TODAY AND TOMORROW
TODAY AND TOMORROW
SOME PROBLEMS FOR PARENTS CONCERNING
PUNISHMENT REASONING LIES IDEALS AND AMBITIONS FEAR WORK AND PLAY IMAGINATION SOCIAL ACTIVITIES OBEDIENCE ADOLESCENCE WILL HEREDITY
SIDONIE MATZNER GRUENBERG
Second Revised Edition Enlarged
WITH A FORWARD BY BISHOP JOHN H. VINCENT Chancellor of Chautauqua Institution
WITH 12 ILLUSTRATIONS
1912, 1913, 1920
TO HER WHOSE DEVOTION AND UNTIRING EFFORT TOWARD AN INTELLIGENT UNDERSTANDING OF HER CHILDREN HAVE EVER BEEN AN INSPIRATION,
TO MY CHILDREN
WHOSE CONTRIBUTION TOWARD MY EDUCATION HAS BEEN GREATER THAN THAT FROM ANY OTHER SOURCE, THIS LITTLE BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED.
PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION
In the sad years that have intervened since this book was published, we have all been impressed by the brilliant achievements of science in every department of practical life. But whereas the application of chemistry and electricity and biology might, perhaps, be safely left to the specialists, it seems to me that in a democracy it is essential for every single person to have a practical understanding of the workings of his own mind, and of his neighbor's. The understanding of human nature should not be left entirely in the hands of the specialists—it concerns all of us.
There is no better way for beginning the study of human nature than by following the unfolding of a spirit as it takes place before us in the growth of a child. I am humbly grateful of the assurances received from many quarters that these chapters have aided many parents and teachers in such study.
In the present edition I have made a number of slight changes to harmonize the reading with the results of later scientific studies; there is a new list of references and some new material in the chapter on sex education; and there is a new chapter suggesting the connection between the new psychology and the democratic ideals of human relations.
SIDONIE MATZNER GRUENBERG.
In my efforts to learn something about the nature of the child, as a member of child-study groups, and in my own studies, I have found a large mass of material—accumulated by investigators into the psychology and the biology of childhood—which could be of great practical use to all concerned with the bringing up of children. In this little book I have tried to present some of this material in a form that will make it available for those who lack the time, or the special training or the opportunity to work it out for themselves. It has been my chief aim to show that a proper understanding of and sympathy with the various stages through which the child normally passes will do much toward making not only the child happier, but the task of the parents pleasanter. I am convinced that our failure to understand the workings of the child's mind is responsible for much of the friction between parents and children. We cannot expect the children, with their limited experience and their undeveloped intellect, to understand us; if we are to have harmony, intimacy and cooperation, these must come through the parents' successful efforts at understanding the children.
In speaking of the child always in the masculine, I have followed the custom of the specialists. It is of course to be understood that "he" sometimes means "she" and usually "he or she."
It has been impossible to refer at every point to the source of the material used. One unconsciously absorbs many ideas which one is unable later to trace to their sources; in addition to this, the material I have here presented has been worked over so that it is impossible in most cases to ascribe a particular idea to a particular person. I wish, however, to acknowledge my indebtedness to all who have patiently labored in this field, and especially to those Masters of Child Study, G. Stanley Hall, John Dewey, Earl Barnes, Edwin A. Kirkpatrick and Edward L. Thorndike. I owe much to my opportunity to work in the Federation for Child Study. These groups of mothers and teachers have done a great deal, under the guidance and inspiration of Professor Felix Adler, to develop a spirit of co-operation in the attack upon the practical problems of child-training in the home.
I am very grateful to Mrs. Hilda M. Schwartz, of Minneapolis, for her assistance in revising the manuscript and in securing the illustrations.
The assistance of my husband has been invaluable. In his suggestions and criticisms he has given me the benefit of his experience as biologist and educator.
SIDONIE MATZNER GRUENBERG.
New York May, 1913.
In the thought of the writer of this prefatory page, the book he thus introduces is an exceptionally sane, practical and valuable treatment of the problem of problems suggested by our present American Civilization, namely: The Training of the On-coming Generation—the new Americans—who are to realize the dreams of our ancestors concerning personal freedom and development in the social, political, commercial and religious life of the Republic.
There is always hope for the adult who takes any real interest in self-improvement. One is never too old to "turn over a new leaf" and to begin a new record. A full-grown man may become a "promising child" in the kingdom of grace. He may dream dreams and see visions. He may resolve, and his experience of forty or more years in "practising decision" and in persisting despite counter inclinations may only increase his chances for mastering a problem, overcoming a difficulty and developing enthusiasm. A page of History or of Ethics, a poet's vision or a philosopher's reasoning, will find a response in his personality impossible to a juvenile. His knowledge of real life, of persons he has met, of theories he has often pondered, of difficulties he has encountered and canvassed, the conversations and discussions in which he has taken part—all give new value to the pages he is now turning, and while he may not as easily as formerly memorize the language, he at once grasps, appreciates and appropriates the thoughts there expressed.
With these advantages as a thinker, a reader, a man of affairs, a father interested in his or children and in their education, what a blessing to him and to his family comes through the reading of an interesting, suggestive and stimulating book on child training such as this practical volume by Mrs. Gruenberg. In fact, the book becomes a sort of a Normal Class in itself. It is attractive, ingenious, illustrative and stimulating—an example of the true teaching spirit and method.
This volume has in it much that a preacher and pastor would do well to read. And a very wise pastor will be inclined to bring together Mothers and Sunday-School Teachers and read to them certain paragraphs until they are induced to put a copy of the volume in their own library and thus become, in a sense, members of a strong and most helpful "Normal Class."
One thing every Sunday-School Teacher and every Parent should remember is that all attempts to experiment in the instruction of children are so many steps towards "Normal Work," in which are included the use of "illustrations," the framing of "questions," the devices to "get attention," and the effort to induce children to "think for themselves" and freely to express their thoughts, reasonings, doubts, difficulties and personal independent opinions. All these efforts not only develop power in the child, but they react upon the teacher and ensure for the "next meeting of the class" some "new suggestion," some additional question, some fresh view of the whole subject by which both teacher and pupils will be stimulated and instructed.
In our intercourse with children let us aim to develop the teaching motive, and we shall not only make the work of the "class room" profitable to the pupils, but each of us will find new delight, new inspiration and an unanticipated degree of success in this beautiful and divine ministry.
JOHN H. VINCENT.
CHICAGO AND CHAUTAUQUA,
May 7, 1913.
I. YOU AND YOUR CHILD
II. THE PROBLEM OF PUNISHMENT
III. WHEN YOUR CHILD IMAGINES THINGS
IV. THE LIES CHILDREN TELL
V. BEING AFRAID
VI. THE FIRST GREAT LAW
VII. THE TRAINING OF THE WILL
VIII. HOW CHILDREN REASON
IX. WORK AND PLAY
X. CHILDREN'S GANGS, CLUBS, AND FRIENDSHIPS
XI. CHILDREN'S IDEALS AND AMBITIONS
XII. THE STORK OR THE TRUTH
XIII. THE GOLDEN AGE OF TRANSITION
XIV. HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT
XV. FREEDOM AND DISCIPLINE
THE CREATIVE IMPULSE IS BORN WITH EVERY NORMAL CHILD
THE IMPULSE TO ACTION EARLY LEADS TO DOING
IMAGINATION SUPPLIES THIS TWO-YEAR-OLD A PRANCING STEED
NEITHER ARE GIRLS AFRAID TO CLIMB
ONLY A GOOD REASON CAN WARRANT CALLING AN ABSORBED CHILD FROM HIS OCCUPATION
HABITS OF CAREFUL WORK FURNISH A GOOD FOUNDATION FOR THE WILL
WORK IS PLAY
LET THEM ROMP IN THE WINTER AS WELL AS IN SUMMER
IN THEIR GAMES THEY SHOULD LEARN TO LOSE AS WELL AS TO WIN
DON'T FORGET HOW TO PLAY WITH THE CHILDREN
THE BOYS NEED A CHANCE TO GET TOGETHER
IN THE COUNTRY CHILDREN BECOME ACQUAINTED WITH THE FACTS OF LIFE
YOUR CHILD TODAY AND TOMORROW
YOU AND YOUR CHILD
Housekeeping, in the sense of administering the work of the household, has been raised almost to a science. The same is true of the feeding of children. But the training of children still lags behind, so far as most of us are concerned, in the stage occupied by housekeeping and farming a generation or two ago. There has, indeed, been developed a considerable mass of exact knowledge about the nature of the child, and about the laws of his development; but this knowledge has been for most parents a closed book. It is not what the scientists know, but what the people apply, that marks our progress.
"Child-study" has been considered something with which young normal-school students have to struggle before they begin their real struggle with bad boys. But mothers have been expected to know, through some divine instinct, just how to handle their own children, without any special study or preparation. That the divine instinct has not taught them properly to feed the young infant and the growing child we have learned but slowly and at great cost in human life and suffering; but we have learned it. Our next lesson should be to realize that our instincts cannot be relied upon when it comes to understanding the child's mind, the meaning of his various activities, and how best to guide his mental and moral development.
