some
milk some day, and she and I will like to see you lap it up with your
pretty little tongue. And we will give you a ball to play with some day
upon the carpet. See, Jennie, see! She is going to lie down upon the rug.
She is glad that she has come to such a nice home. Now she is putting her
head down, but she has not any pillow to lay it upon. Wouldn't you like a
pillow, kitty? Jennie will make you a pillow some day, I am sure, if you
would like one. Jennie is beginning to learn to sew, and she could make you
a nice pillow, and stuff it with cotton wool. Then we can see you lying
down upon the rug, with the pillow under your head that Jennie will have
made for you--all comfortable."
Such a talk as this, though it could not be expected entirely and at once
to dispel Jennie's unfounded fears, would be far more effectual towards
beginning the desired change than any arguments or reasoning could possibly
Any mother who will reflect upon the principle here explained will at once
recall to mind many examples and illustrations of its power over the hearts
and minds of children which her own experience has afforded. And if she
begins practically and systematically to appeal to it, she will find
herself in possession of a new element of power--new, at least, to her
realization--the exercise of which will be as easy and agreeable to herself
as it will be effective in its influence over her children.
SYMPATHY:--II. THE PARENT WITH THE CHILD.
I think there can be no doubt that the most effectual way of securing the
confidence and love of children, and of acquiring an ascendency over them,
is by sympathizing with them in their child-like hopes and fears, and joys
and sorrows--in their ideas, their fancies, and even in their caprices, in
all cases where duty is not concerned. Indeed, the more child-like, that
is, the more peculiar to the children themselves, the feelings are that we
enter into with them, the closer is the bond of kindness and affection that
If a gentleman coming to reside in a new town concludes that it is
desirable that he should be on good terms with the boys in the streets,
there are various ways by which he can seek to accomplish the end.
Fortunately for him, the simplest and easiest mode is the most effectual.
On going into the village one day, we will suppose he sees two small boys
playing horse. One boy is horse, and the other driver. As they draw near,
they check the play a little, to be more decorous in passing by the
stranger. He stops to look at them with a pleased expression of
countenance, and then says, addressing the driver, with a face of much
seriousness, "That's a first-rate horse of yours. Would you like to sell
him? He seems to be very spirited." The horse immediately begins to prance
and caper. "You must have paid a high price for him. You must take good
care of him. Give him plenty of oats, and don't drive him hard when it is
hot weather. And if ever you conclude to sell him, I wish you would let me
So saying, the gentleman walks on, and the horse, followed by his driver,
goes galloping forward in high glee.
Now, by simply manifesting thus a fellow-feeling with the boys in their
childish play, the stranger not only gives a fresh impulse to their
enjoyment at the time, but establishes a friendly relationship between them
and him which, without his doing any thing to strengthen or perpetuate it,
will of itself endure for a long time. If he does not speak to the boys
again for months, every time they meet him they will be ready to greet him
with a smile.
The incident will go much farther towards establishing friendly relations
between him and them than any presents that he could make them--except so
far as his presents were of such a kind, and were given in such a way, as
to be expressions of kindly feeling towards them--that is to say, such as
to constitute of themselves a manifestation of sympathy.
The uncle who gives his nephews and nieces presents, let them be ever so
costly or beautiful, and takes no interest in their affairs, never inspires
them with any feeling of personal affection. They like him as they like the
apple-tree which bears them sweet and juicy apples, or the cow that gives
them milk--which is on their part a very different sentiment from that
which they feel for the kitten that plays with them and shares their
joys--or even for their dolls, which are only pictured in their imagination
as sharing them.
_Sophronia and Aurelia_.
Miss Sophronia calls at a house to make a visit. A child of seven or eight
years of age is playing upon the floor. After a little time, at a pause
in the conversation, she calls the child--addressing her as "My little
girl"--to come to her. The child--a shade being cast over her mind by being
thus unnecessarily reminded of her littleness--hesitates to come. The
mother says, "Come and shake hands with the lady, my dear!" The child comes
reluctantly. Miss Sophronia asks what her name is, how old she is, whether
she goes to school, what she studies there, and whether she likes to go to
school, and at length releases her. The child, only too glad to be free
from such a tiresome visitor, goes back to her play, and afterwards the
only ideas she has associated with the person of her visitor are those
relating to her school and her lessons, which may or may not be of an
Presently, after Miss Sophronia has gone, Miss Aurelia comes in. After some
conversation with the mother, she goes to see what the child is building
with her blocks. After looking on for a moment with an expression of
interest in her countenance, she asks her if she has a doll. The child says
she has four. Miss Aurelia then asks which she likes best, and expresses a
desire to see that one. The child, much pleased, runs away to bring it, and
presently comes back with all four. Miss Aurelia takes them in her hands,
examines them, talks about them, and talks to them; and when at last the
child goes back to her play, she goes with the feeling in her heart that
she has found a new friend.
