Part 4 out of 5
There is not only no ground for expecting that children should perceive any
such necessity either by any kind of instinct, or intuition, or embryo
moral sense, or by any reasoning process of which his incipient powers are
capable; but even if he should by either of these means be inclined to
entertain such an idea, his mind would soon be utterly confused in regard
to it by what he observes constantly taking place around him in respect to
the use of language by others whose conduct, much more than their precepts,
he is accustomed to follow as his guide.
_A very nice Distinction_.
A mother, for example, takes her little son, four or five years old, into
her lap to amuse him with a story. She begins: "When I was a little boy I
lived by myself. All the bread and cheese I got I laid upon the shelf," and
so on to the end. The mother's object is accomplished. The boy is amused.
He is greatly interested and pleased by the wonderful phenomenon taking
place within him of curious images awakened in his mind by means of sounds
entering his ear--images of a little boy living alone, of his reaching up
to put bread and cheese upon a shelf, and finally of his attempting to
wheel a little wife home--the story ending with the breaking and downfall
of the wheelbarrow, wife and all. He does not reflect philosophically upon
the subject, but the principal element of the pleasure afforded him is the
wonderful phenomenon of the formation of such vivid and strange images in
his mind by means of the mere sound of his mother's voice.
He knows at once, if any half-formed reflections arise in his mind at all,
that what his mother has told him is not true--that is, that the words and
images which they awaken in his mind had no actual realities corresponding
with them. He knows, in the first place, that his mother never was a boy,
and does not suppose that she ever lived by herself, and laid up her bread
and cheese upon a shelf. The whole story, he understands, if he exercises
any thought about it whatever--wheelbarrow catastrophe and all--consists
only of words which his mother speaks to him to give him pleasure.
By-and-by his mother gives him a piece of cake, and he goes out into the
garden to play. His sister is there and asks him to give her a piece of his
cake. He hesitates. He thinks of the request long enough to form a distinct
image in his mind of giving her half of it, but finally concludes not to do
so, and eats it all himself.
When at length he comes in, his mother accidentally asks him some question
about the cake, and he says he gave half of it to his sister. His mother
seems much pleased. He knew that she would be pleased. He said it, in fact,
on purpose to please her. The words represented no actual reality, but only
a thought passing through his mind, and he spoke, in a certain sense, for
the purpose of giving his mother pleasure. The case corresponds in all
these particulars with that of his mother's statement in respect to her
being once a little boy and living by herself. Those words were spoken by
her to give him pleasure, and he said what he did to give her pleasure.
To give her pleasure! the reader will perhaps say, with some surprise,
thinking that to assign such a motive as that is not, by any means, putting
a fair and proper construction upon the boy's act. His design was, it will
be said, to shield himself from censure, or to procure undeserved praise.
And it is, no doubt, true that, on a nice analysis of the motives of the
act, such as we, in our maturity, can easily make, we shall find that
design obscurely mingled with them. But the child does not analyze. He can
not. He does not look forward to ultimate ends, or look for the hidden
springs that lie concealed among the complicated combinations of impulses
which animate him. In the case that we are supposing, all that we can
reasonably believe to be present to his mind is a kind of instinctive
feeling that for him to say that he ate the cake all himself would bring a
frown, or at least a look of pain and distress, to his mother's face, and
perhaps words of displeasure for him; while, if he says that he gave half
to his sister, she will look pleased and happy. This is as far as he sees.
And he may be of such an age, and his mental organs may be in so embryonic
a condition, that it is as far as he ought to be expected to look; so that,
as the case presents itself to his mind in respect to the impulse which at
the moment prompts him to act, he said what he did from a desire to give
his mother pleasure, and not pain. As to the secret motive, which might
have been his ultimate end, _that_ lay too deeply concealed for him to
be conscious of it. And we ourselves too often act from the influence
of hidden impulses of selfishness, the existence of which we are wholly
unconscious of, to judge him too harshly for his blindness.
At length, by-and-by, when his sister conies in, and the untruth is
discovered, the boy is astonished and bewildered by being called to account
in a very solemn manner by his mother on account of the awful wickedness of
having told a lie!
_How the Child sees it_.
Now I am very ready to admit that, notwithstanding the apparent resemblance
between these two cases, this resemblance is only apparent and superficial;
but the question is, whether it is not sufficient to cause such a child
to confound them, and to be excusable, until he has been enlightened by
appropriate instruction, for not clearly distinguishing the cases where
words must be held strictly to conform to actual realities, from those
where it is perfectly right and proper that they should only represent
images or conceptions of the mind.
A father, playing with his children, says, "Now I am a bear, and am going
to growl." So he growls. Then he says, "Now I am a dog, and am going to
bark." He is not a bear, and he is not a dog, and the children know it.
His words, therefore, even to the apprehension of the children, express an
untruth, in the sense that they do not correspond with any actual reality.
It is not a wrongful untruth. The children understand perfectly well that
in such a case as this it is not in any sense wrong to say what is not
true. But how are they to know what kind of untruths are right, and what
kind are wrong, until they are taught what the distinction is and upon what
Unfortunately many parents confuse the ideas, or rather the moral sense of
their children, in a much more vital manner by untruths of a different kind
from this--as, for example, when a mother, in the presence of her children,
expresses a feeling of vexation and annoyance at seeing a certain visitor
coming to make a call, and then, when the visitor enters the room, receives
her with pretended pleasure, and says, out of politeness, that she is very
glad to see her. Sometimes a father will join with his children, when
peculiar circumstances seem, as he thinks, to require it, in concealing
something from their mother, or deceiving her in regard to it by
misrepresentations or positive untruths. Sometimes even the mother will do
this in reference to the father. Of course such management as this must
necessarily have the effect of bringing up the children to the idea that
deceiving by untruths is a justifiable resort in certain cases--a doctrine
which, though entertained by many well-meaning persons, strikes a fatal
blow at all confidence in the veracity of men; for whenever we know of any
persons that they entertain this idea, it is never afterwards safe to trust
in what they say, since we never can know that the case in hand is not,
for some reason unknown to us, one of those which justify a resort to
But to return to the case of the children that are under the training of
parents who will not themselves, under any circumstances, falsify their
word--that is, will never utter words that do not represent actual reality
in any of the wrongful ways. Such children can not be expected to know of
themselves, or to learn without instruction, what the wrongful ways are,
and they never do learn until they have made many failures. Many, it is
true, learn when they are very young. Many evince a remarkable tenderness
of conscience in respect to this as well as to all their other duties, so
fast as they are taught them. And some become so faithful and scrupulous in
respect to truth, at so early an age, that their parents quite forget the
progressive steps by which they advanced at the beginning. We find many a
mother who will say of her boy that he never told an untruth, but we do not
find any man who will say of himself, that when he was a boy he never told
_Imaginings and Rememberings easily mistaken for each other_.
But besides the complicated character of the general subject, as it
presents itself to the minds of children--that is, the intricacy to them of
the question when there must be a strict correspondence between the words
spoken and an actual reality, and when they may rightly represent mere
images or fancies of the mind--there is another great difficulty in their
way, one that is very little considered and often, indeed, not at all
understood by parents--and that is, that in the earliest years the
distinction between realities and mere fancies of the mind is very
indistinctly drawn. Even in our minds the two things are often confounded.
We often have to pause and think in order to decide whether a mental
perception of which we are conscious is a remembrance of a reality, or a
revival of some image formed at some previous time, perhaps remote, by a
vivid description which we have read or heard, or even by our own fancy.
"Is that really so, or did I dream it?" How often is such a question heard.
And persons have been known to certify honestly, in courts of justice, to
facts which they think they personally witnessed, but which were really
pictured in their minds in other ways. The picture was so distinct and
vivid that they lost, in time, the power of distinguishing it from other
and, perhaps, similar pictures which had been made by their witnessing the
Indeed, instead of being surprised that these different origins of present
mental images are sometimes confounded, it is actually wonderful that they
can generally be so clearly distinguished; and we can not explain, even to
ourselves, what the difference is by which we do distinguish them.
For example, we can call up to our minds the picture of a house burning
and a fireman going up by a ladder to rescue some person appearing at the
window. Now the image, in such a case, may have had several different modes
of origin. 1. We may have actually witnessed such a scene the evening
before. 2. Some one may have given us a vivid description of it. 3. We may
have fancied it in writing a tale, and 4. We may have dreamed it. Here are
four different prototypes of a picture which is now renewed, and there is
something in the present copy which enables us, in most cases, to determine
at once what the real prototype was. That is, there is something in the
picture which now arises in our mind as a renewal or repetition of the
picture made the day before, which makes us immediately cognizant of the
cause of the original picture--that is, whether it came from a reality that
we witnessed, or from a verbal or written description by another person, or
whether it was a fanciful creation of our own mind while awake, or a dream.
And it is extremely difficult for us to discover precisely what it is, in
the present mental picture, which gives us this information in respect to
the origin of its prototype. It is very easy to say, "Oh, we _remember_."
But remember is only a word. We can only mean by it, in such a case as
this, that there is some _latent difference_ between the several images
made upon our minds to-day of things seen, heard of, fancied, or dreamed
yesterday, by which we distinguish each from all the others. But the most
acute metaphysicians--men who are accustomed to the closest scrutiny of the
movements and the mode of action of their minds--find it very difficult to
discover what this difference is.
_The Result in the Case of Children_.
Now, in the case of young children, the faculties of perception
and consciousness and the power of recognizing the distinguishing
characteristics of the different perceptions and sensations of their minds
are all immature, and distinctions which even to mature minds are not so
clear but that they are often confounded, for them form a bewildering
maze. Their minds are occupied with a mingled and blended though beautiful
combination of sensations, conceptions, fancies, and remembrances, which
they do not attempt to separate from each other, and their vocal organs are
animated by a constant impulse to exercise themselves with any utterances
which the incessant and playful gambollings of their faculties frame. In
other words, the vital force liberated by the digestion of the food seeks
an issue now in this way and now in that, through every variety of mental
and bodily action. Of course, to arrange and systematize these actions,
to establish the true relations between all these various faculties and
powers, and to regulate the obligations and duties by which the exercise
of them should be limited and controlled, is a work of time, and is to be
effected, not by the operation of any instinct or early intuition, but by
a course of development--effected mainly by the progress of growth and
experience, though it is to be aided and guided by assiduous but gentle
training and instruction.
If these views are correct, we can safely draw from them the following
1. We must not expect from children that they will from the beginning
understand and feel the obligation to speak the truth, any more than we
look for a recognition, on their part, of the various other principles of
duty which arise from the relations of man to man in the social state. We
do not expect that two babies creeping upon the floor towards the same
plaything should each feel instinctively impelled to grant the other the
use of it half of the time. Children must be taught to tell the truth, just
as they must be taught the principles of justice and equal rights. They
generally get taught by experience--that is, by the rough treatment and
hard knocks which they bring upon themselves by their violation of these
principles. But the faithful parent can aid them in acquiring the necessary
knowledge in a far easier and more agreeable manner by appropriate
2. The mother must not be distressed or too much troubled when she finds
that her children, while very young are prone to fall into deviations from
the truth, but only to be made to feel more impressed with the necessity of
renewing her own efforts to teach them the duty, and to train them to the
performance of it.
