Gentle Child Training
Gentle Measures in the Management
and Training of the Young
By Jacob Abbott, 1871
The principles on which a firm parental authority may be established and maintained, without violence or anger, and the right development of the moral and mental capacities be promoted—by methods in harmony with the structure and the characteristics of the young mind.
Chapter 12. Commendation and Encouragement.
We are very apt to imagine that the disposition to do right is, or ought to be, the natural and normal condition of childhood—and that doing wrong is something unnatural and exceptional with children. As a consequence, when they do right we think there is nothing to be said. We think that the child's doing right is, or ought to be, a matter of course. It is only when they do wrong that we notice their conduct—and then, of course, with censure and reproaches. Thus our discipline consists mainly, not in gently leading and encouraging them in the right way—but in deterring them, by fault-finding and punishment, from going wrong.
Now we ought not to forget that in respect to moral conduct, as well as to mental attainments, children know nothing when they come into the world—but have everything to learn, either from the instructions or from the example of those around them. We do not propose to enter at all into the consideration of the various theological and metaphysical theories held by different classes of philosophers in respect to the native constitution and original tendencies of the human soul—but to look at the phenomena of mental and moral action in a plain and practical way, as they present themselves to the observation of mothers in the every-day walks of life. And in order the better to avoid any complication with these theories, we will take first an extremely simple case, namely, the fault of making too much noise in opening and shutting the door in going in and out of a room.
Georgie and Charlie are two boys, both about five years old—and both prone to the same fault. We will suppose that their mothers take opposite methods to correct them; Georgie's mother depending upon the influence of commendation and encouragement when he does right—and Charlie's, upon the efficacy of reproaches and punishments when he does wrong.
Georgie, eager to ask his mother some question, or to obtain some permission in respect to his play, bursts into her room some morning with great noise, opening and shutting the door violently—and making much disturbance. In a certain sense he is not to blame for this, for he is wholly unconscious of the disturbance he makes. The entire cognizant capacity of his mind is occupied with the object of his request. He not only had no intention of doing any harm—but has no idea of his having done any.
His mother takes no notice of the noise he made—but answers his question—and he goes away making almost as much noise in going out as he did in coming in.
The next time he comes in it happens—entirely by accident, we will suppose—that he makes a little less noise than before. This furnishes his mother with her opportunity.
"Georgie," she says, "I see you are improving."
"Improving?" repeats Georgie, not knowing to what his mother refers.
"Yes," said his mother; "you are improving, in coming into the room without making a noise by opening and shutting the door. You did not make nearly as much noise this time as you did before when you came in. Some boys, whenever they come into a room, make so much noise in opening and shutting the door, that it is very disagreeable. If you go on improving as you have begun, you will soon come in as still as any gentleman."
The next time that Georgie comes in, he takes the utmost pains to open and shut the door as silently as possible.
He makes his request. His mother shows herself unusually ready to grant it.
"You opened and shut the door like a gentleman," she says. "I ought to do everything for you that I can, when you take so much pains not to disturb or trouble me."
Charlie's mother, on the other hand, acts on a different principle. Charlie comes in sometimes, we will suppose, in a quiet and proper manner. His mother takes no notice of this. She considers it a matter of course. By-and-by, however, under the influence of some special eagerness, he makes a great noise. Then his mother interposes. She breaks out upon him with, "Charlie, what a loud noise you make! Don't you know better than to slam the door in that way when you come in? If you can't learn to make less noise in going in and out—I shall not let you go in and out at all."
Charlie knows very well that this is an empty threat. Still, the utterance of it—and the scolding that accompanies it, irritate him a little—and the only possible good effect that can be expected to result from it is to make him try, the next time he comes in, to see how small an abatement of the noise he usually makes will do, as a kind of make-believe obedience to his mother's command. He might, indeed, honestly answer his mother's angry question by saying that he does 'not' know better than to make such a noise. He does not know why the noise of the door should be disagreeable to his mother. It is not disagreeable to 'him'. On the contrary, it is agreeable. Children always like noise, especially if they make it themselves. And although Charlie has often been told that he must not make any noise, the reason for this—namely, that though noise is a source of pleasure, generally, to children, especially when they make it themselves, it is almost always a source of annoyance and pain to grown people—has never really entered his mind so as to be actually comprehended us a practical reality. His ideas in respect to the philosophy of the transaction are, of course, exceedingly vague; but so far as he forms any idea, it is that his mother's words are the expression of some mysterious but unreasonable sensitiveness on her part, which awakens in her a spirit of fault-finding and angry-mood that vents itself upon him in blaming him for nothing at all; or, as he would express it more tersely, if not so elegantly, that she is "very cross." In other words, the impression made by the transaction upon his moral sense is that of wrong-doing on his 'mother's part'—and not at all on his own.
It is evident, when we thus look into the secret workings of this method of curing children of their faults, that even when it is successful in restraining certain kinds of outward misconduct—and is thus the means of effecting some small amount of good— the injury which it does by its reaction on the spirit of the child may be vastly greater, through the irritation and vexation which it occasions—and the impairing of his confidence in the justice and goodness of his mother.
Before leaving this illustration, it must be carefully observed that in the first-mentioned case—namely, that of Georgie—the work of curing the fault in question is not to be at all considered as 'effected' by the step taken by his mother which has been already described. That was only a beginning—a 'right' beginning, it is true—but still only a beginning. It produced in him a cordial willingness to do right, in one instance. That is a great thing—but it is, after all, only one single step. The work is not complete until a 'habit' of doing right is formed, which is another thing altogether—and requires special and continual measures directed to this particular end. Children have to be 'trained' in the way they should go—not merely shown the way—and induced to make a beginning of entering it. We will now try to show how the influence of commendation and encouragement may be brought into action in this more essential part of the process.
'Habit to be Formed'.
Having taken the first step already described, Georgie's mother finds some proper opportunity, when she can have the undisturbed and undivided attention of her boy—perhaps at night, after he has gone to his his trundle-bed—and just before she leaves him; or, perhaps, at some time while she is at work—and he is sitting by her side, with his mind calm, quiet—and unoccupied.
"Georgie," she says, "I have a plan to propose to you."
Georgie is eager to know what it is.
"You know how pleased I was when you came in so quietly today."
Georgie remembers it very well.
"It is very curious," continued his mother, "that there is a great difference between grown people and children about noise. Children 'like' almost all kinds of noises very much, especially, if they make the noises themselves; but grown people dislike them even more, I think, than children like them. If there were a number of boys in the house—and I would tell them that they might run back and forth through the rooms—and rattle and slam all the doors as they went as loud as they could, they would like it very much. They would think it excellent fun."
"Yes," says Georgie, "indeed, they would. I wish you would let us do it some day."
"But grown people," continues his mother, "would not like such an amusement at all. On the contrary, such a racket would be excessively disagreeable to them, whether they made it themselves or whether somebody else made it. So, when children come into a room where grown people are sitting—and make a noise in opening and shutting the door, it is very disagreeable. Of course, grown people always like those children the best, who come into a room quietly—and in a gentlemanly and lady-like manner."
As this explanation comes in connection with Georgia's having done right—and with the commendation which he has received for it, his mind and heart are open to receive it, instead of being disposed to resist and exclude it—as he would have been if the same things exactly had been said to him in connection with censure and reproaches for having acted in violation of the principle.
"Yes, mother," says he, "and I mean always to open and shut the door as still as I can."
"Yes, I know you 'mean' to do so," rejoined his mother, "but you will forget, unless you have some plan to make you remember it until the 'habit is formed'. Now I have a plan to propose to help you form the habit. When you get the habit once formed there will be no more difficulty.
"The plan is this: whenever you come into a room making a noise, I will simply say, 'Noise!' Then you will step back again softly and shut the door—and then come in again in a quiet and proper way. You will not go back as a punishment, for you would not have made the noise on purpose—and so would not deserve any punishment. It is only to help you remember—and so to form the habit of coming into a room in a quiet and gentlemanly manner."
Now Georgie, especially if all his mother's management of him is conducted in this spirit, will enter into this plan with great cordiality.
"I would not propose this plan," continued his mother, "if I thought that when I say 'Noise!'—and you have to go out and come in again, it would put you out of sorts—and make you cross or sullen. I am sure you will be good-natured about it—and even if you consider it a kind of punishment, that you will go out willingly—and take the punishment like a man; and when you come in again you will come in still—and look pleased and happy to find that you are carrying out the plan honorably."
Then if, on the first occasion when he is sent back, he 'does' take it good-naturedly, this must be noticed and commended.
Now, unless we are entirely wrong in all our ideas of the nature and tendencies of the childish mind, it is as certain that a course of procedure like this will be successful in curing the fault which is the subject of treatment, as that water will extinguish fire. It cures it, too, without occasioning any irritation, annoyance, or bad-mood in the mind either of mother or child. On the contrary, it is a source of real satisfaction and pleasure to them both—and increases and strengthens the bond of sympathy by which their hearts are united to each other.
'The Principle involved'.
It must be understood distinctly that this case is given only as an illustration of a principle, which is applicable to all cases. The act of opening and shutting a door in a noisy manner is altogether too insignificant a fault to deserve this long discussion of the method of curing it, were it not that methods founded on the same principles, and conducted in the same spirit—are applicable universally in all that pertains to the domestic management of children. And it is a method, too, directly the opposite of that which is often—I will not say generally—but certainly very often pursued.
The child tells the truth many times—and in some cases, perhaps, when the inducement was very strong to tell an untruth. We take no notice of these cases, considering it a matter of course that he should tell the truth. We reserve our action altogether for the first case when, overcome by a sudden temptation, he tells a lie—and then interpose with reproaches and punishment.
Perhaps nineteen times he gives up what belongs to his little brother or sister of his own accord, perhaps after a severe internal struggle. The twentieth time the result of the struggle goes the wrong way—and he attempts to retain by violence what does not belong to him. We take no notice of the nineteen cases when the little fellow did right—but come and box his ears in the one case when he does wrong.
'Origin of the Error'.
The idea on which this improper mode of treatment is founded—namely, that it is a 'matter of course' that children will do right, so that when they do right there is nothing to be said—and that doing wrong is the abnormal condition and exceptional action which alone requires the parent to interfere—is, to a great extent, a mistake. Indeed, the 'matter of course' is all the other way. As a 'matter of course' that children will do wrong! A babe will seize the plaything of another babe without the least compunction, long after it is keenly alive to the injustice and wrongfulness of having its own playthings taken by any other child. So in regard to truth.
The first impulse of all children, when they have just acquired the use of language, is to use it in such a way as to effect their object for the time being, without any sense of the sacred obligation of making the words always correspond truly with the facts. The principles of doing justice to the rights of others—to one's own damage; and of speaking the truth—when falsehood would serve the present purpose better; are principles that are developed or acquired by slow degrees—and at a later period. I say developed 'or' acquired—for different classes of metaphysicians and theologians entertain different theories in respect to the way by which the ideas of right and of duty enter into the human mind. But all will agree in this—that whatever may be the origin of the moral sense in man, it does not appear as a 'practical element of control for the conduct' until some time after the physical appetites and passions have begun to exercise their power.
Whether we regard this sense as arising from a development within of a latent principle of the soul, or as an essential element of the inherited and native constitution of man, though remaining for a time embryonic and inert, or as a habit acquired under the influence of instruction and example—all will admit that the period of its appearance as a perceptible motive of action is so delayed—and the time required for its attaining sufficient strength to exercise any real and effectual control over the conduct extends over so many of the earlier years of life, that no very material help in governing the appetites and passions and impulses can be reasonably expected from it at a very early period. Indeed, conscience, so far as its existence is manifested at all in childhood, seems to show itself chiefly in the form of the simple 'fear of detection' in what there is reason to suppose will lead, if discovered, to reproaches or punishment.
At any rate, the moral sense in childhood, whatever may be our philosophy in respect to the origin and the nature of it, cannot be regarded as a strong and settled principle on which we can throw the responsibility of regulating the conduct—and holding it sternly to its obligations. The moral sense in childhood is, on the contrary, a very tender plant, slowly coming forward to the development of its beauty and its power—and requiring the most gentle fostering and care on the part of those entrusted with the training of the infant mind; and the influence of commendation and encouragement when the youthful monitor succeeds in its incipient and feeble efforts—will be far more effectual in promoting its development, than that of censure and punishment when it fails.
For every good thing there seems to be something in its form and semblance that is spurious and bad. The principle brought to view in this chapter has its counterfeit, in the indiscriminate praise and flattery of children by their parents, which only makes them self-conceited and vain, without at all promoting any good end. The distinction between the two might be easily pointed out, if time and space permitted; but the intelligent parent, who has rightly comprehended the method of management here described—and the spirit in which the process of applying it is to be made, will be in no danger of confounding one with the other.
This principle of noticing and commending, within proper limits and restrictions, what is right; rather than finding fault with what is wrong, will be found to be as important in the work of instruction—as in the regulation of conduct. We have, in fact, a very good opportunity of comparing the two systems, as it is a curious fact that in certain things it is almost the universal custom to adopt one method—and in certain others, the other.
'The two Methods exemplified'.
There are, for example, two arts which children have to learn, in the process of their mental and physical development, in which their faults, errors, and deficiencies are never pointed out—but in the dealings of their parents with them, all is commendation and encouragement. They are the arts of walking and talking.
The first time that a child attempts to walk alone, what a feeble, staggering—and awkward exhibition it makes. And yet its mother shows, by the excitement of her countenance—and the delight expressed by her exclamations, how pleased she is with the performance; and she, perhaps, even calls in people from the next room to see how well the baby can walk! Not a word about imperfections and failings, not a word about the tottering, the awkward reaching out of arms to preserve the balance, the crookedness of the way, the anxious expression of the countenance, or any other faults. These are left to correct themselves by the continued practice which encouragement is sure to lead to.
It is true that words would not be available in such a case for fault-finding; for a child when learning to walk would be too young to understand them. But the parent's sense of the imperfections of the performance might be expressed in looks and gestures which the child would understand; but he sees, on the contrary, nothing but indications of satisfaction and pleasure—and it is very manifest how much he is encouraged by them. Seeing the pleasure which his efforts give to the spectators, he is made proud and happy by his success—and thus he goes on making efforts to improve with alacrity and delight.
It is the same with learning to talk. The mistakes, deficiencies and errors of the first crude attempts are seldom noticed—and still more seldom pointed out by the parent. On the contrary, the child takes the impression, from the readiness with which its words are understood and the delight it evidently gives its mother to hear them, that it is going on triumphantly in its work of learning to talk, instead of feeling that its attempts are only tolerated because they are made by such a little child—and that they require a vast amount of correction, alteration and improvement, before they will be at all satisfactory. Indeed, so far from criticizing and pointing out the errors and faults, the mother very frequently meets the child half way in its progress, by actually adopting the faults and errors herself in her replies. So that when the little beginner in the use of language, as he wakes up in his crib—and stretching out his hands to his mother says, "I want to get up" she comes to take him—and replies, her face beaming with delight, "My little darling! you shall 'get up';" thus filling his mind with happiness at the idea that his mother is not only pleased that he attempts to speak—but is fully satisfied—and more than satisfied, with his success.
The result is, that in learning to walk and to talk, children always go forward with alacrity and ardor. They practice continually and spontaneously, requiring no promises of reward to allure them to effort—and no threats of punishment to overcome repugnance or aversion. It might be too much to say that the rapidity of their progress and the pleasure which they experience in making it, are owing wholly to the commendation and encouragement they receive—for other causes may cooperate with these. But it is certain that these influences contribute very essentially to the result. There can be no doubt at all that if it were possible for a mother to stop her child in its efforts to learn to walk and to talk, and explain to it—no matter how kindly—all its shortcomings, failures and mistakes—and were to make this her daily and habitual practice, the consequence would be, not only a great diminution of the ardor and animation of the little pupil, in pressing forward in its work—but also a great retardation in its progress!
