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 19. Children's Questions.
The disposition to ask questions, which is so universal
and so strong a characteristic of childhood, is the open door which presents
to the mother the readiest and most easy access possible to the mind and
heart of her child. The opportunities and facilities thus afforded to her
would be the source of the greatest pleasure to herself—and of the greatest
benefit to her child, if she understood better how to avail herself of them.
I propose, in this chapter, to give some explanations and general directions
for the guidance of mothers, of older brothers and sisters—and of
teachers—of all people, in fact, who may, from time to time, have young
children under their care or in their presence. I have no doubt that some of
my rules will strike parents, at first view, as paradoxical and, perhaps,
almost absurd; but I hope that on more mature reflection they will be found
to be reasonable and just.
'The CURIOSITY of Children is not a Fault'.
1. The curiosity of children is not a fault—and
therefore we must never censure them for asking questions, or lead them to
think that we consider their disposition to ask questions—to be a fault on
their part. But, on the other hand, their disposition to ask questions—is to
be encouraged as much as possible.
We must remember that a child, when his powers of
observation begin to be developed, finds everything around him full of
mystery and wonder. Why are some things hard and some are soft? Why will
some things roll and some will not? Why is he is not hurt when he falls on
the sofa—and is hurt when he falls on the floor? Why does a chair tumble
over when he climbs up by the rounds of it—while the steps of the stairs
remain firm and can be ascended without danger? Why is one thing black—and
another red—and another green? Why does water all go away by itself from his
hands or his dress, while mud will not? Why can he can dig in the ground—but
cannot dig in a floor? All is a mystery—and the little adventurer is
in a continual state of curiosity and wonder, not only to learn the meaning
of all these things—but also of desire to extend his observations—and find
out more and more of the astonishing phenomena that are exhibited around
him. The good feeling of the mother, or of any intelligent friend who is
willing to aid him in his efforts, is, of course, invaluable to him as a
means of promoting his advancement in knowledge and of developing his
Remember, therefore, that the disposition of a child
to ask questions is not a fault—but only an indication of his increasing
mental activity—and of his desire to avail himself of the only means within
his reach, of advancing his knowledge and of enlarging the scope of his
intelligence, in respect to the strange and astonishing phenomena constantly
observable around him.
'Sometimes his questions are a source of inconvenience'.
Of course there will be times when it is inconvenient for
the parent to attend to the questions of the child—and when the child must,
consequently, be debarred of the pleasure and privilege of asking them; but
even at such times as these, the disposition to ask them, must not be
attributed to him as a fault. Never tell him that he is "a little pest," or
that "you are tired to death of answering his questions," or that he is "a
chatter-box who would weary the patience of Job;" or that, "if he will sit
still for half an hour, without speaking a word, you will give him a
reward." If you are busy—and so cannot attend to him, say to him that you
'wish' you could talk with him and answer his questions—but that you are
going to be busy and cannot do it; and then, after providing him with some
other means of occupation, require him to be silent. Though even then you
ought to relieve the tedium of silence for him, by stopping every ten
or fifteen minutes from your reading, or your letter-writing, or whatever
your employment may be—and giving your attention to him for a minute or
two—and affording him an opportunity to relieve the pressure on his mind by
a little conversation.
'Answers to be short and simple'.
2. Give generally to children's questions the
shortest and simplest answers possible.
One reason why parents find the questions of children so
fatiguing to them, is that 'they attempt too much' in their answers. If they
would give the right kind of answers, they would find the work of
replying very easy—and in most time, it would occasion them very little
interruption. These short and simple answers are all that a child requires.
A full and detailed explanation of anything they ask about is as tiresome
for them to listen to—as it is for the mother to frame and give; while a
short and simple reply which advances them one step in their knowledge of
the subject is perfectly easy for the mother to give—and is, at the same
time, all that they wish to receive.
For example, let us suppose that the father and mother
are taking a ride on a summer afternoon after a shower, with little Johnny
sitting upon the seat between them. The parents are engaged in conversation
with each other, we will suppose—and would not like to be interrupted.
Johnny presently spies a rainbow on a cloud in the east—and, after uttering
an exclamation of delight, asks his mother what made the rainbow. She hears
the question—and her mind, glancing for a moment at the difficulty of giving
an intelligible explanation of so grand a phenomenon to such a child,
experiences an obscure sensation of perplexity and annoyance—but not quite
enough to take off her attention from her conversation; so she goes on and
takes no notice of Johnny's inquiry. Johnny, accordingly, soon repeats it,
"Mother! mother! what makes the rainbow?"
At length her attention is forced to the subject—and she
either tells Johnny that she can't explain it to him—that he is not old
enough to understand it; or, perhaps, scolds him for interrupting her, with
so many pestering questions.
In another such case, the mother, on hearing the
question, pauses long enough to look kindly and with a smile of
encouragement upon her face towards Johnny—and to say simply, "The sun," and
then goes on with her conversation. Johnny says "Oh!" in a tone of
satisfaction. It is a new and grand idea to him that the sun makes the
rainbow—and it is enough to fill his mind with contemplation for several
minutes, during which his parents go on without interruption in their talk.
Presently Johnny asks again, "Mother, 'how' does the sun make the rainbow?"
His mother answers in the same way as before, "By shining
on the cloud," and, leaving that additional idea for Johnny to reflect upon
and receive fully into his mind, turns again to her husband and resumes her
conversation with him after a scarcely perceptible interruption.
Johnny, after having reflected in silence some minutes,
during which he has looked at the sun and at the rainbow—and observed that
the cloud on which the arch is formed is exactly opposite to the sun—and
fully exposed to his beams, is prepared for another step—and asks, "Mother,
how does the sun make a rainbow by shining on the cloud?"
His mother replies that it shines on millions of little
drops of rain in the cloud—and makes them of all colors, like drops of dew
on the ground—and all the colors together make the rainbow.
Here are images presented to Johnny's mind enough to
occupy his thoughts for a considerable interval, when perhaps he will have
another question still, to be answered by an equally short and simple reply;
though, probably, by this time his curiosity will have become satisfied in
respect to his subject of inquiry—and his attention will have been arrested
by some other object.
To answer the child's questions in this way is so
easy—and the pauses which the answers lead to on the part of the
questioner are usually so long, that very little serious interruption is
occasioned by them to any of the ordinary pursuits in which a mother is
engaged; and the little interruption which is caused is greatly overbalanced
by the pleasure which the mother will experience in witnessing the
gratification and improvement of the child—if she really loves him and is
seriously interested in the development of his thinking and reasoning
'Answers should attempt to communicate but little
3. The answers which are given to children, should not
only be short and simple in form—but each one should be studiously designed
to communicate as small an amount of information as possible.
This may seem, at first view, a strange idea—but the
import of it simply is that, in giving the child his intellectual
nourishment, you must act as you do in respect to his bodily food—that is,
divide what he is to receive into small portions—and administer a little at
a time. If you give him too much at once in either case, you are in danger
of choking him.
For example, Johnny asks some morning in the early
winter, when the first snow is falling—and he has been watching it for some
time from the window in wonder and delight, "Mother, what makes it snow?"
Now, if the mother imagines that she must give anything like a full answer
to the question, her attention must be distracted from her work to enable
her to frame it; and if she does not give up the attempt altogether, and
rebuke the boy for teasing her with "so many silly questions," she perhaps
suspends her work—and, after a moment's perplexing thought, she says the
vapor of the water from the rivers and seas and damp ground rises into the
air—and there at last congeals into flakes of snow—and these fall through
the air to the ground.
The boy listens and attempts to understand the
explanation—but he is bewildered and lost in the endeavor to take in at once
this extended and complicated process—one which is, moreover, not only
extended and complicated—but which is composed of elements all of which are
entirely new to him.
If the mother, however, should act on the principle of
communicating as small a portion of the information required as it is
possible to give in one answer, Johnny's inquiry would lead, probably, to a
conversation somewhat like the following, the answers on the part of the
mother being so short and simple as to require no perceptible thought on her
part—and so occasioning no serious interruption to her work, unless it
should be something requiring special attention.
"Mother," asks Johnny, "what makes it snow?"
"It is the snow-flakes coming down out of the sky," says
his mother. "Watch them!"
"Oh!" says Johnny, uttering the child's little
exclamation of satisfaction. He looks at the flakes as they fall, catching
one after another with his eye—and following it in its meandering descent.
He will, perhaps, occupy himself several minutes in silence and profound
attention, in bringing fully to his mind the idea that a snow-storm consists
of a mass of descending flakes of snow falling through the air. To us, who
are familiar with this fact, it seems nothing to observe this—but to him,
the analyzing of the phenomenon, which before he had looked upon as one
grand spectacle filling the whole sky—and only making an impression on his
mind by its general effect—and resolving it into its elemental parts of
individual flakes fluttering down through the air, is a great step. It is a
step which exercises his emerging powers of observation and reflection very
deeply—and gives him full occupation for an interval of time.
At length, when he has familiarized himself with this
idea, he asks again, perhaps, "Where do the flakes come from, mother?"
"Out of the sky."
"Oh!" says Johnny again, for the moment entirely
One might at first think that these words would be almost
unmeaning, or, at least, that they would give the little questioner no real
information. But they do give him information that is both important and
novel. They advance him one step in his inquiry. Out of the sky means, to
him, from a great height. The words give him to understand that the flakes
are not formed where they first come into his view—but that they descend
from a higher region. After reflecting on this idea a moment, he asks, we
will suppose, "How high in the sky, mother?"