3. She must not be too stern or severe in punishing the deviations from
truth in very young children, or in expressing the displeasure which
they awaken in her mind. It is instruction, not expressions of anger or
vindictive punishment, that is required in most cases. Explain to them the
evils that would result if we could not believe what people say, and tell
them stories of truth-loving children on the one hand, and of false and
deceitful children on the other. And, above all, notice, with indications
of approval and pleasure, when the child speaks the truth under
circumstances which might have tempted him to deviate from it. One instance
of this kind, in which you show that you observe and are pleased by his
truthfulness, will do more to awaken in his heart a genuine love for the
truth than ten reprovals, or even punishments, incurred by the violation of
it. And in the same spirit we must make use of the religious considerations
which are appropriate to this subject--that is, we must encourage the child
with the approval of his heavenly Father, when he resists the temptation
to deviate from the truth, instead of frightening him, when he falls, by
terrible denunciations of the anger of God against liars; denunciations
which, however well-deserved in the cases to which they are intended
to apply, are not designed for children in whose minds the necessary
discriminations, as pointed out in this chapter, are yet scarcely formed.
_Danger of confounding Deceitfulness and Falsehood_.
4. Do not confound the criminality of deceitfulness by acts with falsehood
by words, by telling the child, when he resorts to any artifice or
deception in order to gain his ends, that it is as bad to deceive as to
lie. It is not as bad, by any means. There is a marked line of distinction
to be drawn between falsifying one's word and all other forms of deception,
for there is such a sacredness in the spoken word, that the violation of
it is in general far more reprehensible than the attempt to accomplish the
same end by mere action. If a man has lost a leg, it may be perfectly right
for him to wear a wooden one which is so perfectly made as to deceive
people--and even to wear it, too, with the _intent_ to deceive people by
leading them to suppose that both his legs are genuine--while it would be
wrong; for him to assert in words that this limb was not an artificial one.
It is right to put a chalk egg in a hen's nest to deceive the hen, when, if
the hen could understand language, and if we were to suppose hens "to have
any rights that we are bound to respect," it would be wrong to _tell_ her
that it was a real egg. It would be right for a person, when his house
was entered by a robber at night, to point an empty gun at the robber to
frighten him away by leading him to think that the gun was loaded; but it
would be wrong, as I think--though I am aware that many persons would think
differently--for him to say in words that the gun was loaded, and that he
would fire unless the robber went away. These cases show that there is a
great difference between deceiving by false appearances, which is sometimes
right, and doing it by false statements, which, as I think, is always
wrong. There is a special and inviolable sacredness, which every lover of
the truth should attach to his spoken word.
5. We must not allow the leniency with which, according to the views here
presented, we are to regard the violations of truth by young persons,
while their mental faculties and their powers of discrimination are yet
imperfectly developed, to lead us to lower the standard of right in their
minds, so as to allow them to imbibe the idea that we think that falsehood
is, after all, no great sin, and still less, to suppose that we consider it
sometimes, in extreme cases, allowable. We may, indeed, say, "The truth is
not to be spoken at all times," but to make the aphorism complete we must
add, that _falsehood_ is to be spoken _never_. There is no other possible
ground for absolute confidence in the word of any man except the conviction
that his principle is, that it is _never, under any circumstances, or to
accomplish any purpose whatever,_ right for him to falsify it.
A different opinion, I am aware, prevails very extensively among mankind,
and especially among the continental nations of Europe, where it seems to
be very generally believed that in those cases in which falsehood will on
the whole be conducive of greater good than the truth it is allowable to
employ it. But it is easy to see that, so far as we know that those around
us hold to this philosophy, all reasonable ground for confidence in
their statements is taken away; for we never can know, in respect to any
statement which they make, that the case is not one of those in which, for
reasons not manifest to us, they think it is expedient--that is, conducive
in some way to good--to state what is not true.
While, therefore, we must allow children a reasonable time to bring their
minds to a full sense of the obligation of making their words always
conform to what is true, instead of shaping them so as best to attain their
purposes for the time being--which is the course to which their earliest
natural instincts prompt them--and must deal gently and leniently with
their incipient failures, we must do all in our power to bring them forward
as fast as possible to the adoption of the very highest standard as their
rule of duty in this respect; inculcating it upon them, by example as well
as by precept, that we can not innocently, under any circumstances, to
escape any evil, or to gain any end, falsify our word. For there is no evil
so great, and no end to be attained so valuable, as to justify the adoption
of a principle which destroys all foundation for confidence between man and
JUDGMENT AND REASONING.
It is a very unreasonable thing for parents to expect young children to be
reasonable. Being reasonable in one's conduct or wishes implies the taking
into account of those bearings and relations of an act which are more
remote and less obvious, in contradistinction from being governed
exclusively by those which are immediate and near. Now, it is not
reasonable to expect children to be influenced by these remote
considerations, simply because in them the faculties by which they are
brought forward into the mind and invested with the attributes of reality
are not yet developed. These faculties are all in a nascent or formative
state, and it is as idle to expect them, while thus immature, to fulfill
their functions for any practical purpose, as it would be to expect a baby
to expend the strength of its little arms in performing any useful labor.
_Progress of Mental Development_.
The mother sometimes, when she looks upon her infant lying in her arms, and
observes the intentness with which he seems to gaze upon objects in the
room--upon the bright light of the window or of the lamp, or upon the
pictures on the wall--wonders what he is thinking of. The truth probably is
that he is not thinking at all; he is simply _seeing_--that is to say, the
light from external objects is entering his eyes and producing images upon
his sensorium, and that is all. He _sees_ only. There might have been a
similar image of the light in his mind the day before, but the reproduction
of the former image which constitutes memory does not probably take place
at all in his case if he is very young, so that there is not present to his
mind, in connection with the present image, any reproduction of the former
one. Still less does he make any mental comparison between the two. The
mother, as she sees the light of to-day, may remember the one of yesterday,
and mentally compare the two; may have many _thoughts_ awakened in her mind
by the sensation and the recollection--such as, this is from a new kind of
oil, and gives a brighter light than the other; that she will use this kind
of oil in all her lamps, and will recommend it to her friends, and so on
indefinitely. But the child has none of these thoughts and can have none;
for neither have the faculties been developed within him by which they are
conceived, nor has he had the experience of the previous sensations to form
the materials for framing them. He is conscious of the present sensations,
and that is all.
As he advances, however, in his experience of sensations, and as his mental
powers gradually begin to be unfolded, what may be called _thoughts_ arise,
consisting at first, probably, of recollections of past sensations
entering into his consciousness in connection with the present ones. These
combinations, and the mental acts of various kinds which are excited by
them, multiply as he advances towards maturity; but the images produced by
present realities are infinitely more vivid and have a very much greater
power over him than those which memory brings up from the past, or that his
fancy can anticipate in the future.
This state of things, though there is, of course, a gradual advancement in
the relative influence of what the mind can conceive, as compared with that
which the senses make real, continues substantially the same through all
the period of childhood and youth. In other words, the organs of sense and
of those mental faculties which are directly occupied with the sensations,
are the earliest to be developed, as we might naturally suppose would be
the case; and, by consequence, the sensible properties of objects and
the direct and immediate effects of any action, are those which have a
controlling influence over the volitions of the mind during all the earlier
periods of its development. The _reason_, on the other hand, which, as
applied to the practical affairs of life, has for its function the bringing
in of the more remote bearings and relations of a fact, or the indirect
and less obvious results of an action, is very slowly developed. It is
precisely on this account that the period of immaturity in the human
species is so long protracted in comparison with that of the inferior
animals. The lives of these animals are regulated by the cognizance simply
of the sensible properties of objects, and by the immediate results of
their acts, and they accordingly become mature as soon as their senses and
their bodily organs are brought completely into action. But man, who is
to be governed by his reason--that is, by much more far-reaching and
comprehensive views of what concerns him--requires a much longer period to
fit him for independent action, since he must wait for the development of
those higher faculties which are necessary for the attainment of these
extended views; and during this period he must depend upon the reason of
his parents instead of being governed by his own.
_Practical Effect of these Truths_.
The true course, then, for parents to pursue is not to expect too much from
the ability of their children to see what is right and proper for them, but
to decide all important questions themselves, using their own experience
and their own power of foresight as their guide. They are, indeed, to
cultivate and train the reasoning and reflective powers of their children,
but are not to expect them in early life to be sufficiently developed and
strengthened to bear any heavy strain, or to justify the placing of any
serious reliance upon them. They must, in a word, treat the reason and the
judgment of their children as the farmer treats the strength of his colt,
which he exercises and, to a certain extent, employs, but never puts upon
it any serious burden.
It results from this view of the case that it is not wise for a parent to
resort to arguing or reasoning with a child, as a substitute for authority,
or even as an aid to make up for a deficiency of authority, in regard to
what it is necessary that the child should do. No doubt it is a good plan
sometimes to let the child decide for himself, but when you pretend to
allow him to decide let him do it really. When you go out with him to take
a walk, if it is so nearly immaterial which way you go that you are willing
that he should determine the question, then lay the case before him, giving
him the advantages and disadvantages of the different ways, and let him
decide; and then act according to his decision. But if you have determined
in your own mind which way to go, simply announce your determination; and
if you give reasons at all, do not give them in such a way as to convey the
idea to his mind that his obligation to submit is to rest partly on his
seeing the force of them. For every parent will find that this principle is
a sound one and one of fundamental importance in the successful management
of children--namely, that it is much easier for a child to do what he does
not like to do as an act of simple submission to superior authority, than
for him to bring himself to an accordance with the decision by hearing and
considering the reasons. In other words, it is much easier for him to obey
your decision than to bring himself to the same decision against his own
_In serious Cases no Reliance to be placed on the Reason of the Child_.
In all those cases, therefore, in which the parent can not safely allow the
children really to decide, such as the question of going to school, going
to church, taking medicine, remaining indoors on account of indisposition
or of the weather, making visits, choice of playmates and companions, and
a great many others which it would not be safe actually to allow them
to decide, it is true kindness to them to spare their minds the painful
perplexity of a conflict. Decide for them. Do not say, "Oh, I would not
do this or that"--whatever it may be--"because"--and then go on to assign
reasons thought of perhaps at the moment to meet the emergency, and indeed
generally false; but, "Yes, I don't wonder that you would like to do it.
I should like it if I were you. But it can not be done." When there is
medicine to be taken, do not put the child in misery for half an hour while
you resort to all sorts of arguments, and perhaps artifices, to bring him
to a willingness to take it; but simply present it to him, saying, "It is
something very disagreeable, I know, but it must be taken;" and if it is
refused, allow of no delay, but at once, though without any appearance of
displeasure, and in the gentlest-manner possible, force it down. Then,
after the excitement of the affair has passed away, and you have your
little patient in your lap, and he is in good-humor--this is all, of
course, on the supposition that he is not very sick--say to him, "You would
not take your medicine a little while ago, and we had to force it down: I
hope it did not hurt you much."
The child will probably make some fretful answer.
[Illustration: STORY OF THE HORSE.]