Mistakes that parents—and teachers—make in dealing with the child's mind are not often fatal. Nor can you always trace the evil effects of such mistakes in the later character of the child. But there can be no doubt that many of the heartbreaks, misunderstandings, and estrangements between parents and children are due to mistakes that could have been avoided by a knowledge of the nature of the child's mind.
There are, fortunately, many parents who arrive at an understanding of the nature of the child through sympathetic insight, through quick observation, through the application of sound sense and the results of experience to the problems that arise. It is not necessary that all of us approach the child in the attitude of the professional scientist; indeed, it is neither possible for us to do so, nor is it desirable that we should. But it is both possible and desirable that we make use of the experience and observations of others, that we apply the results of scientific experiments, that we renforce our instincts with all available helps. We need not fall into the all-too-common error of placing common-sense and practical insight in opposition to the method of the scientists. Everyone in this country appreciates the wonderful and valuable services of Luther Burbank, and no one doubts that if his method could be extended the whole nation would benefit in an economic way. Yet Burbank has been unable to teach the rest of us how to apply his shrewd "common-sense" and his keen intuition to the improvement of useful and ornamental plants. It was necessary for scientists to study what he had done in order to make available for the whole world those principles that make his practice really productive of desirable results. In the same way it is well for every parent and every teacher—everyone who has to do with children—to supplement good sense and observation with the results of scientific study.
On the other hand, there is no universal formula for the bringing up of children, one that can be applied to all children everywhere and always, any more than there is a universal formula for fertilizing soil or curing disease or feeding babies. Yet there are certain general laws of child development and certain general principles of child training which have been derived from scientific studies of children, and which agree with the best thought and experience of those who learned to know their children without the help of science. These general laws and principles may be profitably learned and used in bringing up the rising generation.
Too many people, and especially too many parents, think of the child as merely a small man or woman. This is far from a true conception of the child. Just as the physical organs of the child work in a manner different from what we find in the adult, so the mind of the child works along in a way peculiar to its stage of development. If a physician should use the same formulas for treating children's ailments as he uses with adults, simply reducing the size of the dose, we should consider his methods rather crude. If a parent should feed an infant the same materials that she supplied to the rest of the family, only in smaller quantities, we should consider her too ignorant to be entrusted with the care of the child. And for similar reasons we must learn that the behavior of the child must be judged according to standards different from those we apply to an adult. The same act represents different motives in a child and in an adult—or in the same child at different ages.
Moreover, each child is different from every other child in the whole world. The law has recognized that a given act committed by two different persons may really be two entirely different acts, from a moral point of view. How much more important is it for the parent or the teacher to recognize that each child must be treated in accordance with his own nature!
It is the duty of every mother to know the nature of her child, in order that she may assist in the development of all of his possibilities. Child Study is a new science, but old enough to give us great help through what the experts have found out about "child nature." But the experts do not know your child; they have studied the problems of childhood, and their results you can use in learning to know your child. Your problem is always an individual problem; the problem of the scientist is a general one. From the general results, however, you may get suggestions for the solution of your individual problem.
We all know the mother who complains that her boys did not turn out just the way she wanted them to—although they are very good boys. After they have grown up she suddenly realizes one day how far they are from her in spirit. She could have avoided the disillusion by recognizing early enough that the interests and instincts of her boys were healthy ones, notwithstanding they were so different from her own. She would have been more to the boys, and they more to her, if, instead of wasting her energy in trying to make them "like herself," she had tried to develop their tastes and inclinations to their full possibilities.
How much happier is the home in which the mother understands the children, and knows how to treat each according to his disposition, instead of treating all by some arbitrary rule! As a mother of three children said one day, "With Mary, just a hint of what I wish is sufficient to secure results. With John, I have to give a definite order and insist that he obey. With Robert I get the best results by explaining and appealing to his reason." How much trouble she saves herself—and the children—by having found this much out!
A mother who knows that what we commonly call the "spirit of destruction" in a child is the same as the constructive impulse will not be so much grieved when her baby takes the alarm clock apart as the mother who looks upon this deed as an indication of depravity or wickedness.
Some of the directions in which the parents may profit from what the specialists have worked out may be suggested. There is the question of punishment, for example. How many of us have thought out a satisfactory philosophy of punishment? In our personal relations with our children we all too frequently cling to the theory of punishment that justifies us in "paying back" for the trouble we have been caused—if, indeed, we do any more than vent our temper at the annoyance. It is not viciousness on our part; it is merely ignorance. But the time is rapidly approaching when there will be no excuse for ignorance, even if it is not yet time to say that preventable ignorance is vicious.
How many mothers, for example, realize that the desire on the part of the child to touch, to do—to get into mischief—is a fundamental characteristic of childhood, and not an indication of perversity in her particular Johnny or Mary? How many know that these instincts are the most useful and the most usable traits that the child has; that the checking of these impulses may mean the destruction of individual qualities of great importance in the formation of character? How many know how wisely to direct these instincts without thwarting them?
How many mothers—good housewives—know anything at all about the imagination, that crowning glory of the human mind? They admire the poet's flights of fancy; but when, on being asked where his brother is, Harry says, "He went off in a great, great, big airship," they feel the call of duty to punish him for his lies!
Many of us have realized in a helpless sort of way that there is need for expert knowledge in these matters, and have comfortably shifted the responsibility to the teacher. Parents are often heard to say, when a troublesome youngster is under discussion, "Just wait until he begins to go to school." It is not wise to wait. There is much to be done before the school can be thought of, or even before the kindergarten age is reached. Indeed, a child is never too young to profit from the application of thought and knowledge to his treatment.
Of course, the training value of the school's work is not to be underestimated. The social intercourse that the child experiences there, the regularity of hours, the teacher's personality, all have their favorable influence in the molding of the child's character. But neither must we overestimate the powers of the school. The school has the child but a few hours a day, for barely more than half the year; the classes are unconscionably large. We all hope that the classes will be made smaller, but they never can be small enough, within our own times, for the purpose of really effective moral training. The relations between teacher and pupil can never be as intimate as are those of parent and child. The teacher knows the child, as a rule, only as a member of a group and under special circumstances; the parents alone have the opportunity to know closely the individual peculiarities of the child; they alone can know him in health and in sickness, in joy and in sorrow, in his strength and in his weakness. The parents can watch their child from day to day, year after year; whereas the teacher sees the child for a comparatively short period of his development, and then passes him on to another.
The time was—and for most of our children still is—when the teacher had to know nothing but her "subjects"; the nature of the child was to her as great a mystery as it is to the ordinary person who never learned anything about it. She was supposed to deal with the "average" child that does not exist, and to attempt the futile task of drawing the laggard up to this arbitrary average and of holding the genius down to it. The effort is being made to have the teacher recognize the individuality of each child; but the mother is still expected to confine her ministrations to his individual digestion.
In a dozen different ways the effective methods in the treatment of children, at home or in school, in the church or on the playground, depend upon knowledge and understanding, as is the case in all practical activities. Instincts alone are never sufficient to tell us what to do, notwithstanding the fact that so much really valuable work has been achieved in the past without any special training.
It may be true that in the past the instincts of the child adapted him to the needs of life. It may also be true that the instincts of adults adapted them in the past to their proper treatment of children. We should realize, however, that the conditions of modern life are so complex that few of us know just what to do under given conditions unless we have made a special effort to find out. And this is just as true of the treatment of children as it is of the care of the health, or of the building of bridges. It is for this reason that the results of child study are important to all who have to do with children—whether as teachers or as parents, whether as club leaders or as directors of institutions, whether as social workers or as loving uncles and aunts.
It is impossible to guarantee to anyone that a study of child nature will enable him or her to train children into models of good behavior. Knowledge alone does not always produce the desired results; nevertheless, an understanding of the child should enable those who have to deal with him to assume an attitude that will reduce in a great measure their annoyance at the various awkward and inconsiderate and mischievous acts of the youngsters. Such a study should make possible a closer intimacy with the child. And, finally, it should make possible a longer continuance of that intimacy with the child, which is so helpful for those in authority as well as for the child himself.
THE PROBLEM OF PUNISHMENT
Picture to yourself a dark hallway. Behind the door stands an indignant mother with a strap in her hand. It is past the dinner hour and William has not yet returned. But here he is now. He comes bounding up the steps, radiantly happy, and under each arm a pumpkin. He bursts into the house. His mother seizes him by the shoulder and proceeds to apply the strap where she thinks it will do the most good. The little boy is William J. Stillman, and the story is told in his autobiography. He tells how just an hour before dinner a neighboring farmer had asked him to go to his field to shake down the fruit from two apple trees. William was so glad to do something for which he would receive pay that he allowed the work to trench upon his dinner-time. The two large pumpkins he brought were his pay, and he knew that they meant a great deal to his needy family. Stillman, in writing of the incident, continues: "It is more than sixty years since that punishment fell on my shoulders, but the astonishment with which I received the flogging, instead of the thanks which I anticipated for the wages I was bringing her, the haste with which any mother administered it lest my father should anticipate her and beat me after his own fashion, are as vivid in my recollection as if it had taken place yesterday."