'Example of the other Method'.
Let us now, for the more full understanding of the subject, go to the other extreme—and consider a case in which the management is as far as possible removed from that above referred to. We cannot have a better example than the method often adopted in schools and seminaries for teaching composition; in other words, the art of expressing one's thoughts in written language—an art which one would suppose to be so analogous to that of learning to talk—that is, to express one's thoughts in 'oral' language—that the method which was found so eminently successful in the one would be naturally resorted to in the other. Instead of that, the method often pursued is exactly the reverse. The pupil having with infinite difficulty—and with many forebodings and anxious fears, made his first attempt, brings it to his teacher. The teacher, if he is a kind-hearted and considerate man, perhaps briefly commends the effort with some such dubious and equivocal praise as it is "Very well for a beginner," or "As good a composition as could be expected at the first attempt," and then proceeds to go over the exercise in a cool and deliberate manner, with a view of revealing and bringing out clearly and conspicuously to the view, not only in front of the little author himself—but often of all his classmates and friends—every imperfection, failure, mistake, omission, or other fault which a rigid scrutiny can detect in the performance. However kindly he may do this—and however gentle the tones of his voice, still the work is criticism and fault-finding from beginning to end. The boy sits on thorns and nettles while submitting to the operation—and when he takes his marked and corrected manuscript to his seat, he feels mortified and ashamed—and is often hopelessly discouraged.
'How Faults are to be Corrected'.
Someone may, perhaps, say that pointing out the errors and faults of pupils is absolutely essential to their progress, inasmuch as, unless they are made to see what their faults are, they cannot be expected to correct them. I admit that this is true to a certain extent—but by no means to so great an extent as is often supposed. There are a great many ways of teaching pupils to do better what they are going to do, besides showing them the faults in what they have already done.
Thus, without pointing out the errors and faults which he observes, the teacher may only refer to and commend what is right, while he at the same time observes and remembers the prevailing faults, with a view of adapting his future instructions to the removal of them. These instructions, when given, will take the form, of course, of general information on the art of expressing one's thoughts in writing—and on the faults and errors to be avoided, perhaps without any, or, at least, very little allusion to those which the pupils themselves had committed. Instruction thus given, while it will have at least an equal tendency with the other mode to form the pupils to habits of correctness and accuracy, will not have the effect upon their mind of disparagement of what they have already done—but rather of aid and encouragement for them in regard to what they are next to do. In following the instructions thus given them, the pupils will, as it were, leave the faults previously committed behind them, being even, in many instances, unconscious, perhaps, of their having themselves ever committed them.
The ingenious mother will find various modes analogous to this, of leading her children forward into what is right, without at all disturbing their minds by censure of what is wrong—a course which it is perfectly safe to pursue in the case of all errors and faults which result from inadvertence or immaturity.
There is, doubtless, another class of faults—those of willful carelessness or neglect—which must be specially pointed out to the attention of the delinquents—and a degree of discredit attached to the commission of them—and perhaps, in special cases, some kind of punishment imposed, as the most proper corrective of the evil. And yet, even in cases of carelessness and neglect of duty, it will generally be found much more easy to awaken ambition, and a desire to improve, in a child—by discovering, if possible, something good in his work—and commending that, as an encouragement to him to make greater exertion the next time, than to attempt to cure him of his negligence by calling his attention to the faults which he has committed, as subjects of censure, however obvious the faults may be—and however deserving of blame.
The advice, however, made in this chapter, to employ commendation and encouragement to a great extent, rather than criticism and fault-finding, in the management and instruction of children, must, like all other general counsels of the kind, be held subject to all proper limitations and restrictions. Some mother may, perhaps, object to what is here advanced, saying, "If I am always indiscriminately praising my child's doings, he will become self-conceited and vain—and he will cease to make progress, being satisfied with what he has already attained." Of course he will—and therefore you must take care not to be always and indiscriminately praising him. You must exercise tact and good judgment, or at any rate, common sense, in properly proportioning your criticism and your praise. There are no principles of management, however sound—which may not be so exaggerated, or followed with so blind a disregard of attendant circumstances, as to produce more harm than good.
It must be especially borne in mind that the counsels here given in relation to curing the faults of children by dealing more with what is good in them than what is bad—are intended to apply to faults of ignorance, inadvertence, or habit only—and not to acts of known and willful wrong. When we come to cases of deliberate and intentional disobedience to a parent's commands, or open resistance to his authority, something different, or at least something more, is required.
'The Principle of Universal Application.'
In conclusion, it is proper to add that the principle of influencing human character and action, by noticing and commending what is right, rather than finding fault with what is wrong—is of universal application, with the mature as well as with the young. The susceptibility to this influence is in full operation in the minds of all men everywhere—and acting upon it will lead to the same results in all the relations of society. The way to awaken a stingy man to the performance of generous deeds, is not by remonstrating with him, however kindly, on his stinginess—but by watching his conduct till we find some act which bears some semblance of liberality—and commending him for that. If you have a neighbor who is surly and troublesome—tell him that he is so—and you make him worse than ever! But watch for some occasion in which he shows you some little kindness—and thank him cordially for such a good neighborly act—and he will feel a strong desire to repeat it. If mankind universally understood this principle—and would generally act upon it in their dealings with others—of course, with such limitations and restrictions as good sense and sound judgment would impose—the world would not only go on much more smoothly and harmoniously than it does now—but the progress of improvement would, I think, in all respects be infinitely more rapid.
Chapter 13. Faults of Immaturity.
A great portion of the errors and mistakes—and of what we call the follies, of children, arise from simple ignorance. Principles of philosophy, whether pertaining to external nature or to mental action, are involved which have never come home to their minds. They may have been presented—but they have not been understood and appreciated. It requires some tact—and sometimes delicate observation, on the part of the mother—to determine whether an action which she sees ought to be corrected, results from childish ignorance and inexperience, or from willful wrong-doing. Whatever may be the proper treatment in the latter case, it is evident that in the former what is required is not censure—but instruction.
A mother came into the room one day and found Johnny disputing earnestly with his cousin Jane on the question of who was the tallest—Johnny very strenuously maintaining that he was the tallest, 'because he was a boy'. His older brother, James, who was present at the time, measured them—and found that Johnny in reality was the tallest.
Now there was nothing wrong in his feeling a pride and pleasure in the thought that he was physically superior to his cousin—and though it was foolish for him to insist himself on this superiority in a boasting way, it was the foolishness of ignorance only. He had not learned the principle—which half of mankind do not seem ever to learn during the whole course of their lives—that it is far wiser and better to let our good qualities appear naturally of themselves, than to claim credit for them by boasting. It would have been much wiser for Johnny to have admitted at the outset that Jane might possibly be taller than he—and then to have awaited quietly the result of the measuring.
But we cannot blame him much for not having learned this particular wisdom at five years of age, when so many full-grown men and women never learn it at all.
Nor was there anything blameworthy in him in respect to the false logic involved in his argument, that his being a boy made him necessarily taller than his cousin, a girl of the same age. There was a 'semblance' of proof in that fact—what the logicians term a presumption. But the reasoning powers are very slowly developed in childhood. They are very seldom aided by any instruction really adapted to the improvement of them; and we ought not to expect that such children can at all clearly distinguish a semblance from a reality in ideas so extremely abstruse, as those relating to the logical connection between the premises and the conclusion in a process of rationalization.
In this case as in the other we expect them to understand at once, without instruction, what we find it extremely difficult to learn ourselves; for a large portion of mankind prove themselves utterly unable ever to discriminate between sound arguments and those which are utterly inconsequent and absurd.
In a word, what Johnny requires in such a case as this is, not ridicule to shame him out of his false reasoning, nor censure or punishment to cure him of his boasting—but simply instruction.
And this instruction, it is much better to give 'not' in direct connection with the occurrence which indicated the need of it. If you attempt to explain to your boy the folly of boasting in immediate connection with some act of boasting of his own, he feels that you are really finding fault with him; his mind instinctively puts itself into a position of defense—and the truth which you wish to impart to it finds a much less easy admission.
If, for example, in this case Johnny's mother attempts on the spot to explain to him the folly of boasting—and to show how much wiser it is for us to let our good qualities, if we have any, speak for themselves, without any direct agency of ours in claiming the merit of them, he listens reluctantly and nervously as to a scolding in disguise. If he is a well-managed boy, he waits, perhaps, to hear what his mother has to say—but it makes no impression. If he is badly trained, he will probably interrupt his mother in the midst of what she is saying, or break away from her to go on with his play.
'A right Mode of Treatment.'
If now, instead of this, the mother waits until the dispute and the transaction of measuring have passed by and been forgotten—and then takes some favorable opportunity to give the required 'instruction', the result will be far more favorable. At some time, when tired of his play, he comes to stand by her to observe her at her work, or perhaps to ask her for a story; or, after she has put him to bed and is about to leave him for the night, she says to him as follows:
"I'll tell you a story about two boys, Jack and Henry—and you shall tell me which of them came off best. They both went to the same school and were in the same class—and there was nobody else in the class but those two. Henry, who was the most diligent scholar, was at the head of the class—and Jack was below him—and, of course, as there were only two, he was at the foot.
"One day there was company at the house—and one of the ladies asked the boys how they got along at school. Jack immediately said, 'Very well. I'm next to the head of my class!' The lady then praised him—and said that he must be a very good scholar to be so high in his class. Then she asked Henry how high he was in his class. He said he was 'next to the foot.'
"The lady was somewhat surprised, for she, as well as the others present, supposed that Henry was the best scholar; they were all a little puzzled too, for Henry looked a little sportive and sly when he said it. But just then the teacher came in—and she explained the case; for she said that the boys were in the same class—and they were all that were in it; so that Henry, who was really at the head, was next one to the foot; while Jack, who was at the foot, was next but one to the head. On having this explanation made to the company, Jack felt very much confused and ashamed, while Henry, though he said nothing, could not help feeling pleased.
"And now," asks the mother, in conclusion, "which of these boys do you think came off the best?"
Johnny answers that Henry came out best.
"Yes," adds his mother, "and it is always better that people's merits, if they have any, should come out in other ways than by their own boasting of them."
It is true that this case of Henry and Jack does not correspond exactly—not even nearly, in fact—with that of Johnny and his cousin. Nor is it necessary that the instruction given in these ways should logically conform to the incident which calls them forth. It is sufficient that there should be such a degree of analogy between them, that the interest and turn of thought produced by the incident may prepare the mind for appreciating and receiving the lesson. But the mother may bring the lesson nearer if she pleases.
"I will tell you another story," she says. "There were two men at a fair. Their names were Thomas and Philip.
"Thomas was boasting of his strength. He said he was a great deal stronger than Philip. 'Perhaps you are,' said Philip. Then Thomas pointed to a big stone which was lying upon the ground—and dared Philip to try which could throw it the farthest. 'Very well,' said Philip, 'I will try—but I think it very likely you will beat me, for I know you are very strong.' So they tried—and it proved that Philip could throw it a great deal farther than Thomas could. Then Thomas went away looking very much incensed and very much ashamed, while Philip's triumph was altogether greater for his not having boasted."
The mother may, if she pleases, come still nearer than this, if she wishes to suit Johnny's individual case, without exciting any resistance in his heart to the reception of her lesson. She may bring his exact case into consideration, provided she changes the names of the actors, so that Johnny's mind may be relieved from the uneasy sensitiveness which it is so natural for a child to feel when his own conduct is directly the object of unfavorable comment. It is surprising how slight a change in the mere outward incidents of an affair will suffice to divert the thoughts of the child from himself in such a case—and enable him to look at the lesson to be imparted without personal feeling—and so to receive it more readily.
Johnny's mother may say, "There might be a story in a book about two boys that were disputing a little about which was the tallest. What do you think would be good names for the boys, if you were making up such a story?"
When Johnny has proposed the names, his mother could go on and give an almost exact narrative of what took place between Johnny and his cousin, offering just such instructions and such advice as she would like to offer; and she will find, if she manages the conversation with ordinary tact and discretion, that the lessons which she desires to impart will find a ready admission to the mind of her child, simply from the fact that, by divesting them of all direct personal application, she has eliminated from them the element of covert censure which they would otherwise have contained. Very slight disguises will, in all such cases, be found to be sufficient to veil the personal applicability of the instruction, so far as to divest it of all that is painful or disagreeable to the child. He may have a vague feeling that you mean him—but the feeling will not produce any effect of irritation or repellence.
Now, the object of these illustrations is to show that those errors and faults which, when we look at their real and intrinsic character, we see to be results of ignorance and inexperience—and not instances of willful and intentional wrong-doing, are not to be dealt with harshly—and made occasions of censure and punishment. The child does not deserve censure or punishment in such cases; what he requires is instruction. It is the bringing in of light to illuminate the path that is before him which he has yet to tread—and not the infliction of pain, to impress upon him the evil of the missteps he made, in consequence of the obscurity, in the path behind him.
Indeed, in such cases as this, it is the influence of pleasure rather than pain—that the parent will find the most efficient means of aiding him; that is, in these cases, the more pleasant and agreeable the modes by which he can impart the needed knowledge to the child—in other words, the more attractive he can make the paths by which he can lead his little charge onward in its progress towards maturity—the more successful he will be.
'Ignorance of Material Properties and Laws.'
In the example already given, the mental immaturity consisted in imperfect acquaintance with the qualities and the action of the mind—and the principles of sound reasoning. But a far larger portion of the mistakes and failures into which children fall—and for which they incur undeserved censure, are due to their ignorance of the laws of external nature—and of the properties and qualities of material objects.
A boy, for example, seven or eight years old, receives from his father a present of a knife, with a special injunction to be careful of it. He is, accordingly, very careful of it in respect to such dangers as he understands—but in attempting to bore a hole with it in a piece of wood, out of which he is trying to make a windmill, he breaks the small blade. The accident, in such a case, is not to be attributed to any censurable carelessness—but to lack of instruction in respect to the strength of such a material as steel—and the nature and effects of the degree of tempering given to knife-blades. The boy had seen his father bore holes with a gimlet—and the knife-blade was larger—in one direction at least, that is, in breadth—than the gimlet—and it was very natural for him to suppose that it was stronger. What a boy needs in such a case, therefore, is not a scolding, or punishment—but simply information.
'The Intention good'.
A girl of about the same age—a farmer's daughter, we will suppose—under the influence of a dutiful desire to aid her mother in preparing the table for breakfast, attempts to carry across the room a pitcher of milk which is too full—and she spills a portion of it upon the floor.
The mother, forgetting the good intention which prompted the act—and thinking only of the inconvenience which it occasions her, administers at once a sharp rebuke. The cause of the trouble was, simply, that the child was not old enough to understand the laws of momentum and of oscillation which affect the condition of a fluid when subjected to movements more or less irregular. She has had no theoretical instruction on the subject—and is too young to have acquired the necessary knowledge practically, by experience or observation.
It is so with a very large portion of the accidents which befall children. They arise not from any evil design, nor even anything that can properly be called carelessness, on their part—but simply from the immaturity of their knowledge in respect to the properties and qualities of the material objects with which they have to deal.
It is true that children may be—and often, doubtless, are, in fault for these accidents. The boy may have been warned by his father not to attempt to bore with his knife-blade, or the girl forbidden to attempt to carry the milk-pitcher. The fault, however, would be, even in these cases, in the disobedience—and not in the damage that accidentally resulted from it. And it would be far more reasonable and proper to reprove and punish the fault when no evil followed, than when a damage was the result; for in the latter case the damage itself acts, ordinarily, as a more than sufficient punishment.