"It is not surprising that you did not like to take it. All children, while
they are too young to be reasonable, and all animals, such as horses and
cows, when they are sick, are very unwilling to take their medicine, and we
often have to force it down. You will, perhaps, refuse to take yours a good
many times yet before you are old enough to see that it is a great deal
easier to take it willingly than it is to have it forced down."
And then go on and tell him some amusing story of the difficulty some
people had in forcing medicine down the throat of a sick horse, who did not
know enough to take it like a man.
The idea is--for this case is only meant as an illustration of a general
principle--that the comfort and enjoyment of children, as well as the easy
and successful working of parental government, is greatly promoted by
deciding for the children at once, and placing their action on the simple
ground of obedience to authority in all those cases where the _decision can
not really and honestly be_ left to the children themselves.
To listen reluctantly to the persistent arguments of children in favor of
their being allowed to do what we are sure that we shall decide in the end
that it is not best for them to do, and to meet them with counter arguments
which, if they are not actually false, as they are very apt to be in such
a case, are utterly powerless, from the incapacity of the children to
appreciate them, on account of their being blinded by their wishes, is not
to strengthen the reasoning powers, but to confuse and bewilder them, and
impede their development.
_Mode of Dealing with the Reason of a Child_.
The effect, however, will be excellent of calling into exercise the reason
and the judgment of the child in cases where the conclusion which he
arrives at can be safely allowed to determine his action. You can help him
in such cases by giving him any information that he desires, but do not
embarrass him, and interfere with his exercising his own judgment by
obtruding advice. Allow him in this way to lay out his own garden, to plan
the course of a walk or a ride, and to decide upon the expenditure of his
own pocket-money, within certain restrictions in respect to such things
as would be dangerous or hurtful to himself, or annoying to others. As he
grows older you can give him the charge of the minor arrangements on a
journey, such as taking care of a certain number of the parcels carried
in the hand, choosing a seat in the car, selecting and engaging a hand on
arriving at the place of destination. Commit such things to his charge only
so fast as you can really intrust him with power to act, and then, with
slight and not obtrusive supervision on your part, leave the responsibility
with him, noticing encouragingly whatever of fidelity and success you
observe, and taking little notice--generally in fact, none at all--of such
errors and failures as result simply from inexperience and immaturity.
In a word, make no attempt to seek support from his judgment, or by
convincing his reason, in important cases, where his feelings or wishes are
involved, but in all such cases rest your decisions solely upon your own
authority. But then, on the other hand, in unimportant cases, where no
serious evil can result whichever of the various possible courses are
taken, call his judgment into exercise, and abide by its decisions. Give
him the responsibility if he likes to take it, but with the responsibility
give him the power.
Substantially the same principles as explained above, in their application
to the exercise of the judgment, apply to the cultivation of the reasoning
powers--that is to say, in the act of arguing, or drawing conclusions from
premises. Nothing can be more unprofitable and useless, to say nothing of
its irritating and vexatious effect, than maintaining an argument with a
child--or with any body else, in fact--to convince him against his will.
Arguing very soon degenerates, in such a case, into an irritating and
utterly useless dispute. The difference of opinion which gives occasion for
such discussions arises generally from the fact that the child sees only
certain of the more obvious and immediate relations and bearings of the
subject in question, which is, in fact, all that can be reasonably expected
of him, and forms his opinion from these alone. The parent, on the other
hand, takes a wider view, and includes among the premises on which his
conclusion is founded considerations which have never been brought to the
attention of the child. The proper course, therefore, for him to pursue
in order to bring the child's mind into harmony with his own, is not to
ridicule the boy's reasoning, or chide him for taking so short-sighted a
view of the subject, or to tell him it is very foolish for him to talk as
he does, or silence him by a dogmatic decision, delivered in a dictatorial
and overbearing manner, all of which is too often found to characterize the
discussions between parents and children, but calmly and quietly to present
to him the considerations bearing upon the question which he has not yet
seen. To this end, and to bring the mind of the child into that listening
and willing state without which all arguments and even all attempts at
instruction are wasted, we must listen candidly to what he says himself,
put the best construction upon it, give it its full force; see it, in a
word, as nearly as possible as _he_ sees it, and let him know that we
do so. Then he will be much more ready to receive any additional
considerations which we may present to his mind, as things that must also
be taken into account in forming a final judgment on the question.
A boy, for example, who is full of health and increasing vigor, and in
whom, of course, those organs on which the consciousness of strength and
the impulses of courage depend are in the course of rapid and healthy
development, in reading to his mother a story in which a thief that came
into a back store-room of a house in the evening, with a bag, to steal
meal, was detected by the owner and frightened away, looks up from his book
and says, in a very valiant manner,
"If I had been there, and had a gun, I would have shot him on the spot."
_The Rough Mode of Treatment_.
Now, if the mother wishes to confuse and bewilder, and to crush down, so to
speak, the reasoning faculties of her child, she may say,
"Nonsense, George! It is of no use for you to talk big in that way. You
would not dare to fire a gun in such a case, still less, to shoot a man.
The first thing you would do would be to run away and hide. And then,
besides, it would be very wicked for you to kill a man in that way. You
would be very likely to get yourself hung for murder. Besides, the Bible
says that we must not resist evil; so you should not talk so coolly about
shooting a man."
The poor boy would be overpowered by such a rebuke as this, and perhaps
silenced. The incipient and half-formed ideas in his mind in respect to the
right of self-defense, the virtue of courage, the sanctity of life, the
nature and the limits of the doctrine of non-resistance, would be all
thrown together into a jumble of hopeless confusion in his mind, and
the only result would be his muttering to himself, after a moment of
bewilderment and vexation, "I _would_ shoot him, anyhow." Such treatment
would not only fail to convince him that his idea was wrong, but would
effectually close his heart against any such conviction.
_The Gentle Mode of Treatment_.
But let the mother first see and recognize those bearings and relations of
the question which the boy sees--that is, those which are the most direct
and immediate--and allow them their full force, and she establishes a
sympathy between his mind and hers, and prepares the way for his being led
by her to taking into the account other considerations which, though of
greater importance, are not so obvious, and which it would be wholly
unreasonable to expect that the boy would see himself, since they do not
come within the range of observation that could be reached spontaneously by
the unaided faculties of such a child. Suppose the mother says, in reply to
her boy's boastful declaration that he would shoot the robber,
"There would be a certain degree of justice in that, no doubt."
"Yes," rejoins the boy, "it would be no more than he deserved."
"When a man engages in the commission of a crime," adds the mother, "he
runs the risk of all the perils that he exposes himself to, from the
efforts of people to defend their property, and perhaps their lives; so
that, perhaps, _he_ would have no right to complain if people did shoot at
"Not a bit of right," says the boy.
"But then there are some other things to be considered," says the mother,
"which, though they do not show that it would be unjust towards him, might
make it bad for _us_ to shoot him."
"What things?" asks the boy.
The mother having candidly admitted whatever there was of truth in the
boy's view of the subject, and thus placed herself, as it were, side by
side with him, he is prepared to see and admit what she is going to point
out to his observation--not as something directly antagonistic to what he
has said, but as something additional, something which is _also_ to be
taken into the account.
"In the first place," continues the mother, "there would be the body to be
disposed of, if you were to shoot him. How should we manage about that?"
It would make a great difference in such a case in respect to the danger
of putting the boy's mind into a state of antagonism against his mother's
presentation of the case, whether she says, "How shall _we_ manage about
that?" or, "How will _you_ manage about that?"
"Oh," replies the boy, "we would send to where he lives, and let his people
come and take him away; or, if he was in a city, we would call in the
"That would be a good plan," says his mother. "We would call in the police,
if there were any police at hand. But then there would be the blood all
over the carpet and the floor."
"There would not be any carpet on the floor in a store-room," says the boy.
"True," replies the mother; "you are right there; so that there would not
be, after all, any great trouble about the blood. But the man might not be
killed outright, and it might be some time before the policemen would come,
and we should see him all that time writhing and struggling in dreadful
convulsions, which would fix horrid impressions upon our minds, that would
haunt us for a long time afterwards."
The mother could then go on to explain that, if the man had a wife and
children, any one who had killed the husband and father would pity them as
long as he lived, and could never see them or hear them spoken of without
feeling pain, and even some degree of self-reproach; although, so far as
the man himself was concerned, it might be that no injustice had been done.
After the excitement was over, too, he would begin to make excuses for the
man, thinking that perhaps he was poor, and his children were suffering for
bread, and it was on their account that he was tempted to steal, and this,
though it would not justify, might in some degree palliate the act for
which he was slain; or that he had been badly brought up, having never
received any proper instruction, but had been trained and taught from his
boyhood to pilfer and steal.
These and many analogous considerations might be presented to the child,
going to show that, whatever the rule of strict justice in respect to the
criminal may enjoin, it is not right to take the life of a wrong-doer
merely to prevent the commission of a minor offense. The law of the land
recognizes this principle, and does not justify the taking of life except
in extreme cases, such as those of imminent personal danger.
A friendly conversation of this kind, carried on, not in a spirit of
antagonism to what the boy has said, but in the form of presenting
information novel to him in respect to considerations which were to be
taken into the account in addition to those which he had himself perceived,
will have a great effect not only in modifying his opinion in this case,
but also in impressing him with the general idea that, before adopting a
decisive opinion on any subject, we must take care to acquaint ourselves
not merely with the most direct and obvious relations of it, but must look
farther into its bearings and results, so that our conclusion may have a
solid foundation by reposing upon as many as possible of the considerations
which ought really to affect it. Thus, by avoiding all appearance of
antagonism, we secure a ready reception for the truths we offer, and
cultivate the reasoning powers at the same time.
The principles, then, which are meant to be illustrated and enforced in
this chapter are these:
1. That the mental faculties of children on which the exercise of judgment
and of the power of reasoning depend are not among those which are the
earliest developed, and they do not attain, in the first years of life, to
such a degree of strength or maturity as to justify placing any serious
reliance upon them for the conduct of life.
2. Parents should, accordingly, not put them to any serious test, or impose
any heavy burden upon them; but should rely solely on their own authority,
as the expression of their own judgment, and not upon their ability to
convince the judgment of the child, in important cases, or in those where
its inclinations or its feelings are concerned.
3. But they may greatly promote the healthy development of these faculties
on the part of their children, by bringing to their view the less obvious
bearings and relations of various acts and occurrences on which judgment
is to be passed, in cases where their feelings and inclinations are not
specially concerned--doing this either in the form of explaining their own
parental principles of management, or practically, by intrusting them with
responsibility, and giving them a degree of actual power commensurate with
it, in cases where it is safe to do so; and,
4. They may enlarge the range of the children's ideas, and accustom them to
take wider views of the various subjects which occupy their attention, by
discussing with them the principles involved in the several cases; but such
discussions must be conducted in a calm, gentle, and considerate manner,
the parent looking always upon what the child says in the most favorable
light, putting the best construction upon it, and admitting its force,
and then presenting such additional views as ought also to be taken into
account, with moderate earnestness, and in an unobtrusive manner, thus
taking short and easy steps himself in order to accommodate his own rate of
progress to the still imperfectly developed capabilities of the child.