While I hope that not many of us are guilty of such flagrant abuse of our power as is described above, still I am certain that on many occasions we punish just as hastily, without giving a chance for explanation and with as little thought as to whether "the punishment fits the crime."
I have often been impressed by the great interest that mothers take in uses of punishment and in kinds of punishment. It has sometimes seemed as if the most valuable thing which they could carry away with them from some child-study meeting was a new kind of punishment for some very common offence. I have frequently felt as if the only contact some mothers have with their children is to punish them, and that punishment constituted the chief part of the poor children's training.
Now, punishment undoubtedly has a place in the training of children, but only a negative place. The proper punishment, administered in the right spirit, may cure or correct a fault; but punishment does not make children good. If children are punished frequently, it may even make them bad.
We can all remember some of the punishments of our own childhood. How unjust they seemed then, and do even now, after all these years to heal the wounds! How outraged we felt! Into how unloving a mood they put us!
The history of punishment for criminals shows us three stages. With primitive peoples and in early times the first impulse is to "get even" or to "strike back." "An eye for an eye"—nothing less would do. Then comes a stage in which punishment is used to frighten people from wrong-doing and as a warning—a deterrent for others. Gradually, very, very slowly, as we become more civilized and develop moral insight—develop a love for humanity—we come to recognize that the only legitimate purpose of punishment in the treatment of offenders is to redeem their characters, to make them positively better, not merely frighten them into a state of apparent right-doing—that is, a state of avoiding wrong-doing.
It is said that each individual in his development lives over the experiences of the race. How each of us passes through the three attitudes toward punishment is very interestingly shown by a study that was made some years ago on 3000 school children, to find out their own ideas about punishment. Miss Margaret E. Schallenberger sent out the following story and query and had the answers tabulated:
Jennie had a beautiful new box of paints; and in the afternoon, while her mother was gone, she painted all the chairs in the parlor, so as to make them look nice for her mother. When the mother came home, Jennie ran to meet her and said: "Oh, mamma, come and see how pretty I have made the parlor." But her mamma took her paints away and sent her to bed. If you had been her mother, what would you have done or said to Jennie?
In the answers the most striking thing is the range of reasons given by the children for punishing Jennie. There are three prominent reasons.
The first is clearly for revenge. Jennie was a bad girl; she made her mother unhappy; she must be made unhappy. She made her mother angry; she must be made angry. A boy of ten says: "I would have sent Jennie to bed and not given her any supper, and then she would get mad and cry." One boy of nine says: "If I had been that woman I would have half killed her." A sweet (?) little girl would make her "paint things until she is got enough of it." Another girl: "If I had been Jennie's mother, I would of painted Jennie's face and hands and toes. I would of switched her well. I would of washed her mouth out with soap and water, and I should stand her on the floor for half an hour."
This view was taken mostly by the younger children.
The second reason for punishing is to prevent a repetition of the act. A thirteen year old girl says: "I would take the paints away and not let her have them until she learned not to do that again." When a threat is used it is with the same idea in view: "I wouldn't do anything just then, but I would have said: 'If you do that any more I would whip you and send you to bed besides!'" All trace of revenge has disappeared.
The third stage of punishment is higher still. Jennie is punished in order to reform her. In the previous examples the act was all-important. Now Jennie and her moral condition come into the foreground. None of the younger children take the trouble to explain to Jennie why it was wrong to paint the parlor chairs. A large percentage of the older ones do so explain.
A country boy of fourteen says: "I would have took her with me into the parlor, and I would have talked to her about the injury she had done to the chairs, and talked kindly to her, and explained to her that the paints were not what was put on chairs to make them look nice."
A girl of sixteen says: "I think that the mother was very unwise to lose her temper over something which the child had done to please her. I think it would have been far wiser in her to have kissed the little one, and then explained to her how much mischief she had done in trying to please her mother."
We can see from this study that the children themselves are capable of reaching a rather lofty attitude toward wrong-doing and punishment, yet these children when grown up—that is, we ourselves—so frequently return to a more primitive way of looking at these problems. In punishing our children we go back to the method of the five- and six-year-old.
What is the reason for our apparent back-sliding? Is it not plainly the fact that we allow ourselves to be mastered by the animal instinct to strike back? When the child does something that causes annoyance or even damage, do we stop to consider his motive, his "intent," or do we only respond to the result of his action? Do we have a studied policy for treating his offence, or do we slide back to the desire to "get even" or to "pay him" for what he has done?
Sometimes a very small offence will have grave consequences, while a really serious fault may cause but little trouble.
Here, for instance, is Harry, who was so intent upon chasing the woodchuck that he ran through the new-sown field, trampling down the earth. He caused considerable damage. If your punishment assumes the proportion dictated by the anger which the harm caused, he certainly will be dealt with severely. Knowing that he had not meant to do wrong, he cannot help but feel the injustice of your wrath. Of course, he has been careless and he must be impressed with the harm such carelessness can cause. Whether you lock him in a room or deprive him of some special pleasure, or whether you merely talk to him, depends upon you and upon Harry. But one thing must be certain: Harry must not get the notion that you are avenging yourself upon him for the harm he has done, or for the ill-feeling aroused by his act—he must not feel that "you are taking it out of him" because you have been made angry.
This brings us to the old rule: Never punish in anger.
On the other hand, while we must allow every trace of anger to disappear, we must not allow so much time to elapse as to make the child lose the connection between his act and the consequence. A little boy at breakfast threw some salt upon his sister's apple in a spirit of mischief. The mother sent him out of the room and told him that he would have to go to bed two hours earlier than usual that night as a punishment for his misdeed. Now we all know that "the days of youth are long, long days," and the many events of that day had completely crowded out of the little boy's mind the trivial, impulsive act of the morning. The punishment could not arouse in him any feeling but that of unjust privation.
This particular case illustrates three other problems in connection with punishment. In the first place, nothing that is considered desirable or beneficial should be brought into disfavor by being used as a punishment. Sleep is a blessing, and, it may be said in general, no healthy child gets too much of it. By imposing two hours of additional sleep upon the child the mother discredits sleeping. It isn't logical. It is as unreasonable as that once favorite punishment of teachers, now rapidly being discarded, of keeping children after school. On the one side they are told how grateful they should be for this great boon of education, and for being allowed to come to school, and then they are told: "You have been very bad and troublesome to-day; as a punishment you shall have an extra hour of this great privilege."
The second point is that no punishment should ever deprive a child of conditions that are necessary for his health or impose conditions that are harmful. And, finally, it is not wise to exaggerate the importance of trivial acts by treating them too seriously. The little boy tried to be "smart" when he threw that salt. With nearly every child it would be sufficient, in a case like this, to make him feel that it was really very silly and that he had made himself ridiculous in the eyes of the family.
Very often the seriousness of a child's offence is greatly exaggerated. We must not waste our ammunition on these small matters; if we use our strongest terms of disapproval for the many little everyday vexations, we shall be left quite without resource when something really serious does occur. Children are very sensitive to such exaggerations, and their attention is so much taken up with the injustice of making a big ado about such trifles that they overlook what is reprehensible in their own conduct.
Some of the greatest authorities believe that a child should be allowed to suffer the consequences of his deeds. We should borrow from nature, they say, her method of dealing with offenders. If a child touches fire he will be burnt, and each time the same effect will follow his deed. Why not let our punishments be as certain and uniform in their reaction? To a certain extent this plan can be followed. If a little girl stubbornly refuses to wear her mittens, it is all right to let her suffer the consequences, the natural consequences—and let her hands get quite cold.
But this principle cannot be consistently applied as a general method. If a child insists upon leaning far out of the window it would be foolish to let him suffer the consequences and fall, possibly to his death. Part of our function is to prevent our children from suffering all the possible consequences of their actions. We are here to guide them and to protect them.
To abandon the child to the natural consequences of his moral actions would be even more harmful, for very often we must separate the child from his fault. This is true in a double sense. In the first place, we are concerned chiefly in removing the child's faults, as a physician seeks to separate a patient from his sickness. But we must also avoid the error of identifying any fault with the fundamental nature of the child; that is, we must keep before us the character of the child as distinct from the wrong acts which the child may commit. If a child lies, that does not make of him a liar, any more than does his failure to understand what he has just been told make of him a blockhead. Yet the natural consequence of lying, for instance, is to be mistrusted in the future—to be branded a liar. This, however, is one of the worst things that can happen to a child, and one of the surest ways of making him a habitual liar. Many children pass through a stage in which they naturally come to have the feeling which is expressed in the saying: "If I have the name, I may as well have the game." We must show the child that we have unbounded confidence in him, otherwise he will lose faith in himself.
It is clear, then, that the "natural" method will not work in such cases, for the impulse to condemn the child after he has committed a wrong deed, instead of condemning the deed, may merely help to fix upon him the habit of committing similar deeds in the future.
In Nature, too, the same punishment invariably follows the same offence. If we try to imitate that method, the child soon learns what he has to reckon with. If the child knows that a certain action will produce a certain result, he often thinks it is worth the price. Then the child feels that he has had his way, and, having paid the price, the account is squared; so he feels justified in doing the same thing again. In following this course we defeat our own ends, as this kind of punishment does not act as a fine moral deterrent.