Now, perhaps, a mother might think that there was no
possible answer to be given to such a question as this except that "she does
not know;" inasmuch as few people have any accurate ideas of the elevation
in the atmosphere at which snow-clouds usually form. But this accurate
information is not what the child requires. Even if the mother possessed
it, it would be useless for her to attempt to communicate it to him. In the
sense in which he asks the question she 'does' understand it—and can give
him a perfectly satisfactory answer.
"How high is it in the sky, mother, to where the snow
comes from?" asks the child.
"Oh, 'very' high—higher than the top of the house,"
replies the mother.
"As high as the top of the chimney?"
"Yes, higher than that."
"As high as the moon?"
"No, not so high as the moon."
"How high is it then, mother?"
"About as high as birds can fly."
"Oh!" says Johnny, perfectly satisfied.
The answer is somewhat indefinite, it is true—but
its indefiniteness is the chief element in the value of it. A definite and
precise answer, even if one of that character were ready at hand, would be
utterly inappropriate to the occasion.
'An answer may even be good, which gives no information
4. It is not even always necessary that an answer to a
child's question should convey 'any information at all'. A little
conversation on the subject of the inquiry, giving the child an opportunity
'to hear and to use language' in respect to it, is often all that is
It must be remembered that the power to express thoughts,
or to represent external objects by language, is a new power to young
children—and, like all other new powers, the mere exercise of it gives great
pleasure. If a person in full health and vigor were suddenly to acquire the
art of flying, he would take great pleasure in moving, by means of
his wings, through the air from one high point to another, not because he
had any object in visiting those high points—but because it would give him
pleasure to find that he could do so—and to exercise his newly acquired
power. So with children in their talk. They talk often, perhaps generally,
for the sake of the 'pleasure of talking', not for the sake of what they
have to say. So, if you will only talk with them and allow them to talk to
you about anything that interests them, they are pleased, whether you
communicate to them any new information or not. This single thought, once
fully understood by a mother, will save her a great deal of trouble in
answering the incessant questions of her children. The only essential thing
in many cases is to 'say something' in reply to the question, no matter
whether what you say communicates any information or not.
If a child asks, for instance, what makes the stars
shine—and his mother answers, "Because they are so bright," he will be very
likely to be as well satisfied as if she attempted to give a scientific
explanation of the phenomenon. So, if he asks what makes him see himself in
the looking-glass, she may answer, "You see an 'image' of yourself there.
They call it an image. Hold up a book and see if you can see an image of
that in the glass too." He is pleased and satisfied. Nor are such answers
useless, as might at first be supposed. They give the child practice in the
use of language—and, if properly managed, they may be made the means of
greatly extending his knowledge of language and, by necessary consequence,
of the ideas and realities which language represents.
"Father," says Mary, as she is walking with her father in
the garden, "what makes some roses white and some red?" "It is very
interesting, is it not?" says her father. "Yes, father, it is very
interesting indeed. What makes it so?" "There must be 'some' cause for it"
says her father. "And the apples that grow on some trees are sweet—and on
others they are sour. That is interesting too." "Yes, very interesting
indeed," says Mary. "The 'leaves' of trees seem to be always green,"
continues her father, "though the flowers are of various colors." "Yes,
father," says Mary. "Except," adds her father, "when they turn yellow, and
red and brown—in the fall of the year."
A conversation like this, without attempting anything
like an answer to the question with which it commenced, is as
satisfactory to the child—and perhaps as useful in developing its powers and
increasing its knowledge of language, as any attempt to explain the
scientific phenomenon would be. Understanding this, will make it easy for
the mother to dispose of many a question which might seriously interrupt
her, if she conceived it necessary either to attempt a satisfactory
explanation of the difficulty, or not to answer it at all.
Be always ready to say "I don't know."
5. The mother should be always ready and willing to say
"I don't know," in answer to children's questions.
Parents and teachers are very often somewhat averse to
this, lest, by often confessing their own ignorance, they should lower
themselves in the estimation of their pupils or their children. So they feel
bound to give some kind of an explanation to every difficulty, in hopes that
it may satisfy the inquirer, though it does not satisfy themselves. But this
is a great mistake. The sooner that pupils and children understand that the
field of knowledge is utterly boundless—the better for all concerned.
'Questions on Religious Subjects.'
The considerations presented in this chapter relate
chiefly to the questions which children ask in respect to what they observe
taking place around them in external nature. There is another class of
questions and difficulties which they raise—namely, those which relate to
religious and moral subjects; and to these I have not intended now to refer.
The inquiries which children make on these subjects arise, in a great
measure—from the false and infantile conceptions which they are so apt to
form in respect to spiritual things; and from which they deduce all sorts of
absurdities. The false conceptions in which their difficulties
originate, are due partly to errors and imperfections in our modes of
teaching them on these subjects—and partly to the immaturity of their
powers, which incapacitates them from clearly comprehending any elements of
thought, which lie beyond the direct cognizance of the senses. We shall,
however, have occasion to refer to this subject in another chapter.
In respect, however, to all that class of questions which
children ask in relation to the visible world around them, the principles
here explained may render the mother some aid in her interaction with the
little learners under her charge—if she clearly understands and
intelligently applies them. And she will find the practice of holding
frequent conversations with them, in these ways, a source of great pleasure
to her—as well as of unspeakable advantage to them. Indeed, the conversation
of a kind and intelligent mother, is by far the most valuable and important
means of education for a child during many years of its early life. A boy
whose mother is pleased to have him near her, who likes to hear and answer
his questions, to watch the gradual development of his thinking and
reasoning powers, and to enlarge and extend his knowledge of language—thus
necessarily and of course expanding the range and scope of his ideas—will
find that though his studies, strictly so called—that is, his learning to
read—and the committing to memory lessons from books—may be deferred, yet,
when he finally commences them, he will go at once to the head of his
classes at school, because of the superior strength and ampler development
which his mental powers will have attained.
Chapter 20. The Use of MONEY.
The use of money, in the management and training
of children, has a distinct bearing on the subjects of some of the preceding
chapters. It is extremely important, first, in respect to opportunities
which are afforded in connection with the use of money, for cultivating and
developing the qualities of sound judgment and of practical wisdom. Then, in
the second place—the proper mode of dealing with their wishes and requests.
'Evil Results of a very Common Method'.
If a parent wishes to eradicate from the mind of his boy
all feelings of delicacy and manly pride, to train him to the habit of
obtaining what he wants by servile pestering—and to prevent his
having any means of acquiring any practical knowledge of the right use of
money, any principles of economy, or any of that forethought and thrift so
essential to sure prosperity in future life—the best way to accomplish these
ends, would be to have no system in supplying him with money in his boyish
days—but to give it to him only when he asks for it—and in quantities
determined only by the frequency and pestering of his calls.
Of course under such a system the boy has no inducement
to take care of his money; to form any plans of expenditure; to make any
calculations; or to practice self-denial today, for the sake of a greater
good tomorrow. The source of supply from which he draws money, fitful and
uncertain as it may be in what it yields to him, he considers unlimited; and
as the amount which he can draw from it does not depend at all upon his
frugality, his foresight, or upon any incipient financial skill that he may
exercise—but solely upon his adroitness in coaxing, or his persistence in
pestering! It is this group of bad qualities—and not the good, which such
management tends to foster. The effect of such a system is, in other words,
not to encourage the development and growth of those qualities on which
thrift and forethought in the management of his affairs in future life—and,
in consequence, his success and prosperity, depend. But, on the contrary, to
cherish the growth of all the base and ignoble propensities of human nature
by accustoming him, so far as relates to this subject, to gain his ends by
the arts of a beggar, by crude pestering pertinacity.
Not that this system always produces these results. It
may be—and perhaps generally is, greatly modified by other influences acting
upon the mind of the child at the same time, as well as by the natural
tendencies of the boy's character—and by the character and general influence
upon him of his father and mother in other respects. It cannot be denied,
however, that the tendency of the above system, which makes a boy's income
of spending-money, a matter of mere chance, on which no calculations can be
founded, except so far as he can increase it by adroit maneuvering or by
asking for it directly, with more or less of urgency or pestering
persistence, as the case may require. That is to say, by precisely those
means which are the most ignoble and most generally despised by
honorably-minded men as means for the attainment of any human end.
Now one of the most important parts of the education of
both girls and boys, whether they are to inherit riches, or to enjoy a
moderate income from the fruits of their own industry, or to spend their
lives in extreme poverty—is to teach them the proper management and use of
money. And this may be very effectually done by giving them a fixed and
definite income to manage—and then throwing upon them the responsibility of
the management of it, with such a degree of guidance, encouragement and
aid—as a parent can easily render.
'Objection to the Plan of a regular Allowance'.
There are no parents among those who will be likely to
read this book, whose resources are so limited that they will not, from time
to time, allow their children 'some' amount of spending-money in a year. All
that is necessary, therefore, is to appropriate to them this amount and pay
it to them, or credit them with it, in a business-like and regular manner.
It is true that by this system the children will soon begin to regard their
monthly or weekly allowance as their due; and the parent will lose the
pleasure, if it is any pleasure to him or her, of having the money which
they give them regarded in each case as a present—and received with a sense
of obligation. This is sometimes considered an objection to this plan. "When
I furnish my children with money," says the parent, "as a gratification, I
wish to have the pleasure of 'giving' it to them. Whereas, on this proposed
plan of paying it to them regularly at stated intervals, they will come to
consider each payment as simply the payment of a debt. I wish them to
consider it as a gratuity on my part, so that it may awaken gratitude and
renew their love for me."