In a word, it is with the unfolding of the mental faculties of the young as
it is with the development of their muscles and the improvement of their
bodily powers; and just as the way to teach a child to walk is not to drag
him along hurriedly and forcibly by the arm faster than he can himself form
the necessary steps, but to go slowly, accommodating your movements to
those which are natural to him, and encouraging him by letting him perceive
that his own efforts produce appreciable and useful results--so, in
cultivating any of their thinking and reasoning powers, we must not put at
the outset too heavy a burden upon them, but must call them gently into
action, within the limits prescribed by the degree of maturity to which
they have attained, standing a little aside, as it were, in doing so, and
encouraging them to do the work themselves, instead of taking it out of
their hands and doing it for them.
WISHES AND REQUESTS.
In respect to the course to be pursued in relation to the requests and
wishes of children, the following general rules result from the principles
inculcated in the chapter on Judgment and Reasoning, or, at least, are in
perfect accordance with them--namely:
_Absolute Authority in Cases of vital Importance_.
1. In respect to all those questions in the decision of which their
permanent and essential welfare are involved, such as those relating to
their health, the company they keep, the formation of their characters, the
progress of their education, and the like, the parent should establish and
maintain in the minds of the children from their earliest years, a distinct
understanding that the decision of all such questions is reserved for
his own or her own exclusive jurisdiction. While on any of the details
connected with these questions the feelings and wishes of the child ought
to be ascertained, and, so far as possible, taken into the account, the
course to be pursued should not, in general, be discussed with the child,
nor should their objections be replied to in any form. The parent should
simply take such objections as the judge takes the papers in a case which
has been tried before him, and reserve his decision. The principles by
which the parent is governed in the course which he pursues, and the
reasons for them, may be made the subject of very free conversation, and
may be fully explained, provided that care is taken that this is never done
when any practical question is pending, such as would give the explanations
of the parent the aspect of persuasions, employed to supply the deficiency
of authority too weak to enforce obedience to a command. It is an excellent
thing to have children see and appreciate the reasonableness of their
parents' commands, provided that this reasonableness is shown to them in
such a way that they are not led to imagine that their being able to see it
is in any sense a condition precedent of obedience.
_Great Indulgence in Cases not of vital Importance_.
2. The authority of the parent being thus fully established in regard to
all those things which, being of paramount importance in respect to
the child's present and future welfare, ought to be regulated by the
comparative far-seeing wisdom of the parent, with little regard to the
evanescent fancies of the child, it is on every account best, in respect to
all other things, to allow to the children the largest possible indulgence.
The largest indulgence for them in their occupations, their plays, and even
in their caprices and the freaks of their fancy, means _freedom of action_
for their unfolding powers of body and mind; and freedom of action for
these powers means the most rapid and healthy development of them.
The rule is, in a word, that, after all that is essential for their health,
the formation of their characters, and their progress in study is secured,
by being brought under the dominion of absolute parental authority, in
respect to what remains the children are to be indulged and allowed to have
their own way as much as possible. When, in their plays, they come to you
for permission to do a particular thing, do not consider whether or not it
seems to you that you would like to do it yourself, but only whether there
is any _real and substantial objection to their doing it_.
_The Hearing to come before the Decision, not after it_.
The courts of justice adopt what seems to be a very sensible and a very
excellent mode of proceeding, though it is exactly the contrary to the one
which many parents pursue, and that is, they hear the case _first_, and
decide afterwards. A great many parents seem to prefer to decide first, and
then hear--that is to say, when the children come to them with any request
or proposal, they answer at once with a refusal more or less decided, and
then allow themselves to be led into a long discussion on the subject, if
discussion that may be called which consists chiefly of simple persistence
and importunity on one side, and a gradually relaxing resistance on the
other, until a reluctant consent is finally obtained.
Now, just as it is an excellent way to develop and strengthen the muscles
of a child's arms, for his father to hold the two ends of his cane in his
hands while the child grasps it by the middle, and then for them to pull
against each other, about the yard, until, finally, the child is allowed to
get the cane away; so the way to cherish and confirm the habit of "teasing"
in children is to maintain a discussion with them for a time in respect to
some request which is at first denied, and then finally, after a protracted
and gradually weakening resistance, to allow them to gain the victory
and carry their point. On the other hand, an absolutely certain way of
preventing any such habit from being formed, and of effectually breaking it
up when it is formed, is the simple process of hearing first, and deciding
When, therefore, children come with any request, or express any wish, in
cases where no serious interests are involved, in deciding upon the answer
to be given, the mother should, in general, simply ask herself, not Is it
wise? Will they succeed in it? Will they enjoy it? Would I like to do it
if I were they?--but simply, Is there any harm or danger in it? If not,
readily and cordially consent. But do not announce your decision till
_after_ you have heard all that they have to say, if you intend to hear
what they have to say at all.
If there are any objections to what the children propose which affect the
question in relation to it as a means of _amusement for them_, you may
state them in the way of information for them, _after_ you have given your
consent. In that way you present the difficulties as subjects for their
consideration, and not as objections on your part to their plan. But,
however serious the difficulties may be in the way of the children's
accomplishing the object which they have in view, they constitute no
objection to their making the attempt, provided that their plans involve no
serious harm or damage to themselves, or to any other person or interest.
_The Wrong Way_.
Two boys, for example, William and James, who have been playing in the yard
with their little sister Lucy, come in to their mother with a plan for a
fish-pond. They wish for permission to dig a hole in a corner of the yard
and fill it with water, and then to get some fish out of the brook to put
The mother, on hearing the proposal, says at once, without waiting for any
"Oh no, I would not do that. It is a very foolish plan. You will only get
yourselves all muddy. Besides, you can't catch any fishes to put into it,
and if you do, they won't live. And then the grass is so thick that you
could not get it up to make your hole."
But William says that they can dig the grass up with their little spades.
They had tried it, and found that they could do so.
And James says that they have already tried catching the fishes, and found
that they could do it by means of a long-handled dipper; and Lucy says that
they will all be very careful not to get themselves wet and muddy.
"But you'll get your feet wet standing on the edge of the brook," says the
mother. "You can't help it."
"No, mother," replies James, "there is a large flat stone that we can stand
upon, and so keep our feet perfectly dry. See!"
So saying, he shows his own feet, which are quite dry.
Thus the discussion goes on; the objections made--being, as usual in such
cases, half of them imaginary ones, brought forward only for effect--are
one after another disposed of, or at least set aside, until at length the
mother, as if beaten off her ground after a contest, gives a reluctant and
hesitating consent, and the children go away to commence their work only
half pleased, and separated in heart and affection, for the time being,
from their mother by not finding in her, as they think, any sympathy with
them, or disposition to aid them in their pleasures.
They have, however, by their mother's management of the case, received an
excellent lesson in arguing and teasing. They have found by it, what they
have undoubtedly often found on similar occasions before, that their
mother's first decision is not at all to be taken as a final one; that they
have only to persevere in replying to her objections and answering her
arguments, and especially in persisting in their importunity, and they will
be pretty sure to gain their end at last.
This mode of management, also, has the effect of fixing the position of
their mother in their minds as one of antagonism to them in respect to
their childish pleasures.
_The Right Way_.
If in such a case as this the mother wishes to avoid these evils, the way
is plain. She must first consider the proposal herself, and come to her own
decision in regard to it. Before coming to a decision, she may, if she
has leisure and opportunity, make additional inquiries in respect to the
details of the plan; or, if she is otherwise occupied, she may consider
them for a moment in her own mind. If the objections are decisive, she
should not state them at the time, unless she specially wishes them not to
have a fair hearing; for when children have a plan in mind which they are
eager to carry out, their very eagerness entirely incapacitates them for
properly appreciating any objections which may be offered to it. It is on
every account better, therefore--as a general rule--not to offer any such
objections at the time, but simply to give your decision.
On the other hand, if there is no serious evil to be apprehended in
allowing children to attempt to carry any particular plan they form into
effect, the foolishness of it, in a practical point of view, or even the
impossibility of success in accomplishing the object proposed, constitute
no valid objection to it; for children amuse themselves as much, and
sometimes learn as much, and promote as effectually the development of
their powers and faculties, by their failures as by their successes.
In the case supposed, then, the mother, in order to manage it right, would
first consider for a moment whether there was any decisive objection to the
plan. This would depend, perhaps, upon the manner in which the children
were dressed at the time, or upon the amount of injury that would be done
to the yard; and this question would in its turn depend, in many cases, on
the comparative value set by the mother upon the beauty of her yard, and
the health, development, and happiness of her children. But supposing that
she sees--which she can do in most instances at a glance--that there can no
serious harm be done by the experiment, but only that it is a foolish plan
so far as the attainment of the object is concerned, and utterly hopeless
of success, which, considering that the real end to be attained is the
healthy development of the children's powers by the agreeable exercise of
them in useless as well as in useful labors, is no objection at all, then
she should answer at once, "Yes, you can do that if you like; and perhaps I
can help you about planning the work."
After saying this, any pointing out of obstacles and difficulties on her
part does not present itself to their minds in the light of opposition to
their plan, but of aid in helping it forward, and so places her, in their
view, _on their side_, instead of in antagonism to them.
"What do you propose to do with the earth that you take out of the hole?"
The children had, perhaps, not thought of that.
"How would it do," continues the mother, "to put it in your wheelbarrow and
let it stay there, so that in case your plan should not succeed--and men,
in any thing that they undertake, always consider it wise to take into
account the possibility that they may not succeed--you can easily bring it
all back and fill up the hole again."
The children think that would be a very good plan.
"And how are you going to fill your hole with water when you get it dug
out?" asks the mother.
They were going to carry the water from the pump in a pail.
"And how are you going to prevent spilling the water over upon your
trousers and into your shoes while carrying it?"
"Oh, we will be very careful," replied William.
"How would it do only to fill the pail half full each time," suggests the
mother. "You would have to go more times, it is true, but that would be
better than getting splashed with water."
The boys think that that would be a very good plan.
In this manner the various difficulties to be anticipated may be brought to
the notice of the children, while, they and their mother being in harmony
and sympathy with each other--and not in opposition--in the consideration
of them, she can bring them forward without any difficulty, and make them
the means of teaching the children many useful lessons of prudence and
_Capriciousness in Play_.
The mother, then, after warning the children that they must expect to
encounter many unexpected difficulties in their undertaking, and telling
them that they must not be too much disappointed if they should find that
they could not succeed, dismisses them to their work. They proceed to dig
the hole, putting the materials in the wheelbarrow, and then fill up the
hole with water brought in half pailfuls at a time from the pump; but are
somewhat disappointed to find that the water soaks away pretty rapidly into
the ground, and that, moreover, it is so turbid, and the surface is so
covered with little leaves, sticks, and dust, as to make it appear very
doubtful whether they would be able to see the fishes if they were to
succeed in catching any to put in. However, they take their long-handled
dipper and proceed towards the brook. On the way they stop to gather some
flowers that grow near the path that leads through the field, when the idea
suddenly enters Lucy's head that it would be better to make a garden than
a fish-pond; flowers, as she says, being so much prettier than fishes. So
they all go back to their mother and explain the change of their plan. They
ask for leave to dig up a place which they had found where the ground was
loose and sandy, and easy to dig, and to set out flowers in it which they
had found in the field already in bloom. "We are going to give up the
fish-pond," they say in conclusion, "because flowers are so much prettier
The mother, instead of finding fault with them for being so capricious and
changeable in their plans, says, "I think you are right. Fishes look pretty
enough when they are swimming in the brook, but flowers are much prettier
to transport and take care of. But first go and fill up the hole you made
for the pond with the earth that is in the wheelbarrow; and when you have
made your garden and moved the flowers into it, I advise you to get the
watering-pot and give them a good watering."