Scolding as a punishment is also not efficacious. We are justified in having our indignation aroused at times and in letting the offender feel our displeasure. There is something calm and impressive about genuine indignation, while scolding is apt to become nagging and to arouse contempt in the child.
When we consider the many difficulties of finding a punishment exactly fitted to the offence in a way that will make the offender avoid repetition, we are tempted to resort to sermonizing and reasoning, for through our words we hope at times to establish in the child's mind a direct relation between his conduct and the undesirable consequences that spring from it.
In doing this, however, we should not speak in generalities, but bring before the child's mind concrete examples of his own objectionable acts from recent experience. It is useless to tell John how important it is to be punctual and let it go at that; it is not enough even to tell him that he often fails to be on time. If you can remind him that he was late for dinner on Wednesday, missed the letter-carrier twice last month, and delayed attending to an errand Monday until all the shops were closed, you have him where he can understand your point. Mary will listen respectfully enough to a homily on being considerate, but it will have little effect upon her compared to bringing before her a picture of some of her actions: how, instead of coming right home from school the day you were not feeling well, and helping you with some of your tasks, she had gone to visit a friend just that afternoon.
But reasoning with a child often fails to accomplish its purpose, because the child's reasoning is so different from that of an adult. Unless there is a nearly perfect understanding of the workings of the child's mind, reasoning is frequently futile. A seven-year-old boy who had received a long lecture on the impropriety of keeping dead crabs in his pockets said, after it was all over: "Well, they were alive when I put them in. You are wasting a lot of my precious time." These little brains have a way of working out combinations that seem weird to us grown-ups.
Only with a child of a certain type and a parent able to understand the workings of his mind may the method of reasoning work satisfactorily in correcting faults and establishing good habits and ideals.
No discussion of this subject would be complete without a word on corporal punishment. It is impossible here to present all the arguments for or against it. I am sure, however, that the most enthusiastic advocates of it will admit that it is not always practised with discretion and that it is in most cases not only unnecessary but positively harmful. Children that are treated like animals will behave like animals; violence and brutality do not bring out the best in a child's nature. It would seem that intelligent parents do not need to resort to such methods in the training of normal children.
As suggested by our veteran novelist, William Dean Howells, we have clung to the wisdom of Solomon, in this respect, through centuries of changing conditions. Solomon said: "Spare the rod and spoil the child"; Mr. Howells suggests that we might with profit spoil the rod and spare the child. In the small families of to-day there is no need to cling to the methods that may have worked well enough with the Oriental, polygamous despot, who never could know all his children individually, and it is therefore hardly necessary to use Solomon as our authority.
It is plain, then, that it is impossible to recommend any punishment as the correct one, or even to recommend any one infallible rule. This must depend upon the parent, upon the child, and upon the circumstances. But there are certain definite principles which we must keep in mind and which will do much toward making our task of discipline more rational:
We must never punish in anger.
We must consider the motive and the temptations before the consequence of the deed.
We must condemn the deed and not the child.
We must be sure that the child understands exactly the offence with which he is charged.
We must be sure that he sees the relation of the offence to the punishment.
We must never administer any excessive or unusual punishment.
We must not exaggerate the magnitude of the offence.
If we keep these principles in mind we may not always be right, but we shall certainly be right more often than if we had no policy or definite ideas. But, above all, we must recognize that punishment is only a corrective, and that it is our duty to build up the positive virtues. Let us expend our energy in the effort to establish good habits and ideals, and the child will shed many of the faults which now occupy the centre of our interest and attention.
In a family where the proper spirit of intimacy and mutual understanding and forbearance reigns punishment will be relegated to its proper place—namely, the medicine closet—and not be used as daily bread. For punishment is a medicine—a corrective—and when we administer it we must do in the spirit of the physician. We do not wish to be quacks and have one patent remedy to cure all evils; but, like physicians worthy of their trust, we must study the ailment and its causes, and above all must we study the patient. The same remedy will not do for all constitutions. Therefore the punishment must not only fit the crime, but it must also be made to fit the "criminal."
Love and patience are the secret of child management. Love which can fare from the chilliest soul; patience which knows how to wait for the harvest.
WHEN YOUR CHILD IMAGINES THINGS
Johnny was playing in the room while his mother was sewing at the window. Johnny looked out of the window and exclaimed, "Oh, mother, see that great big lion!"
His mother looked, but saw only a medium-sized dog.
"Why, Johnny," replied the mother, "how can you say such a thing? You know very well that was only a dog. Now go right in the corner and pray to God to forgive you for telling such a lie!"
Johnny went. When he came back, he said triumphantly, "See, mother, God said He thought it was a lion Himself."
This poor mother is a typical example of a large class of mothers who fail to understand their children because they have no idea of what goes on in the child's mind. To Johnny the lion was just as real as the dog was to the mother. And even if the dog had not been there for the mother to see, Johnny could have seen just as real a lion.
Every mother ought to know that practically every healthy child has imagination. You will have to take a long day's journey to find a child that has no imagination to begin with—and then you will find that this child is wonderfully uninteresting, or actually stupid.
You can easily observe for yourself that as soon as a child knows a large number of objects and persons and names he will begin to rearrange his bits of knowledge into new combinations, and in this way make a little world of his own. In this world, beasts and furniture and flowers talk and have adventures. When the dew is on the grass, "the grass is crying." Butterflies are "flying pansies." Lightning is the "sky winking," and so on. This activity of the child's mind begins at about two years, and reaches its height between the ages of four and six. But it continues through life with greater or less intensity, according to circumstances and original disposition.
It is not only the poet and artist who need imagination, but all of us in our everyday concerns. Do you realize that the person to whom you like so much to talk about your affairs, because she is so sympathetic, is sympathetic because she has imagination? For without imagination we cannot "put ourselves in the place of another," and much of the misery in the relation between human beings exists because so many of us are unable to do this. The happy cannot realize the needs of the miserable, and the miserable cannot understand why anyone should be happy—if they lack imagination.
The need for imagination, far from being confined to dreamers and persons who dwell in the clouds, is of great practical importance in the development of mind and character. Imagination is a direct help in learning, and in developing sympathy. As one of our great moral leaders, Felix Adler, has said, much of the selfishness of the world is due, not to actual hard-heartedness, but to lack of imaginative power.
We all know the classic example of Queen Marie Antoinette, who, when told that the people were rioting for want of bread, exclaimed, "Why, let them eat cake instead!" Brought up in luxury, she could not realize what absolute want means. She had no imagination.
The world has progressed, but we still have among us the same type of unfortunate persons who are unable to put themselves in the place of others. I recently heard of a woman who, on being told of a family so poor that they had had nothing but cold potatoes for supper the night before, replied:
"They may be poor, but the mother must be a very bad housekeeper, anyway. For, even if they had nothing but potatoes to eat, she might at least have fried them."
Like her royal prototype, this modern woman had not the imagination to realize that a family could be so poor as to be in want of fuel.
But being able to put yourself in the place of another is of importance not only from the strictly moral point of view. You can easily see how it will affect one's everyday relations, how it will be of great help in avoiding misunderstandings of all kinds—as between mother and child, between mistress and maid, etc.
If parents would only realize this importance of imagination, and not look upon it as a "vain thing," they would not merely allow the child's imagination to take its own course; they would actually make efforts to cultivate and encourage it. In this way they would not only aid the child in becoming a better and more sympathetic man or woman, but would also add much to the happiness of the child.
Unless we have given special thought to this matter, most of us grown-ups do not appreciate how very real the child's world of make-believe is to him, and how essential to his happiness that we do not break into it rudely. When one of my boys was two and a half years old he was one day playing with an imaginary baby sister. A member of the household came into the room, whereupon he immediately broke out in wild screaming and became very much agitated. It took some time to quiet him and to find out that the cause of all his trouble was the fact that this person had inadvertently stepped upon his imaginary sister, whom he had placed upon the floor. Before him he saw his little sister crushed, and great were his horror and grief.
I know from this experience and many others that if we do not enter into the child's world and try to understand the working of his mind we will often find him naughty, when he is not naughty at all. In the example given it would have been very easy to follow the first impulse to reprove the child for what seemed very unreasonable conduct on his part. And such cases arise constantly.
How completely the child throws himself into an imaginary character is shown by an incident which occurred recently. A little boy of four, who had been accustomed to speak only German at home, was playing "doctor," and was so absorbed in the play that when dinner-time came he was loath to abandon the role. His mother, to avoid delay, simply said, "I think we will invite the doctor to have dinner with us," and he promptly accepted the invitation. When the maid came in, he said in English, "What is her name?"
"Marie," the mother replied. "Isn't that Mary in English?" the child politely inquired. "You see, I cannot speak German, for my mother never taught me." And although this little boy never spoke English to his parents nor his parents to him, as "doctor" he spoke English throughout the meal.