There is some seeming force in this objection, though it
is true that the adoption of the plan of a systematic allowance, as here
recommended, does not prevent the making of other presents of money,
or of anything else, to the children, whenever either parent desires to do
so. Still the plan will not generally be adopted, except by parents in whose
minds the laying of permanent foundations for their children's welfare and
happiness through life, by training them from their earliest years to habits
of forecast and thrift; and the exercise of judgment and skill in the
management of money—is entirely paramount to any petty sentimental
gratification to themselves, while the children are young.
In case the parent—it may be either the father or the
mother—decides to adopt the plan of appropriating systematically and
regularly a certain sum to be at the disposal of the child, there are two
modes by which the business may be transacted—one by paying over the money
itself in the amounts and at the stated periods determined upon. And the
other by opening an account with the child—and giving him credit for the
amount due, charging on the other side the amounts which he draws.
1. 'Paying the money'. This is the simplest plan. If
it is adopted, the money must be ready and be paid at the appointed time
with the utmost exactitude and certainty. Having made the arrangement with a
child that he is to have a certain sum—six cents, twelve cents, twenty-five
cents—as the case may be—every Saturday night, the mother—if it is the
mother who has charge of the execution of the plan—must consider it a sacred
debt—and must be 'always' ready. She cannot expect that her children will
learn regularity, punctuality and system in the management of their monetary
affairs, if she sets them the example of laxity and forgetfulness in
fulfilling her engagements—and offering excuses for non-payment when the
time comes, instead of having the money ready when it is due. The money,
when paid, should not, in general, be carried by the children about the
person—but they should be provided with a purse or other safe receptacle,
which, however, should be entirely in their custody—and so exposed to all
the accidents to which any carelessness in the custody would expose it. The
mother must remember that the very object of the plan is to have the
children learn by experience, to take care of money themselves—and that she
defeats that object by virtually relieving them of this care. It should,
therefore, be paid to them with the greatest punctuality, especially at the
first introduction of the system—and with the distinct understanding that
the charge and care of keeping it, devolves entirely upon them from the time
of its passing into their hands.
2. 'Opening an account'. The second plan—and one that
will prove much the most satisfactory in its working—though many mothers
will shrink from it on the ground that it would make them a great deal of
trouble—is to keep an account. For this purpose a small book should be made,
with as many leaves as there are children, so that for each account there
can be two pages. The book should be ruled for accounts—and the name
of each child should be entered at the head of the two pages appropriated to
his account. Then, from time to time, the amount of his allowance that has
fallen due, should be entered on the credit side—and any payment made to him
on the other.
The plan of keeping an account in this way obviates the
necessity of paying money at stated times, for the account will show at any
time how much is due.
There are some advantages in each of these modes. Much
depends on the age of the children—and still more upon the facilities which
the father or mother have at hand for making entries in writing. To a man of
business, accustomed to accounts, who could have a book made small enough to
go into his wallet, or to a mother who is systematic in her habits—and has
in her work-table or her secretary facilities for writing at any time, the
plan of opening an account will be found much the best. It will afford an
opportunity of giving the children a great deal of useful knowledge in
respect to account-keeping—or, rather, by habituating them from an early age
to the management of their affairs in this systematic manner, will train
them from the beginning, to habits of system and exactness. A very
perceptible effect in this direction will be produced on the minds of
children, even while they have not yet learned to read—and so cannot
understand at all the written record made of their financial transactions.
They will, at any rate, understand that a written record is made; they will
take a certain pride and pleasure in it—and impressions will be produced
which may have an effect upon their habits of accuracy and system, in their
financial transactions through all future life.
'Interest on Balances'.
One great advantage of the plan of having an account over
that of paying cash at stated times is, that it affords an opportunity for
the father or mother to allow interest for any balances left from time to
time in their hands, so as to initiate the children into a knowledge of the
nature and the advantages of productive investments—and familiarize them
with the idea that money saved, has within it a principle of increase. The
interest allowed should be altogether greater than the regular rate, so as
to make the advantage of it in the case of such small sums, appreciable to
the children—but not too great. Some judgment and discretion must be
exercised on this as on all other points connected with the system.
The arrangements for the keeping of an account being
made—and the account opened, there is, of course, no necessity—as in the
case of payments made simply in cash—that the business should be transacted
at stated times. At any time when convenient, the entry may be made of the
amount which has become due since the time of the last entry. And when, from
time to time, the child wishes for money, the parent will look at his
account and see if there is a balance to his credit. If there is, the child
will be entitled to receive whatever he desires up to the amount of the
balance. Once in a month, or at any other times when convenient, the account
can be settled—and the balance, with the accrued interest, carried to a new
All this, instead of being a trouble, will only be a
source of interest and pleasure to the parent, as well as to the children
themselves; and, without occupying any sensible portion of time, will be the
means of gradually communicating a great deal of very useful instruction.
'Employment of the Money'.
It will have a great effect in "training up children in
the way in which they should go," in respect to the employment of money, if
a rule is made for them that a certain portion, one-quarter or one-half, for
example, of all the money which comes into their possession, both from their
regular allowance and from gratuities, is to be laid aside as a permanent
investment—and an account at some Savings Bank be opened, or some other
formal mode of placing it be adopted—the bank-book or other documentary
evidence of the amount so laid up to be deposited among the child's
In respect to the other portion of the money—namely, that
which is to be employed by the children themselves as spending-money, the
disbursement of it should be left 'entirely at their discretion', subject
only to the restriction that they are not to buy anything that will be
injurious or dangerous to themselves, or a means of disturbance or annoyance
to others. The mother may give them any information or any counsel in regard
to the employment of their money, provided she does not do it in the form of
expressing any 'wish', on her part, in regard to it. For the very object of
the whole plan is to bring out into action—and thus to develop and
strengthen, the judgment and discretion of the child. And just as children
cannot learn to walk by always being carried, so they cannot learn to be
good managers without having the responsibility of actual management, on a
scale adapted to their years, thrown really upon them. If a boy wishes to
buy a bow and arrow, it may in some cases be right not to give him
permission to do it, on account of the danger accompanying the use of such a
plaything. But if he wishes to buy a kite which the mother is satisfied is
too large for him to manage, or if she thinks there are so many trees about
the house that he cannot prevent its getting entangled in them, she must not
object to it on that account. She can explain these dangers to the boy, if
he is inclined to listen—but not in a way to show that she herself wishes
him not to buy the kite. "Those are the difficulties which you may meet
with," she may say, "but you may buy the kite if you think best."
Then when he meets with the difficulties, when he finds
that he cannot manage the kite, or that he loses it among the trees, she
must not triumph over him—and say, "I told you how it would be. You would
not take my advice—and now you see how it is." On the contrary, she must
help him—and try to alleviate his disappointment, saying, "Never mind. It is
a loss, certainly. But you did what you thought was best at the time—and we
all meet with losses sometimes, even when we have done what we thought was
best. You will make a great many other mistakes, probably, hereafter in
spending money—and meet with losses; and this one will give you an
opportunity of learning to bear them like a man."
'The most implicit Faith to be kept with Children in
I will not say that a father, if he is a man of business,
ought to be as jealous of his credit with his children as he is of his
credit at the bank; but I think, if he takes a right view of the subject, he
will be extremely sensitive in respect to both. If he is a man of high and
honorable sentiments—and especially if he looks forward to future years when
his children shall have arrived at maturity, or shall be approaching towards
it—and sees how important and how delicate the financial relations between
himself and them may be at that time, he will feel the importance of
beginning by establishing, at the very commencement, not only by means of
precept—but by example, a habit of precise, systematic—and scrupulous
exactitude in the fulfillment of every financial obligation. It is not
necessary that he should do anything base or small in his dealings with them
in order to accomplish this end. He may be as liberal and as generous with
them in many ways as he pleases—but he must keep his accounts with them
correctly. He must always, without any demurring or any excuse, be ready to
fulfill his engagements—and teach them to fulfill theirs.
'Possible Range of Transactions between Parents and
The parent, after having initiated his children into the
regular transaction of business by his mode of managing their
allowance-fund, may very advantageously extend the benefits of the system by
engaging with them from time to time in other affairs, to be regulated in a
business-like and systematic manner. For example, if one of his boys has
been reserving a portion of his spending-money as a watch-fund—and has
already half enough for the purchase, the father may offer to lend him the
balance and take a mortgage of the watch, to stand until the boy shall have
taken it up out of future savings; and he can make out a mortgage-deed
expressing in a few and simple words the fact that the watch is pledged to
him as security for the sum advanced—and is not to become the absolute
property of the boy till the money for which it is pledged is paid. In the
course of years, a great number of transactions in this way may take place
between the father or mother and their boy, each of which will not only be a
source of interest and enjoyment to both parties—but will afford the best
possible means of imparting, not only to the child directly interested in
them—but to the other children, a practical knowledge of financial
transactions—and of forming in them the habit of conducting all their
affairs in a systematic and business-like manner.
The effect of such methods as these is not only to make
the years of childhood pass more pleasantly—but also to prepare them to
enter, when the time comes, upon the serious business of life with some
considerable portion of that practical wisdom in the management of money
which is often, when it is deferred to a later period, acquired only by
bitter experience and through much suffering.