Thus, to bring ourselves near to the hearts of children, we must go to them
by entering into _their world_. They can not come to us by entering ours.
They have no experience of it, and can not understand it. But we have had
experience of theirs, and can enter it if we choose; and in that way we
bring ourselves very near to them.
_Sympathy must be Sincere_.
But the sympathy which we thus express with children, in order to be
effectual, must be sincere and genuine, and not pretended. We must renew
our own childish ideas and imaginations, and become for the moment, in
feeling, one with them, so that the interest which we express in what they
are saying or doing may be real, and not merely assumed. They seem to have
a natural instinct to distinguish between an honest and actual sharing
of their thoughts and emotions, and all mere condescension and pretense,
however adroitly it may be disguised.
_Want of Time_.
Some mothers may perhaps say that they have not time thus to enter into
the ideas and occupations of their children. They are engrossed with the
serious cares of life, or busy with its various occupations. But it does
not require time. It is not a question of time, but of manner. The farmer's
wife, for example, is busy ironing, or sewing, or preparing breakfast for
her husband and sons, who are expected every moment to come in hungry from
their work. Her little daughter, ten years old, comes to show her a shawl
she has been making from a piece of calico for her doll. The busy
mother thinks she must say, "Yes; but run away now, Mary; I am very
busy!"--because that is the easiest and quickest thing to say; but it is
just as easy and just as quick to say, "What a pretty shawl! Play now that
you are going to take Minette out for a walk in it!" The one mode sends the
child away repulsed and a little disappointed; the other pleases her and
makes her happy, and tends, moreover, to form a new bond of union and
sympathy between her mother's heart and her own. A merchant, engrossed all
day in his business, comes home to his house at dinner-time, and meets his
boy of fifteen on the steps returning from his school. "Well, James," he
says, as they walk together up stairs, "I hope you have been a good boy at
school to-day." James, not knowing what to say, makes some inaudible or
unmeaning reply. His father then goes on to say that he hopes his boy will
be diligent and attentive to his studies, and improve his time well, as
his future success in life will depend upon the use which he makes of
his advantages while he is young; and then leaves him at the head of the
stairs, each to go to his room.
All this is very well. Advice given under such circumstances and in such a
way produces, undoubtedly, a certain good effect, but it does not tend at
all to bring the father and son together. But if, instead of giving this
common-place advice, the father asks--supposing it to be winter at the
time--"Which kind of skates are the most popular among the boys nowadays,
James?" Then, after hearing his reply, he asks him what _his_ opinion is,
and whether any great improvement has been made within a short time, and
whether the patent inventions are any of them of much consequence. The
tendency of such a conversation as this, equally brief with the other, will
be to draw the father and son more together. Even in a moral point of view,
the influence would be, indirectly, very salutary; for although no moral
counsel or instruction was given at the time, the effect of such a
participation in the thoughts with which the boy's mind is occupied is to
strengthen the bond of union between the heart of the boy and that of his
father, and thus to make the boy far more ready to receive and be guided by
the advice or admonitions of his father on other occasions.
Let no one suppose, from these illustrations, that they are intended to
inculcate the idea that a father is to lay aside the parental counsels
and instructions that he has been accustomed to give to his children, and
replace them by talks about skates! They are only intended to show
one aspect of the difference of effect produced by the two kinds of
conversation, and that the father, if he wishes to gain and retain an
influence over the hearts of his boys, must descend sometimes into the
world in which they live, and with which their thoughts are occupied,
and must enter it, not merely as a spectator, or a fault-finder, or a
counsellor, but as a sharer, to some extent, in the ideas and feelings
which are appropriate to it.
_Ascendency over the Minds of Children_.
Sympathizing with children in their own pleasures and enjoyments, however
childish they may seem to us when we do not regard them, as it were, with
children's eyes, is, perhaps, the most powerful of all the means at our
command for gaining a powerful ascendency over them. This will lead us not
to interfere with their own plans and ideas, but to be willing that they
should be happy in their own way. In respect to their duties, those
connected, for example, with their studies, their serious employments,
and their compliance with directions of any kind emanating from superior
authority, of course their will must be under absolute subjection to that
of those who are older and wiser than they. In all such things they must
bring their thoughts and actions into accord with ours. In these things
they must come to us, not we to them. But in every thing that relates
to their child-like pleasures and joys, their modes of recreation and
amusement, their playful explorations of the mysteries of things, and the
various novelties around them in the strange world into which they find
themselves ushered--in all these things we must not attempt to bring them
to us, but must go to them. In this, their own sphere, the more perfectly
they are at liberty, the better; and if we join them in it at all, we must
do so by bringing our ideas and wishes into accord with theirs.