Many parents enter spontaneously into the spirit of their children's games, and make believe with the best of them. They pity poor Johnny when he screams with terror at the attack of the make-believe bear, and take great joy in admiring the make-believe kitten. If we but realized how all this make believe helps in the development of character and in the gaining of knowledge, all parents would try to develop the child's imagination, and not only those who have the gift intuitively. It is the child's natural way of learning things, of getting acquainted with all living and inanimate objects in his environment. It sharpens his observation. A child who tries to "act a horse," for example, will be much more apt to notice all the different activities and habits of the horse in his various relations than a child who merely observes passively.
A child with imagination, when receiving directions or instructions, can picture to himself what he is expected to do, and easily translates his instructions into action. To the unimaginative child the directions given will be so many words, and he cannot carry out these instructions as effectively.
Again and again teachers find that pupils fail to carry out orders, though able, when asked, to repeat word for word the instructions given them.
The plaintive inquiry, "What shall I do now?" is much more frequently heard from the child who is unimaginative or who has had the play of his imagination curbed. For the child can be whatever he wishes, and have whatever he likes, his heart's desire is at his finger's end, once his imagination is free. The rocking-chair can be a great big ship, the carpet a rolling sea, and at most a suggestion is needed from the busy mother. A few chairs can be a train of cars and keep him occupied for hours. A wooden box is transformed into a mighty locomotive—in fact, give an imaginative child almost anything, a string of beads, or a piece of colored glass, and out of it his imagination will construct great happiness.
A normal child does not need elaborate toys. The only function of a toy, as someone has well said, is "to serve as lay figures upon which the child's imagination can weave and drape its fancy."
Although parents have not always understood what goes on in the child's mind when he is so busy with his play, our poets and lovers of children have had a deeper insight. Stevenson, in his poem "My Kingdom," shows us how, with the touch of imagination, the child transforms the commonplace objects of his surroundings into material for rich romance:
Down by a shining water well I found a very little dell, No higher than my head. The heather and the gorse about In summer bloom were coming out, Some yellow and some red.
I called the little pool a sea: The little hills were big to me; For I am very small. I made boat, I made a town, I searched the caverns up and down, And named them one and all.
And all about was mine, I said, The little sparrows overhead, The little minnows, too. This was the world and I was king: For me the bees came by to sing, For me the swallows flew.
I played there were no deeper seas, Nor any wilder plains than these, Nor other kings than me. At last I hear my mother call Out from the house at evenfall, To call me home to tea.
And I must rise and leave my dell, And leave my dimpled water well, And leave my heather blooms. Alas! and as my home I neared, How very big my nurse appeared, How great and cool the rooms!
Some children do not even need objects as a starting point for their imaginative activity. They can just conjure up persons and things to serve as material for their play. Many children, when alone, have imaginary companions. One little boy, when taken out for his airing, daily met an imaginary friend, whom he called "Buster." As soon as he stepped out of the house he uttered a peculiar call, to which Buster replied—though no one but he heard him—and he would run to meet him and they would have a lovely time together, sometimes for hours at a stretch.
Another little child received a daily visit from an imaginary cow. There was a certain place in the living-room where this red cow with white spots would appear. The child would go through the motions of feeding her, patting her, and bringing her water.
In these two cases the "companionship" lasted but a few months, but there are children whose imaginary companions grow up with them and get older as they get older.
In some instances there is a group of such imaginary companions, and their activities constitute "a continued story," of which the child is a living centre, although not necessarily the hero.
It seems to me that the power to create his own friends must be a great boon to a child who is forced to be alone a great deal or has no congenial companions.
There need be no fear—except perhaps in very extreme cases—that such activity of the imagination is morbid. A little girl who plays with her dolls is really doing the same thing, only that she has a symbol for each of her imaginary companions.
But although an imaginative child is much easier to teach later on, and although he does not trouble you with the incessant nagging "What shall I do now?" the mother whose idea of good conduct is "keeping quiet" will find the unimaginative child much easier to care for. He is very much less active and therefore "less troublesome." This explains why this priceless gift of imagination has so often been discouraged by parents and teachers. But they did not know that they were actually harming the child by so discouraging him, or, let us hope, they would not have chosen the easier way. For, after all, we are not looking for the easiest way of getting along with children, but for the best, and the best for them will prove in the end to be the best for us.
It must certainly try your patience, when you are tired, at the end of a day's work, to have Harry refuse to come to be put to bed because you called him "Harry"; and he replies, perhaps somewhat crossly: "I am not Harry, I told you. I am little Jack Horner, and I have to sit in my corner." But no matter how hard it may seem, do not get discouraged. Once you are fully aware of the importance of what seems to be but silly play, you will add this one more to your many sacrifices, and find that it will bring returns a hundredfold. And, after all, as in so many other problems, when you resolve to make the sacrifice, it turns out to be no sacrifice. For, once you approach the problem in an understanding spirit, the flights of the child's imagination will give you untold pleasure.
Another reason why imagination has been suppressed by those who are in charge of children is the fear that it will lead to the formation of habits of untruthfulness. It is very hard to realize, unless you understand the child's nature, that the child is not lying when he says something that is manifestly not so to you and the other adults. I have heard children reproved for lying when I was sure that they had no idea of what a "lie" is. In one family an older boy broke a plate and, when charged with the deed, denied it flatly. His little brother, however, confessed and described just how he had broken it. Now, the older boy was telling a falsehood consciously— probably from fear of punishment. The little fellow, however, was not telling an untruth—from his point of view. He really imagined having broken that plate. He had heard the event discussed by the family until all the incidents were vivid to him and he pictured himself as the hero.
Up to a certain time it is impossible for the child to distinguish between what we call real and his make-believe. Both are equally real to him, and the make-believe is ever so much more interesting.
Until about the fifth year a child does not know that he is imagining; between the ages of four and six the imaginative period is at its height, and there begins to appear a sort of undercurrent of consciousness that it is all make-believe, and this heightens the pleasure of trying to make it seem real. Gradually the child learns to distinguish between imaginary experiences and real ones, but until you are quite certain that he does distinguish, do not attach any moral significance to his stories. Should an older child be inclined to tell falsehoods, you may be sure that this is not because his imagination has been cultivated. There are then other reasons and causes, and they must be studied on their own account.
After you come to a clear appreciation of the value of imagination in the child's development you will, instead of suppressing his feelings, look around for ways of encouraging this activity of his mind. You will see a new value in fairy tales and fables and a new significance in every turn of his fancy.
THE LIES CHILDREN TELL
None of the petty vices of childhood appears to shock adults so much as lying; and none is more widespread among children—and among adults. As we are speaking of children, however, it is enough to say that all children lie—constantly, persistently, universally. Perhaps you will be less grieved by the lies of your children, and less loath to admit that they do lie, if you realize that all children lie. The mother who tells you that her child never lies is either deceiving herself or trying to impress you with the superiority of her off-spring. In her case the untruthfulness of childhood has not been remedied.
However, although lying is so common, that is no reason for ignoring the lies of children. They have to be taught to know the truth, and to speak it and to act it. And they can be taught. The Psalmist said, "All men are liars"; but he spoke hastily, as he afterward learned. All of us are probably born with instincts that make it easy for us to acquire the art of lying; but we have also the instincts that make us love the truth and speak it. Indeed, a child may acquire a hatred of untruth that is so keen as to be positively distressing; and this condition is just as morbid and undesirable as that of the other extreme, which accepts lies as the usual thing.
As in other problems connected with the bringing up of children, the first and the last aim should be to understand the child, the individual, particular child. Will your child become a habitual liar, or will he simply "outgrow" the tendency toward untruthfulness, as he will leave other childish things behind him? It is impossible to tell; but for the vast majority of children a great deal depends upon the kind of treatment given. If you do not treat the lies of your children understandingly, there is the danger that you will bring out other characteristics, perhaps even more undesirable ones—such as cruelty, vindictiveness, or even actual deceit.
We must recognize that there is no general faculty of lying. It is very easy for us to class as lies every word and every act that is not in complete harmony with the facts—as we understand them. But there are many kinds of lies, as well as many degrees of them. A child that is branded a liar has undoubtedly given abundant occasion for mistrust, and has lied aplenty; but undoubtedly also he has specialized in his lying, and would be incapable of certain kinds of lies that are common enough with other children. As we are the judges of our children in all of their misdeeds, we must preserve not only a judicious attitude, but we must really be just. And to this end it is essential that we take into consideration all the circumstances that lead to a lie, including the motives, as well as the special traits of the particular child.
The first thing that we should keep always in mind is that the moral character of the child is still unformed, and that his standards of truth, like his other standards, are not the same as those of the adult. Indeed, this fact is at the same time the hope of childhood and the source of its many tragedies. It is the hope because the child is growing, and acquiring new vision and new powers; the child of to-day is the adult of to-morrow, and most of the children of to-day will be at least as developed, in time, as the adults of to-day. The tragedy arises from the fact that as we grow older we forget the outlook of the child, and misunderstandings between the parents and the children are almost inevitable.