Indeed, any parent who appreciates and fully enters into
the views presented in this chapter will find, in ordinary cases, that his
children make so much progress in business capacity that he can extend the
system so as to embrace subjects of real and serious importance before the
children arrive at maturity. A boy, for instance, who has been trained in
this way will be found competent, by the time that he is ten or twelve years
old, to take the contract for furnishing himself with caps, or boots and
shoes—and, a few years later, with all his clothing, at a specified annual
Of course, to manage such a system successfully, so that
it could afterwards be extended to other classes of expenses, requires tact,
skill, system, patience—and steadiness on the part of the father or mother
who should attempt it; but when the parent possesses these qualities, the
time and attention that would be required would be as nothing compared with
the trouble, the vexation, the endless dissatisfaction on both sides, that
attend upon the ordinary methods of supplying children's wants—to say
nothing of the incalculable benefit to the boy himself of such a training,
as a part of his preparation for future life.
'Evil Results to be feared'.
Nor is it merely upon the children themselves—and that
after they enter upon the responsibilities of active life, that the evils
resulting from their having had no practical training in youth in respect to
financial responsibilities and obligations, that evil consequences will
fall. The great cities are full of wealthy men whose lives are rendered
miserable, by the recklessness in respect to money which is displayed by
their sons and daughters as they advance towards maturity—and by the utter
lack, on their part, of all sense of delicacy and of obligation, or of
responsibility of any kind towards their parents in respect to their
financial transactions. Of course this must, in a vast number of cases, be
the result when the boy is brought up from infancy with the idea that the
only limit to his supply of money is his ingenuity in devising modes of
putting a pressure upon his father. Fifteen or twenty years spent in
managing his affairs on this principle must, of course, produce the fruit
naturally to be expected from such seed.
'The great Difficulty'.
It would seem, perhaps, at first view, from what has been
said in this chapter, that it would be a very simple and easy thing to train
up children thus to correct ideas and habits in respect to the use of money;
and it would be so—for the principles involved seem to be very plain and
simple—were it not that the 'qualities which it requires in the parent' are
just those which are most rare. Deliberateness in forming the plan,
calmness and quietness in proposing it, inflexible but
mild and gentle firmness in carrying it out, perfect honesty in
allowing the children to exercise the power and responsibility promised
them—and an indulgent spirit in relation to the faults and errors
into which they fall in the exercise of it—these and other such qualities
are not very easily found.
To make an arrangement with a child that he is to receive
a certain sum every Saturday—and then after two or three weeks to forget
it—and when the boy comes to call for it, to say, petulantly, "Oh, don't
come to bother me about that now—I am busy; and besides, I have not got the
money now;" or, when a boy has spent all his allowance on the first two or
three days of the week—and comes to beg importunately for more, to say, "It
was very wrong in you to spend all your money at once—and I have a great
mind not to give you any more. I will, however, do it just this time—but I
shall not again!" Or, to borrow money in some sudden emergency out of the
fund which a child has accumulated for a special purpose—and then to forget
or neglect to repay it—to manage loosely and capriciously in any such ways
as these, will be sure to make the attempt a total failure; that is to say,
such management will be sure to be a failure in respect to teaching the boy
to act on right principles in the management of money—and training him to
habits of exactness and faithfulness in the fulfillment of his obligations.
But in making him a thoughtless, wasteful, pesty and selfish boy while he
remains a boy—and fixing him, when he comes to manhood, in the class of
those who are utterly untrustworthy, faithless in the performance of their
promises—and wholly unscrupulous in respect to the means by which they
obtain money, it may very probably turn out to be a splendid success.
Chapter 21. Physical Punishment.
It might, perhaps, be thought that, in a book which
professes to show how an efficient government can be established and
maintained by 'gentle measures', the subject of physical punishment could
have no place. It seems important, however, that there should be here
introduced a brief though distinct presentation of the light in which, in a
philosophical point of view, this instrumentality is to be regarded.
'The Teachings of Scripture'.
The resort to physical punishment in the training of
children seems to be spoken of in many passages contained in the Scriptures
as of fundamental necessity. But there can be no doubt that the word 'rod',
as used in those passages, is used simply as the emblem of parental
authority. This is in accordance with the ordinary custom of Hebrew
writers in those days—and with the idiom of their language, by which a
single visible or tangible object was employed as the representative or
expression of a general idea—as, for example, the sword is used as the
emblem of magisterial authority; and the sun and the rain, which are spoken
of as being sent with their genial and fertilizing power upon the evil and
the good, denote not specially and exclusively those agencies—but all the
beneficent influences of nature which they are employed to represent. The
injunctions, therefore, of Solomon in respect to the use of the rod are
undoubtedly to be understood as simply enjoining upon parents the necessity
of bringing up their children 'in complete subjection' to their authority.
No one can imagine, that he could wish the rod to be used when complete
subjection to the parental authority could be secured by more gentle means.
And how this is to be done it is the object precisely of this book to
In this sense, therefore—and it is undoubtedly the true
sense—namely, that children must be 'governed by the authority of the
parent', the passages in question express a great and most essential truth.
It is sometimes said that children must be governed by reason—and
this is true—but it is the reason of their parents—and not their own, which
must hold the control. If children were endowed with the capacity of seeing
what is best for them—and with sufficient self-control to pursue what is
best against the counter-influences of their animal instincts and
propensities, there would be no necessity that the period of subjection to
parental authority should be extended over so many years. But so long as
their powers are yet too immature to be safely relied upon, they must, of
necessity, be subject to the parental will; and the sooner and the more
perfectly they are made to understand this—and to yield a willing submission
to the necessity, the better it will be, not only for their parents—but also
The parental authority must, therefore, be established—by
gentle means, if possible—but it must by all means be established—and be
firmly maintained. If you cannot govern your child without physical
punishment, it is better to resort to it than not to govern him at all.
Taking a wide view of the field, I think there may be several cases in which
a resort to the infliction of physical pain as the only available means of
establishing authority, may be the only alternative. There are three cases
of this kind that are to be specially considered.
'Possible cases in which it is the only alternative.
1. In savage or half-civilized life—and even, perhaps, in
so crude a state of society as must have existed in some parts of Judea when
the Proverbs of Solomon were written, it is conceivable that many parents,
owing to their own ignorance—and primitive condition, would have no other
means at their command for establishing their authority over their children,
than scoldings and blows. It must be so among savages. And it is certainly
better, if the mother knows no other way of inducing her boy to keep within
her sight, that she should whip him when he runs away, than that he should
be bitten by serpents or devoured by bears. She 'must' establish her
authority in some way—and if this is the best that she is capable of
pursuing, she must use it.
'Teachers whose Tasks surpass their Skill'.
2. A teacher, in entering upon the charge of a large
school of boys made unruly by previous mismanagement, may, perhaps, possibly
find himself unable to establish submission to his authority without this
resource. It is true that if it is so, it is due, in a certain sense, to
lack of skill on the teacher's part; for there are men—and women too, who
will take any company of boys that you can give them—and, by a certain
skill, or tact, or knowledge of human nature, or other qualities which seem
sometimes to other people almost magical—will have them all completely under
subjection in a week—and that without violence, without scolding, almost
without even a frown. The time may, perhaps, come when every teacher, to be
considered qualified for his work, must possess this skill. Indeed, the
world is evidently making great and rapid progress in this direction. The
methods of instruction and the modes by which the teacher gains and holds
his influence over his pupils, have been wonderfully improved in recent
times, so that where there was one teacher, fifty years ago, who was really
beloved by his pupils, we have fifty now. In Dr. Johnson's time, which was
about a hundred and fifty years ago, it would seem that there was no other
mode, but that of violent coercion recognized as worthy to be relied upon in
imparting instruction, for he said that he knew of no way by which Latin
could be taught to boys in his day but "by having it flogged into them."
From such a state of things to that which prevails at the
present day there has been an astonishing change. And now, whether a teacher
is able to manage an average school of boys without physical force is simply
a question of tact, knowledge of the right principles—and skill in applying
them on his part. It is, perhaps, yet too soon to expect that all teachers
can possess, or can acquire, these qualifications to such a degree as to
make it safe to forbid the infliction of bodily pain in any case—but the
time for it is rapidly approaching—and in some parts of the country it has,
perhaps, already arrived. Until that time comes, every teacher who finds
himself under the necessity of beating a boy's body in order to attain
certain moral or intellectual ends, ought to understand that the reason is
the incompleteness of his understanding and skill in dealing directly with
the child's mind; though for this incompleteness he may not himself be
personally at all to blame.
'Children spoiled by Neglect and Mismanagement'.
3. I am even willing to admit that one or more boys in a
family may reach such a condition of rudeness and insubordination, in
consequence of neglect or mismanagement on the part of their parents in
their early years—and the present clumsiness and incapacity of the father in
dealing with the susceptibilities and impulses of the human soul—that the
question will lie between keeping them within some kind of subordination by
bodily punishment, or not controlling them at all. If a father has been so
engrossed in his business that he has neglected his children, has never
established any common bond of sympathy between himself and them, has taken
no interest in their enjoyments, nor brought them by moral means to an
habitual subjection to his will; and if their mother is a weak, irresolute
woman, occupying herself with the pursuits and pleasures of fashionable
society—and has mis-managed the children; the children will, of course, in
general, grow up troublesome, turbulent, and ungovernable. And when, with
advancing maturity, their increasing strength and vigor makes this
turbulence and disorder intolerable in the house—and there is, as of course
there usually will be in such a case, no proper knowledge and skill in the
management of the young on the part of either parent to remedy the evil by
gentle measures—the only alternative in many cases may be either a resort to
violent punishment, or the sending away of the unmanageable subjects to
school. The latter part of the alternative is the best—and, fortunately, it
is the one generally adopted. But where it cannot be adopted, it is
certainly better that the boys should be governed by the rod, than to grow
up under no government at all.