'Misfortunes befalling Men'.
These cases are exactly analogous to a large class of accidents and calamities which happen among men. A ship-master sails from port at a time when there are causes existing in the condition of the atmosphere—and in the agencies in readiness to act upon it, that must certainly, in a few hours, result in a violent storm. He is consequently caught in the gale—and his topmasts and upper rigging are carried away. The owners do not censure him for the loss which they incur, if they are only assured that the meteorological knowledge at the captain's command at the time of leaving port was not such as to give him warning of the danger; and provided, also, that his knowledge was as advanced as could reasonably be expected from the opportunities which he had enjoyed. But we are very much inclined to hold children responsible for as much knowledge of the sources of danger around them as we ourselves, with all our experience, have been able to acquire—and are accustomed to condemn and sometimes even to punish them, for lack of this knowledge.
Indeed, in many cases, both with children and with men, the means of knowledge in respect to the danger may be fully within reach—and yet the situation may be so novel—and the combination of circumstances so peculiar—that the connection between the causes and the possible evil effects does not occur to the minds of the people engaged. An accident which has just occurred at the time of this present writing will illustrate this. A company of workmen constructing a tunnel for a railway, when they had reached the distance of some miles from the entrance, prepared a number of charges for blasting the rock—and accidentally laid the wires connected with the powder, in too close proximity to the temporary railway-track already laid in the tunnel. The charges were intended to be fired from an electric battery provided for the purpose; but a thunder-cloud came up—and the electric force from it was conveyed by the rails into the tunnel and exploded the charges—and several men were killed. No one was inclined to censure the unfortunate men for carelessness in not guarding against a contingency so utterly unforeseen by them, though it is plain that, as is often said to children in precisely analogous cases, they 'might have known'.
There is, perhaps, no department of the management of children in which they incur more undeserved censure—and even punishment—and are treated with so little consideration for faults arising solely from the immaturity of their minds, than in the direction of what may be called school studies. Few people have any proper appreciation of the enormous difficulties which a child has to encounter in learning to read and spell. How many parents become discouraged—and manifest their discouragement and dissatisfaction to the child in reproving and complaints, at what they consider his slow progress in learning to spell—forgetting that in the English language there are in common, every-day use eight or ten thousand words, almost all of which are to be learned separately, by a bare and cheerless toil of committing to memory, with comparatively little definite help from the sound. We have ourselves become so accustomed to seeing the word 'bear', for example, when denoting the animal, spelled 'b e a r', that we are very prone to imagine that there is something naturally appropriate in those letters and in that collocation of them, to represent that sound when used to denote that idea. But what is there in the nature and power of the letters to aid the child in perceiving—or, when told, in remembering—whether, when referring to the animal, he is to write 'bear', or 'bare', or 'bair', or 'bayr', or 'bere', as in 'where'. So with the word 'you.' It seems to us the most natural thing in the world to spell it 'y o u'. And when the little pupil, judging by the sound, writes it 'y u', we mortify him by our ridicule, as if he had done something in itself absurd. But how is he to know, except by the hardest, most meaningless—and distasteful toil of the memory, whether he is to write 'you', or 'yu', or 'yoo,' or 'ewe', or 'yew', or 'yue', as in 'flue', or even 'yo' as in 'do'—and to determine when and in what cases respectively he is to use those different forms?
The truth is, that each elementary sound that enters into the composition of words is represented in our language by so many different combinations of letters, in different cases, that the child has very little clue from the sound of a syllable, to guide him in the spelling of it. We ourselves, from long habit, have become so accustomed to what we call the right spelling—which, of course, means nothing more than the customary one—that we are apt to imagine, as has already been said, that there is some natural fitness in it; and a mode of representing the same sound, which in one case seems natural and proper, in another appears ludicrous and absurd. We smile to see 'laugh' spelled 'larf,' just as we should to see 'scarf' spelled 'scaugh', or 'scalf', as in 'half'; and we forget that this perception of apparent incongruity is entirely the result of long habit in us—and has no natural foundation—and that children cannot be sensible of it, or have any idea of it whatever. They learn, in learning to talk—what sound serves as the name by which the drops of water that they find upon the grass in the morning is denoted—but they can have no clue whatever to guide them in determining which of the various modes by which precisely that sound is represented in different words, as 'dew, do, due, du, doo' and 'dou', is to be employed in this case—and they become involved in hopeless perplexity if they attempt to imagine "'how it ought to be spelled';" and we think them stupid because they cannot extricate themselves from the difficulty on our calling upon them to "think!"
No doubt there is a reason for the particular mode of spelling each particular word in the language—but that reason is hidden in the past history of the word and in facts connected with its origin and derivation from some barbarous or dead language—and is as utterly beyond the reach of each generation of spellers—as if there were no such reasons in existence. There cannot be the slightest help in any way from the exercise of the thinking or the reasoning powers.
It is true that the variety of the modes by which a given sound may be represented is not so great in all words as it is in these examples, though with respect to a vast number of the words in common use the above are fair specimens. They were not specially selected—but were taken almost at random. And there are very few words in the language, the sound of which might not be represented by several different modes.
Take, for example, the three last words of the last sentence, which, as the words were written without any thought of using them for this purpose, may be considered, perhaps, as a fair specimen of words taken actually at random. The sound of the word 'several' might be expressed in perfect accordance with the usage of English spelling, as 'ceveral, severul, sevaral, cevural'—and in many other different modes. The combinations 'dipherant, diferunt, dyfferent, diffurunt'—and many others, would as well represent the sound of the second word as the usual mode. And so with 'modes', which, according to the analogy of the language, might as well be expressed by 'moads, mowdes, moades, mohdes', or even 'mhodes', as in 'Rhodes'.
An exceptionally precise speaker might doubtless make some slight difference in the sounds indicated by the different modes of representing the same syllable as given above; but to the ordinary appreciation of childhood, the distinction in sound between such combinations, for example, as 'a n t' in 'constant' and 'e n t' in 'different' would not be perceptible.
Now, when we consider the obvious fact that the child has to learn mechanically, without any principles whatever to guide him in discovering which, out of the many different forms, equally probable, judging simply from analogy, by which the sound of the word is to be expressed, is the right one; and considering how small a portion of his time each day is or can be devoted to this work—and that the number of words in common use, all of which he is expected to know how to spell correctly by the time that he is twelve or fifteen years of age, is probably ten or twelve thousand (there are in Webster's dictionary, considerably over a hundred thousand); when we take these considerations into account, it would seem that a parent, on finding that a letter written by his daughter, twelve or fourteen years of age, has all but three or four words spelled right, ought to be pleased and satisfied—and to express his satisfaction for the encouragement of the learner, instead of appearing to think only of the few words that are wrong—and disheartening and discouraging the child by attempts to make her ashamed of her spelling.
The case is substantially the same with the enormous difficulties to be encountered in learning to read and to write. The names of the letters, as the child pronounces them individually, give very little clue to the sound that is to be given to the word formed by them. Thus, the letters 'h i t', as the child pronounces them individually—'aitch,' 'eye,' 'tee'—would naturally spell to him some such word as 'achite', not 'hit' at all.
And as for the labor and difficulty of writing, a mother who is impatient at the slow progress of her children in the attainment of the art would be aided very much in obtaining a just idea of the difficulties which they experience by sitting upon a chair and at a table both much too high for her—and trying to copy Chinese characters by means of a hair-pencil—and with her left hand—the work to be closely inspected every day by a stern Chinaman of whom she stands in dread—and all the minutest deviations from the copy pointed out to her attention with an air of dissatisfaction and reproval!
'Effect of Ridicule'.
There is, perhaps, no one cause which exerts a greater influence in chilling the interest which children naturally feel in the acquisition of knowledge, than the depression and discouragement which result from having their mistakes and errors—for a large portion of which they are in no sense to blame—made subjects of censure or ridicule. The effect is still more decided in the case of girls than in that of boys, the gentler gender being naturally so much more sensitive. I have found in many cases, especially in respect to girls who are far enough advanced to have had a tolerably full experience of the usual influences of schools, that the fear of making mistakes—and of being "thought stupid," has had more effect in hindering and retarding progress, by repressing the natural ardor of the pupil—and destroying all alacrity and courage in the efforts to advance, than all other causes combined.
How unkind—and even cruel—it is to reproach or ridicule a child for stupidity, is evident when we reflect that any supposed inferiority in his mental organization cannot, by any possibility, be 'his' fault. The question what degree of natural intelligence he shall be endowed with, in comparison with other children, is determined, not by himself—but by his Creator—and depends, probably, upon conditions of organization in his cerebral system as much beyond his control as anything abnormal in the features of his face, or blindness, or deafness, or any other physical disadvantage. The child who shows any indications of inferiority in any of these respects—should be the object of his parent's or his teacher's special tenderness and care. If he is near-sighted, give him, at school, a seat as convenient as possible to the blackboard. If he is hard of hearing, place him near the teacher; and for reasons precisely analogous, if you suspect him to be of inferior mental capacity, help him gently and tenderly in every possible way. Do everything in your power to encourage him—and to conceal his deficiencies both from others and from himself, so far as these objects can be attained consistently with the general good of the family or of the school.
And, at all events, let those who have in any way the charge of children, keep the distinction well defined in their minds—between the faults which result from evil intentions, or deliberate and willful neglect of known duty—and those which, whatever the inconvenience they may occasion, are in part or in whole the results of mental or physical immaturity. In all our dealings, whether with plants, or animals, or with the human soul, we ought, in our training, to act very gently in respect to all that pertains to the natural condition.
Chapter 14. The Activity of Children.
In order rightly to understand the true nature of that extraordinary energy and activity, which is so noticeable in all children who are in a state of health, so as to be able to deal with it on the right principles and in a proper manner—it is necessary to turn our attention somewhat carefully to certain scientific truths in respect to the nature and action of force in general, which are now abundantly established, and which throws great light on the true character of that peculiar form of it, which is so characteristic of childhood—and is, indeed, so abundantly developed by the vital functions of almost all young animals. One of the fundamental principles of this system of scientific truth is that which is called the persistence of force.
'The Persistence of Force'.
By the persistence of force, is meant the principle—that in the ordinary course of nature, no force is either ever originated or ever destroyed—but only changed in form. In other words, that all existing forces are but the continuation or prolongation of other forces preceding them, either of the same or other forms—but precisely equivalent in amount; and that no force can terminate its action in any other way, than by being transmuted into some other force, either of the same or of some other form; but still, again, precisely equivalent in amount.
It was formerly believed that a force might under certain circumstances be 'originated'—created, as it were—and hence the attempts to contrive machines for perpetual motion—that is, machines for the 'production' of force. This idea is now wholly renounced by all well-informed men as utterly impossible in the nature of things. All that human mechanism can do is to provide modes for using advantageously a force previously existing, without the possibility of either increasing or diminishing it. No existing force can be destroyed. The only changes possible are changes of direction, changes in the relation of intensity to quantity—and changes of form.
The cases in which a force is apparently increased or diminished, as well as those in which it seems to disappear, are all found, on examination, to be illusive. For example, the apparent increase of a man's power by the use of a lever is really no increase at all. It is true that, by pressing upon the outer arm with his own weight, he can cause the much greater weight of the stone to rise; but then it will rise only a very little way in comparison with the distance through which his own weight descends. His own weight must, in fact, descend through a distance as much greater than that by which the stone ascends, as the weight of the stone is greater than his weight. In other words, so far as the balance of the forces is concerned, the whole amount of the 'downward motion' consists of the smaller weight descending through a greater distance, which will be equal to the whole amount of that of the larger one ascending through a smaller distance; and, to produce a preponderance, the whole amount of the downward force must be somewhat greater. Thus the lever only 'gathers' or 'concentrates' force, as it were—but does not at all increase it.
It is so with all the other contrivances for managing force for the accomplishment of particular purposes. None of them increase the force—but only alter its form and character, with a view to its better adaptation to the purpose in view.
Nor can any force be extinguished. When a bullet strikes against a solid wall, the force of its movement, which seems to disappear, is not lost; it is converted into heat—the temperature of both the bullet and of that part of the wall on which it impinges being raised by the concussion. And it is found that the amount of the heat which is thus produced is always in exact proportion to the quantity of mechanical motion which is stopped; this quantity depending on the weight of the bullet—and on the velocity with which it was moving. And it has been ascertained, moreover, by the most careful, patient and many times repeated experiments and calculations—that the quantity of this heat is exactly the same with that which, through the medium of steam, or by any other mode of applying it, may be made to produce the same quantity of mechanical motion that was extinguished in the bullet. Thus the force was not destroyed—but only converted into another form.
'The Arrest and temporary Reservation of Force'.
Now, although it is thus impossible that any force should be destroyed, or in any way cease to exist in one form without setting in action a precisely equal amount in some other form—it may, as it were, pass into a condition of 'restraint'—and remain thus suspended and latent for an indefinite period—ready, however, to break into action again the moment that the restraint is removed. Thus a perfectly elastic spring may be bent by a certain force—and retained in the bent position a long time. But the moment that it is released it will unbend itself, exercising in so doing precisely the degree of force expended in bending it. In the same manner, air may be compressed in an air-gun—and held thus, with the force, as it were, imprisoned, for any length of time, until at last, when the detent is released by the trigger, the elastic force comes into action, exercising in its action a power precisely the same as that with which it was compressed.
Force or power may be thus, as it were, stored up in a countless variety of ways—and reserved for future action; and, when finally released, the whole amount may be set free at once, so as to expend itself in a single impulse, as in case of the arrow or the bullet; or it may be partially restrained, so as to expend itself gradually, as in the case of a clock or watch. In either case the total amount expended will be precisely the same—namely, the exact equivalent of that which was placed in store.
'Practical Applications of these Principles'.
If we watch a bird for a little while hopping along upon the ground—and up and down between the ground and the branches of a tree, we shall at first be surprised at his incessant activity—and next, if we reflect a little, at the utter aimlessness and uselessness of it. He runs a little way along the path; then he hops up upon a twig, then down again upon the ground; then "makes believe" peck at something which he imagines or pretends that he sees in the grass; then, tipping his head to one side and upward, the branch of a tree there happens to strike his eye, upon which he at once flies up to it. Perching himself upon it for the moment, he utters a burst of joyous song—and then, instantly afterwards, down he comes upon the ground again, runs along, stops, runs along a little farther, stops again, looks around for a moment, as if wondering what to do next—and then flies off out of our field of view. If we could follow—and had patience to watch him so long, we would find him continuing this incessantly changing but never-ceasing activity all the day long.
We sometimes imagine that the bird's movements are to be explained by supposing that he is engaged in the search for food in these evolutions. But when we reflect how small a quantity of food his little crop will contain, we shall be at once convinced that a large proportion of his apparent pecking for food is only make-believe—and that he moves thus incessantly not so much on account of the end he seeks to attain by it, as on account of the very pleasure of the motion. He hops about and pecks, not for the love of anything he expects to find—but just for the love of hopping and pecking.
The real explanation is that the food which he has taken is delivering up, within his system, the force stored in it that was received originally from the beams of the sun, while the plant which produced it was growing. This force must have an outlet—and it finds this outlet in the incessant activity of the bird's muscles and brain. The various objects which attract his attention, 'invite' the force to expend itself in 'certain special directions'; but the impelling cause is within—and not without; and were there nothing without to serve as objects for its action, the necessity of its action would be none the less imperious.
The lion, when imprisoned in his cage, walks to and fro continuously, if there is room for him to take two steps and turn; and if there is not room for this, he moves his head incessantly from side to side. The force within him, which his vital organs are setting at liberty from its imprisonment in his food—must in some way find outlet.