Whatever the prevailing morality of a community may demand, the fact remains that practically all children up to a certain age consider it perfectly legitimate to lie to their enemies if they but tell the truth to their friends. Children may lie to the policeman, or to the teacher, or to anyone with whom they are for the moment in conflict. This is a relic of the time when our savage ancestors found it necessary to practice deceit in order to save themselves from their enemies. So ingrained is this instinct that many a child will stick to a falsehood before the teacher or other inquisitors, only to retract and "go to pieces" when obliged to answer his mother. It has been shown over and over again that children even well along in the teens consider it quite right to tell one story to a teacher or to another child who is disliked, and a different story to one that is liked. This attitude probably arises not so much from a desire to deceive as an outcome of natural cunning and adaptability.
This is illustrated by the little girl who used to throw the crust of her bread under the table, to get more soft bread. The child was too young to deceive anyone; she could not possibly have the idea of deceit or of lying. She had simply come to dispose of the crust in this way because she had associated the arrival of more bread with her empty-handedness; to throw the bread under the table was a direct way to the getting of what she wanted. The question of truth or untruth never entered the little mind. To treat this child as a liar would not only be unjust, but would be apt to make the child conscious of the idea of deceit. Later in his development the child may still use the same kind of cunning in getting what he wants or in escaping what he does not like, without the intention to deceive. And a lie, to be a lie, must include that intention.
All students of child nature agree that a very young child—say before the age of four or five—does not lie consciously. Later, the child may say many things that are not so, but gradually he comes to recognize the difference between what he says and what is really so; he may need help in coming to see the difference, but this aid should not be forced upon him too soon. A little boy of five who was very imaginative became acquainted with some older children in a new neighborhood who had little imagination and therefore were greatly shocked by Herbert's "stories." They proceeded to inform him that he was lying, and to explain to him what a lie was. The boy was very much impressed. After he came home he discovered that there was a great deal of lying going on. He asked his little brother, "Are you older than me?"—to which the little one answered in the affirmative. Herbert came running to his mother to report that the baby had "told a lie!" For several weeks everything that was said was subject to the child's severe scrutiny; every slightest mistake was at once labelled by him as a "lie." Richard said this is my right hand, that is a lie; Helen said I may not play with the hammer, mother said I may, so Helen lied; the maid said it was time to go to bed, but it is only five minutes to seven, so the maid lied. And he would delight especially in asking the baby brother leading questions, to trap him into saying lies. This experience did not result in making Herbert any more scrupulous in his own speech, for his imagination created interesting and dramatic situations, which he described with zeal and enthusiasm, for a long time after he had discovered "lies."
The young child is really incapable of distinguishing between his dreams and reality on the one hand, and between reality and his day-dreams or imaginings on the other. A little boy came home from kindergarten a few days after he had entered, and, when the experience was still full of novelties to him, he described the workshop: each little boy had a pair of overalls with the name across the bib in black letters; there was a little locker for each child, with the name on the outside; each had his set of tools and his place at the bench. Day by day he narrated his doings in "school" and reported the progress he was making with a little "hair-pin box" that he intended for his aunt's birthday. On the birthday the mother came to the school to see how the boy was getting on; and she asked about the hair-pin box which he was now to bring home. It then appeared that there was no shop, no overalls, no lockers, no tools. The whole story was a creation of the child's imagination, and all the details he had invented were real enough to him to be described repeatedly with such vividness that no one suspected for a moment that it was all a fabrication. To call such stories "lies" would be worse than useless. If scolding or preaching could make a child merely stop telling such stories, there would be no gain; if they stopped a child thinking such stories, there would be a decided loss.
Gradually the child may come to recognize the difference between the make-believe and the reality, and he may be helped. When at a certain age you think your child ought to distinguish more clearly between his imagination and cold facts, it would be all right to explain to him that, although there is no harm in his enjoying his make-believe, still he must not tell his fancies as if they were real, but must tell them as "make-believe stories." That will achieve the desired result without making him feel hurt at your lack of understanding in treating him like an ordinary liar whose prime intention is to deceive. But it is not wise to force this development, even at the risk of prolonging the age of dreams.
With some children lying is caused by their esthetic feelings. It is much easier for them to describe a situation as they feel it should have been than to describe it as it actually was. Many children "embellish the facts" without any trace of intent to deceive. Although we recognize that what they say is not strictly the truth, we must further recognize that it is their love of the beautiful or their sense of the fitness of things that leads them to these "exaggerations." It is the same sort of instinct as shows itself in our love of certain kinds of fiction. We know that some of the happy endings in the plays and in the novels are often far-fetched; but we like to have the happy endings, or the "poetic justice" endings, or the "irony of fate" endings, just the same. When the child makes up his endings to fit his sense of justice or beauty, we must not condemn him, as we are often tempted to do, by calling his fabrication a "lie," for that at once puts it in the same class as deliberate deceit for a selfish purpose. There is really no harm in this class of lies, unless, as the child grows older, it becomes apparent that he lets his wishes and preferences interfere with his vision of what is actually going on. In such cases the remedy is not to be found in the denunciation of lying, but in giving the child opportunity to experience realities that cannot be treated untruthfully. To this end various kinds of hand work and scientific study have been useful. It is impossible for the child to cheat the tools of the workshop or his instruments of precision; it is impossible to make a spool of thread do the work of two or three; or one cannot make the paint go farther by applying the brush faster. It is concrete reality that can teach the imaginative child reality; in the things he learns from books there is no check upon the imagined and the desired—one kind of outcome is as likely and as true as another. But in the experience of the workaday world causes and consequences cannot be so easily altered by a trick of words.
Investigation has shown that the sentimental or heroic element is one that appeals to children so strongly that it may often lead to what we adults would call lies, or it would seem to the child to justify lying. The confession to a deed that he has not committed, for the purpose of saving a weaker companion from punishment or injury, seems to be a type of lie that appeals strongly to most children. Again and again have boys—and girls, too—declared stoically that they were guilty of some dereliction of which they were quite innocent, to shield a friend. And most children not only admire such acts, but will seek to defend them on moral grounds, even when they are old enough to know what a lie is. The explanation for this is to be found in the fact that the child sees every situation or problem as a whole; he has not yet learned to separate problems into their component parts. A situation is to him all wrong or all right; he cannot see that a part may be wrong, while another part is right. Now in the case of the self-confessed culprits, the magnanimity and heroism of the act stand out so prominently that they quite overshadow the trifling circumstance that the hero did not do the wicked deed.
An excellent illustration of this trait of child nature came out in an inquiry that was made a number of years ago. A child replied, in answer to the question "When would a lie be justified?" that if the mother's life depended upon it one would have the moral duty of saying that she "was out, although she was really in." That is, it would be one's duty to make the great moral sacrifice of speaking an untruth for the sake of saving the mother. Any child will tell you, as did this one, that it would be wicked to tell a lie to save his own life!
This suggests another type of lie that is quite common. Most children feel their personal loyalties so keenly that they would do many things that they themselves consider wrong for a person they love or admire. A little girl was so much impressed with the moral teachings of her Sunday-school teacher that she was determined to get her a suitable Christmas present. Now, the family had not the means to supply such a present, and Mary knew it, and was greatly distressed by the fact. However, where there is a will there is a way; and Mary found the way by cunningly stealing a moustache cup from a store with the inspiring legend "To dear Father" and beautiful red and blue roses and gilt leaves. Mary had learned that it was wicked to steal and to lie, etc., but her heart was set on getting something for the teacher, not for herself, and she very unselfishly risked her moral salvation for the person she loved and admired.
It is probably better for the child if we do not push the analysis of acts and motives too early, for there is more danger at a certain age from morbid self-consciousness than from acquiring vicious habits. If we recognize that many of the lapses from the paths of truth arise from really worthy motives, we must make sure that these ideals become fixed before we attempt to separate the unworthy act from the commendable purpose.
The cases so far given show how important it is to retain not only the affection but also the confidence of our children; and how important it is to have right teachers and associates. The child will do what he can to please those he really likes or admires; but the kind of thing he will do will depend a great deal upon what those he admires themselves like to see done.
There are some lies that are due to faulty observation. We do not often realize to what extent we supplement our sense perceptions in relating our experiences. Lawyers tell us that it is very difficult to have a witness relate exactly what he saw; he is always adding details for completing the story in accordance with his interpretation of what he saw. This is not lying in any sense, but it is relating as alleged facts what are in reality conclusions from facts. One may be an unreliable witness without being a liar; and so may the child tell us things that we know are not so because, in trying to tell a complete story, he has to supplement what he actually saw with what he feels must have been a part of the incident. Defects of judgment as well as delusions of the senses or lapses of memory may lead to misstatements that are not really lies. Some delusions of the senses, especially of sight and of hearing, undoubtedly have a physical cause.
Another source of comparatively harmless lying is the instinct for secretiveness. Children just love to have secrets, and if there are none on hand, they have to be invented. A child will tell another a secret on condition that it be kept a secret; but when the secret is told it turns out to be a falsehood—perhaps even something libellous. Now, the child cannot feel that he has done anything wicked, for to his mind the big thing is that Nellie promised not to tell, and she broke her promise! If she had not broken her promise to keep the secret, it never would have come out, and no harm would have been done. Perhaps we have not yet sufficiently driven secrets from our common life to demand that the children shall be without secrets. When we set the children an example of perfect frankness and open dealing in all matters, we may perhaps be in a position to discourage the invention of secrets by the young people. Secretiveness leads naturally to deceit; but it is not in itself serious enough to make much ado about. Healthy children in healthful social surroundings will outgrow this instinct; where the atmosphere is charged with intrigue and scheming and dissimulation, this instinct may survive longer, but its manifestation is in itself not a trait that should give its concern.