'Gentle Measures effectual where Rightfully and
However it may be with respect to the exceptional cases
above enumerated—and perhaps some others, there can, I think, be no doubt
that parents who should train their children from the beginning on the
principles explained in this volume—and upon others analogous to them, would
never, in any case, have to strike a blow. They would accomplish the end
enjoined by the precepts of Solomon, namely, the complete subjection of
their children to their authority, by improved methods not known in his day,
or, at least, not so fully developed that they could then be relied upon.
They who imagine that parents are bound to use the rod as the
instrumentality, because the Scriptures speak of the rod as the means of
establishing parental authority best known in those days, instead of
employing the more effective methods which the progress of improvement has
developed and made available at the present day, ought, in order to be
consistent, to insist on the retention of the harp in religious worship,
because David enjoins it upon believers to "praise the Lord with harp:" to
"sing unto him with psaltery—and an instrument of ten strings." The truth
is, that what we are to look at in such injunctions is the end that is to be
attained, which is, in this last case, the impressive and reverential
exaltation of Almighty God in our minds by the acts of public worship; and
if, with the improvements in musical instruments which have been made in
modern times, we can do this more satisfactorily by employing in the place
of a psaltery or a harp of ten strings an organ of ten or a hundred stops,
we are bound to make the substitution. In a word, we must look at the end
and not at the means, remembering that in questions of Scripture
interpretation the "letter kills, the spirit makes alive."
'Protracted Contests with Obstinacy'.
It seems to me, though I am aware that many excellent
people think differently, that it is never wise for the parent to allow
himself to be drawn into a contest with a child, in attempting to compel him
to do something that from ill-temper or obstinacy he refuses to do. If the
attempt is successful—and the child yields under a moderate severity of
coercion, it is all very well. But there is something mysterious and
unaccountable in the strength of the obstinacy sometimes manifested in such
cases—and the degree of endurance which it will often inspire, even in
children of the most tender age. We observe the same inexplicable fixedness
sometimes in the lower animals—in the horse, for example; which is the more
unaccountable from the fact that we cannot suppose, in his case, that
peculiar combination of intelligence and ill-temper, which we generally
consider the sustaining power of the protracted obstinacy on the part of the
child. The degree of persistence which is manifested by children in contests
of this kind is something astonishing—and cannot easily be explained by any
of the ordinary theories in respect to the influence of motives on the human
mind. A state of cerebral excitement and exaltation is not unfrequently
produced which seems akin to insanity—and instances have been known in which
a child has allowed itself to be beaten to death, rather than yield
obedience to a very simple command. And in vast numbers of instances, the
parent, after a protracted contest, gives up in despair, and is compelled to
invent some plausible pretext for bringing it to an end.
Indeed, when we reflect upon the subject, we see what a
difficult task we undertake in such contests—it being nothing less than that
of 'forcing the formation of a volition' in a human mind. We can easily
control the bodily movements and actions of another person by means of an
external coercion that we can apply—and we have various indirect means of
'inducing' volitions; but in these contests we seem to come up squarely to
the work of attempting, by outward force, to compel the 'forming of a
volition' in the mind; and it is not surprising that this should, at least
sometimes, prove a very difficult undertaking.
'No Necessity for these Contests'.
There seems to be no necessity that a parent or teacher
should ever become involved in struggles of this kind in maintaining his
authority. The way to avoid them, as it seems to me, is, when a child
refuses out of obstinacy to do what is required of him, to impose the proper
punishment or penalty for the refusal—and let that close the transaction. Do
not attempt to enforce his compliance by continuing the punishment until he
yields. A child, for example, going out to play, wishes for his blue cap.
His mother chooses that he shall wear his gray one. She hangs the blue cap
up in its place—and gives him the gray one. He declares that he will not
wear it—and throws it down upon the floor. The temptation now is for the
mother, indignant, to punish him—and then to order him to take up the cap
which he had thrown down—and to feel that it is her duty, in case he
refuses, to persist in the punishment until she conquers his will—and
compels him to take it up and put it upon his head.
But instead of this, a safer and a better course, it
seems to me, is to avoid a contest altogether by considering the offense
complete—and the transaction on his part finished by the single act of
rebellion against her authority. She may take the cap up from the floor
herself and put it in its place—and then simply consider what punishment is
proper for the wrong already done. Perhaps she forbids the boy to go out at
all. Perhaps she reserves the punishment—and sends him to bed an hour
earlier that night. The age of the boy, or some other circumstances
connected with the case, may be such as to demand a severer treatment still.
At any rate, she limits the transaction to the single act of disobedience
and rebellion already committed, without giving an opportunity for a
repetition of it by renewing the command—and inflicts for it the proper
punishment—and that is the end of the affair.
And so a boy in reciting a lesson will not repeat certain
words after his mother. She enters into no controversy with him—but shuts
the book and puts it away. He, knowing his mother's usual mode of management
in such cases—and being sure that some penalty, privation, or punishment
will sooner or later follow, relents—and tells his mother that he will say
the words if she will try him again.
"No, my son," she should reply, "the opportunity is past.
You should have done your duty at the right time. You have disobeyed me—and
I must take time to consider what to do."
If, at the proper time, in such a case, when all the
excitement of the affair is over, a penalty or punishment apportioned to the
fault, or some other appropriate measures in relation to it, are 'certain to
come'—and if this method is always pursued in a calm and quiet manner but
with inflexible firmness in act—the spirit of rebellion will be much
more effectually subdued, than by any protracted struggles at the time,
though ending in victory however complete.
But all this is a digression, though it seemed proper to
allude to the subject of these contests here, since it is on these
occasions, perhaps, that parents are most frequently led, or, as they think,
irresistibly impelled, to the infliction of bodily punishments as the last
resort, when they would, in general, be strongly inclined to avoid them.
'The Infliction of Pain sometimes the speediest Remedy'.
There are, moreover, some cases, perhaps, in the ordinary
exigencies of domestic life, as the world goes, when some personal
infliction is the 'shortest' way of disposing of a case of discipline—and
may appear, for the time being, to be the most effectual. A slap is
very quickly given—and a mother may often think that she has not time for a
more gentle mode of managing the case, even though she may admit that if she
had the time at her command, the gentle mode would be the best. And it is,
indeed, doubtless true, that the principles of management advocated in this
work are such as require that the parents should devote some time and
attention—and, still more essentially, some 'heart' to the work. And those
who do not consider the welfare and happiness of their children in future
life—and their own happiness in connection with them as they advance towards
their declining years, as of sufficient importance to call for the
bestowment of this time and attention—will doubtless often resort to more
speedy methods in their discipline than those here recommended.
'The Sting that it leaves behind'.
Indeed, the great objection, after all, to the occasional
resort to the infliction of bodily pain in extreme cases is, as it seems to
me, the sting which it leaves behind; not that, which it leaves in the heart
of the child who may suffer it—for that soon passes away—but in the heart of
the parent who inflicts it. The one is, or may be, very evanescent; the
other may very long remain; and what is worse, the anguish of it may be
revived and made very poignant in future years.
This consideration makes it specially imperative on every
parent never, for any cause, to inflict punishment by violence, when himself
under the influence of any irritation or anger awakened by the offense. For
though the anger which the fault of the child naturally awakens in you,
carries you through the act of punishing well enough, it soon afterwards
passes away, while the memory of it remains—and in after years, like any
other sin, it may come back to exact a painful retribution. When the little
loved one who now puts you out of patience with her heedlessness, her
inconsiderateness, and, perhaps, by worse faults and failings—all, however,
faults which may very possibly, in part or in whole, be the result of the
immature and undeveloped condition of her mental or bodily powers—falls sick
and dies—and you follow her as she is borne away—and with a bursting heart
see her laid in her little grave, it will be a great comfort to you then to
reflect that you did all in your power, by means of the gentlest measures at
your command, to train her to truth and duty, that you never lost patience
with her—and that she never felt from your hand anything but gentle
assistance or a loving caress.
And your boy—now so ardent and impulsive—and often,
perhaps, noisy, troublesome, and crude, from the exuberant action of his
growing powers—when these powers shall have received their full
development—and he has passed from your control to his place in the world as
a man—and he comes back from time to time to the maternal home in grateful
remembrance of his obligations to his mother, bringing with him tokens of
his affection and love—you will think with pain, of the occasions when you
subjected him to the torture of the rod under the impulse of irritation or
anger—or to accomplish the ends of discipline which might have been attained
in other ways. Time, as you then look back over the long interval of years
which have elapsed, will greatly soften the recollection of the fault—but it
will greatly aggravate that of the pain which was made the retribution of
it. You will say to yourself, it is true, "I did it for the best. If I had
not done it, my son would perhaps not be what he is." He, if he remembers
the transaction, will doubtless say so too; but there will be none the less
for both a certain sting in the recollection, and you will wish that the
same end could have been accomplished by gentler means.
The substance of it is that children must, at all events,
be governed. The proper authority over them 'must be' maintained; but it is
a great deal better to secure this end by gentle measures, if the parents
have, or can acquire the skill to employ them.
Chapter 22. Gratitude in Children.
Mothers are very often pained at what seems to them the
ingratitude of their children. They long, above all things, for their
love. They do everything in their power to win it. They make every
sacrifice—and give every possible evidence of affection; but they seem to
fail entirely of bringing out any of those evidences of gratitude and
affection in return which, if they could only witness them, would fill their
hearts with gladness and joy. But the only feeling which their children
manifest towards them seems to be a selfish one. They come to them
when in trouble, they even fly to them eagerly when in danger—and they
consider their parents the chief resource for procuring nearly all their
means of gratification. But they think little, as it often seems, of the
mother's comfort and enjoyment in return—and seldom or never do anything
voluntarily to give her pleasure.