Mothers do not often stop to speculate upon—and may even, perhaps, seldom observe the restless and incessant activity of birds—but that restless and incessant activity of their children forces itself upon their attention by its effects in disturbing their own quiet avocations and pleasures; and they often wonder what can be the inducement which leads to such a perpetual succession of movements made apparently without motive or end. And, not perceiving any possible inducement to account for it, they are apt to consider this restless activity so causeless and unreasonable as to make it a fault for which the child is to be censured or punished, or which they are to attempt to cure by means of artificial restraints. They would not attempt such repressions as this, if they were aware that all this muscular and mental energy of action in the child is only the outward manifestation of an inward force developed in a manner wholly independent of its will—a force, too, which must spend itself in some way or other—and that, if not allowed to do this in its own way, by impelling the limbs and members to outward action, it will do so by destroying the delicate mechanism within. We see this in the case of men who are doomed for long periods to solitary confinement. The force derived from their food—and released within their systems by the vital processes, being cut off by the silence and solitude of the dungeon from all usual and natural outlets, begins to work mischief within, by disorganizing the cerebral and other vital organs—and producing insanity and death.
We make a great mistake when we imagine that children are influenced in their activity, mainly by a desire for the objects which they attain by it. It is not the ends attained—but the pleasurable feeling which the action of the internal force, issuing by its natural channels, affords them—and the sense of power which accompanies the action. An end which presents itself to be attained invites this force to act in one direction rather than another—but it is the action—and not the end, in which the charm resides.
Give a child a bow and arrow—and send him out into the yard to try it—and if he does not happen to see anything to shoot at, he will shoot at random into the air. But if there is any object which will serve as a mark in sight, it seems to have the effect of drawing his aim towards it. He shoots at the vane on the barn, at an apple on a tree, a knot in a fence—anything which will serve the purpose of a mark. This is not because he has any end to accomplish in hitting the vane, the apple, or the knot—but only because there is an impulse within him leading him to shoot—and if there happens to be anything to shoot at, it gives that impulse a direction.
It is precisely the same with the incessant muscular activity of a child. He comes into a room and sits down in the first seat that he sees. Then he jumps up and runs to another, then to another, until he has tried all the seats in the room. This is not because he particularly wishes to try the seats. He wishes to 'move'—and the seats happen to be at hand—and they simply give direction to the impulse. If he were out of doors, the same office would be fulfilled by a fence which he might climb over, instead of going through an open gate close by; or a wall that he could walk upon with difficulty, instead of going, without difficulty, along a path at the foot of it; or a pole which he could try to climb, when there was no motive for climbing it but a desire to make muscular exertion; or a steep bank where he can scramble up, when there is nothing that he wishes for on the top of it.
In other words, the things that children do, are not done for the sake of the things—but for the sake of the 'doing'.
Parents very often do not understand this—and are accordingly continually asking such foolish questions as, "George, what do you wish to climb over that fence for, when there is a gate all open close by?" "James, what good do you expect to get by climbing up that tree, when you know there is nothing on it, not even a bird's nest?" and, "Lucy, what makes you keep jumping up all the time and running about to different places? Why can't you, when you get a good seat, sit still in it?"
The children, if they understood the philosophy of the case, might answer, "We don't climb over the fence at all because we wish to be on the other side of it; or scramble up the bank for the sake of anything that is on the top of it; or run about to different places because we wish to be in the places particularly. It is the internal force that is in us working itself off—and it works itself off in the ways that come most readily to hand."
'Various Modes in which the Reserved Force reappears'.
The force thus stored in the food and liberated within the system by the vital processes, finds scope for action in several different ways, prominent among which are,
First, in the production of animal heat.
Secondly, in muscular contractions and the motions of the limbs and members resulting from them.
Thirdly, in mental phenomena connected with the action of the brain and the nerves.
This last branch of the subject is yet enveloped in great mystery; but the proof seems to be decisive that the nervous system of man comprises organs which are actively exercised in the performance of mental operations—and that in this exercise they consume important portions of the vital force. If, for example, a child is actually engaged at play—and we direct him to take a seat and sit still, he will find it very difficult to do so. The inward force will soon begin to struggle within him to find an outlet. But if, while he is so sitting, we begin to relate to him some very surprising or exciting story, to occupy his 'mind', he will become motionless—and very likely remain so until the story is ended. It is supposed that in such cases the force is drawn off, so to speak, through the cerebral organs which it is employed in keeping in play, as the instruments by which the emotions and ideas which the story awakens in the mind are evolved. This part of the subject, as has already been remarked, is full of mystery; but the general fact that a portion of the force derived from the food is expended in actions of the brain and nervous system, seems well established.
Indeed, the whole subject of the reception and the storing up of force from the sun by the processes of vegetable and animal life—and the subsequent liberation of it in the fulfillment of the various functions of the animal system, is full of difficulties and mysteries. It is only a very simple view of the 'general principle' which is presented in these articles. In nature, the operations are not simple at all. They are involved in endless complications which are yet only to a very limited extent unravelled. The general principle is, however, well established; and if understood, even as a general principle, by parents and teachers, it will greatly modify their reaction in dealing with the incessant restlessness and activity of the young. It will teach them, among other things, the following practical rules.
1. Never find fault with children for their incapacity to keep still.You may stop the supply of force, if you will, by refusing to give them food; but if you continue the supply, you must not complain of its manifesting itself in action. After giving your boy his breakfast, to find fault with him for being incessantly in motion when his system has absorbed it, is simply to find fault with him for being healthy and happy. To give children food and then to restrain the resulting activity, is conduct very analogous to that of the engineer who should lock the action of his engine, turn off all the stop-cocks—and shut down the safety-valve, while he still went on all the time putting in coal under the boiler. The least that he could expect would be a great hissing and fizzling at all the joints of his machine; and it would be only by means of such a degree of looseness in the joints as would allow of the escape of the imprisoned force in this way that could prevent the repression ending in a frightful catastrophe.
Now, nine-tenths of the whispering and playing of children in school—and of the noise, the crudeness—and the petty mischief of children at home, is just this hissing and fizzling of an imprisoned power—and nothing more!
In a word, we must favor and promote, by every means in our power, the activity of children—not censure and repress it. We may endeavor to turn it aside from wrong channels—that is, to prevent its manifesting itself in ways injurious to them or annoying to others. We must not, however, attempt to divert it from these channels by damming it up—but by opening other channels that will draw it away in better directions.
2. In encouraging the activity of children—and in guiding the direction of it in their hours of play, we must not expect to make it available for useful results, other than that of promoting their own physical development and health.At least, we can do this only in a very limited degree. Almost all useful results require for their attainment a long continuance of efforts of the same kind—that is, expenditure of the vital force by the continued action of the same organs. Now, it is a principle of nature, that while the organs of an animal system are in process of formation and growth, they can exercise their power only for a very brief period at a time without exhaustion. This necessitates on the part of all young animals incessant changes of action, or alternations of action and repose. A farmer of forty years of age, whose organs are well developed and mature, will chop wood all day without excessive fatigue. Then, when he comes home at night, he will sit for three hours in the evening upon the settle by his fireside, 'thinking'—his mind occupied, perhaps, upon the details of the management of his farm, or upon his plans for the following day. The vital force thus expends itself for many successive hours through his muscles—and then, while his muscles are at rest, it finds its outlet for several other hours through the brain. But in the 'child' the mode of action must change every few minutes. He is made tired with five minutes' labor. He is satisfied with five minutes' rest. He will ride his rocking-horse, if alone, a short time—and then he comes to you to ask you to tell him a story. While listening to the story, his muscles are resting—and the force is spending its strength in working the mechanism of the brain. If you make your story too long, the brain, in turn, becomes fatigued—and he feels instinctively impelled to divert the vital force again into muscular action.
If, instead of being alone with his rocking-horse, he has company there, he will 'seem' to continue his bodily effort a long time; but he does not really do so, for he stops continually, to talk with his companion, thus allowing his muscles to rest for a brief period, during which the vital force expends its strength in carrying on trains of thought and emotion through the brain.
He is not to be blamed for this seeming capriciousness. These frequent changes in the mode of action are a necessity—and this necessity evidently unfits him for any kind of monotonous or continued exertion—the only kind which, in ordinary cases, can be made conducive to any useful results.
3. Parents at home and teachers at school must recognize these physiological laws, relating to the action of the young—and make their plans and arrangements conform to them.The periods of confinement to any one mode of action in the very young—and especially mental action, must be short; and they must alternate frequently with other modes. That rapid succession of bodily movements and of mental ideas—and the emotions mingling and alternating with them, which constitutes what children call play, must be regarded not simply as an indulgence—but as a necessity for them. The play must be considered as essential as the study—and that not merely for the very young, but for all, up to the age of maturity. For older pupils, in the best institutions of the country, some suitable provision is made for this need; but the mothers of young children at home are often at a loss by what means to effect this purpose—and many are very imperfectly aware of the desirableness—and even the necessity, of doing this.
As for the means of accomplishing the object—that is, providing channels for the complete expenditure of this force in the safest and most agreeable manner for the child—and the least inconvenient and troublesome for others, much must depend upon the tact, the ingenuity and the discretion of the mother. It will, however, be a great point gained for her when she once fully comprehends that the 'tendency' to incessant activity—and even to turbulence and noise, on the part of her child, only shows that he is all right in his vital machinery—and that this exuberance of energy is something to be pleased with and directed—not denounced and restrained!
Chapter 15. The IMAGINATION in Children.
The reader may, perhaps, recollect that in the last chapter there was an intimation that a portion of the force which was produced, or rather liberated and brought into action, by the consumption of food in the vital system, expended itself in the development of thoughts, emotions—and other forms of mental action, through the organization of the brain and of the nerves.
'Expenditure of Force through the Brain.'
The whole subject of the expenditure of material force in maintaining those forms of mental action which are carried on through the medium of bodily organs, it must be admitted, is involved in great obscurity; for it is only a glimmering of light, which science has yet been able to throw into this field. It is, however, becoming the settled opinion, among all well-informed people, that the soul, during the time of its connection with a material system in this life, performs many of those functions which we class as mental, through the medium, or instrumentality, in some mysterious way, of material organs; just as we all know is the case with the sensations—that is, the impressions made through the organs of sense; and that the maintaining of these mental organs, so to speak, in action, involves a certain expenditure of some form of physical force, the source of this force being in the food that is consumed in the nourishment of the body.
'Phenomena explained by this Principle'.
This truth, if it be indeed a truth, throws great light on what would be otherwise quite inexplicable in the playful activity of the mental faculties of children. The curious fantasies, imaginings and make-believes—the pleasure of listening to marvelous and impossible tales—and of hearing odd and unpronounceable words or combination of words—the love of acting, and of disguises—of the impersonation of inanimate objects—of seeing things as they are not—and of creating and giving reality to what has no existence except in their own minds—are all the gambollings and frolics, so to speak, of the youthful mental faculties just becoming conscious of their existence—and affording, like the muscles of motion, so many different outlets for the internal force derived from the food.
Thus the action of the mind of a child—in holding an imaginary conversation with a doll, or in inventing or in relating an impossible fairy story, or in converting a switch on which he pretends to be riding into a prancing horse—is precisely analogous to that of the muscles of the lamb, or the calf, or any other young animal in its gambols—that is—it is the result of the force which the vital functions are continually developing within the system—and which flows and must flow continually out through whatever channels are open to it; and in thus flowing, sets all the various systems of machinery into play, each in its own appropriate manner.
In any other view of the subject than this, many of the phenomena of childhood would be still more bewildering and inexplicable, than they are. One would have supposed, for example, that the imagination—being, as is commonly thought, one of the most exalted and refined of the mental faculties of man—would be one of the last, in the order of time, to manifest itself in the development of the mind; instead of which it is, in fact, one of the earliest. Children live, in a great measure, from the earliest age in an imaginary world—their pains and their pleasures, their joys and their fears being, to a vast extent, the concomitants of phantasms and illusions having often the slightest bond of connection with the realities around them. The realities themselves, moreover, often have far greater influence over them by what they suggest, than by what they really are.
Indeed, the younger the child is, within reasonable limits, the more susceptible he seems to be to the power of the imagination—and the more easily his mind and heart are reached and influenced through this avenue. At a very early period, the realities of actual existence and the phantasms of the mind seem inseparably mingled—and it is only after much experience and a considerable development of his powers, that the line of distinction between them becomes defined. The power of investing an elongated bag of stuffing (that is, a doll) with the attributes and qualities of a thinking being, so as to make it an object of solicitude and affection, which would seem to imply a high exercise of one of the most refined and exalted of the human faculties, does not come, as we might have expected, at the end of a long period of progress and development—but springs into existence, as it were, at once, in the very earliest years. The progress and development are required to enable the child to perceive that the crude and shapeless doll, is 'not' a living and lovable thing. This mingling of the real and imaginary worlds shows itself to the close observer in a thousand curious ways.
The true explanation of the phenomenon seems to be that the various youthful faculties are brought into action by the vital force at first in a very irregular, intermingled—and capricious manner, just as the muscles are in the endless and objectless play of the limbs and members. They develop themselves and grow by this very action—and we ought not only to indulge—but to nourish the action in all its beautiful manifestations by every means in our power. These mental organs, so to speak—that is, the organs of the brain, through which, while its connection with the body continues, the mind performs its mental functions—grow and thrive, as the muscles do—by being reasonably kept in exercise.
It is evident, from these facts, that the parent should be pleased with—and should encourage the exercise of these youthful powers in his children; and both father and mother may be greatly aided in their efforts to devise means for reaching and influencing their hearts by means of them—and especially through the action of the imagination, which will be found, when properly employed, to be capable of exercising an almost magical power of imparting great attractiveness, and giving great effect to lessons of instruction which, in their simple form, would be dull, tiresome and ineffective. Precisely what is meant by this will be shown more clearly by some examples.
One of the simplest and easiest modes by which a mother can avail herself of the vivid imagination of the child in amusing and entertaining him, is by holding conversations with representations of people, or even of animals, in the pictures which she shows him. Thus, in the case, for example, of a picture which she is showing to her child sitting in her lap—the picture containing, we will suppose, a representation of a little girl with books under her arm—she may say, "My little girl, where are you going?" "I am going" (speaking now in a somewhat altered voice, to represent the voice of the little girl) "to school." "Ah! you are going to school. You don't look quite old enough to go to school. Who sits next to you at school?" "George Williams." "George Williams? Is he a good boy?" "Yes, he's a very good boy." "I am glad you have a good boy—and one that is kind to you, to sit by you. That must be very pleasant." And so on, as long as the child is interested in listening.
Or, "What is your name, my little girl?" "My name is Lucy." "That's a pretty name! And where do you live?" "I live in that house under the trees." "Ah! I see the house. And where is your room in that house?" "My room is the one where you see the window open." "I see it. What have you got in your room?" "I have a bed—and a table by the window; and I keep my doll there. I have got a cradle for my doll—and a little trunk to keep her clothes in. And I have got . . ." The mother may go on in this way—and describe a great number and variety of objects in the room, such as are calculated to interest and please the little listener.
It is the pleasurable exercise of some dawning faculty or faculties acting through youthful organs of the brain, by which the mind can picture to itself, more or less vividly, unreal scenes, which is the source of the enjoyment in such cases as this.
A child may be still more interested, perhaps, by imaginary conversations of this kind with pictures of animals—and by varying the form of them in such a way as to call a new set of mental faculties into play; as, for example—Here is a picture of a rabbit. I'll ask him where he lives. "Bunny! bunny! stop a minute; I want to speak to you. I want you to tell me where you live." "I live in my hole." "Where is your hole?" "It is under that big log that you see back in the woods." "Yes" (speaking now to the child), I see the log. Do you see it? Touch it with your finger. Yes, that must be it. But I don't see any hole." "Bunny' (assuming now the tone of speaking again to the rabbit), "I don't see your hole." "No, I did not mean that anybody should see it. I made it in a hidden place in the ground, so as to have it out of sight." "I wish I could see it—and I wish more that I could look down into it and see what is there. What is there 'in' your hole, bunny?" "My nest is there—and my little bunnies." "How many little bunnies have you got?" And so on, to any extent that you desire.