Some children lie because they are inclined to brag or show off; others for just the opposite reason—they are too sensitive or timid. And a lie that comes from either side of the child's nature cannot be taken as a sign of moral depravity; the treatment which a child is given must take into consideration the child's temperament. Charles Darwin tells of his own inclination to make exaggerated statements for the purpose of causing a sensation. "I told another little boy," he writes in his autobiography, "that I could produce variously-colored polyanthuses and primroses by watering them with certain colored fluids, which was, of course, a monstrous fable, and had never been tried by me. I may here also confess that as a little boy I was much given to inventing deliberate falsehoods, and this was always done for the sake of causing excitement. For instance, I once gathered much valuable fruit from my father's trees and hid it in the shrubbery and then ran in breathless haste to spread the news that I had discovered a hoard of stolen fruit."
For the vaunting lie it is usually sufficient to defeat its purpose by showing that the boast cannot be carried out. The braggart is made to descend from the pedestal of the hero to the level of the fool.
How the other extreme in disposition may lead to a "lie" is shown by the little girl who was sent to the store for a loaf of bread and came back saying that there was no more to be had. The mother was very sure that that could not be, but soon found out, on questioning, that the child had forgotten what she was sent to get and was then afraid of being ridiculed for having forgotten. Here the cause of the lie was timidity. To punish this child would only make her more timid. In a case of this kind the mother should try to cultivate the self-confidence of the child instead of punishing her for untruthfulness.
Perhaps the most common kind of lie is the one that a child tells in order to escape punishment. It is often chosen as "the easiest way" without realization of any serious wrong-doing. And even when a child is taught the wrong of it, it is still too helpful to be entirely dropped. As a little boy once said, "A lie is an abomination to the Lord, and an ever-ready help in time of trouble." The first lie of this kind that a child invents comes without any feeling of moral wrong-doing. He has only an instinctive shrinking from pain. To cure a child of this kind of lie, we must take his disposition into consideration; there is no one remedy that suits all children. In some cases it has worked very well to develop the courage of the child, so that he will fearlessly accept the consequences of his deeds. We all know of cases where children can be physically very brave and stand a great deal of pain if they are made to see the necessity for it—as when they are treated by a dentist or physician. Children of that type surely can be taught to be brave, also, about accepting the consequences of misdeeds. With another type of child the desired result can be obtained by making him see that he will be happier and that his relations with others will he pleasanter if he always tells the truth. In some children the sense of honor can be very easily aroused, and they can be made to see how truthfulness and reliability help human beings to get along with each other in their various relations. A great many temptations for this kind of lie can be entirely avoided if your child feels from earliest infancy that you always treat him justly.
Yet a child who is neither afraid of punishment nor inclined to deceive may often be tempted to lie when his wits are challenged. There is something about your tone of voice, or in the manner of asking "Who left the door of the chicken-house open?" that is an irresistible temptation to make you show how smart you really are. You think you know, and your manner shows it; but you may be mistaken, and your cocksureness arouses all the cunning and combativeness of the child. There is a vague feeling in his mind that he would like to see you confirm your suspicion without the aid of an open confession—and the result is a "lie." Indeed, any approach that arouses antagonisms is almost sure to bring out the propensity to dissimulate or even to deceive. In such cases the mother should learn how to approach the child without a challenge, instead of trying to teach the child not to lie.
The worst kind of lies are those caused by selfishness or the desire to gain at the expense of another, or those prompted by malice or envy, or the passion for vengeance. Although such lies often appear in the games of children, the games themselves are not to be held responsible for this. Indeed, the games of the older children, when played under suitable direction, are likely to be among the best means for remedying untruthfulness. Yet it may be wise sometimes to keep a child from his games for a time, not so much to "punish" him for lying as to give him an opportunity to reflect on the close connection between truthfulness and good playing. Special instruction may sometimes be needed as a means to arousing the conscience. The lies of selfishness are bad because, if continued, they are likely to make children grasping and unscrupulous. But it is in most cases wiser to try to make the child more generous and frank than to fix the attention on the lies. If he can be made to realize that his happiness is more likely to be assured through friendly and sincere relations, the temptation to use lies will be reduced.
One type of lying that is very irritating and very hard to meet is that known as prevarication. This consists in telling a part of a truth, or even a whole truth, in such a way as to convey a false impression, and is most common at about twelve or thirteen years. When a child resorts to prevarication he is already old enough to know the difference between a truthful statement and a false statement. Indeed, it is when he most keenly realizes this that he is most likely to prevaricate, for this is but a device by which the childish mind attempts to achieve an indirect purpose and at the same time keep his peace with his conscience. It is when he already has a certain fear of lying, and is not yet thoroughly sincere and truth-loving, that he will come home from the truant fishing party and ingeniously tell you that a "friend of Harry's" caught the fish, instead of saying that he himself did it. His conscience is quite satisfied with the reflection that he is a friend of Harry's. In this stage of his career the child is quite capable of understanding a direct analysis of what is essentially a deception, and a good heart-to-heart talk that comes to a conclusion is about the best thing he can get.
I hope you will not think, from what I have said, that I have been trying to justify lying, or that I do not consider lying a serious matter; nor, on the other hand, that you will consider a single application of the remedies suggested sufficient to make any child truthful. Thoroughgoing truthfulness comes hard and generally comes late. But for the majority of children truthfulness is attainable, although it will not be attained without a struggle. The finer instincts often enough lead to violations of strict veracity; but they may be made also to strengthen the feeling of scrupulous regard for the truth.
I have tried to show that what we call a lie is not always a lie; and that some of the very methods we use in training our children themselves produce lies. The inflicting of severe punishments is one of the chief of these, and the most common lie is that which is due to fear of punishment. Lies that arise from bad habits should be treated by an attempt to remedy the bad habit. Lies that arise from ignorance should be treated by attention to necessary knowledge.
Even more important than the right kind of treatment for untruthfulness is the necessity for an atmosphere in which the spirit of truthfulness is all-pervading. Some day watch yourself and notice how often you tell untruths to your child; how often he hears you tell so-called "white lies" to your neighbors; how often he hears you prevaricate and exaggerate. If you will keep track of these things you will realize that it is a trifle absurd of you to expect your child to be a strict speaker of the truth. Part of our campaign against the lies of our children must therefore consist in our attempt to establish truthful relations among adults, and between adults and children.
The heroes of history and the heroes of fiction whom all of us like to admire are the men and women who know no fear. But most of us make use of fear as a cheap device for attaining immediate results with our children. When Johnny hesitates about going upstairs in the dark to fetch your work-basket, you remind him of Columbus, who braved the trackless sea and the unknown void in the West, and you exhort him to be a man; but when Johnny was younger you yourself warned him that the Bogeyman would get him if be did not go right to sleep. And it is not very long since the day when he tried to climb the cherry tree and you attempted to dissuade him with the alarming prophecy that he would surely fall down and break his neck.
Thus our training consists of countless contradictions: we set up noble ideals to arouse courage and self-reliance—when that suits our immediate purpose; and we frighten with threats and warn of calamity when the child has the impulse to do what we do not wish to have him do. This at once suggests the effect of fear upon character and conduct. We instinctively call upon courage when we want the child to do something; we call upon fear when we want to prevent action. In other words, bravery stimulates, whereas fear paralyzes.
The human race is characterized by an instinct of fear. Very young infants exhibit all the symptoms of fear long before they can have any knowledge or experience of the disagreeable and the harmful effects of the things that frighten them. Thus a sudden noise will make the child start and tremble and even scream. And all through life an unexpected and loud noise is likely to startle us. An investigation has shown that thunder is feared much more than lightning. Children will laugh at the flashes of lightning, but will cower before the roaring thunder.
The feeling of fear is closely associated with what is unknown. It is not noise in general that frightens the children, but an unexpected noise from an unknown source. Indeed, the children like noise itself well enough to produce it whenever they can by heating drums, or barrels, or wash-boilers. The frightful thing about thunder is that the cause remains a mystery, and it is frightful so long as the cause does remain a mystery, if the child lives to be a hundred years old. During a thunder-storm children will picture to themselves a battle going on above. Some think of the sky cracking or the moon bursting, or conceive of the firmament as a dome of metal over which balls are being rolled.
The influence of the unknown explains also why that other great source of fear, namely, darkness, has such a strange hold upon children. Fear of darkness is very common and often very intense. There are but few children who do not suffer from it at some time and to some extent. This fear is frequently suggested by stories of robbers, ghosts, or other terrors, but even children who have been carefully guarded sometimes have these violent fears that cannot be reasoned away.
In order to discover what it is about the darkness that frightens children, a large number of women and men were asked to recall their childish experiences with fear, and from the many instances given the following may be used to illustrate the various terrors of the dark.