It would be a great exaggeration to say that this is
always the feeling of the mother in respect to her children. I only mean
that this is sometimes—and I might probably say very often, the case.
'Two Forms of Love.'
Now there are two distinct forms which the feeling of
love may assume in the mature mind, both of which are gratifying to the
object of it, though they are very different—and indeed in some sense
exactly the opposite of each other. There is the 'receiving' and the
'bestowing' love. It is true that the two forms are often conjoined, or
rather they often exist in intimate combination with each other; but in
their nature they are essentially distinct. A young lady, for example, may
feel a strong attachment for the gentleman to whom she is engaged—or a wife
for her husband—in the sense of liking to receive kindness and attention
from him, more than from any other man. She may be specially pleased when he
invites her to ride with him, or makes her presents, or shows in any way
that he thinks of her and seeks her happiness—more so than she would be to
receive the same attentions from any other person. This is love. It may be
very genuine love; but it is love in the form of taking special pleasure in
the kindness and favor bestowed by the object of it. Yet it is none the less
true, as most people have had occasion to learn from their own experience,
that this kind of love may be very strong without being accompanied by any
corresponding desire on the part of the person manifesting it, to make
sacrifices of her own ease and comfort in order to give happiness to the
object of her love in return.
In the same manner a gentleman may feel a strong
sentiment of love for a lady, which shall take the form of enjoying her
society, of being happy when he is near her—and greatly pleased at her
making sacrifices for his sake, or manifesting in any way a strong
attachment for him. There 'may be' also united with this the other form of
love—namely, that which would lead him to deny himself and make sacrifices
'for her'. But the two, though they may often—perhaps generally—exist
together, are in their nature so essentially different that they may be
entirely separated—and we may have one in its full strength, while there is
very little of the other. You may love a person in the sense of taking
greater pleasure in receiving attentions and favors from him than from all
the world beside, while yet you seldom think of making efforts to promote
his comfort and happiness in anything in which you are not yourself
personally concerned. On the other hand, you may love him with the kind of
affection which renders it the greatest pleasure of your life, to make
sacrifices and endure self-denial to promote his welfare in any way.
In some cases these two forms are in fact entirely
separated—and one or the other can exist entirely distinct from the other—as
in the case of the kind feelings of a good man towards the poor and
miserable. It is quite possible to feel a very strong interest in such
objects—and to be willing to put ourselves to considerable inconvenience to
make them comfortable and happy—and to take great pleasure in learning that
our efforts have been effectual, without feeling any love for them at all in
the other form—that is, any desire to have them with us, to receive
attentions and kindness from them—and to enjoy their society.
On the other hand, in the love of a young child for his
mother the case is reversed. The love of the child consists
chiefly in liking to be with his mother, in going to her rather than to
anyone else for relief from pain or for comfort in sorrow—and is accompanied
with very few and very faint desires to make efforts, or to submit to
privations, or to make sacrifices, for the promotion of her good.
'Order of their Development'.
Now the qualities and characteristics of the soul on
which the capacity for these two forms of love depend, seem to be very
different—and they advance in development and come to maturity at different
periods of life; so that the mother, in feeling dejected and sad because she
cannot awaken in the mind of her child the gratitude and the consideration
for her comfort and happiness which she desires—is simply looking for a
certain kind of fruit at the wrong time. You have one of the forms of love
for you on the part of the child now while he is young. In due time, when he
arrives at maturity, if you will wait patiently—you will assuredly have the
other. Now he runs to you in every emergency. He asks you for everything
that he needs. He can find comfort nowhere else but in your arms, when he is
in distress or in suffering from pain, disappointment, or sorrow. But he
will not make any effort to be still when you are sick, or to avoid
interrupting you when you are busy; and insists, perhaps, on your carrying
him when he is tired, without seeming to think or care whether you may not
be tired too. But in due time all this will be changed. Twenty years hence,
he will conceal all his troubles from you, instead of coming with them to
you for comfort. He will be off in the world engaged in his pursuits, no
longer bound closely to your side. But he will think all the time of your
comfort and happiness. He will bring you presents—and pay you innumerable
attentions to cheer your heart in your declining years. He will not run to
you when he has hurt himself; but if anything happens to 'you', he will
leave everything to hasten to your relief—and bring with him all the
comforts and means of enjoyment for you that his resources can command. The
time will thus come, when you will have his love to your heart's content—in
the second form. You must be satisfied, while he is so young, with the first
form of it, which is all that his powers and faculties in their present
stage are capable of developing.
The truth of the case seems to be that the faculties of
the human mind—or I should perhaps rather say, the susceptibilities of the
soul—like the instincts of animals, are developed in the order in which they
are required for the good of the subject of them.
Indeed, it is very interesting and curious to observe how
striking the analogy in the order of development, in respect to the nature
of the bond of attachment which binds the children to the parent, runs
through all those ranks of the animal creation—in which the young for a time
depend upon the mother for food or for protection. The chicks in any moment
of alarm, run to the hen; and the lamb, the calf and the colt to their
respective mothers; but none of them would feel the least inclination to
come to the rescue of the parent if the parent was in danger. With the
mother herself it is exactly the reverse. Her heart—if we can speak of the
seat of the maternal affections of such creatures as a heart—is filled with
desires to bestow good upon her children, without a desire, or even a
thought, of receiving any good from them in return.
There is this difference, however, between the race of
man and those of the inferior animals—namely, that in his case the instinct,
or at least a natural desire which is in some respects analogous to an
instinct, prompting him to repay to his parents the benefits which he
received from them in youth—comes in due time; while in that of the lower
animals—it seems never to come at all. The little birds, after opening their
mouths so wide every time the mother comes to the nest during all the weeks
while their wings are growing, fly away when they are grown, without the
least care or concern for the anxiety and distress of the mother occasioned
by their imprudent flights; and once away and free, never come back, so far
as we know, to make any return to their mother for watching over them,
sheltering them with her body and working so indefatigably to provide them
with food during the helpless period of their infancy. They still less to
seek and protect and feed her in her old age. But the boy, reckless as he
sometimes seems in his boyhood, insensible apparently to his obligations to
his mother—and little mindful of her wishes or of her feelings—his affection
for her showing itself mainly in his readiness to go to her with all his
needs, and in all his troubles and sorrows—will begin, when he has arrived
at maturity and no longer needs her aid, to remember with gratitude the past
aid that she has rendered him. The current of affection in his heart will
turn and flow the other way. Instead of wishing to receive—he will
now only wish to give. If she is in need—he will do all he can to
supply her. If she is in sorrow—he will be happy if he can do anything to
comfort her. He will send her memorials of his gratitude—and objects of
comfort and embellishment for her home—and will watch with solicitude and
sincere affection over her declining years.
And all this change, if not the result of a new instinct
which reaches its development only when the period of maturity arrives—is
the unfolding of a sentiment of the heart, belonging essentially to the
nature of the subject of it as man. It is true that this capacity may, under
certain circumstances, be very feebly developed. In some cases, indeed, it
would seem that it was scarcely developed at all; but there is a provision
for it in the nature of man, while there is no provision for it at all in
the sentient principles of the lower animals.
'Advancing the Development of the Sentiment of
Now, although parents must not be impatient at the slow
appearance of this feeling in their children—and must not be troubled in its
not appearing before its time—they can do much by proper efforts to
cultivate its growth—and give it an earlier and a more powerful influence
over them, than it would otherwise manifest. The mode of doing this is the
same as in all other cases of the cultivation of moral sentiments in
children—and that is by the influence over them of sympathy with those they
love. Just as the way to cultivate in the minds of children a feeling of
pity for those who are in distress is not to preach it as a duty—but to make
them love you—and then show such pity yourself; and the way to make them
angry and revengeful in character—if we can conceive of your being actuated
by so wicked a desire—would be often to express violent resentment yourself,
with scowling looks and fierce denunciations against those who have offended
you. Just so, to awaken them to sentiments of gratitude for the favors they
receive, you must gently lead them to sympathize with you in the gratitude
which 'you' feel for the favors that 'you' receive.
When a child shows some special unwillingness to comply
with her mother's desires, her mother may address to her a kind but direct
and plain expostulation on the obligations of children to their parents—and
the duty incumbent on them of being grateful for their kindness—and to be
willing to do what they can in return. Such an address would probably do no
good at all. The child would receive it simply as a scolding, no matter how
mildly and gently the reproof might be expressed—and would shut her heart
against it. It is something which she must stand still and endure—and that
But let the mother say the same things precisely when the
child has shown a willingness to make some little sacrifice to aid or to
gratify her mother, so that the sentiment expressed may enter her mind in
the form of approval and not of condemnation—and the effect will be very
different. The sentiments will, at any rate, now not be rejected from the
mind—but the way will be open for them to enter—and the conversation will
have a good effect, so far as didactic teaching can have effect in such a
But now to bring in the element of sympathy as a
means of reaching and influencing the mind of the child. The mother, we will
suppose, standing at the door some morning before breakfast in spring, with
her little daughter, seven or eight years old, by her side, hears a bird
singing on a tree near by. She points to the tree—and says, in a
When the sound ceases, she looks to the child with an
expression of pleasure upon her countenance—and says, "Suppose we give that
bird some crumbs because he has been singing us such a pretty song."
"Well!" says the child.
"Would you?" asks the mother.