It is obvious that conversations of this kind may be made the means of conveying, indirectly, a great deal of instruction to young children on a great variety of subjects; and lessons of morals and duty may be inculcated thus in a very effective manner—and by a method which is at the same time easy and agreeable for the mother—and extremely attractive to the child.
This may seem a very simple thing—and it is really very simple; but any mother who has never resorted to this method of amusing and instructing her child, will be surprised to find what an easy and inexhaustible resource for her it may become. Children are always coming to ask for stories—and the mother often has no story at hand—and her mind is too much preoccupied to invent one. Here is a ready resort in every such emergency.
"Very well," replies the mother to such a request, "I'll tell you a story; but I must have a picture to my story. Find me a picture in some book."
The child brings a picture, it does not matter what the picture is. There is no possible picture that will not suggest to a person possessed of ordinary ingenuity, an endless number of talks to interest and amuse the child. To take an extreme case, suppose the picture is a crude pencil drawing of a post—and nothing besides. You can imagine a boy hidden behind the post—and you can call to him—and finally obtain an answer from him—and have a long talk with him about his play and who he is hiding from—and what other ways he has of playing with his friend. Or you can talk with the post directly. Ask him where he came from, who put him in the ground—and what he was put in the ground for—and what kind of a tree he was when he was a part of a tree growing in the woods; and, following the subject out, the conversation may be the means of not only amusing the child for the moment—but also of gratifying his curiosity—and imparting a great amount of useful information to him which will materially aid in the development of his powers.
Or you may ask the post whether he has any relatives—and he may reply that he has a great many cousins. He has some cousins that live in the city—and they are called lamp-posts—and their business is to hold lamps to light people along the streets; and he has some other cousins who stand in a long row and hold up the telegraph-wire to carry messages from one part of the world to another; and so on, without end. If all this may done by means of a crude representation of a simple post, it may easily be seen that no picture which the child can possibly bring, can fail to serve as a subject for such conversations.
Some mothers may, perhaps, think it must require a great deal of ingenuity and skill to carry out these ideas effectively in practice—and that is true; or rather, it is true that there is in it scope for the exercise of a great deal of ingenuity and skill—and even of genius, for those who possess these qualities; but the degree of ingenuity required for a commencement in this method is very small—and that necessary for complete success in it is very easily acquired.
'Personification of Inanimate Objects'.
It will at once occur to the mother that any inanimate object may be personified in this way and addressed as a living and intelligent being. Your child is sick, I will suppose—and is somewhat feverish and fretful. In adjusting his dress you prick him a little with a pin—and the pain and annoyance acting on his morbid sensibilities bring out expressions of irritation and bad mood. Now you may, if you please, tell him that he must not be so impatient, that you did not mean to hurt him, that he must not mind a little prick—and the like; and you will meet with the ordinary success that attends such admonitions. Or, in the spirit of the foregoing suggestions, you may say, "Did the pin prick you? I'll catch the little rogue—and hear what he has to say for himself. Ah, here he is—I've caught him! I'll hold him fast. Lie still in my lap—and we will hear what he has to say.
"'Look up here, my little prickler—and tell me what your name is." "My name is pin." "Ah, your name is pin, is it? How bright you are! How did you come to be so bright?" "Oh, they brightened me when they made me." "Indeed! And how did they make you?" "They made me in a machine." "In a machine? That's very curious! How did they make you in the machine? Tell us all about it!" "They made me out of wire. First the machine cut off a piece of the wire long enough to make me—and then I was carried around to different parts of the machine to have different things done to me. I went first to one part to get straightened. Don't you see how straight I am?" "Yes, you are very straight indeed." "Then I went to another part of the machine and had my head put on; and then I went to another part and had my point sharpened; and then I was polished—and covered all over with a beautiful silvering, to make me bright and white."
And so on indefinitely. The mother may continue the talk as long as the child is interested, by letting the pin give an account of the various adventures that happened to it in the course of its life—and finally call it to account for pricking a poor little sick child.
Any mother can judge whether such a mode of treating the case, or the more usual one of gravely exhorting the child to patience and good mood, when sick, is likely to be most effectual in soothing the nervous irritation of the little patient—and restoring its mind to a condition of calmness and repose.
The mother who reads these suggestions in a cursory manner—and contents herself with saying that they are very good—but makes no resolute and persevering effort to acquire for herself the ability to avail herself of them, will have no idea of the immense practical value of them as a means of aiding her in her work—and in promoting the happiness of her children. But if she will make the attempt, she will most certainly find enough encouragement in her first effort to induce her to persevere.
She must, moreover, not only originate, herself, modes of amusing the imagination of her children—but must fall in with and aid those which 'they' originate. If your little daughter is playing with her doll, look up from your work and say a few words to the doll or the child in a grave and serious manner, assuming that the doll is a living and sentient being. If your boy is playing horsie in the garden while you are there attending to your flowers, ask him with all gravity what he values his horse at—and whether he wishes to sell him. Ask him whether he ever bites, or breaks out of his pasture; and give him some advice about not driving him too fast up hill—and not giving him oats when he is warm. He will at once enter into such a conversation in the most serious manner—and the pleasure of his play will be greatly increased by your joining with him in maintaining the illusion.
There is a still more important advantage than the temporary increase to your children's happiness by acting on this principle. By thus joining with them, even for a few moments, in their play, you establish a closer bond of sympathy between your own heart and theirs—and attach them to you more strongly than you can do by any other means. Indeed, in many cases the most important moral lessons can be conveyed in connection with these illusions of children—and in a way not only more agreeable, but far more effective than by any other method.
'Influence without Claim to Authority'.
Acting through the imagination of children—if the art of doing so is once understood—will prove at once an invaluable and an inexhaustible resource for all those classes of people who are placed in situations requiring them to exercise an influence over children without having any proper authority over them; such, for example, as uncles and aunts, older brothers and sisters—and even visitors residing more or less permanently in a family—and desirous, from a wish to do good, of promoting the welfare and the improvement of the younger members of it. It often happens that such a visitor, without any actual right of authority, acquires a greater influence over the minds of the children than the parents themselves; and many a mother, who, with all her threatenings and scoldings—and even punishments, cannot make herself obeyed—is surprised at the absolute ascendency which some visitor residing in the family acquires over them by means so silent, gentle—and unpretending, that they seem mysterious and almost magical. "What is the secret of it?" asks the mother sometimes in such a case. "You never punish the children—and you never scold them—and yet they obey you a great deal more readily and certainly than they do me."
There are a great many different means which may be employed in combination with each other for acquiring this kind of ascendency—and among them the use which may be made of the power of the imagination in the young, is one of the most important.
'The Intermediation of the Dolls again'.
A young teacher, for example, in returning from school some day, finds the children of the family in which she resides, who have been playing with their dolls in the yard, engaged in some angry dispute. The first impulse with many people in such a case might be to sit down with the children upon the seat where they were playing—and remonstrate with them, though in a very kind and gentle manner, on the wrongfulness and folly of such disputings, to show them that the thing in question is not worth disputing about, that angry feelings are uncomfortable and unhappy feelings—and that it is, consequently, not only a sin—but a folly to indulge in them.
Now such a remonstrance, if given in a kind and gentle manner, will undoubtedly do good. The children will be somewhat less likely to become involved in such a dispute immediately after it than before—and in process of time—and through many repetitions of such counsels, the fault may be gradually cured. Still, at the time, it will make the children uncomfortable, by producing in their minds a certain degree of irritation. They will be very apt to listen in silence—and with a morose and sullen air; and if they do not call the admonition a scolding, on account of the kind and gentle tones in which it is delivered, they will be very apt to consider it much in that light.
Suppose, however, that, instead of dealing with the case in this matter-of-fact and naked way, the teacher calls the imagination of the children to her aid—and administers her admonition and reproof indirectly, through the dolls. She takes the dolls in her hand, asks their names—and inquires which of the two girls is the mother of each. The dolls' names are Bella and Araminta—and the mothers' are Lucy and Mary.
"But I might have asked Araminta herself," she adds; and, so saying, she holds the doll before her—and enters into a long imaginary conversation with her, more or less spirited and original, according to the talent and ingenuity of the young lady—but, in any conceivable case, enough so to completely absorb the attention of the children and fully to occupy their minds. She asks each of them her name—and inquires of each which of the girls is her mother—and makes first one of them—and then the other, point to her mother in giving her answer. By this time the illusion is completely established in the children's minds of regarding their dolls as living beings, responsible to mothers for their conduct and behavior; and the young lady can go on and give her admonitions and instructions in respect to the sin and folly of quarreling to them—the children listening. And it will be found that by this management the impression upon the minds of the children will be far greater and more effective than if the counsels were addressed directly to them; while, at the same time, though they may even take the form of very severe reproof, they will produce no sullenness or vexation in the minds of those for whom they are really intended. Indeed, the very reason why the admonition thus given will be so much more effective is the fact that it does 'not' tend in any degree to awaken resentment and vexation—but associates the lesson which the teacher wishes to convey with amusement and pleasure.
"You are very pretty"—she says, we will suppose, addressing the dolls—"and you look very amiable. I suppose you 'are' very amiable."
Then, turning to the children, she asks, in a confidential undertone, "Do they ever get into disputes and quarrels?"
"Sometimes," says one of the children, entering at once into the idea of the teacher.
"Ah!" the teacher exclaims, turning again to the dolls. "I hear that you dispute and quarrel sometimes—and I am very sorry for that. That is very foolish. It is only silly little children that we expect will dispute and quarrel. I should not have supposed it possible in the case of such young ladies as you. It is a great deal better to be yielding and kind. If one of you says something that the other thinks is not true, let it pass without contradiction; as it is foolish to quarrel about it. And so if one has anything that the other wants, it is generally much better to wait for it, than to quarrel. It is hateful to quarrel. Besides, it spoils your beauty. When children are quarreling they look like little furies."
The teacher may go on in this way—and give a long moral lecture to the dolls in a tone of mock gravity—and the children will listen to it with the most profound attention; and it will have a far greater influence upon them, than the same admonitions addressed directly to 'them'.
So effectually, in fact, will this element of play in the transaction, open their hearts to the reception of good counsel, that even direct admonitions to 'them' will be admitted with it, if the same guise is maintained; for the teacher may add, in conclusion, addressing now the children themselves with the same mock solemnity:
"That is a very bad fault of your children—very bad, indeed. And it is one that you will find very hard to correct. You must give them a great deal of good counsel on the subject—and, above all, you must be careful to set them a good example yourselves. Children always imitate what they see in their mothers, whether it is good or bad. If you are always amiable and kind to one another—they will be so too."
The thoughtful mother, in following out the suggestions here given, will see at once how the interest which the children take in their dolls—and the sense of reality which they feel in respect to all their dealings with them, opens before her a boundless field in respect to modes of reaching and influencing their minds and hearts.
'The Ball itself made to teach Carefulness'.
There is literally no end to the modes by which people having the charge of young children can avail themselves, of their vivid imaginative powers in inculcating moral lessons or influencing their conduct. A boy, we will suppose, has a new ball. Just as he is going out to play with it his father takes it from him to examine it—and, after turning it round and looking at it attentively on every side, holds it up to his ear. The boy asks what his father is doing. "I am listening to hear what he says." "And what does he say, father?" "He says that you won't have him to play with long." "Why not?" "I will ask him, why not?" (holding the ball again to his ear). "What does he say, father?" "He says he is going to run away from you and hide. He says you will go to play near some building—and he means, when you throw him or knock him, to fly against the windows and break the glass—and then people will take your ball away from you." "But I won't play near any windows." "He says, at any rate you will play near some building—and when you knock him he means to fly up to the roof and get behind a chimney, or roll down into the gutter where you can't get him." "But, father, I am not going to play near any building at all." "Then you will play in some place where there are holes in the ground, or thickets of bushes near, where he can hide." "No, father, I mean to look well over the ground—and not play in any place where there is any danger at all." "Well, we shall see; but the little rogue is determined to hide somewhere." The boy takes his ball and goes out to play with it, far more effectually cautioned than he could have been by any direct admonition.
'The Teacher and the Tough Logs'
A teacher who was engaged in a district school in the country, where the arrangement was for the older boys to saw and split the wood for the fire, on coming one day to see how the work was going on, found that the boys had laid one rather hard-looking log aside. "They could not split that log," they said.
"Yes," said the teacher, looking at the log, "I don't wonder. I know that log. I saw him before. His name is Old Gnarly. He says he has no idea of coming open for a parcel of boys, even if they 'have' got axe and wedges. It takes a man, he says, to split 'him'."
The boys stood looking at the log with a very grave expression of countenance as they heard these words.
"Is that what he says?" asked one of them. "Let's try him again, Joe."
"It will do no good," said the teacher, "for he won't come open, if he can possibly help it. And there's another fellow (pointing). His name is Slivertwist. If you get a crack in him, you will find him full of twisted splinters that he holds himself together with. The only way is to cut them through with a sharp axe. But he holds on so tight with them that I don't believe you can get him open. He says he never gives up to boys."
So saying, the teacher went away. It is scarcely necessary to say to anyone who knows boys, that the teacher was called out not long afterwards, to see that Old Gnarly and Old Slivertwist were both split up fine—the boys standing around the heaps of well-prepared fire-wood which they had afforded—and regarding them with an air of exultation and triumph.
'Muscles reinvigorated through the Action of the Mind'.
An older sister has been taking a walk with little Johnny, four years old, as her companion. On their return, when within half a mile of home, Johnny, tired of gathering flowers and chasing butterflies, comes to his sister, with a fatigued and languid air—and says he cannot walk any farther—and wants to be carried.
"I can't carry you very well," she says, "but I will tell you what we will do; we will stop at the first inn we come to and rest. Do you see that large flat stone out there at the turn of the road? That is the inn—and you shall be my courier. A courier is a man that goes forward as fast as he can on his horse—and tells the inn-keeper that the traveler is coming—and orders supper. So you may gallop on as fast as you can go—and, when you get to the inn, tell the inn-keeper that the princess is coming—I am the princess—and that he must get ready an excellent supper."
The boy will gallop on and wait at the stone. When his sister arrives she may sit and rest with him a moment, entertaining him by imagining conversations with the inn-keeper—and then resume their walk.
"Now," she may say, "I must send my courier to the post-office with a letter. Do you see that fence far away? That fence is the post-office. We will play that one of the cracks between the boards is the letter-box. Take this letter (handing him any little scrap of paper which she has taken from her pocket and folded to represent a letter) and put it in the letter-box—and speak to the postmaster through the crack—and tell him to send the letter as soon as he can."
Under such management as this, unless the child's exhaustion is very great, his sense of it will disappear—and he will accomplish the walk not only without any more complaining—but with a great feeling of pleasure. The nature of the action in such a case, seems to be that the vital force, when, in its direct and ordinary passage to the muscles through the nerves, it has exhausted the resources of that mode of transmission, receives in some mysterious way a reinforcement to its strength in passing round, by a new channel, through the organs of intelligence and imagination.
These trivial instances are only given as examples to show how infinitely varied are the applications which may be made of this principle of appealing to the imagination of children—and what a variety of effects may be produced through its instrumentality by a parent or teacher who once takes pains to make himself possessed of it. But each one must make himself possessed of it by his own practice and experience. No general instructions can do anything more than to offer the suggestion—and to show how a beginning is to be made.