The effect of our sympathy with children in winning their confidence and
love, is all the more powerful when it is exercised in cases where they are
naturally inclined not to expect sympathy--that is, in relation to feelings
which they would suppose that older persons would be inclined to condemn.
Perhaps the most striking example of this is in what is commonly called
foolish fears. Now a fear is foolish or otherwise, not according to the
absolute facts involving the supposed danger, but according to the means
which the person in question has of knowing the facts. A lady, for example,
in passing along the sidewalk of a great city comes to a place where
workmen are raising an immense and ponderous iron safe, which, slowly
rising, hangs suspended twenty feet above the walk. She is afraid to pass
under it. The foreman, however, who is engaged in directing the operation,
passing freely to and fro under the impending weight, as he has occasion,
and without the least concern, smiles, perhaps, at the lady's "foolish
fears." But the fears which might, perhaps, be foolish in him, are not so
in her, since he _knows_ the nature and the strength of the machinery
and securities above, and she does not. She only knows that accidents do
sometimes happen from want of due precaution in raising heavy weights, and
she does not know, and has no means of knowing, whether or not the due
precautions have been taken in this case. So she manifests good sense, and
not folly, in going out of her way to avoid all possibility of danger.
This is really the proper explanation of a large class of what are usually
termed foolish fears. Viewed in the light of the individual's knowledge of
the facts in the case, they are sensible fears, and not foolish ones at
A girl of twelve, from the city, spending the summer in the country, wishes
to go down to the river to join her brothers there, but is stopped by
observing a cow in a field which she has to cross. She comes back to the
house, and is there laughed at for her foolishness in being; "afraid of a
But why should she not be afraid of a cow? She has heard stories of people
being gored by bulls, and sometimes by cows, and she has no means whatever
of estimating the reality or the extent of the danger in any particular
case. The farmer's daughters, however, who laugh at her, know the cow in
question perfectly well. They have milked her, and fed her, and tied her up
to her manger a hundred times; so, while it would be a very foolish thing
for them to be afraid to cross a field where the cow was feeding, it is a
very sensible thing for the stranger-girl from the city to be so.
Nor would it certainly change the case much for the child, if the farmer's
girls were to assure her that the cow was perfectly peaceable, and that
there was no danger; for she does not know the girls any better than she
does the cow, and can not judge how far their statements or opinions are to
be relied upon. It may possibly not be the cow they think it is. They are
very positive, it is true; but very positive people are often mistaken.
Besides, the cow may be peaceable with them, and yet be disposed to attack
a stranger. What a child requires in such a case is sympathy and help, not
[Illustration: AFRAID OF THE COW.]
This, in the case supposed, she meets in the form of the farmer's son, a
young man browned in face and plain in attire, who comes along while she
stands loitering at the fence looking at the cow, and not daring after all,
notwithstanding the assurances she has received at the house, to cross
the field. His name is Joseph, and he is a natural gentleman--a class of
persons of whom a much larger number is found in this humble guise, and a
much smaller number in proportion among the fashionables in elegant life,
than is often supposed. "Yes," says Joseph, after hearing the child's
statement of the case, "you are right. Cows are sometimes vicious, I know;
and you are perfectly right to be on your guard against such as you do not
know when you meet them in the country. This one, as it happens, is very
kind; but still, I will go through the field with you."
So he goes with her through the field, stopping on the way to talk a little
to the cow, and to feed her with an apple which he has in his pocket.
It is in this spirit that the fears, and antipathies, and false
imaginations of children are generally to be dealt with; though, of course,
there may be many exceptions to the general rule.
_When Children are in the Wrong_.
There is a certain sense in which we should feel a sympathy with children
in the wrong that they do. It would seem paradoxical to say that in any
sense there should be sympathy with sin, and yet there is a sense in which
this is true, though perhaps, strictly speaking, it is sympathy with the
trial and temptation which led to the sin, rather than with the act of
transgression itself. In whatever light a nice metaphysical analysis would
lead us to regard it, it is certain that the most successful efforts that
have been made by philanthropists for reaching the hearts and reforming the
conduct of criminals and malefactors have been prompted by a feeling of
compassion for them, not merely for the sorrows and sufferings which they
have brought upon themselves by their wrongdoing, but for the mental
conflicts which they endured, the fierce impulses of appetite and passion,
more or less connected with and dependent upon the material condition of
the bodily organs, under the onset of which their feeble moral sense, never
really brought into a condition of health and vigor, was over-borne. These
merciful views of the diseased condition and action of the soul in the
commission of crime are not only in themselves right views for man to take
of the crimes and sins of his fellow-man, but they lie at the foundation of
all effort that can afford any serious hope of promoting reformation.