One woman described her fears of "an indistinct living something, black, possibly curly," which she feared would enter the room in the darkness from somewhere under the bed. Another could see dark objects with eyes and teeth slowly and noiselessly descending from the ceiling toward her. One little boy, when he had finally overcome fear, said to his father that he thought the dark to be "a large live thing the color of black." A girl of nineteen said she remembered that on going to bed she used to see little black figures jumping about between the ceiling and the bed.
It is well known that the feeling of fear is often very intense among children; and where it is due to ignorance it is not right to laugh it away. Doing so affords no explanation. The ridicule may cause the child to hide his fear, but will not drive the feeling away. Since the feeling of fear is so closely connected with the strange and unknown, the only way that it may be directly overcome is by making the child familiar with the objects that cause such feelings.
In the case of young children with whom we cannot reason it is best, wherever possible, to remove the cause or gradually to make the child familiar with the darkness, or whatever it is that makes him unhappy. One very young child became frightened when he was presented with a Teddy bear. Every time the Teddy bear was produced he would cry with terror. The mother was perplexed about what to do. Now, as the Teddy bear is not a necessary part of the child's surroundings, there is no reason why it cannot be removed altogether and produced again upon some future occasion, when the child is old enough to be indifferent to it. Very many children are frightened by the touch of fur, or even of velvet; but this lasts only a short time, and they soon learn to like dogs and cats.
The fear of darkness is different; we cannot eliminate darkness from the child's experience, and we must patiently try to help the child to overcome his fear, since he will suffer greatly so long as it lasts. The help you give him will also constitute one more bond of sympathy between you and your child, and we cannot have too many such bonds.
One mother got her boy used to going into a dark room by placing some candy on the farther window and sending him for that. Here the child fixed his attention on the goal and had no time to think of the terrors of the dark. After making such visits a few times the boy became quite indifferent to the darkness.
Another ingenious mother gave her little daughter who was afraid a tiny, flat, electric spotlight which just fitted into the pocket of her pajama jacket She took it to bed with her, slipped it under the pillow, and derived such comfort from it that the whole family was relieved. The child soon outgrew her timidity.
A child who from infancy has been accustomed to going to sleep in the dark and suddenly develops a fear of it ought to be indulged to the extent of having a light for a few minutes to show him that there is nothing there to be afraid of. It may take a few evenings and several disagreeable trips to the child's bedroom, but in the end he will be victorious and you will have helped him to win the victory.
A child that is not in good health is likely to be possessed by his fears much longer than one who is well. In the latter case there is a fund of energy to go exploring, and the child thus becomes more readily acquainted with his surroundings, and as his knowledge grows his fears vanish. Again, the sickly child has not the energy to fight his fears, as has the healthy child. Indeed, the high spirits of the healthy child often lead him to seek the frightful, just for the exhilaration he gets from the sensation.
The period of most intense fears is between the ages of five and seven, and while imaginative children naturally suffer most, they are also the ones that can call up bright fancies to cheer them. Robert Louis Stevenson must have had a lovely time in the dark, seeing circuses and things, as he tells us in his poem which begins:
All night long and every night When my mamma puts out the light I see the circus passing by As plain as day before my eye, etc.
Although fear is a human instinct, it is not universal, and once in a while we find a child who has no instinctive fear. If such a child is not frightened he may remain quite ignorant of the feeling for many years. I know a boy who, at the age of five, was unacquainted with the sensation of fear, and, never having been frightened, also did not know the meaning of the word "fear." He had heard it used by other children and knew that it was something unpleasant, but when one day at dinner he said to his mother, "You know, I think I am afraid of spinach," meaning that he did not like it, it was evident that the feeling of fear was quite foreign to him.
Many parents have a feeling of helplessness in the face of a trait that is said to be "instinctive," as though there were some fatal finality in that classification. But, while it is true that fear is instinctive, it is equally true that it can often be successfully fought by having recourse to other instinctive traits. Thus the instinct of curiosity, which is more widespread even than the instinct of fear, may be used to counteract the latter. Since fear rests so largely on ignorance, curiosity is its enemy, because it dissipates ignorance. A little boy who had a certain fear of the figures in the mirror that were so vivid and yet so unreal used to try to come into a room in which there was a large mirror, and steal upon the causes of his curiosity unawares. His double was always there as soon as he, and caught his eye; but the child lost his fear only after he became familiar with the characters in the looking-glass. In the same way curiosity will often compel the child to become gradually so well acquainted with the source of his fears as to drive the latter quite out of his experience.
We must be careful to avoid confusing fear and caution. Fear arises from ignorance, and is not necessarily related to any real danger. Caution, on the other hand, is a direct outcome of the knowledge of danger. Two little boys were watching a young man shooting off fire-crackers. Whenever a bunch was lit the older boy stepped away, while the younger one held his ground. Someone taunted the older boy, saying, "You see, Harry is not afraid, and you are." To which he very sensibly replied, "I ain't afraid neither, but Harry doesn't know that he might get hurt, and I do."
Therefore, while we do not wish our children to be cowards, neither do we want them to feel reckless. Caution and courage may well go together in the child's character. Constantly warning the child against possible danger does not develop caution; it is more likely to destroy all spontaneous action. Too many mothers are always saying to their children, "Don't do this, you might hurt yourself," or "Don't go to the stable, the horse may kick you," and so on. If a child is properly taught, he will get along with the ordinary knowledge concerning the behavior of things and animals that might be injurious, and he will learn to be careful with regard to these without being constantly admonished and frightened.
The fear of being considered afraid has its evil side as well as its good side. While it may often make the child "affect the virtue" when he has it not, it does, on the other hand, make many a boy and girl, especially in the early teens, concede to the demands of prevailing fashions in misconduct, when the conscience and the knowledge of right and wrong dictate a different course. The taunt "you dassent" is stronger than the still small voice saying "thou must not." And so Harry plays truant for the first time not so much because he is tired of school, or because the smell of the young spring allures him, as because Tommy "dares" him to go swimming on the risk of getting caught and licked. Harry yields for fear of being called a "cowardy custard."
It is important to guard against the moral effect of fear when it is directed against the judgments of others. By always referring the child to "what others will think" of him, we are likely to make moral cowards. A child can be taught to refer to his own conscience and to his own judgment, and, if he has been wisely trained, his conscience and judgment will be at least as effective guides in his relations with human beings as his attempt to avoid misconduct for fear of what others will think or say.
The use of fear as a means of discipline is being discarded by all thoughtful parents and teachers. We have learned that authority maintained by fear is very short-lived; when a child gets past a certain age, the obedience based upon fear of authority is almost certain to turn into defiance. The fear of punishment leads directly to untruthfulness and deception; parents who rely upon affection and good-will to assure the right conduct of their children get better results than those who terrorize them.
Fear and hatred are closely connected, and in cultivating fear we are fostering a trait that may in a critical moment turn to hatred. The only things that we should teach our children to fear are those we should be willing to have them hate. Let your children learn to fear and hate all mean and selfish acts, all cunning and deception, all unfairness and injustice. But even better than teaching them to hate these vices, teach them to love and admire and to aspire to realize the positive virtues.
When we observe the undesirable physical effects of fear, such as the effect upon the heart and blood-vessels, the effect upon the nerve currents, etc., we can hardly expect it to have a beneficial effect upon the mental or moral side of the child's nature. Fear always cramps and paralyzes; it never broadens or stimulates. All the progress made by our race has been accomplished by those who were not afraid: the men and women of broad vision and independent, fearless action. Every mother has lurking in some corner of her heart the fond hope that her children will in some way contribute to the advancement of humanity, to make our life here better worth living. To contribute in this way, our children must be without fear.
THE FIRST GREAT LAW
When you have had a scene with your disobedient Robert, you are apt to wonder how Mrs. Jones ever manages to make her children obey so nicely. If all secrets were made public, you would know that Mrs. Jones has often wished that she could make her children mind as nicely as do yours. For we always imagine that making children mind is the one thing that other mothers succeed in better than we do.
Why is it that we consider obedience of such great importance in the bringing up of our children? Is it because obedience itself is a supreme virtue which we desire to cultivate in our children? Or is it because we find it convenient to receive obedience from those with whom we have to deal?
That obedience is a virtue cannot be denied. But it is a virtue only under special kinds of human relationship. The obedience required of a fireman or a sailor is of the same kind as that which we demand of a child exposed to a danger that he does not see. The work of the fireman and of the sailor is such that these people must be constantly prepared to obey instantly the orders given by those in authority over them. The life of the child, however, is such as to make his work or his safety depend upon his obedience only under exceptional circumstances. To justify our demand for habitual obedience, we must find better reasons than the stock argument so often given, namely, that in certain emergencies the instant response to a command may result in saving the child from injury or even from death.
The need for obedience lies closer to hand than an occasional emergency which may never arise. In all human relationships there come occasions for the exercise of authority. There is no doubt that in the relations between parents and child the parent—or elder person—should be the one in authority, on account of his greater experience and maturer judgment, quite apart from any question of sentiment or tradition. But if you wish to exercise authority, you must make sure to deserve it. Laws and customs give parents certain authority over their children, but well we know that too few of them are able to make wise use of this authority.