Chapter 16. Truth and Falsehood.
The duty of telling the truth seems to us, until we have devoted special consideration to the subject, the most simple thing in the world, both to understand and to perform; and when we find young children disregarding it, we are surprised and shocked—and often imagine that it indicates something peculiar and abnormal in the moral sense of the offender. A little reflection, however, will show us how very different the state of the case really is. What do we mean by the obligation resting upon us to tell the truth? It is simply, in general terms—that it is our duty to make our statements correspond with the realities which they purpose to express. This is, no doubt, our duty, as a general rule—but there are so many exceptions to this rule—and the principles on which the admissibility of the exceptions depend are so complicated and so abstruse, that it is amazing that children learn to make the necessary distinctions as soon as they do.
'Natural Guidance to the Duty of telling the Truth'.
The child, when he first acquires the art of using and understanding language, is filled with wonder and pleasure to find that he can represent external objects that he observes—and also ideas passing through his mind, by means of sounds formed by his organs of speech. Such sounds, he finds, have both these powers—that is, they can represent realities, or imaginary things. Thus, when he utters the sounds 'I see a bird', they may denote either a mere conception in his mind, or an outward actuality. How is he possibly to know, by any instinct, or intuition, or moral sense when it is right for him to use them as representations of a mere idea—and when it is wrong for him to use them, unless they correspond with some actual reality?
The fact that vivid images or conceptions may be awakened in his mind by the mere hearing of certain sounds made by himself or another is something strange and wonderful to him; and though he comes to his consciousness of this susceptibility by degrees, it is still, while he is acquiring it—and extending the scope and range of it, a source of continual pleasure to him. The necessity of any correspondence of these words—and of the images which they excite, with actual realities, is a necessity which arises from the relations of man to man in the social state—and he has no means whatever of knowing anything about it except by instruction.
There is not only no ground for expecting that children should perceive any such necessity either by any kind of instinct, or intuition, or youthful moral sense, or by any reasoning process of which his incipient powers are capable; but even if he should by either of these means be inclined to entertain such an idea, his mind would soon be utterly confused in regard to it by what he observes constantly taking place around him in respect to the use of language by others whose conduct, much more than their precepts, he is accustomed to follow as his guide.
'A very nice Distinction'.
A mother, for example, takes her little son, four or five years old, into her lap to amuse him with a story. She begins: "When I was a little boy I lived by myself. All the bread and cheese I got, I laid upon the shelf," and so on to the end. The mother's object is accomplished. The boy is amused. He is greatly interested and pleased by the astonishing phenomenon taking place within him of curious images awakened in his mind by means of sounds entering his ear—images of a little boy living alone, of his reaching up to put bread and cheese upon a shelf—and finally of his attempting to wheel a little wife home—the story ending with the breaking and downfall of the wheelbarrow, wife and all. He does not reflect philosophically upon the subject—but the principal element of the pleasure afforded him is the wonderful phenomenon of the formation of such vivid and strange images in his mind by means of the mere sound of his mother's voice.
He knows at once, if any half-formed reflections arise in his mind at all, that what his mother has told him is not true—that is, that the words and images which they awaken in his mind had no actual realities corresponding with them. He knows, in the first place, that his mother never was a boy—and does not suppose that she ever lived by herself—and laid up her bread and cheese upon a shelf. The whole story, he understands, if he exercises any thought about it whatever— wheelbarrow catastrophe and all—consists only of words which his mother speaks to him to give him pleasure.
By-and-by his mother gives him a piece of cake—and he goes out into the garden to play. His sister is there and asks him to give her a piece of his cake. He hesitates. He thinks of the request long enough to form a distinct image in his mind of giving her half of it—but finally concludes not to do so—and eats it all himself.
When at length he comes in, his mother accidentally asks him some question about the cake—and he says he gave half of it to his sister. His mother seems much pleased. He knew that she would be pleased. He said it, in fact, on purpose to please her. The words represented no actual reality—but only a thought passing through his mind—and he spoke, in a certain sense, for the purpose of giving his mother pleasure. The case corresponds in all these particulars with that of his mother's statement in respect to her being once a little boy and living by herself. Those words were spoken by her to give him pleasure—and he said what he did to give her pleasure. To give her pleasure! the reader will perhaps say, with some surprise, thinking that to assign such a motive as that is not, by any means, putting a fair and proper construction upon the boy's act. His design was, it will be said, to shield himself from censure, or to procure undeserved praise. And it is, no doubt, true that, on a careful analysis of the motives of the act, such as we, in our maturity, can easily make, we shall find that a design of deception, obscurely mingled with them. But the child does not analyze. He cannot. He does not look forward to ultimate ends, or look for the hidden springs which lie concealed among the complicated combinations of impulses which animate him.
In the case that we are supposing, all that we can reasonably believe to be present to his mind, is a kind of instinctive feeling that for him to say that he ate the cake all himself would bring a frown, or at least a look of pain and distress, to his mother's face—and perhaps words of displeasure for him; while, if he says that he gave half to his sister, she will look pleased and happy. This is as far as he sees. And he may be of such an age—and his mental organs may be in so embryonic a condition, that it is as far as he ought to be expected to look; so that, as the case presents itself to his mind in respect to the impulse which at the moment prompts him to act, he said what he did from a desire to give his mother pleasure—and not pain. As to the secret motive, which might have been his ultimate end, 'that' lay too deeply concealed for him to be conscious of it. And we ourselves too often act from the influence of hidden impulses of selfishness, the existence of which we are wholly unconscious of—to judge him too harshly for his blindness.
At length, by-and-by, when his sister conies in—and the untruth is discovered, the boy is astonished and bewildered by being called to account in a very solemn manner by his mother—on account of the awful wickedness of having told a lie!
'How the Child sees it'.
Now I am very ready to admit that, notwithstanding the apparent resemblance between these two cases, this resemblance is only apparent and superficial; but the question is, whether it is not sufficient to cause such a child to confound them—and to be excusable, until he has been enlightened by appropriate instruction, for not clearly distinguishing the cases where words must be held strictly to conform to actual realities, from those where it is perfectly right and proper that they should only represent images or conceptions of the mind.
A father, playing with his children, says, "Now I am a bear—and am going to growl." So he growls. Then he says, "Now I am a dog—and am going to bark." He is not a bear—and he is not a dog—and the children know it. His words, therefore, even to the apprehension of the children, express an untruth, in the sense that they do not correspond with any actual reality. It is not a wrongful untruth. The children understand perfectly well that in such a case as this it is not in any sense wrong to say what is not true. But how are they to know what kind of untruths are right—and what kind are wrong—until they are taught what the distinction is and upon what it depends.
Unfortunately many parents confuse the ideas, or rather the moral sense of their children, in a much more vital manner by untruths of a different kind from this—as, for example, when a mother, in the presence of her children, expresses a feeling of vexation and annoyance at seeing a certain visitor coming to make a call—and then, when the visitor enters the room, receives her with pretended pleasure—and says, out of politeness, that she is very glad to see her. Sometimes a father will join with his children, when peculiar circumstances seem, as he thinks, to require it, in concealing something from their mother, or deceiving her in regard to it by misrepresentations or positive untruths. Sometimes even the mother will do this in reference to the father. Of course such management as this, must necessarily have the effect of bringing up the children to the idea that deceiving by untruths is a justifiable resort in certain cases--a doctrine which, though entertained by many well-meaning people, strikes a fatal blow at all confidence in the veracity of men. For whenever we know of any people, that they entertain this idea, it is never afterwards safe to trust in what they say, since we never can know that the case in hand is not, for some reason unknown to us—one of those which justify a resort to falsehood.
But to return to the case of the children that are under the training of parents who will not themselves, under any circumstances, falsify their word—that is, will never utter words that do not represent actual reality in any of the wrongful ways. Such children cannot be expected to know of themselves, or to learn without instruction, what the wrongful ways are—and they never do learn until they have made many failures. Many, it is true, learn when they are very young. Many evince a remarkable tenderness of conscience in respect to this, as well as to all their other duties—as fast as they are taught them. And some become so faithful and scrupulous in respect to truth, at so early an age, that their parents quite forget the progressive steps by which they advanced at the beginning. We find many a mother who will say of her boy that he never told an untruth—but we do not find any man who will say of himself, that when he was a boy he never told one.
'Imaginings and Rememberings easily mistaken for each other'.
But besides the complicated character of the general subject, as it presents itself to the minds of children—that is, the intricacy to them of the question, when there must be a strict correspondence between the words spoken and an actual reality—and when they may rightly represent mere images or fancies of the mind—there is another great difficulty in their way, one that is very little considered and often, indeed, not at all understood by parents—and that is, that in the earliest years the distinction between realities and mere fancies of the mind, is very indistinctly drawn. Even in our minds the two things are often confounded. We often have to pause and think in order to decide whether a mental perception of which we are conscious is a remembrance of a reality, or a revival of some image formed at some previous time, perhaps remote, by a vivid description which we have read or heard, or even by our own imagination. "Is that really so, or did I dream it?" How often is such a question heard. And people have been known to certify honestly, in courts of justice, to facts which they think they personally witnessed—but which were really pictured in their minds in other ways than reality. The picture was so distinct and vivid that they lost, in time, the power of distinguishing it from other and, perhaps, similar pictures which had been made by their witnessing the corresponding realities.
Indeed, instead of being surprised that these different origins of present mental images are sometimes confounded, it is actually astonishing that they can generally be so clearly distinguished; and we cannot explain, even to ourselves, what the difference is by which we do distinguish them.
For example, we can call up to our minds the picture of a house burning and a fireman going up by a ladder to rescue some person appearing at the window. Now the image, in such a case, may have had several different modes of origin. 1. We may have actually witnessed such a scene the evening before. 2. Someone may have given us a vivid description of it. 3. We may have fancied it in writing a tale. 4. We may have dreamed it. Here are four different prototypes of a picture which is now renewed—and there is something in the present copy which enables us, in most cases, to determine at once what the real prototype was. That is, there is something in the picture which now arises in our mind as a renewal or repetition of the picture made the day before, which makes us immediately cognizant of the cause of the original picture—that is, whether it came from a reality that we witnessed, or from a verbal or written description by another person, or whether it was a fanciful creation of our own mind while awake, or a dream. And it is extremely difficult for us to discover precisely what it is, in the present mental picture, which gives us this information in respect to the origin of its prototype. It is very easy to say, "Oh, we remember." But remember is only a word. We can only mean by it, in such a case as this, that there is some 'latent difference' between the several images made upon our minds today of things seen, heard of, imagined, or dreamed yesterday, by which we distinguish each from all the others. But the most acute metaphysicians—men who are accustomed to the closest scrutiny of the movements and the mode of action of their minds—find it very difficult to discover what this difference is.
'The Result in the Case of Children'.
Now, in the case of young children, the faculties of perception and consciousness and the power of recognizing the distinguishing characteristics of the different perceptions and sensations of their minds, are all immature—and distinctions which even to mature minds are not so clear, but that they are often confounded—for them form a bewildering maze. Their minds are occupied with a mingled and blended though beautiful combination of sensations, conceptions, imaginations and remembrances, which they do not attempt to separate from each other—and their vocal organs are animated by a constant impulse to exercise themselves with any utterances which the incessant and playful gambollings of their faculties frame. In other words, the vital force liberated by the digestion of the food seeks an outlet—now in this way and now in that—through every variety of mental and bodily action. Of course, to arrange and systematize these actions, to establish the true relations between all these various faculties and powers—and to regulate the obligations and duties by which the exercise of them should be limited and controlled, is a work of time—and is to be effected, not by the operation of any instinct or early intuition—but by a course of development—effected mainly by the progress of growth and experience, though it is to be aided and guided by assiduous but gentle training and instruction.
If these views are correct, we can safely draw from them the following practical conclusions.
1. We must not expect from children, that they will from the beginning, understand and feel the obligation to speak the truth—any more than we look for a recognition, on their part, of the various other principles of duty which arise from the relations of man to man in the social state. We do not expect that two babies creeping upon the floor towards the same plaything, should each feel instinctively impelled to grant the other the use of it half of the time. Children must be taught to tell the truth, just as they must be taught the principles of justice and equal rights. They generally get taught by experience—that is, by the rough treatment and hard knocks which they bring upon themselves by their violation of these principles. But the faithful parent can aid them in acquiring the necessary knowledge in a far easier and more agreeable manner, by appropriate instruction.
2. The mother must not be distressed or too much troubled when she finds that her children, while very young are prone to fall into deviations from the truth—but only to be made to feel more impressed with the necessity of renewing her own efforts to teach them the duty—and to train them to the performance of it.
3. She must not be too stern or severe in punishing the deviations from truth, in very young children, or in expressing the displeasure which they awaken in her mind. It is instruction, not expressions of anger or vindictive punishment—which is required in most cases. Explain to them the evils that would result if we could not believe what people say—and tell them stories of truth-loving children on the one hand—and of false and deceitful children on the other. And, above all, notice, with indications of approval and pleasure, when the child speaks the truth under circumstances which might have tempted him to deviate from it. One instance of this kind, in which you show that you observe and are pleased by his truthfulness, will do more to awaken in his heart a genuine love for the truth than ten reprovals, or even punishments, incurred by the violation of it. And in the same spirit we must make use of the religious considerations which are appropriate to this subject—that is, we must encourage the child with the approval of his heavenly Father, when he resists the temptation to deviate from the truth, instead of frightening him, when he falls, by terrible denunciations of the anger of God against liars; denunciations which, however well-deserved in the cases to which they are intended to apply, are not designed for children in whose minds the necessary discriminations, as pointed out in this chapter, are yet scarcely formed.
'Danger of confounding Deceitfulness and Falsehood'.
4. Do not confound the criminality of deceitfulness by acts—with falsehood by words, by telling the child, when he resorts to any artifice or deception in order to gain his ends, that it is as bad to deceive as to lie. It is not as bad, by any means. There is a marked line of distinction to be drawn between falsifying one's word and all other forms of deception, for there is such a sacredness in the spoken word, that the violation of it is in general far more reprehensible than the attempt to accomplish the same end, by mere deceitful action.
If a man has lost a leg, it may be perfectly right for him to wear a wooden one which is so perfectly made, as to deceive people—and even to wear it, too, with the 'intent' to deceive people by leading them to suppose that both his legs are genuine. But it would be wrong—for him to assert in words, that this limb was not an artificial one. It is right to put a chalk egg in a hen's nest, to deceive the hen, when, if the hen could understand language—and if we were to suppose hens "to have any rights that we are bound to respect," it would be wrong to 'tell' her that it was a real egg. It would be right for a person, when his house was entered by a robber at night, to point an empty gun at the robber to frighten him away by leading him to think that the gun was loaded; but it would be wrong, as I think—though I am aware that many people would think differently—for him to say in words that the gun was loaded—and that he would fire unless the robber went away. These cases show that there is a great difference between deceiving by false appearances, which is sometimes right—and deceiving by false statements, which, as I think, is always wrong. There is a special and inviolable sacredness, which every lover of the truth should attach to his spoken word.
5. We must not allow the leniency with which, according to the views here presented, we are to regard the violations of truth by young people, while their mental faculties and their powers of discrimination are yet imperfectly developed, to lead us to lower the standard of right in their minds, so as to allow them to imbibe the idea that we think that falsehood is, after all, no great sin—and still less, to suppose that we consider it sometimes, in extreme cases, allowable. We may, indeed, say, "The truth is not to be spoken at all times," but to make the aphorism complete, we must add, that 'falsehood' is 'never' to be spoken. There is no other possible ground for absolute confidence in the word of any man, except the conviction that his principle is—that it is 'never, under any circumstances, or to accomplish any purpose whatever,' right for him to falsify it.