It may be said that children ought to be brought up in habits of steadiness
and perseverance in what they undertake, and that this kind of indulgence
in their capriciousness would have a very bad tendency in this respect. The
answer is, that there are times and seasons for all the different kinds
of lessons which children have to learn, and that when in their hours of
recreation they are amusing themselves in play, lessons in perseverance and
system are out of place. The object to be sought for _then_ is the exercise
and growth of their bodily organs and members, the development of their
fancy and imagination, and their powers of observation of nature. The work
of training them to habits of system and of steady perseverance in
serious pursuits, which, though it is a work that ought by no means to be
neglected, is not the appropriate work of such a time.
_Summary of Results_.
The general rules for the government of the parent in his treatment of
his children's requests and wishes are these: In all matters of essential
importance he is to decide himself and simply announce his decision,
without giving any reasons _for the purpose of justifying it_, or for
_inducing submission to it_.
And in all matters not of essential importance he is to allow the children
the greatest possible freedom of action.
And the rule for children is that they are always to obey the command the
first time it is given, without question, and to take the first answer to
any request without any objection or demurring whatever.
It is very easy to see how smoothly and happily the affairs of domestic
government would go on if these rules were established and obeyed. All that
is required on the part of parents for their complete establishment is,
first, a clear comprehension of them, and then a calm, quiet, and gentle,
but still inflexible firmness in maintaining them. Unfortunately, however,
such qualities as these, simple as they seem, are the most rare. If,
instead of gentle but firm consistency and steadiness of action, ardent,
impulsive, and capricious energy and violence were required, it would be
comparatively easy to find them. How seldom do we see a mother's management
of her children regulated by a calm, quiet, gentle, and considerate
decision that thinks before it speaks in all important matters, and when it
speaks, is firm; and yet, which readily and gladly accords to the children
every liberty and indulgence which can do themselves or others no harm. And
on the other hand, how often do we see foolish laxity and indulgence in
yielding to importunity in cases of vital importance, alternating with
vexatious thwartings, rebuffs, and refusals in respect to desires and
wishes the gratification of which could do no injury at all.
The disposition to ask questions, which is so universal and so strong a
characteristic of childhood, is the open door which presents to the mother
the readiest and most easy access possible to the mind and heart of her
child. The opportunities and facilities thus afforded to her would be the
source of the greatest pleasure to herself, and of the greatest benefit
to her child, if she understood better how to avail herself of them. I
propose, in this chapter, to give some explanations and general directions
for the guidance of mothers, of older brothers and sisters, and of
teachers--of all persons, in fact, who may, from time to time, have young
children under their care or in their society. I have no doubt that some of
my rules will strike parents, at first view, as paradoxical and, perhaps,
almost absurd; but I hope that on more mature reflection they will be found
to be reasonable and just.
_The Curiosity of Children not a Fault_.
1. The curiosity of children is not a fault, and therefore we must never
censure them for asking questions, or lead them to think that we consider
the disposition to do so a fault on their part; but, on the other hand,
this disposition is to be encouraged as much as possible.
We must remember that a child, when his powers of observation begin to be
developed, finds every thing around him full of mystery and wonder. Why
some things are hard and some are soft--why some things will roll and some
will not--why he is not hurt when he falls on the sofa, and is hurt when he
falls on the floor--why a chair will tumble over when he climbs up by the
rounds of it, while yet the steps of the stairs remain firm and can be
ascended without danger--why one thing is black, and another red, and
another green--why water will all go away of itself from his hands or his
dress, while mud will not--why he can dig in the ground, but can not dig
in a floor--all is a mystery, and the little adventurer is in a continual
state of curiosity and wonder, not only to learn the meaning of all these
things, but also of desire to extend his observations, and find out more
and more of the astonishing phenomena that are exhibited around him. The
good feeling of the mother, or of any intelligent friend who is willing
to aid him in his efforts, is, of course, invaluable to him as a means of
promoting his advancement in knowledge and of developing his powers.
Remember, therefore, that the disposition of a child to ask questions is
not a fault, but only an indication of his increasing mental activity,
and of his desire to avail himself of the only means within his reach of
advancing his knowledge and of enlarging the scope of his intelligence in
respect to the strange and wonderful phenomena constantly observable around
_Sometimes, perhaps, a Source of Inconvenience_.
Of course there will be times when it is inconvenient for the parent to
attend to the questions of the child, and when he must, consequently, be
debarred of the pleasure and privilege of asking them; but even at such
times as these the disposition to ask them must not be attributed to him as
a fault. Never tell him that he is "a little tease"--that "you are tired
to death of answering his questions"--that he is "a chatter-box that would
weary the patience of Job;" or that, if he will "sit still for half an
hour, without speaking a word, you will give him a reward." If you are
going to be engaged, and so can not attend to him, say to him that you
_wish_ you could talk with him, and answer the questions, but that you are
going to be busy and can not do it; and then, after providing him with some
other means of occupation, require him to be silent: though even then you
ought to relieve the tedium of silence for him by stopping every ten or
fifteen minutes from your reading, or your letter-writing, or the planning
of your work, or whatever your employment may be, and giving your attention
to him for a minute or two, and affording him an opportunity to relieve the
pressure on his mind by a little conversation.
_Answers to be short and simple_.
2. Give generally to children's questions the shortest and simplest answers
One reason why parents find the questions of children so fatiguing to them,
is that _they attempt too much_ in their answers. If they would give the
right kind of answers, they would find the work of replying very easy,
and in most of their avocations it would occasion them very little
interruption. These short and simple answers are all that a child requires.
A full and detailed explanation of any thing they ask about is as tiresome
for them to listen to as it is for the mother to frame and give; while a
short and simple reply which advances them one step in their knowledge of
the subject is perfectly easy for the mother to give, and is, at the same
time, all that they wish to receive.
For example, let us suppose that the father and mother are taking a ride on
a summer afternoon after a shower, with little Johnny sitting upon the seat
between them in the chaise. The parents are engaged in conversation with
each other, we will suppose, and would not like to be interrupted. Johnny
presently spies a rainbow on a cloud in the east, and, after uttering an
exclamation of delight, asks his mother what made the rainbow. She hears
the question, and her mind, glancing for a moment at the difficulty of
giving an intelligible explanation of so grand a phenomenon to such a
child, experiences an obscure sensation of perplexity and annoyance, but
not quite enough to take off her attention from her conversation; so she
goes on and takes no notice of Johnny's inquiry. Johnny, accordingly, soon
repeats it, "Mother! mother! what makes the rainbow?"
At length her attention is forced to the subject, and she either tells
Johnny that she can't explain it to him--that he is not old enough to
understand it; or, perhaps, scolds him for interrupting her with so many
In another such case, the mother, on hearing the question, pauses long
enough to look kindly and with a smile of encouragement upon her face
towards Johnny, and to say simply, "The sun," and then goes on with her
conversation. Johnny says "Oh!" in a tone of satisfaction. It is a new and
grand idea to him that the sun makes the rainbow, and it is enough to fill
his mind with contemplation for several minutes, during which his parents
go on without interruption in their talk. Presently Johnny asks again,
"Mother, _how_ does the sun make the rainbow?"
His mother answers in the same way as before, "By shining on the cloud:"
and, leaving that additional idea for Johnny to reflect upon and
receive fully into his mind, turns again to her husband and resumes her
conversation with him after a scarcely perceptible interruption.
Johnny, after having reflected in silence some minutes, during which he has
looked at the sun and at the rainbow, and observed that the cloud on which
the arch is formed is exactly opposite to the sun, and fully exposed to his
beams, is prepared for another step, and asks,
"Mother, how does the sun make a rainbow by shining on the cloud?"
His mother replies that it shines on millions of little drops of rain in
the cloud, and makes them of all colors, like drops of dew on the ground,
and all the colors together make the rainbow.
Here are images presented to Johnny's mind enough to occupy his thoughts
for a considerable interval, when perhaps he will have another question
still, to be answered by an equally short and simple reply; though,
probably, by this time his curiosity will have become satisfied in respect
to his subject of inquiry, and his attention will have been arrested by
some other object.
To answer the child's questions in this way is so easy, and the pauses
which the answers lead to on the part of the questioner are usually so
long, that very little serious interruption is occasioned by them to any
of the ordinary pursuits in which a mother is engaged; and the little
interruption which is caused is greatly overbalanced by the pleasure which
the mother will experience in witnessing the gratification and improvement
of the child, if she really loves him, and is seriously interested in the
development of his thinking and reasoning powers.
_Answers should attempt to communicate but little Instruction_.
3. The answers which are given to children should not only be short and
simple in form, but each one should be studiously designed to communicate
as small an amount of information as possible.
[Illustration: "MOTHER, WHAT MAKES IT SNOW?"]
This may seem, at first view, a strange idea, but the import of it simply
is that, in giving the child his intellectual nourishment, you must act as
you do in respect to his bodily food--that is, divide what he is to receive
into small portions, and administer a little at a time. If you give him too
much at once in either case, you are in danger of choking him.
For example, Johnny asks some morning in the early winter, when the first
snow is falling, and he has been watching it for some time from the window
in wonder and delight, "Mother, what makes it snow?" Now, if the mother
imagines that she must give any thing like a full answer to the question,
her attention must be distracted from her work to enable her to frame it;
and if she does not give up the attempt altogether, and rebuke the boy for
teasing her with "so many silly questions," she perhaps suspends her work,
and, after a moment's perplexing thought, she says the vapor of the water
from the rivers and seas and damp ground rises into the air, and there at
last congeals into flakes of snow, and these fall through the air to the
The boy listens and attempts to understand the explanation, but he is
bewildered and lost in the endeavor to take in at once this extended
and complicated process--one which is, moreover, not only extended and
complicated, but which is composed of elements all of which are entirely
new to him.
If the mother, however, should act on the principle of communicating as
small a portion of the information required as it is possible to give
in one answer, Johnny's inquiry would lead, probably, to a conversation
somewhat like the following, the answers on the part of the mother being so
short and simple as to require no perceptible thought on her part, and
so occasioning no serious interruption to her work, unless it should be
something requiring special attention.
"Mother," asks Johnny, "what makes it snow?"
"It is the snow-flakes coming down out of the sky," says his mother. "Watch
"Oh!" says Johnny, uttering the child's little exclamation of satisfaction.