This principle is eminently true in its application to children. They need
the influence of a kind and considerate sympathy when they have done wrong,
more, perhaps, than at any other time; and the effects of the proper
manifestation of this sympathy on the part of the mother will, perhaps, be
greater and more salutary in this case than in any other. Of course the
sympathy must be of the right kind, and must be expressed in the right way,
so as not to allow the tenderness or compassion for the wrong-doer to be
mistaken for approval or justification of the wrong.
A boy, for instance, comes home from school in a state of great distress,
and perhaps of indignation and resentment, on account of having been
punished. Mothers sometimes say at once, in such a case, "I don't pity you
at all. I have no doubt you deserved it." This only increases the tumult of
commotion in the boy's mind, without at all tending to help him to feel a
sense of his guilt. His mind, still imperfectly developed, can not take
cognizance simultaneously of all the parts and all the aspects of a
complicated transaction. The sense of his wrong-doing, which forms in his
teacher's and in his mother's mind so essential a part of the transaction,
is not present in his conceptions at all. There is no room for it, so
totally engrossed are all his faculties with the stinging recollections of
suffering, the tumultuous emotions of anger and resentment, and now with
the additional thought that even his mother has taken part against him. The
mother's conception of the transaction is equally limited and imperfect,
though in a different way. She thinks only that if she were to treat the
child with kindness and sympathy, she would be taking the part of a bad boy
against his teacher; whereas, in reality, she might do it in such a way as
only to be taking the part of a suffering boy against his pain.
It would seem that the true and proper course for a mother to take with
a child in such a case would be to soothe and calm his agitation, and to
listen, if need be, to his account of the affair, without questioning
or controverting it at all, however plainly she may see that, under the
blinding and distorting influence of his excitement, he is misrepresenting
the facts. Let him tell his story. Listen to it patiently to the end. It is
not necessary to express or even to form an opinion on the merits of it.
The ready and willing hearing of one side of a case does not commit the
tribunal to a decision in favor of that side. On the other hand, it is the
only way to give weight and a sense of impartiality to a decision against
Thus the mother may sympathize with her boy in his troubles, appreciate
fully the force of the circumstances which led him into the wrong, and help
to soothe and calm his agitation, and thus take his part, and place herself
closely to him in respect to his suffering, without committing herself at
all in regard to the original cause of it; and then, at a subsequent time,
when the tumult of his soul has subsided, she can, if she thinks best, far
more easily and effectually lead him to see wherein he was wrong.
COMMENDATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT.
We are very apt to imagine that the disposition to do right is, or ought to
be, the natural and normal condition of childhood, and that doing wrong is
something unnatural and exceptional with children. As a consequence, when
they do right we think there is nothing to be said. That is, or ought to
be, a matter of course. It is only when they do wrong that we notice
their conduct, and then, of course, with censure and reproaches. Thus our
discipline consists mainly, not in gently leading and encouraging them in
the right way, but in deterring them, by fault-finding and punishment, from
Now we ought not to forget that in respect to moral conduct as well as to
mental attainments children know nothing when they come into the world, but
have every thing to learn, either from the instructions or from the
example of those around them. We do not propose to enter at all into the
consideration of the various theological and metaphysical theories held by
different classes of philosophers in respect to the native constitution
and original tendencies of the human soul, but to look at the phenomena
of mental and moral action in a plain and practical way, as they present
themselves to the observation of mothers in the every-day walks of life.
And in order the better to avoid any complication with these theories, we
will take first an extremely simple case, namely, the fault of making too
much noise in opening and shutting the door in going in and out of a room.
Georgie and Charlie are two boys, both about five years old, and both prone
to the same fault. We will suppose that their mothers take opposite
methods to correct them; Georgie's mother depending upon the influence of
commendation and encouragement when he does right, and Charlie's, upon the
efficacy of reproaches and punishments when he does wrong.
Georgie, eager to ask his mother some question, or to obtain some
permission in respect to his play, bursts into her room some morning with
great noise, opening and shutting the door violently, and making much
disturbance. In a certain sense he is not to blame for this, for he is
wholly unconscious of the disturbance he makes. The entire cognizant
capacity of his mind is occupied with the object of his request. He not
only had no intention of doing any harm, but has no idea of his having done
His mother takes no notice of the noise he made, but answers his question,
and he goes away making almost as much noise in going out as he did in
The next time he comes in it happens--entirely by accident, we will
suppose--that he makes a little less noise than before. This furnishes his
mother with her opportunity.
"Georgie," she says, "I see you are improving."
"Improving?" repeats Georgie, not knowing to what his mother refers.
"Yes," said his mother; "you are improving, in coming into the room without
making a noise by opening and shutting the door. You did not make nearly
as much noise this time as you did before when you came in. Some boys,