A different opinion, I am aware, prevails very extensively among mankind—and especially among the continental nations of Europe, where it seems to be very generally believed that in those cases in which falsehood will on the whole be conducive of greater good than the truth—that it is allowable to employ falsehood. But it is easy to see that, so far as we know, that those around us hold to this philosophy, all reasonable ground for confidence in their statements is taken away; for we never can know, in respect to any statement which they make, that the case is not one of those in which, for reasons not manifest to us—they think it is expedient—that is, conducive in some way to good—to state what is not true.
While, therefore, we must allow children a reasonable time to bring their minds to a full sense of the obligation of making their words always conform to what is true, instead of shaping them so as best to attain their purposes for the time being—which is the course to which their earliest natural instincts prompt them—and must deal gently and leniently with their incipient failures, we must do all in our power to bring them forward as fast as possible to the adoption of the very highest standard as their rule of duty in this respect; inculcating it upon them, by example as well as by precept—that we cannot innocently, under any circumstances, falsify our word to escape any evil, or to gain any end. For there is no evil so great—and no end to be attained so valuable, as to justify the adoption of a principle which destroys all foundation for confidence between man and man.
Chapter 17. Judgment and Reasoning.
It is a very unreasonable thing for parents to expect young children to be reasonable. Being reasonable in one's conduct or wishes implies the taking into account of those bearings and relations of an act which are more remote and less obvious, in contradistinction from being governed exclusively by those which are immediate and near. Now, it is not reasonable to expect children to be influenced by these remote considerations, simply because in them the faculties by which they are brought forward into the mind and invested with the attributes of reality, are not yet developed. These faculties are all in a nascent or formative state—and it is as idle to expect them, while thus immature, to fulfill their functions for any practical purpose, as it would be to expect a baby to expend the strength of its little arms in performing any useful labor.
'Progress of Mental Development'.
The mother sometimes, when she looks upon her infant lying in her arms—and observes the intentness with which he seems to gaze upon objects in the room—upon the bright light of the window or of the lamp, or upon the pictures on the wall—wonders what he is thinking of. The truth probably is that he is not thinking at all; he is simply 'seeing'—that is to say, the light from external objects is entering his eyes and producing images upon his sensorium—and that is all. He 'sees' only. There might have been a similar image of the light in his mind the day before—but the reproduction of the former image which constitutes memory, does not probably take place at all in his case if he is very young, so that there is not present to his mind, in connection with the present image, any reproduction of the former one. Still less does he make any mental comparison between the two. The mother, as she sees the light of today, may remember the one of yesterday—and mentally compare the two; may have many 'thoughts' awakened in her mind by the sensation and the recollection—such as, this is from a new kind of oil—and gives a brighter light than the other; that she will use this kind of oil in all her lamps—and will recommend it to her friends—and so on indefinitely. But the child has none of these thoughts and can have none; for neither have the faculties been developed within him by which they are conceived, nor has he had the experience of the previous sensations to form the materials for framing them. He is conscious of the present sensations—and that is all.
As he advances, however, in his experience of sensations—and as his mental powers gradually begin to be unfolded, what may be called 'thoughts' arise, consisting at first, probably, of recollections of past sensations entering into his consciousness in connection with the present ones. These combinations—and the mental acts of various kinds which are excited by them, multiply as he advances towards maturity; but the images produced by present realities are infinitely more vivid and have a very much greater power over him, than those which memory brings up from the past, or that his imagination can anticipate in the future.
This state of things, though there is, of course, a gradual advancement in the relative influence of what the mind can conceive, as compared with that which the senses make real, continues substantially the same through all the period of childhood and youth. In other words, the organs of sense and of those mental faculties which are directly occupied with the sensations, are the earliest to be developed, as we might naturally suppose would be the case; and, by consequence, the sensible properties of objects and the direct and immediate effects of any action, are those which have a controlling influence over the volitions of the mind during all the earlier periods of its development.
The 'reason', on the other hand, which, as applied to the practical affairs of life, has for its function the bringing in of the more remote bearings and relations of a fact, or the indirect and less obvious results of an action, is very slowly developed. It is precisely on this account, that the period of immaturity in the human species is so long protracted in comparison with that of the inferior animals. The lives of these animals are regulated by the cognizance simply of the sensible properties of objects—and by the immediate results of their acts—and they accordingly become mature as soon as their senses and their bodily organs are brought completely into action. But man, who is to be governed by his reason—that is, by much more far-reaching and comprehensive views of what concerns him—requires a much longer period to fit him for independent action, since he must wait for the development of those higher faculties which are necessary for the attainment of these extended views; and during this period he must depend upon the reason of his parents, instead of being governed by his own.
'Practical Effect of these Truths'.
The true course, then, for parents to pursue is not to expect too much from the ability of their children to understand what is right and proper for them—but to decide all important questions themselves, using their own experience and their own power of foresight as their guide. They are, indeed, to cultivate and train the reasoning and reflective powers of their children—but are not to expect them in early life to be sufficiently developed and strengthened to bear any heavy strain, or to justify the placing of any serious reliance upon them. They must, in a word, treat the reason and the judgment of their children as the farmer treats the strength of his young colt, which he exercises and, to a certain extent, employs—but never puts upon it any heavy burden.
It results from this view of the case that it is not wise for a parent to resort to arguing or reasoning with a child—as a substitute for authority—or even as an aid to make up for a deficiency of authority, in regard to what it is necessary that the child should do. No doubt it is a good plan sometimes to let the child decide for himself—but when you pretend to allow him to decide, let him do it really. When you go out with him to take a walk, if it is so nearly immaterial which way you go, that you are willing that he should determine the question, then lay the case before him, giving him the advantages and disadvantages of the different ways—and let him decide; and then act according to his decision. But if you have determined in your own mind which way to go, simply announce your determination; and if you give reasons at all, do not give them in such a way as to convey the idea to his mind that his obligation to submit is to rest partly on his seeing the force of them. For every parent will find that this principle is a sound one, and one of fundamental importance in the successful management of children—namely, that it is much easier for a child to do what he does not like to do as an act of simple submission to superior authority—than for him to bring himself to an accordance with the decision by hearing and considering the reasons. In other words, it is much easier for him to obey your decision—than to bring himself to the same decision against his own will.
'In serious Cases no Reliance to be placed on the Reason of the Child'.
In all those cases, therefore, in which the parent cannot safely allow the children really to decide, such as the question of going to school, going to church, taking medicine, remaining indoors on account of indisposition or of the weather, making visits, choice of playmates and companions—and a great many others which it would not be safe actually to allow them to decide, it is true kindness to them to spare their minds the painful perplexity of a conflict. Decide for them. Do not say, "Oh, I would not do this or that"—whatever it may be—"because"—and then go on to assign reasons thought of perhaps at the moment, to meet the emergency—and indeed generally false; but, "Yes, I don't wonder that you would like to do it. I would like it if I were you. But it cannot be done." When there is medicine to be taken, do not put the child in misery for half an hour while you resort to all sorts of arguments—and perhaps artifices, to bring him to a willingness to take it; but simply present it to him, saying, "It is something very disagreeable, I know—but it must be taken;" and if it is refused, allow of no delay—but at once, though without any appearance of displeasure—and in the gentlest-manner possible, force it down. Then, after the excitement of the affair has passed away—and you have your little patient in your lap—and he is in good-mood—this is all, of course, on the supposition that he is not very sick—say to him, "You would not take your medicine a little while ago—and we had to force it down. I hope it did not hurt you much."
The child will probably make some fretful answer. "It is not surprising that you did not like to take it. All children, while they are too young to be reasonable—and all animals, such as horses and cows, when they are sick, are very unwilling to take their medicine—and we often have to force it down. You will, perhaps, refuse to take yours a good many times yet before you are old enough to see that it is a great deal easier to take it willingly, than it is to have it forced down."
And then go on and tell him some amusing story of the difficulty some people had in forcing medicine down the throat of a sick horse, who did not know enough to take it like a man.
The idea is—for this case is only meant as an illustration of a general principle—that the comfort and enjoyment of children, as well as the easy and successful working of parental government, is greatly promoted by deciding for the children at once—and placing their action on the simple ground of obedience to authority in all those cases where the decision cannot really and honestly be left to the children themselves.
To listen reluctantly to the persistent arguments of children in favor of their being allowed to do what we are sure that we shall decide in the end that it is not best for them to do—and to meet them with counter arguments which, if they are not actually false, as they are very apt to be in such a case, are utterly powerless, from the incapacity of the children to appreciate them, on account of their being blinded by their wishes, is not to strengthen the reasoning powers—but to confuse and bewilder them—and impede their development.
'Mode of Dealing with the REASON of a Child'.
The effect, however, will be excellent of calling into exercise the reason and the judgment of the child, in cases where the conclusion which he arrives at can be safely allowed to determine his action. You can help him in such cases by giving him any information that he desires—but do not confuse him—or interfere with his exercising his own judgment, by obtruding advice. Allow him in this way perhaps, to lay out his own garden; or to plan the course of a walk or a ride; or to decide upon the expenditure of his own pocket-money; but within certain restrictions in respect to such things as would be dangerous or hurtful to himself, or annoying to others. As he grows older you can give him the charge of the minor arrangements on a journey, such as taking care of a certain number of the parcels, choosing a seat in the car, etc. Commit such things to his charge only so fast as you can really entrust him with power to act—and then, with slight and not obtrusive supervision on your part, leave the responsibility with him, noticing encouragingly whatever of fidelity and success you observe—and taking little notice—generally in fact, none at all—of such errors and failures as result simply from inexperience and immaturity.
In a word, make no attempt to seek support from his judgment, or by convincing his reason, in important cases—but in all such cases rest your decisions solely upon your own authority. But then, on the other hand, in unimportant cases, where no serious evil can result whichever of the various possible courses are taken, call his judgment into exercise—and abide by its decisions. Give him the responsibility if he likes to take it—but with the responsibility give him the power.
Substantially the same principles as explained above, in their application to the exercise of the judgment, apply to the cultivation of the reasoning powers—that is to say, in the act of reasoning, or drawing conclusions from premises. Nothing can be more unprofitable and useless, to say nothing of its irritating and vexatious effect, than maintaining an argument with a child—or with anybody else, in fact—to convince him against his will. Arguing very soon degenerates, in such a case, into an irritating and utterly useless dispute. The difference of opinion which gives occasion for such discussions, arises generally from the fact that the child sees only certain of the more obvious and immediate relations and bearings of the subject in question, which is, in fact, all that can be reasonably expected of him—and forms his opinion from these alone.
The parent, on the other hand, takes a wider view—and includes among the premises on which his conclusion is founded considerations which have never been brought to the attention of the child. The proper course, therefore, for him to pursue in order to bring the child's mind into harmony with his own, is not to ridicule the boy's reasoning, or chide him for taking so short-sighted a view of the subject, or to tell him it is very foolish for him to talk as he does, or silence him by a dogmatic decision, delivered in a dictatorial and overbearing manner—all of which is too often found to characterize the discussions between parents and children—but calmly and quietly to present to him the considerations bearing upon the question which he has not yet seen. To this end—and to bring the mind of the child into that listening and willing state without which all arguments and even all attempts at instruction are wasted, we must listen candidly to what he says himself, put the best construction upon it, give it its full force; see it, in a word, as nearly as possible as 'he' sees it—and let him know that we do so. Then he will be much more ready to receive any additional considerations which we may present to his mind, as things that must also be taken into account in forming a final judgment on the question.
A boy, for example, who is full of health and increasing vigor—and in whom, of course, those organs on which the consciousness of strength and the impulses of courage depend, are in the course of rapid and healthy development, in reading to his mother a story in which a thief that came into a back store-room of a house in the evening, with a bag, to steal grain, was detected by the owner and frightened away, looks up from his book and says, in a very valiant manner,
"If I had been there—and had a gun, I would have shot him on the spot."
'The Rough Mode of Treatment'.
Now, if the mother wishes to confuse and bewilder—and to crush down, so to speak, the reasoning faculties of her child, she may say,
"Nonsense, George! It is of no use for you to talk big in that way. You would not dare to fire a gun in such a case, still less, to shoot a man. The first thing you would do would be to run away and hide. And then, besides, it would be very wicked for you to kill a man in that way. You would be very likely to get yourself hung for murder. Besides, the Bible says that we must not resist evil; so you should not talk so coolly about shooting a man."
The poor boy would be overpowered by such a rebuke as this—and perhaps silenced. The incipient and half-formed ideas in his mind in respect to the right of self-defense, the virtue of courage, the sanctity of life, the nature and the limits of the doctrine of non-resistance, would be all thrown together into a jumble of hopeless confusion in his mind—and the only result would be his muttering to himself, after a moment of bewilderment and vexation, "I 'would' shoot him, anyhow." Such treatment would not only fail to convince him that his idea was wrong—but would effectually close his heart against any such conviction.
'The Gentle Mode of Treatment'.
But let the mother first see and recognize those bearings and relations of the question which the boy sees—that is, those which are the most direct and immediate—and allow them their full force—and she establishes a sympathy between his mind and hers—and prepares the way for his being led by her to taking into the account other considerations which, though of greater importance, are not so obvious—and which it would be wholly unreasonable to expect that the boy would see himself, since they do not come within the range of observation that could be reached spontaneously, by the unaided faculties of such a child. Suppose the mother says, in reply to her boy's boastful declaration that he would shoot the robber, "There would be a certain degree of justice in that, no doubt."
"Yes," rejoins the boy, "it would be no more than he deserved."
"When a man engages in the commission of a crime," adds the mother, "he runs the risk of all the perils that he exposes himself to, from the efforts of people to defend their property—and perhaps their lives; so that, perhaps, 'he' would have no right to complain if people did shoot at him."
"Not a bit of right," says the boy.
"But then there are some other things to be considered," says the mother, "which, though they do not show that it would be unjust towards him, might make it bad for 'us' to shoot him."
"What things?" asks the boy.
The mother having candidly admitted whatever there was of truth in the boy's view of the subject—and thus placed herself, as it were, side by side with him, he is prepared to see and admit what she is going to point out to his observation—not as something directly antagonistic to what he has said—but as something additional, something which is 'also' to be taken into the account.
"In the first place," continues the mother, "there would be the body to be disposed of, if you were to shoot him. How should we manage that?"
It would make a great difference in such a case in respect to the danger of putting the boy's mind into a state of antagonism against his mother's presentation of the case, whether she says, "How shall 'we' manage that?" or, "How will 'you' manage that?"
"Oh," replies the boy, "we would send to where he lives—and let his family come and take him away; or, if he was in a city, we would call in the police."
"That would be a good plan," says his mother. "We would call in the police, if there were any police at hand. But then there would be the blood all over the carpet and the floor."
"There would not be any carpet on the floor in a store-room," says the boy.
"True," replies the mother; "you are right there; so that there would not be, after all, any great trouble about the blood. But the man might not be killed outright—and it might be some time before the policemen would come—and we should see him all that time writhing and struggling in dreadful convulsions, which would fix horrid impressions upon our minds, that would haunt us for a long time afterwards."
The mother could then go on to explain that, if the man had a wife and children, anyone who had killed the husband and father would pity them as long as he lived—and could never see them or hear them spoken of without feeling pain—and even some degree of self-reproach; although, so far as the man himself was concerned, it might be that no injustice had been done. After the excitement was over, too, he would begin to make excuses for the man, thinking that perhaps he was poor—and his children were suffering for lack of bread—and it was on their account that he was tempted to steal—and this, though it would not justify, might in some degree palliate the act for which he was slain; or that he had been badly brought up, having never received any proper instruction—but had been trained and taught from his boyhood to pilfer and steal.