He looks at the flakes as they fall, catching one after another with his
eye, and following it in its meandering descent. He will, perhaps, occupy
himself several minutes in silence and profound attention, in bringing
fully to his mind the idea that a snow-storm consists of a mass of
descending flakes of snow falling through the air. To us, who are familiar
with this fact, it seems nothing to observe this, but to him the analyzing
of the phenomenon, which before he had looked upon as one grand spectacle
filling the whole sky, and only making an impression on his mind by its
general effect, and resolving it into its elemental parts of individual
flakes fluttering down through the air, is a great step. It is a step which
exercises his nascent powers of observation and reflection very deeply, and
gives him full occupation for quite a little interval of time. At length,
when he has familiarized himself with this idea, he asks again, perhaps,
"Where do the flakes come from, mother?"
"Out of the sky."
"Oh!" says Johnny again, for the moment entirely satisfied.
One might at first think that these words would be almost unmeaning, or, at
least, that they would give the little questioner no real information. But
they do give him information that is both important and novel. They advance
him one step in his inquiry. Out of the sky means, to him, from a great
height. The words give him to understand that the flakes are not formed
where they first come into his view, but that they descend from a higher
region. After reflecting on this idea a moment, he asks, we will suppose,
"How high in the sky, mother?"
Now, perhaps, a mother might think that there was no possible answer to be
given to such a question as this except that "she does not know;" inasmuch
as few persons have any accurate ideas of the elevation in the atmosphere
at which snow-clouds usually form. But this accurate information is not
what the child requires. If the mother possessed it, it would be useless
for her to attempt to communicate it to him. In the sense in which he
asks the question she _does_ understand it, and can give him a perfectly
"How high is it in the sky, mother, to where the snow comes from?" asks the
"Oh, _very_ high--higher than the top of the house," replies the mother.
"As high as the top of the chimney?"
"Yes, higher than that."
"As high as the moon?"
"No, not so high as the moon."
"How high is it then, mother?"
"About as high as birds can fly."
"Oh!" says Johnny, perfectly satisfied.
The answer is somewhat indefinite, it is true, but its indefiniteness is
the chief element in the value of it. A definite and precise answer, even
if one of that character were ready at hand, would be utterly inappropriate
to the occasion.
_An Answer may even be good which gives no Information at all_.
4. It is not even always necessary that an answer to a child's question
should convey _any information at all_. A little conversation on the
subject of the inquiry, giving the child an opportunity _to hear and to use
language_ in respect to it, is often all that is required.
It must be remembered that the power to express thoughts, or to represent
external objects by language, is a new power to young children, and, like
all other new powers, the mere exercise of it gives great pleasure. If a
person in full health and vigor were suddenly to acquire the art of flying,
he would take great pleasure in moving, by means of his wings, through
the air from one high point to another, not because he had any object in
visiting those high points, but because it would give him pleasure to find
that he could do so, and to exercise his newly acquired power. So with
children in their talk. They talk often, perhaps generally, for the sake of
the _pleasure of talking_, not for the sake of what they have to say. So,
if you will only talk with them and allow them to talk to you about any
thing that interests them, they are pleased, whether you communicate to
them any new information or not. This single thought, once fully understood
by a mother, will save her a great deal of trouble in answering the
incessant questions of her children. The only essential thing in many cases
is to _say something_ in reply to the question, no matter whether what you
say communicates any information or not.
If a child asks, for instance, what makes the stars shine so, and his
mother answers, "Because they are so bright," he will be very likely to be
as well satisfied as if she attempted to give a philosophical explanation
of the phenomenon. So, if he asks what makes him see himself in the
looking-glass, she may answer, "You see an _image_ of yourself there. They
call it an image. Hold up a book and see if you can see an image of that in
the glass too." He is pleased and satisfied. Nor are such answers useless,
as might at first be supposed. They give the child practice in the use of
language, and, if properly managed, they may be made the means of greatly
extending his knowledge of language and, by necessary consequence, of the
ideas and realities which language represents.
"Father," says Mary, as she is walking with her father in the garden, "what
makes some roses white and some red?" "It is very curious, is it not?" says
her father. "Yes, father, it is very curious indeed. What makes it so?"
"There must be _some_ cause for it" says her father. "And the apples that
grow on some trees are sweet, and on others they are sour. That is curious
too." "Yes, very curious indeed," says Mary. "The _leaves_ of trees seem to
be always green," continues her father, "though the flowers are of various
colors." "Yes, father," says Mary. "Except," adds her father, "when they
turn yellow, and red, and brown, in the fall of the year."
A conversation like this, without attempting any thing like an answer to
the question with which it commenced, is as satisfactory to the child, and
perhaps as useful in developing its powers and increasing its knowledge
of language, as any attempt to explain the phenomenon would be; and the
knowledge of this will make it easy for the mother to dispose of many a
question which might seriously interrupt her if she conceived it necessary
either to attempt a satisfactory explanation of the difficulty, or not to
answer it at all.
_Be always ready to say "I don't know_."
5. The mother should be always ready and willing to say "I don't know," in
answer to children's questions.
Parents and teachers are very often somewhat averse to this, lest, by
often confessing their own ignorance, they should lower themselves in the
estimation of their pupils or their children. So they feel bound to give
some kind of an explanation to every difficulty, in hopes that it may
satisfy the inquirer, though it does not satisfy themselves. But this is
a great mistake. The sooner that pupils and children understand that the
field of knowledge is utterly boundless, and that it is only a very small
portion of it that their superiors in age and attainment have yet explored,
the better for all concerned. The kind of superiority, in the estimation of
children, which it is chiefly desirable to attain, consists in their always
finding that the explanation which we give, whenever we attempt any, is
_clear, fair_, and _satisfactory_, not in our being always ready to offer
an explanation, whether satisfactory or not.
_Questions on Religious Subjects._
The considerations presented in this chapter relate chiefly to the
questions which children ask in respect to what they observe taking place
around them in external nature. There is another class of questions and
difficulties which they raise--namely, those that relate to religious
and moral subjects; and to these I have not intended now to refer. The
inquiries which children make on these subjects arise, in a great measure,
from the false and puerile conceptions which they are so apt to form in
respect to spiritual things, and from which they deduce all sorts of
absurdities. The false conceptions in which their difficulties originate
are due partly to errors and imperfections in our modes of teaching them
on these subjects, and partly to the immaturity of their powers, which
incapacitates them from clearly comprehending any elements of thought that
lie beyond the direct cognizance of the senses. We shall, however, have
occasion to refer to this subject in another chapter.
In respect, however, to all that class of questions which children ask in
relation to the visible world around them, the principles here explained
may render the mother some aid in her intercourse with the little learners
under her charge, if she clearly understands and intelligently applies
them. And she will find the practice of holding frequent conversations
with them, in these ways, a source of great pleasure to her, as well as
of unspeakable advantage to them. Indeed, the conversation of a kind
and intelligent mother is far the most valuable and important means of
education for a child during many years of its early life. A boy whose
mother is pleased to have him near her, who likes to hear and answer his
questions, to watch the gradual development of his thinking and reasoning
powers, and to enlarge and extend his knowledge of language--thus
necessarily and of course expanding the range and scope of his ideas--will
find that though his studies, strictly so called--that is, his learning to
read, and the committing to memory lessons from books--may be deferred,
yet, when he finally commences them he will go at once to the head of his
classes at school, through the superior strength and ampler development
which his mental powers will have attained.
THE USE OF MONEY.
The money question in the management and training of children has a
distinct bearing on the subjects of some of the preceding chapters. It is
extremely important, first, in respect to opportunities which are afforded
in connection with the use of money for cultivating and developing the
qualities of sound judgment and of practical wisdom; and then, in the
second place, the true course to be pursued with them in respect to money
forms a special point to be considered in its bearing upon the subject of
the proper mode of dealing with their wishes and requests.
_Evil Results of a very Common Method_.
If a parent wishes to eradicate from the mind of his boy all feelings of
delicacy and manly pride, to train him to the habit of obtaining what he
wants by importunity or servility, and to prevent his having any means of
acquiring any practical knowledge of the right use of money, any principles
of economy, or any of that forethought and thrift so essential to sure
prosperity in future life, the best way to accomplish these ends would seem
to be to have no system in supplying him with money in his boyish days, but
to give it to him only when he asks for it, and in quantities determined
only by the frequency and importunity of his calls.
Of course under such a system the boy has no inducement to take care of
his money, to form any plans of expenditure, to make any calculations, to
practise self-denial to-day for the sake of a greater good to-morrow. The
source of supply from which he draws money, fitful and uncertain as it may
be in what it yields to him, he considers unlimited; and as the amount
which he can draw from it does not depend at all upon his frugality, his
foresight, or upon any incipient financial skill that he may exercise, but
solely upon his adroitness in coaxing, or his persistence in importunity,
it is the group of bad qualities, and not the good, which such management
tends to foster. The effect of such a system is, in other words, not to
encourage the development and growth of those qualities on which thrift and
forehandedness in the management of his affairs in future life, and, in
consequence, his success and prosperity, depend; but, on the contrary, to
cherish the growth of all the mean and ignoble propensities of human nature
by accustoming him, so far as relates to this subject, to gain his ends by
the arts of a sycophant, or by rude pertinacity.
Not that this system always produces these results. It may be, and perhaps
generally is, greatly modified by other influences acting upon the mind of
the child at the same time, as well as by the natural tendencies of the
boy's character, and by the character and general influence upon him of his
father and mother in other respects. It can not be denied, however, that
the above is the tendency of a system which makes a boy's income of
spending-money a matter of mere chance, on which no calculations can be
founded, except so far as he can increase it by adroit manoeuvring or by
asking for it directly, with more or less of urgency or persistence, as the
case may require; that is to say, by precisely those means which are the
most ignoble and most generally despised by honorably-minded men as means
for the attainment of any human end.
Now one of the most important parts of the education of both girls and
boys, whether they are to inherit riches, or to enjoy a moderate income
from the fruits of their own industry, or to spend their lives in extreme
poverty, is to teach them the proper management and use of money. And this
may be very effectually done by giving them a fixed and definite income to
manage, and then throwing upon them the responsibility of the management of
it, with such a degree of guidance, encouragement, and aid as a parent can
_Objection to the Plan of a regular Allowance_.
There are no parents among those who will be likely to read this book of
resources so limited that they will not, from time to time, allow their
children _some_ amount of spending-money in a year. All that is necessary,
therefore, is to appropriate to them this amount and pay it to them, or
credit them with it, in a business-like and regular manner. It is true that
by this system the children will soon begin to regard their monthly or
weekly allowance as their due; and the parent will lose the pleasure, if
it is any pleasure to him or her, of having the money which they give
them regarded in each case as a present, and received with a sense of
obligation. This is sometimes considered an objection to this plan. "When
I furnish my children with money," says the parent, "as a gratification, I
wish to have the pleasure of _giving_ it to them. Whereas, on this proposed
plan of paying it to them regularly at stated intervals, they will come
to consider each payment as simply the payment of a debt. I wish them to
consider it as a gratuity on my part, so that it may awaken gratitude and
renew their love for me."
There is some seeming force in this objection, though it is true that the
adoption of the plan of a systematic appropriation, as here recommended,
does not prevent the making of presents of money, or of any thing else, to
the children, whenever either parent desires to do so. Still the plan will
not generally be adopted, except by parents in whose minds the laying of
permanent foundations for their children's welfare and happiness through
life, by training them from their earliest years to habits of forecast and
thrift, and the exercise of judgment and skill in the management of money,
is entirely paramount to any petty sentimental gratification to themselves,
while the children are young.