"Yes, mother, I should like to give him some very much.
Do you suppose he sang the song for us?"
"I don't 'know' that he did," replies the mother. "We
don't know exactly what the birds mean by all their singing. They take some
pleasure in seeing us, I think, or else they would not come so much around
our house; and I don't know but that this bird's song may come from some
kind of joy or gladness he felt in seeing us come to the door. At any rate,
it will be a pleasure to us to give him some crumbs to pay him for his
The child will think so too—and will run off joyfully to
bring a piece of bread to form crumbs to be scattered upon the path.
And the whole transaction will have the effect of
awakening and nourishing the sentiment of gratitude in her heart. The effect
will not be great, it is true—but it will be of the right kind. It will be a
drop of water upon the unfolding leafs of a seed just peeping up out of the
ground, which will gain vigor below, after you have gone away—and give the
little roots a new impulse of growth. For when you have left the child
seated upon the door-step, occupied in throwing out the crumbs to the bird,
her heart will be occupied with the thoughts you have put into it—and the
sentiment of gratitude for kindness received will commence its course
of development, if it had not commenced it before.
'The Case of older Children'.
Of course the employment of such an occasion as this of
the singing of a little bird, and such a conversation in respect to it for
cultivating the sentiment of gratitude in the heart, is adapted only to the
case of quite a young child. For older children, while the principle is the
same, the circumstances and the manner of treating the case must be adapted
to a maturer age. Robert, for example—twelve years of age—had been sick—and
during his convalescence his sister Mary, two years older than himself, had
been very assiduous in her attendance upon him. She had waited upon him at
his meals—and brought him books and playthings, from time to time, to amuse
him. After he had fully recovered his health, he was sitting in the garden,
one sunny morning in the spring, with his mother—and she said, "How kind
Mary was to you while you were sick!"
"Yes," said Robert, "she was very kind indeed."
"If you would like to do something for her in return,"
continued his mother, "I'll tell you what would be a good plan."
Robert, who, perhaps, without this conversation would not
have thought particularly of making any return, said he would like to do
something for her very much.
"Then," said his mother, "you might make her a garden. I
can mark off a place for a bed for her, large enough to hold a number of
kinds of flowers—and then you can dig it up—and rake it over—and lay it off
into little beds—and sow the seeds. I'll buy the seeds for you. I would like
to do something towards making the garden for her, for she helped me a great
deal, as well as you, in the care she took of you."
"Well," said Robert, "I'll do it."
"You are well and strong now, so you can do it pretty
easily," added the mother; "I think it would please her very much as an
expression of your gratitude and love for her."
"Yes," said Robert, "I would like to do it myself—and I
will begin this very day."
And yet, if his mother had not made the suggestion, he
would probably not have thought of making any such return, or even any
return at all, for his sister's devoted kindness to him when he was sick. In
other words, the sentiment of gratitude was in his heart, or, rather, the
capacity for it was there—but it needed a little fostering care to
bring it out into action. And the thing to be observed is, that by this
fostering care, it was not only brought out at the time—but, by being thus
brought out and drawn into action, it was strengthened and made to grow, so
as to be ready to come out itself without being called, on the next
occasion. It was like a little plant just coming out of the ground under
influences not altogether favorable. It needs a little help and
encouragement; and the aid that is given by a few drops of water at the
right time, will bring it forward and help it to attain soon such a degree
of strength and vigor as will make it independent of all external aid.
But there must be consideration, tact, a proper regard to
circumstances, and, above all, there must be no secret and selfish ends
concealed, on the part of the mother in such cases. You may deluge and
destroy your little plant by throwing on the water roughly or crudely! Or,
in the case of a boy upon whose mind you seem to be endeavoring to produce
some moral result, you may really have in view some object of your own—your
interest in the moral result, being only a pretense.
For instance, Egbert, under circumstances similar to
those recited above—in respect to the sickness of the boy—and the kind
attentions of his sister—came to his mother one afternoon for permission to
go a-fishing with some other boys who had called for him. He was full of
excitement and enthusiasm at the idea. But his mother was not willing to
allow him to go. The weather was lowering. She thought that he had not yet
fully recovered his health; and she was afraid of other dangers. Instead of
saying calmly, after a moment's reflection, to show that her answer was a
deliberate one, that he could not go—and then quietly and firmly—but without
assigning any reasons, adhering to her decision—a course which, though it
could not have saved the boy from emotions of disappointment, would be the
best for making those feelings as light and as brief in duration as
possible—began to argue the case thus; "Oh no, Egbert, I would not go
a-fishing this afternoon, if I were you. I think it is going to rain.
Besides, it is a nice cool day to work in the garden—and Lucy would like
very much, to have her garden made. You know that she was very kind to you
when you were sick—how many things she did for you; and preparing a garden
for her, would be such a nice way of making her a return. I am sure you
would not wish to show yourself ungrateful for so much kindness."
Then follows a discussion of some minutes, in which
Egbert, in a fretful and pestering tone, persists in urging his desire to go
a-fishing. He can make the garden, he says—some other day. His mother
finally yields, though with great unwillingness, doing all she can to
extract all graciousness and sweetness from her consent—and to spoil the
pleasure of the excursion to the boy, by saying as he goes away, that she is
sure he ought not to go—and that she shall be uneasy about him all the time
that he is gone.
Now it is plain that such management as this, though it
takes ostensibly the form of a plea on the part of the mother in favor of a
sentiment of gratitude in the heart of the boy, can have no effect in
nourishing and bringing forward into life any such sentiment of gratitude,
even if it should be already existent there in a nascent state; but can only
tend to make the object of it more selfish and heartless than ever.
Thus the art of cultivating the sentiment of gratitude,
as is the case in all other departments of moral training, cannot be taught
by definite lessons or learned by rote. It demands tact and skill—and, above
all, an honest and full sincerity. The mother must really look to—and aim
for the actual moral effect in the heart of the child—and not merely make
formal efforts ostensibly for this end—but really to accomplish some
temporary object of her own. Children easily see through all covert
intentions of any kind. They sometimes play the hypocrite themselves—but
they are always great detectors of hypocrisy in others!
But gentle and cautious efforts of the right kind—such as
require no high attainments on the part of the mother—but only the right
spirit—will in time work wonderful effects. And the mother who perseveres in
them—and who does not expect the fruits too soon—will watch with great
interest for the time to arrive, when her boy will spontaneously, from the
promptings of his own heart, take some real trouble, or submit to some real
privation or self-denial, to give pleasure to her. She will then enjoy the
double gratification— first, of receiving the pleasure, whatever it may be,
that her boy has procured for her; and also the joy of finding that the
tender plant which she has watched and watered so long—and which for a time
seemed so frail that she almost despaired of its ever coming to any good—is
really advanced to the stage of beginning to bear fruit—and giving her a
pledge of the abundant fruits which she may confidently expect from it in
Chapter 23. Religious Training.
It has been my aim in this volume to avoid, as far as
possible, all topics involving controversy—and only to present such truths,
and to elucidate such principles, as can be easily made to commend
themselves to the good sense and the favorable appreciation of all the
classes of minds likely to be found among the readers of the work. There are
certain very important aspects of religious training, which may be
presented, I think, without any serious deviation from this policy.
'In what True Piety consists'.
Indeed—I think there is far more real, than
seeming agreement among parents in respect to this subject; or rather a
large portion of the apparent difference consists in different modes of
expressing in words thoughts and conceptions connected with spiritual
things, which none of them, from their very nature—be adequately expressed
in language at all. And thus it happens that what are substantially the same
ideas are customarily clothed by different classes of people in very
different phraseology; while, on the other hand, the same set of phrases
actually represent in different minds very different sets of ideas.
For instance, there is perhaps universal agreement in the
idea that some kind of change—a change, too, of a very important
character—is implied in the implanting or developing of the spirit of piety
in the heart of a child. There is also universal agreement in the fact—often
very emphatically asserted in the New Testament—that the essential
principles in which true piety consists are those of entire submission in
all things to the will of God—and cordial kind feeling towards every
man. There is endless disagreement—and much earnest contention among
different denominations of Christians, in respect to the means by which the
implanting of these principles is to be secured—and to the modes in which,
when implanted, they will manifest themselves. But there is not, so far as
would appear, any dissent whatever anywhere from the opinion that the end to
be aimed at is the implanting of these principles—that is that it consists
in bringing the heart to a state of complete and cordial submission to
the authority and to the will of God—and to a sincere regard for the welfare
and happiness of every human being.
'A Question of Words'
There seems, at first view, to be a special difference of
opinion in respect to the nature of the process by which these principles
come to be implanted or developed in the minds of the young; for all must
admit that in early infancy they are not there, or, at least, that
they do not appear.
No one would expect to find in two infants—twin-brothers,
we will suppose—creeping on the floor, with one apple between them, that
there could be, at that age, any principles of right or justice, or of
brotherly love existing in their hearts, that could prevent their both
crying and quarreling for it. "True," says one; "but there are germs of
those principles which, in time, will be developed." "No," rejoins another,"
there are no 'germs' of them, there are only 'capacities' for them, through
which, by Divine power, the germs may hereafter be introduced." But when we
reflect upon the difficulty of forming any clear and practical idea of the
difference between a 'germ'—in a bud upon an apple-tree, for instance—which
may ultimately produce fruit—and a 'capacity' for producing it which may
subsequently be developed—and still more, how difficult is it to picture to
our minds what is represented by these words in the case of a human soul—it
would seem as if the apparent difference in people's opinions on such a
point must be less a difference in respect to facts, than in respect to the
phraseology by which the facts should be represented.