These and many analogous considerations might be presented to the child, going to show that, whatever the rule of strict justice in respect to the criminal may enjoin, it is not right to take the life of a wrong-doer merely to prevent the commission of a minor offense. The law of the land recognizes this principle—and does not justify the taking of life except in extreme cases, such as those of imminent personal danger.
A friendly conversation of this kind, carried on, not in a spirit of antagonism to what the boy has said—but in the form of presenting information novel to him, in respect to considerations which were to be taken into the account in addition to those which he had himself perceived, will have a great effect not only in modifying his opinion in this case—but also in impressing him with the general idea that, before adopting a decisive opinion on any subject, we must take care to acquaint ourselves not merely with the most direct and obvious relations of it—but must look farther into its bearings and results, so that our conclusion may have a solid foundation by reposing upon as many as possible of the considerations which ought really to affect it. Thus, by avoiding all appearance of antagonism, we secure a ready reception for the truths we offer—and cultivate the reasoning powers at the same time.
The principles, then, which are meant to be illustrated and enforced in this chapter are these:
1. That the mental faculties of children on which the exercise of judgment and of the power of reasoning depend, are not among those which are the earliest developed—and they do not attain, in the first years of life, to such a degree of strength or maturity as to justify placing any serious reliance upon them for the conduct of life.
2. Parents should, accordingly, not put them to any serious test, or impose any heavy burden upon them; but should rely solely on their own authority, as the expression of their own judgment—and not upon their ability to convince the judgment of the child, in important cases, or in those where its inclinations or its feelings are concerned.
3. But they may greatly promote the healthy development of these faculties on the part of their children, by bringing to their view the less obvious bearings and relations of various acts and occurrences on which judgment is to be passed, in cases where their feelings and inclinations are not specially concerned—doing this either in the form of explaining their own parental principles of management, or practically, by entrusting them with responsibility—and giving them a degree of actual power commensurate with it, in cases where it is safe to do so.
4. They may enlarge the range of the children's ideas—and accustom them to take wider views of the various subjects which occupy their attention, by discussing with them the principles involved in the several cases; but such discussions must be conducted in a calm, gentle and considerate manner, the parent looking always upon what the child says in the most favorable light, putting the best construction upon it, and admitting its force—and then presenting such additional views as ought also to be taken into account, with moderate earnestness—and in an unobtrusive manner. Thus taking short and easy steps himself in order to accommodate his own rate of progress to the still imperfectly developed capabilities of the child.
In a word, it is with the unfolding of the mental faculties of the young, as it is with the development of their muscles and the improvement of their bodily powers; and just as the way to teach a child to walk is not to drag him along hurriedly and forcibly by the arm faster than he can himself form the necessary steps—but to go slowly, accommodating your movements to those which are natural to him—and encouraging him by letting him perceive that his own efforts produce appreciable and useful results. Just so, in cultivating any of their thinking and reasoning powers, we must not put at the outset too heavy a burden upon them—but must call them gently into action, within the limits prescribed by the degree of maturity to which they have attained, standing a little aside, as it were, in doing so—and encouraging them to do the work themselves, instead of taking it out of their hands and doing it for them.
Chapter 18. Wishes and Requests.
In respect to the course to be pursued in relation to the requests and wishes of children, the following general rules result from the principles inculcated in the chapter on 'Judgment and Reasoning,' or, at least, are in perfect accordance with them—namely:
'Absolute Authority in Cases of vital Importance'.
1. In respect to all those questions in the decision of which their permanent and essential welfare are involved, such as those relating to their health, the company they keep, the formation of their characters, the progress of their education, and the like—the parent should establish and maintain in the minds of the children from their earliest years, a distinct understanding that the decision of all such questions is reserved for his own or her own exclusive jurisdiction. While on any of the details connected with these questions the feelings and wishes of the child ought to be ascertained—and, so far as possible, taken into the account, the course to be pursued should not, in general, be discussed with the child, nor should their objections be replied to in any form. The parent should simply take such objections as the judge takes the papers in a case which has been tried before him—and reserve his decision. The principles by which the parent is governed in the course which he pursues, and the reasons for them—may be made the subject of very free conversation, and may be fully explained, provided that care is taken that this is never done when any practical question is pending, such as would give the explanations of the parent the aspect of persuasions, employed to supply the deficiency of authority too weak to enforce obedience to a command. It is an excellent thing to have children see and appreciate the reasonableness of their parents' commands, provided that this reasonableness is shown to them in such a way that they are not led to imagine that their being able to see it, is in any sense a condition precedent of obedience.
'Great Indulgence in Cases not of vital Importance'.
2. The authority of the parent being thus fully established, in regard to all those things which, being of paramount importance in respect to the child's present and future welfare, ought to be regulated by the comparative far-seeing wisdom of the parent, with little regard to the evanescent imagination of the child; it is on every account best, in respect to all other things, to allow to the children the largest possible indulgence. The largest indulgence for them in their plays—and even in their caprices and the freaks of their imagination, means 'freedom of action' for their unfolding powers of body and mind; and freedom of action for these powers means the most rapid and healthy development of them.
The rule is, in a word, that, after all that is essential for their health, the formation of their characters, and their progress in study is secured, by being brought under the dominion of absolute parental authority; in respect to what remains, the children are to be indulged and allowed to have their own way as much as possible. When, in their plays, they come to you for permission to do a particular thing, do not consider whether or not it seems to you that you would like to do it yourself—but only whether there is any 'real and substantial objection to their doing it'.
'The Hearing to come before the Decision, not after it'.
The courts of justice adopt what seems to be a very sensible and a very excellent mode of proceeding, though it is exactly the contrary to the one which many parents pursue. That is, they hear the case first—and decide afterwards. A great many parents seem to prefer to decide first—and then hear. That is to say, when the children come to them with any request or proposal, they answer at once with a refusal more or less decided—and then allow themselves to be led into a long discussion on the subject, if discussion that may be called which consists chiefly of simple persistence and pestering on the child's side—and a gradually relaxing resistance on the parent's side—until a reluctant consent is finally obtained.
Now, just as it is an excellent way to develop and strengthen the muscles of a child's arms, for his father to hold the two ends of his cane in his hands while the child grasps it by the middle—and then for them to pull against each other, about the yard, until, finally, the child is allowed to get the cane away; so the way to cherish and confirm the habit of "pestering" in children is to maintain a discussion with them for a time in respect to some request which is at first denied—and then finally, after a protracted and gradually weakening resistance, to allow them to gain the victory and carry their point. On the other hand, an absolutely certain way of preventing any such habit from being formed—and of effectually breaking it up when it is formed, is the simple process of hearing first—and deciding afterwards.
When, therefore, children come with any request, or express any wish, in cases where no serious interests are involved, in deciding upon the answer to be given, the mother should, in general, simply ask herself, not "Is it wise? Will they succeed in it? Will they enjoy it? Would I like to do it if I were they?" But simply, "Is there any harm or danger in it?" If not, readily and cordially consent. But do not announce your decision until 'after' you have heard all that they have to say, if you intend to hear what they have to say at all.
If there are any objections to what the children propose, which affect the question in relation to it as a means of 'amusement for them', you may state them in the way of information for them, 'after' you have given your consent. In that way you present the difficulties as subjects for their consideration—and not as objections on your part to their plan. But, however serious the difficulties may be in the way of the children's accomplishing the object which they have in view, they constitute no objection to their making the attempt, provided that their plans involve no serious harm or damage to themselves, or to any other person or interest.
'The Wrong Way'.
Two boys, for example, William and James, who have been playing in the yard with their little sister Lucy, come in to their mother with a plan for a fish-pond. They wish for permission to dig a hole in a corner of the yard and fill it with water—and then to get some fish out of the brook to put into it.
The mother, on hearing the proposal, says at once, without waiting for any explanations,
"Oh no, I would not do that. It is a very foolish plan. You will only get yourselves all muddy. Besides, you can't catch any fish to put into it—and if you do, they won't live. And then the grass is so thick that you could not get it up to make your hole."
But William says that they can dig the grass up with their little spades. They had tried it—and found that they could do so.
And James says that they have already tried catching the fishes—and found that they could do it by means of a long-handled dipper; and Lucy says that they will all be very careful not to get themselves wet and muddy.
"But you'll get your feet wet standing on the edge of the brook," says the mother. "You can't help it."
"No, mother," replies James, "there is a large flat stone that we can stand upon—and so keep our feet perfectly dry. See!"
So saying, he shows his own feet, which are quite dry.
Thus the discussion goes on; the mother's objections made—being, as usual in such cases, half of them imaginary ones, brought forward only for effect—are one after another disposed of, or at least set aside, until at length the mother, as if beaten off her ground after a contest, gives a reluctant and hesitating consent—and the children go away to commence their work only half pleased—and separated in heart and affection, for the time being, from their mother by not finding in her, as they think, any sympathy with them, or disposition to aid them in their pleasures.
They have, however, by their mother's mis-management of the case, received an excellent lesson in arguing and pestering. They have found by it, what they have undoubtedly often found on similar occasions before—that their mother's first decision is not at all to be taken as a final one; that they have only to persevere in replying to her objections and answering her arguments—and especially in persisting in their pestering—and they will be pretty sure to gain their end at last.
This mode of management, also, has the effect of fixing the position of their mother, in their minds as one of antagonism to them, in respect to their childish pleasures.
'The Right Way'.
If in such a case as this the mother wishes to avoid these evils, the way is plain. She must first consider the proposal herself—and come to her own decision in regard to it. Before coming to a decision, she may, if she has leisure and opportunity, make additional inquiries in respect to the details of the plan; or, if she is otherwise occupied, she may consider them for a moment in her own mind. If her objections are decisive, she should not state them at the time, unless she specially wishes them not to have a fair hearing; for when children have a plan in mind which they are eager to carry out, their very eagerness entirely incapacitates them for properly appreciating any objections which may be offered to it. It is on every account better, therefore—as a general rule—not to offer any such objections at the time—but simply to give your decision.
On the other hand, if there is no serious evil to be apprehended in allowing children to attempt to carry any particular plan they form into effect, the foolishness of it, in a practical point of view, or even the impossibility of success in accomplishing the object proposed, constitute no valid objection to it; for children amuse themselves as much—and sometimes learn as much—and promote as effectually the development of their powers and faculties—by their failures as by their successes.
In the case supposed, then, the mother, in order to manage it right, would first consider for a moment whether there was any decisive objection to the plan. This would depend, perhaps, upon the manner in which the children were dressed at the time, or upon the amount of injury that would be done to the yard; and this question would in its turn depend, in many cases, on the comparative value set by the mother upon the beauty of her yard—and the health, development, and happiness of her children. But supposing that she sees—which she can do in most instances at a glance—that there can no serious harm be done by the experiment—but only that it is a foolish plan so far as the attainment of the object is concerned—and utterly hopeless of success, which, considering that the real end to be attained is the healthy development of the children's powers by the agreeable exercise of them in useless as well as in useful labors—is no objection at all, then she should answer at once, "Yes, you can do that if you like; and perhaps I can help you about planning the work."
After saying this, any pointing out of obstacles and difficulties on her part does not present itself to their minds in the light of opposition to their plan—but of aid in helping it forward—and so places her, in their view, 'on their side', instead of in antagonism to them.
"What do you propose to do with the soil that you take out of the hole?" she asks.
The children had, perhaps, not thought of that.
Continues the mother, "How would it do—to put the soil in your wheelbarrow and let it stay there, so that in case your plan should not succeed—and men, in anything that they undertake, always consider it wise to take into account the possibility that they may not succeed—you can easily bring it all back and fill up the hole again."
The children think that would be a very good plan.
"And how are you going to fill your hole with water when you get it dug out?" asks the mother.
They were going to carry the water from the pump in a pail.
"And how are you going to prevent spilling the water over upon your trousers and into your shoes while carrying it?"
"Oh, we will be very careful," replied William.
"How would it do—only to fill the pail half full each time," suggests the mother. "You would have to go more times, it is true—but that would be better than getting splashed with water."
The boys think that that would be a very good plan.
In this manner the various difficulties to be anticipated may be brought to the notice of the children, while, they and their mother being in harmony and sympathy with each other—and not in opposition—in the consideration of them, she can bring the various difficulties forward without any problem—and make them the means of teaching the children many useful lessons of prudence and precaution.
'Capriciousness in Play'.
The mother, then, after warning the children that they must expect to encounter many unexpected difficulties in their undertaking—and telling them that they must not be too much disappointed if they should find that they could not succeed, dismisses them to their work. They proceed to dig the hole, putting the materials in the wheelbarrow—and then fill up the hole with water brought in half pailfuls at a time from the pump; but are somewhat disappointed to find that the water soaks away pretty rapidly into the ground—and that, moreover, it is so turbid—and the surface is so covered with little leaves, sticks—and dust, as to make it appear very doubtful whether they would be able to see the fish, if they were to succeed in catching any to put in. However, they take their long-handled dipper and proceed towards the brook. On the way they stop to gather some flowers that grow near the path that leads through the field, when the idea suddenly enters Lucy's head that it would be better to make a garden than a fish-pond; flowers, as she says, being so much prettier than fish. So they all go back to their mother and explain the change of their plan. They ask for permission to dig up a place which they had found where the ground was loose and sandy—and easy to dig—and to set out flowers in it which they had found in the field already in bloom. "We are going to give up the fish-pond," they say in conclusion, "because flowers are so much prettier than fish."
The mother, instead of finding fault with them for being so capricious and changeable in their plans, says, "I think you are right. Fish look pretty enough when they are swimming in the brook—but flowers are much prettier to transport and take care of. But first go and fill up the hole you made for the pond with the soil that is in the wheelbarrow; and when you have made your garden and moved the flowers into it, I advise you to get the watering-pot and give them a good watering."
It may be said that children ought to be brought up in habits of steadiness and perseverance in what they undertake—and that this kind of indulgence in their capriciousness would have a very bad tendency in this respect. The answer is, that there are times and seasons for all the different kinds of lessons which children have to learn—and that when in their hours of recreation they are amusing themselves in play, lessons in perseverance and system are out of place. The object to be sought for 'then' is the exercise and growth of their bodily organs and members, the development of their imagination, and their powers of observation of nature. The work of training them to habits of system and of steady perseverance in serious pursuits, which, though it is a work that ought by no means to be neglected, is not the appropriate work of such a time.
'Summary of Results'.
The general rules for the government of the parent in his treatment of his children's requests and wishes are these: In all matters of essential importance— he is to decide himself and simply announce his decision, without giving any reasons 'for the purpose of justifying it', or for 'inducing submission to it'.
And in all matters not of essential importance he is to allow the children the greatest possible freedom of action.
And the rule for children is, that they are always to obey the command the first time it is given, without question—and to take the first answer to any request without any objection or pestering whatever.
It is very easy to see how smoothly and happily the affairs of domestic government would go on, if these rules were established and obeyed. All that is required on the part of parents for their complete establishment is, first—a clear comprehension of them—and then a calm, quiet, and gentle—but still inflexible firmness in maintaining them. Unfortunately, however, such qualities as these, simple as they seem, are the most rare. If, instead of gentle but firm consistency and steadiness of action—ardent, impulsive, and capricious energy and violence were required—it would be comparatively easy to find them. How seldom do we see a mother's management of her children regulated by a calm, quiet, gentle and considerate decision, which thinks before it speaks in all important matters—and when it speaks, is firm; and yet, which readily and gladly accords to the children every liberty and indulgence which can do themselves or others no harm. And on the other hand, how often do we see foolish laxity and indulgence, in yielding to pestering in cases of vital importance, alternating with vexatious thwartings, rebuffs and refusals—in respect to desires and wishes the gratification of which could do no injury at all!
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