In case the parent--it may be either the father or the mother--decides to
adopt the plan of appropriating systematically and regularly a certain
sum to be at the disposal of the child, there are two modes by which the
business may be transacted--one by paying over the money itself in the
amounts and at the stated periods determined upon, and the other by opening
an account with the child, and giving him credit from time to time for the
amount due, charging on the other side the amounts which he draws.
1. _Paying the money_. This is the simplest plan. If it is adopted, the
money must be ready and be paid at the appointed time with the utmost
exactitude and certainty. Having made the arrangement with a child that he
is to have a certain sum--six cents, twelve cents, twenty-five cents, or
more, as the case may be--every Saturday night, the mother--if it is the
mother who has charge of the execution of the plan--must consider it a
sacred debt, and must be _always_ ready. She can not expect that her
children will learn regularity, punctuality, and system in the management
of their money affairs, if she sets them the example of laxity and
forgetfulness in fulfilling her engagements, and offering excuses for
non-payment when the time comes, instead of having the money ready when it
is due. The money, when paid, should not, in general, be carried by the
children about the person, but they should be provided with a purse or
other safe receptacle, which, however, should be entirely in their custody,
and so exposed to all the accidents to which any carelessness in the
custody would expose it. The mother must remember that the very object of
the plan is to have the children learn by experience to take care of money
themselves, and that she defeats that object by virtually relieving them
of this care. It should, therefore, be paid to them with the greatest
punctuality, especially at the first introduction of the system, and with
the distinct understanding that the charge and care of keeping it devolves
entirely upon them from the time of its passing into their hands.
2. _Opening an account_. The second plan, and one that will prove much the
most satisfactory in its working--though many mothers will shrink from it
on the ground that it would make them a great deal of trouble--is to keep
an account. For this purpose a small book should be made, with as many
leaves as there are children, so that for each account there can be two
pages. The book should be ruled for accounts, and the name of each child
should be entered at the head of the two pages appropriated to his account.
Then, from time to time, the amount of his allowance that has fallen due
should be entered on the credit side, and any payment made to him on the
The plan of keeping an account in this way obviates the necessity of paying
money at stated times, for the account will show at any time how much is
There are some advantages in each of these modes. Much depends on the age
of the children, and still more upon the facilities which the father or
mother have at hand for making entries in writing. To a man of business,
accustomed to accounts, who could have a book made small enough to go into
his wallet, or to a mother who is systematic in her habits, and has in her
work-table or her secretary facilities for writing at any time, the plan
of opening an account will be found much the best. It will afford an
opportunity of giving the children a great deal of useful knowledge in
respect to account-keeping--or, rather, by habituating them from an early
age to the management of their affairs in this systematic manner, will
train them from the beginning to habits of system and exactness. A very
perceptible effect in this direction will be produced on the minds of
children, even while they have not yet learned to read, and so can not
understand at all the written record made of their pecuniary transactions.
They will, at any rate, understand that a written record is made; they will
take a certain pride and pleasure in it, and impressions will be produced
which may have an effect upon their habits of accuracy and system in their
pecuniary transactions through all future life.
_Interest on Balances_.
One great advantage of the plan of having an account over that of paying
cash at stated times is, that it affords an opportunity for the father or
mother to allow interest for any balances left from time to time in their
hands, so as to initiate the children into a knowledge of the nature and
the advantages of productive investments, and familiarize them with the
idea that money reserved has within it a principle of increase. The
interest allowed should be altogether greater than the regular rate, so as
to make the advantage of it in the case of such small sums appreciable
to the children--but not too great. Some judgment and discretion must be
exercised on this as on all other points connected with the system.
The arrangements for the keeping of an account being made, and the account
opened, there is, of course, no necessity, as in the case of payments made
simply in cash, that the business should be transacted at stated times. At
any time when convenient, the entry may be made of the amount which has
become due since the time of the last entry. And when, from time to time,
the child wishes for money, the parent will look at his account and see if
there is a balance to his credit. If there is, the child will be entitled
to receive whatever he desires up to the amount of the balance. Once in a
month, or at any other times when convenient, the account can be settled,
and the balance, with the accrued interest, carried to a new account.
All this, instead of being a trouble, will only be a source of interest and
pleasure to the parent, as well as to the children themselves, and, without
occupying any sensible portion of time, will be the means of gradually
communicating a great deal of very useful instruction.
_Employment of the Money_.
It will have a great effect in "training up children in the way in which
they should go," in respect to the employment of money, if a rule is made
for them that a certain portion, one-quarter or one-half, for example, of
all the money which comes into their possession, both from their regular
allowance and from gratuities, is to be laid aside as a permanent
investment, and an account at some Savings Bank be opened, or some other
formal mode of placing it be adopted--the bank-book or other documentary
evidence of the amount so laid up to be deposited among the child's
In respect to the other portion of the money--namely, that which is to be
employed by the children themselves as spending-money, the disbursement
of it should be left _entirely at their discretion_, subject only to the
restriction that they are not to buy any thing that will be injurious or
dangerous to themselves, or a means of disturbance or annoyance to others.
The mother may give them any information or any counsel in regard to the
employment of their money, provided she does not do it in the form of
expressing any _wish_, on her part, in regard to it. For the very object
of the whole plan is to bring out into action, and thus to develop and
strengthen, the judgment and discretion of the child; and just as children
can not learn to walk by always being carried, so they can not learn to be
good managers without having the responsibility of actual management, on a
scale adapted to their years, thrown really upon them. If a boy wishes
to buy a bow and arrow, it may in some cases be right not to give him
permission to do it, on account of the danger accompanying the use of such
a plaything. But if he wishes to buy a kite which the mother is satisfied
is too large for him to manage, or if she thinks there are so many trees
about the house that he can not prevent its getting entangled in them, she
must not object to it on that account. She can explain these dangers to the
boy, if he is inclined to listen, but not in a way to show that she herself
wishes him not to buy the kite. "Those are the difficulties which you may
meet with," she may say, "but you may buy the kite if you think best."
Then when he meets with the difficulties, when he finds that he can not
manage the kite, or that he loses it among the trees, she must not triumph
over him, and say, "I told you how it would be. You would not take my
advice, and now you see how it is." On the contrary, she must help him, and
try to alleviate his disappointment, saying, "Never mind. It is a loss,
certainly. But you did what you thought was best at the time, and we all
meet with losses sometimes, even when we have done what we thought was
best. You will make a great many other mistakes, probably, hereafter
in spending money, and meet with losses; and this one will give you an
opportunity of learning to bear them like a man."
_The most implicit Faith to be kept with Children in Money Transactions_.
I will not say that a father, if he is a man of business, ought to be as
jealous of his credit with his children as he is of his credit at the bank;
but I think, if he takes a right view of the subject, he will be extremely
sensitive in respect to both. If he is a man of high and honorable
sentiments, and especially if he looks forward to future years when his
children shall have arrived at maturity, or shall be approaching towards
it, and sees how important and how delicate the pecuniary relations between
himself and them may be at that time, he will feel the importance of
beginning by establishing, at the very commencement, not only by means of
precept, but by example, a habit of precise, systematic, and scrupulous
exactitude in the fulfillment of every pecuniary obligation. It is not
necessary that he should do any thing mean or small in his dealings with
them in order to accomplish this end. He may be as liberal and as generous
with them in many ways as he pleases, but he must keep his accounts with
them correctly. He must always, without any demurring or any excuse, be
ready to fulfill his engagements, and teach them to fulfill theirs.
_Possible Range of Transactions between Parents and Children_.
The parent, after having initiated his children into the regular
transaction of business by his mode of managing their allowance-fund, may
very advantageously extend the benefits of the system by engaging with them
from time to time in other affairs, to be regulated in a business-like and
systematic manner. For example, if one of his boys has been reserving a
portion of his spending-money as a watch-fund, and has already half enough
for the purchase, the father may offer to lend him the balance and take a
mortgage of the watch, to stand until the boy shall have taken it up out of
future savings; and he can make out a mortgage-deed expressing in a few and
simple words the fact that the watch is pledged to him as security for the
sum advanced, and is not to become the absolute property of the boy till
the money for which it is pledged is paid. In the course of years, a great
number of transactions in this way may take place between the father or
mother and their boy, each of which will not only be a source of interest
and enjoyment to both parties, but will afford the best possible means of
imparting, not only to the child directly interested in them, but to the
other children, a practical knowledge of financial transactions, and of
forming in them the habit of conducting all their affairs in a systematic
and business-like manner.
The number and variety of such transactions in which the modes of doing
business among men may be imitated with children, greatly to their
enjoyment and interest, is endless. I could cite an instance when what was
called a bank was in operation for many years among a certain number of
children, with excellent effect. One was appointed president, another
cashier, another paying-teller. There was a ledger under the charge of the
cashier, with a list of stockholders, and the number of shares held by
each, which was in proportion to the respective ages of the children. The
bank building was a little toy secretary, something in the form of a safe,
into which there mysteriously appeared, from time to time, small sums of
money; the stockholders being as ignorant of the source from which the
profits of the bank were derived as most stockholders probably are in the
case of larger and more serious institutions. Once in six months, or at
other periods, the money was counted, a dividend was declared, and the
stockholders were paid in a regular and business-like manner.
The effect of such methods as these is not only to make the years of
childhood pass more pleasantly, but also to prepare them to enter, when
the time comes, upon the serious business of life with some considerable
portion of that practical wisdom in the management of money which is often,
when it is deferred to a later period, acquired only by bitter experience
and through much suffering.
Indeed, any parent who appreciates and fully enters into the views
presented in this chapter will find, in ordinary cases, that his children
make so much progress in business capacity that he can extend the system so
as to embrace subjects of real and serious importance before the children
arrive at maturity. A boy, for instance, who has been trained in this way
will be found competent, by the time that he is ten or twelve years old,
to take the contract for furnishing himself with caps, or boots and shoes,
and, a few years later, with all his clothing, at a specified annual sum.
The sum fixed upon in the case of caps, for example, should be intermediate
between that which the caps of a boy of ordinary heedlessness would cost,
and that which would be sufficient with special care, so that both the
father and the son could make money, as it were, by the transaction. Of
course, to manage such a system successfully, so that it could afterwards
be extended to other classes of expenses, requires tact, skill, system,
patience, and steadiness on the part of the father or mother who should
attempt it; but when the parent possesses these qualities, the time and
attention that would be required would be as nothing compared with the
trouble, the vexation, the endless dissatisfaction on both sides, that
attend upon the ordinary methods of supplying children's wants--to say
nothing of the incalculable benefit to the boy himself of such a training,
as a part of his preparation for future life.
_Evil Results to be feared_.
Nor is it merely upon the children themselves, and that after they enter
upon the responsibilities of active life, that the evils resulting from
their having had no practical training in youth in respect to pecuniary
responsibilities and obligations, that evil consequences will fall. The
great cities are full of wealthy men whose lives are rendered miserable by
the recklessness in respect to money which is displayed by their sons and
daughters as they advance towards maturity, and by the utter want, on their
part, of all sense of delicacy, and of obligation or of responsibility of
any kind towards their parents in respect to their pecuniary transactions.
Of course this must, in a vast number of cases, be the result when the boy
is brought up from infancy with the idea that the only limit to his supply
of money is his ingenuity in devising modes of putting a pressure upon
his father. Fifteen or twenty years spent in managing his affairs on this
principle must, of course, produce the fruit naturally to be expected from
_The great Difficulty_.
It would seem, perhaps, at first view, from what has been said in this
chapter, that it would be a very simple and easy thing to train up children
thus to correct ideas and habits in respect to the use of money; and
it would be so--for the principles involved seem to be very plain and
simple--were it not that the _qualities which it requires in the parent_
are just those which are most rare. Deliberateness in forming the plan,
calmness and quietness in proposing it, inflexible but mild and gentle
firmness in carrying it out, perfect honesty in allowing the children to
exercise the power and responsibility promised them, and an indulgent
spirit in relation to the faults and errors into which they fall in the
exercise of it--these and other such qualities are not very easily found.
To make an arrangement with a child that he is to receive a certain sum
every Saturday, and then after two or three weeks to forget it, and when
the boy comes to call for it, to say, petulantly, "Oh, don't come to bother
me about that now--I am busy; and besides, I have not got the money now;"
or, when a boy has spent all his allowance on the first two or three days
of the week, and comes to beg importunately for more, to say, "It was very
wrong in you to spend all your money at once, and I have a great mind not
to give you any more. I will, however, do it just this time, but I shall
not again, you may depend;" or, to borrow money in some sudden emergency
out of the fund which a child has accumulated for a special purpose, and
then to forget or neglect to repay it--to manage loosely and capriciously
in any such ways as these will be sure to make the attempt a total failure;
that is to say, such management will be sure to be a failure in respect to
teaching the boy to act on right principles in the management of money, and
training him to habits of exactness and faithfulness in the fulfillment of
his obligations. But in making him a thoughtless, wasteful, teasing, and
selfish boy while he remains a boy, and fixing him, when he comes to
manhood, in the class of those who are utterly untrustworthy, faithless in
the performance of their promises, and wholly unscrupulous in respect to
the means by which they obtain money, it may very probably turn out to be a
It might, perhaps, be thought that, in a book which professes to show
how an efficient government can be established and maintained by _gentle
measures_, the subject of corporal punishment could have no place. It seems
important, however, that there should be here introduced a brief though
distinct presentation of the light in which, in a philosophical point of
view, this instrumentality is to be regarded.
_The Teachings of Scripture_.
The resort to corporal punishment in the training of children seems to be
spoken of in many passages contained in the Scriptures as of fundamental
necessity. But there can be no doubt that the word _rod_, as used in those
passages, is used simply as the emblem of parental authority. This is in
accordance with the ordinary custom of Hebrew writers in those days, and
with the idiom of their language, by which a single visible or tangible
object was employed as the representative or expression of a general
idea--as, for example, the sword is used as the emblem of magisterial
authority, and the sun and the rain, which are spoken of as being sent with
their genial and fertilizing power upon the evil and the good, denote not
specially and exclusively those agencies, but all the beneficent influences
of nature which they are employed to represent. The injunctions, therefore,
of Solomon in respect to the use of the rod are undoubtedly to be
understood as simply enjoining upon parents the necessity of bringing up
their children _in complete subjection_ to their authority. No one can
imagine that he could wish the rod to be used when complete subjection to
the parental authority could be secured by more gentle means. And how this
is to be done it is the object precisely of this book to show.
In this sense, therefore--and it is undoubtedly the true sense--namely,
that children must be _governed by the authority of the parent_, the
passages in question express a great and most essential truth. It is
sometimes said that children must be governed by reason, and this is true,
but it is the reason of their parents, and not their own which must hold
the control. If children were endowed with the capacity of seeing what is
best for them, and with sufficient self-control to pursue what is best
against the counter-influences of their animal instincts and propensities,
there would be no necessity that the period of subjection to parental
authority should be extended over so many years. But so long as their
powers are yet too immature to be safely relied upon, they must, of
necessity, be subject to the parental will; and the sooner and the more
perfectly they are made to understand this, and to yield a willing
submission to the necessity, the better it will be, not only for their
parents, but also for themselves.
The parental authority must, therefore, be established--by gentle means,
if possible--but it must by all means be established, and be firmly
maintained. If you can not govern your child without corporal punishment,
it is better to resort to it than not to govern him at all. Taking a wide
view of the field, I think there may be several cases in which a resort to
the infliction of physical pain as the only available means of establishing
authority may be the only alternative. There are three cases of this kind
that are to be specially considered.
[Illustration: THE RUNAWAY]
_Possible Cases in which it is the only Alternative.--Savages_.
1. In savage or half-civilized life, and even, perhaps, in so rude a state
of society as must have existed in some parts of Judea when the Proverbs of
Solomon were written, it is conceivable that many parents, owing to their
own ignorance, and low animal condition, would have no other means at their
command for establishing their authority over their children than scoldings
and blows. It must be so among savages. And it is certainly better, if the
mother knows no other way of inducing her boy to keep within her sight,
that she should whip him when he runs away, than that he should be bitten
by serpents or devoured by bears. She _must_ establish her authority in
some way, and if this is the best that she is capable of pursuing, she must
_Teachers whose Tasks surpass their Skill_.
2. A teacher, in entering upon the charge of a large school of boys made
unruly by previous mismanagement, may, perhaps, possibly find himself
unable to establish submission to his authority without this resource. It
is true that if it is so, it is due, in a certain sense, to want of skill
on the teacher's part; for there are men, and women too, who will take any
company of boys that you can give them, and, by a certain skill, or tact,
or knowledge of human nature, or other qualities which seem sometimes
to other persons almost magical, will have them all completely under
subjection in a week, and that without violence, without scolding, almost
without even a frown. The time may, perhaps, come when every teacher, to
be considered qualified for his work, must possess this skill. Indeed, the
world is evidently making great and rapid progress in this direction. The
methods of instruction and the modes by which the teacher gains and holds
his influence over his pupils have been wonderfully improved in recent
times, so that where there was one teacher, fifty years ago, who was really
beloved by his pupils, we have fifty now. In Dr. Johnson's time, which was
about a hundred and fifty years ago, it would seem that there was no other
mode but that of violent coercion recognized as worthy to be relied upon in
imparting instruction, for he said that he knew of no way by which Latin
could be taught to boys in his day but "by having it flogged into them."
From such a state of things to that which prevails at the present day there
has been an astonishing change. And now, whether a teacher is able to
manage an average school of boys without physical force is simply a
question of tact, knowledge of the right principles, and skill in applying
them on his part. It is, perhaps, yet too soon to expect that all teachers
can possess, or can acquire, these qualifications to such a degree as to
make it safe to forbid the infliction of bodily pain in any case, but the
time for it is rapidly approaching, and in some parts of the country it
has, perhaps, already arrived. Until that time comes, every teacher who
finds himself under the necessity of beating a boy's body in order to
attain certain moral or intellectual ends ought to understand that the
reason is the incompleteness of his understanding and skill in dealing
directly with his mind; though for this incompleteness he may not himself
be personally at all to blame.
_Children spoiled by Neglect and Mismanagement_.
3. I am even willing to admit that one or more boys in a family may reach
such a condition of rudeness and insubordination, in consequence of neglect
or mismanagement on the part of their parents in their early years, and
the present clumsiness and incapacity of the father in dealing with the
susceptibilities and impulses of the human soul, that the question will lie
between keeping them within some kind of subordination by bodily punishment
or not controlling them at all. If a father has been so engrossed in his
business that he has neglected his children, has never established any
common bond of sympathy between himself and them, has taken no interest in
their enjoyments, nor brought them by moral means to an habitual subjection
to his will; and if their mother is a weak, irresolute woman, occupying
herself with the pursuits and pleasures of fashionable society, and leaving
her children to the management of servants, the children will, of course,
in general, grow up exacting, turbulent, and ungovernable; and when,
with advancing maturity, their increasing strength and vigor makes this
turbulence and disorder intolerable in the house, and there is, as of
course there usually will be in such a case, no proper knowledge and skill
in the management of the young on the part of either parent to remedy the
evil by gentle measures, the only alternative in many cases may be either
a resort to violent punishment, or the sending away of the unmanageable
subjects to school. The latter part of the alternative is the best, and,
fortunately, it is the one generally adopted. But where it can not be
adopted, it is certainly better that the boys should be governed by the rod
than to grow up under no government at all.
_Gentle Measures effectual where Rightfully and Faithfully employed_.
However it may be with respect to the exceptional cases above enumerated,
and perhaps some others, there can, I think, be no doubt that parents who
should train their children from the beginning on the principles explained
in this volume, and upon others analogous to them, would never, in any
case, have to strike a blow. They would accomplish the end enjoined by the
precepts of Solomon, namely, the complete subjection of their children to
their authority, by improved methods not known in his day, or, at least,
not so fully developed that they could then be relied upon. They who
imagine that parents are bound to use the rod as the instrumentality,
because the Scriptures speak of the rod as the means of establishing
parental authority best known in those days, instead of employing the more
effective methods which the progress of improvement has developed and made
available at the present day, ought, in order to be consistent, to insist
on the retention of the harp in religious worship, because David enjoins
it upon believers to "praise the Lord with harp:" to "sing unto him with
psaltery, and an instrument of ten strings." The truth is, that what we are
to look at in such injunctions is the end that is to be attained, which is,
in this last case, the impressive and reverential exaltation of Almighty
God in our minds by the acts of public worship; and if, with the
improvements in musical instruments which have been made in modern times,
we can do this more satisfactorily by employing in the place of a psaltery
or a harp of ten strings an organ of ten or a hundred stops, we are bound
to make the substitution. In a word, we must look at the end and not at
the means, remembering that in questions of Scripture interpretation the
"letter killeth, the spirit maketh alive."
_Protracted Contests with Obstinacy_.
It seems to me, though I am aware that many excellent persons think
differently, that it is never wise for the parent to allow himself to
be drawn into a contest with a child in attempting to compel him to do
something that from ill-temper or obstinacy he refuses to do. If the
attempt is successful, and the child yields under a moderate severity
of coercion, it is all very well. But there is something mysterious and
unaccountable in the strength of the obstinacy sometimes manifested in such
cases, and the degree of endurance which it will often inspire, even in
children of the most tender age. We observe the same inexplicable fixedness
sometimes in the lower animals--in the horse, for example; which is the
more unaccountable from the fact that we can not suppose, in his case, that
peculiar combination of intelligence and ill-temper which we generally
consider the sustaining power of the protracted obstinacy on the part of
the child. The degree of persistence which is manifested by children
in contests of this kind is something wonderful, and can not easily be
explained by any of the ordinary theories in respect to the influence of
motives on the human mind. A state of cerebral excitement and exaltation is
not unfrequently produced which seems akin to insanity, and instances have
been known in which a child has suffered itself to be beaten to death
rather than yield obedience to a very simple command. And in vast numbers
of instances, the parent, after a protracted contest, gives up in despair,