And there would seem to be confirmation of this view in
the fact that the great apparent difference among men in regard to their
theoretical views of human nature—does not seem to produce any marked
difference in their action in practically dealing with it. Some parents, it
is true, habitually treat their children with gentleness, kindness and love;
others are harsh and severe in all their interactions with their children.
But we would find, on investigation, that such differences have very slight
connection with the theoretical views of the nature of the human soul, which
the parents respectively entertain. Parents who in their theories seem to
think the worst of the native tendencies of the human heart, are often as
kind and considerate and loving in their dealings with it as any. While no
one would be at all surprised to find another, who is very firm in his
belief in the native tendency of childhood to good, showing himself, in
practically dealing with the actual conduct of children—to be fretful,
impatient, complaining—and very ready to recognize, in fact, tendencies
which in theory he seems to deny.
And so, two bank directors—or members of the board of
management of any industrial undertaking, when they meet in the street on
Sunday, in returning from their respective places of public worship, if they
fall into conversation on the moral nature of man, may find, or think they
find, that they differ extremely in their views—and may even think each
other bigoted or heretical, as the case may be; but yet the next day, when
they meet at a session of their board—and come to the work of actually
dealing with the conduct and the motives of men, they may find that there is
'practically' no difference between them whatever. Or, if there should be
any difference, such as would show itself in a greater readiness in one than
in the other to place confidence in the promises or to confide in the
integrity of men—the difference would, in general, have no perceptible
relation whatever to the difference in the theological phraseology which
they have been accustomed to hear and to assent to in their respective
churches. All which seems to indicate, as has already been said—that the
difference in question is rather apparent than real—and that
it implies less actual disagreement about the facts of human nature, than
diversity in the phraseology by which the facts are represented.
'Agency of the Divine Spirit'.
It may, however, be said that in this respect, if not in
any other, there is a radical difference among parents in respect to human
nature, in relation to the religious education of children—namely, that some
think that the implanting of the right principles of repentance for all
wrong-doing—and sincere desires for the future to conform in all things to
the will of God—and seek the happiness and welfare of men, cannot come
except by a special act of Divine intervention—and is utterly beyond the
reach—in respect to any actual efficiency—of all human instrumentalities.
This is no doubt true; but it is also no less true in respect to all the
powers and capacities of the human soul, as well as to those pertaining to
moral and religious duty. If the soul itself is the product of the creative
agency of God—'all' its powers and faculties must be so—and, consequently,
the development of them all—and there certainly can be no reason for making
the sentiment of true and genuine piety an exception—must be the work of the
same creative power.
But someone may say. There is, however, after all, a
difference; for while we all admit that both the original entrance of the
embryo soul into existence—and every step of its subsequent progress and
development, including the coming into being and into action of all its
various faculties and powers, are the work of the Supreme creative power—the
commencement of the divine life in the soul is, in a 'special and peculiar
sense', the work of the Divine hand.
And this also is doubtless true; at least, there is a
certain important truth expressed in that statement. And yet when we attempt
to picture to our minds two modes of Divine action, one of which is special
and peculiar—and the other is not so, we are very likely to find ourselves
bewildered and confused—and we soon perceive that in making such inquiries
we are going out of our depth—or, in other words, are attempting to pass
beyond the limits which mark the present boundaries of human knowledge.
In view of these thoughts and suggestions, in the truth
of which it would seem that all reasonable people must concur, we may
reasonably conclude that all parents who are willing to look simply at the
facts—and who are not too much confined by the forms of phraseology to which
they are accustomed, must agree in admitting the substantial soundness of
the following principles relating to the religious education of children.
'Order of Development in respect to different
Propensities and Powers'.
1. We must not expect any perceptible awakening of the
moral and pious sentiments too soon—nor feel discouraged and disheartened
because they do not earlier appear; for, like all the other higher
attributes of the soul, pious sentiments pertain to a portion of the mental
structure, which is not early developed. It is the group of purely animal
propensities, which first show themselves in the young—and those even, as we
see in the young of the lower animals, generally appear somewhat in the
order in which they are required for the individual's good.
Birds just hatched from the egg seem to have, for the
first few days, only one instinct ready for action—that of opening
their mouths wide at the approach of anything towards their nest. Even this
instinct is so imperfect and immature that it cannot distinguish between the
coming of their mother and the appearance of the face of a boy peering down
upon them, or even the rustling of the leaves around them by a stick. In
process of time, as their wings become formed, another instinct begins to
appear—that of desiring to use the wings and come forth into the air. The
development of this instinct and the growth of the wings advance together.
Later still, when the proper period of maturity arrives, other instincts
appear as they are required—such as the love of a mate, the desire to
construct a nest—and the principle of maternal affection.
Now there is something analogous to this in the order of
development to be observed in the progress of the human being through the
period of infancy to that of maturity—and we must not look for the
development of any power or susceptibility before its time—nor be too much
troubled if we find that, in the first two or three years of life, the
animal propensities—which are more advanced in respect to the organization
which they depend upon—seem sometimes to overpower the higher sentiments and
principles, which, so far as the capacity for them exists at all, must be
yet in embryo. We must be willing to wait for each to be developed in its
own appointed time.
'Dependence upon Divine Aid'.
2. Anyone who is ready to feel and to acknowledge his
dependence upon Divine aid for anything whatever in the growth and
preservation of his child, will surely be ready to do so in respect to the
work of developing or awakening in his heart the principles of piety—since
it must be admitted by all that the human soul is the highest of all the
manifestations of Divine power—and that that portion of its structure on
which the existence and exercise of the moral and pious sentiments depend,
is the crowning glory of it. It is right, therefore, that if the parent
feels and acknowledges his dependence upon Divine power in anything, he
should specially feel and acknowledge it here; while there is nothing so
well adapted as a deep sense of this dependence—and a devout and habitual
recognition of it—and reliance upon it—to give earnestness and efficiency to
his efforts, and to furnish a solid ground of hope that they will be crowded
'The Christian Paradox'.
3. The great principle so plainly taught in the Sacred
Scriptures—namely, that while we depend upon the exercise of Divine power
for the success of all our efforts for our own spiritual improvement or that
of others, just as if we could do nothing ourselves—that we must do
everything that is possible ourselves, just us if nothing was to be expected
from Divine power. This may be called the Christian paradox. "Work out your
own salvation with fear and trembling—for it is God who works in you both to
will and to do." It would seem, it might be thought, much more logical to
say, "Work out your own salvation—for there is nobody to help you." Or, "It
is not necessary to make any effort yourselves—for it is God that works in
you." It seems strange and paradoxical to say, "Work out your own salvation,
for it is God who works in you both to will and to do."
But in this, as in all other paradoxes, the difficulty is
in the explanation of the theory—and not in the practical working of it.
The Christian paradox gives rise to a great deal of
metaphysical floundering and bewilderment among young theologians in their
attempts to vindicate and explain it—but the humble-minded Christian parent
finds no difficulty in practice. It comes very easy to him to do all he
can, just as if everything depended upon his efforts—and at the same time to
cast all his care upon God, just as if there was nothing at all that he
himself could do.
'Means must be Right Means'.
4. We are apt to imagine—or, at least, to act
sometimes, as if we imagined—that our dependence upon the Divine aid for
what our Savior, Jesus, designated as the new birth, makes some difference
in the obligation on our part to employ such means as are naturally adapted
to the end in view. If a gardener, for example, were to pour sand
from his watering-pot upon his flowers, in time of drought, instead of
water, he might make something like a plausible defense of his action,
in reply to a remonstrance, thus: "I have no power to make the
flowers grow and bloom. The secret processes on which the successful result
depends are altogether beyond my reach—and in the hands of God—and he can
just as easily bless one kind of instrumentality as another. I am bound to
do something, it is true, for I must not be idle and inert; but God, if he
chooses to do so, can easily bring out the flowers into beauty and bloom,
however imperfect and ill-adapted the instrumentalities I use may be. He can
as easily make use, for this purpose, of sand as of water."
Now, although there may be a certain plausibility in this
reasoning, such conduct would appear to everyone totally absurd; and yet
many parents seem to act on a similar principle. A mother who is from time
to time, during the week, fretful and impatient, evincing no sincere and
hearty consideration for the feelings, still less for the substantial
welfare and happiness, of those dependent upon her; who shows her lack of
submission to the will of God, by complaints and repinings at anything
disturbing which befalls her; and who evinces a selfish love for her own
gratification—her dresses, her personal pleasures, and her fashionable
standing; and then, as a means of securing the salvation of her children, is
very strict, when Sunday comes, in enforcing upon them the study of their
Sunday lessons, or in requiring them to read good books, or in repressing on
that day any undue exuberance of their spirits—relying upon the blessing
of God upon her endeavors—will be very apt to find, in the end, that she
has been watering her delicate flowers with sand!
The means which we use to awaken or impart the feelings
of sorrow for sin, submission to God, and cordial good-will to man—in which
all true piety consists—must be means that are 'appropriate in themselves'
to the accomplishment of the end intended. The means must be water—and
not sand—applied with judgment, discrimination, and tact. The
principle is—that the means must be an appropriate one—that is, one
indicated by a wise consideration of the circumstances of the case—and of
the natural characteristics of the childish mind.
'Power of Sympathy'.
5. In respect to pious influence over the minds of
children, as in all other departments of early training, the tendency to
sympathetic action between the heart of the child and the parent is the
great source of the parental influence and power. The principle, "Make a
young person love you—and then simply 'be' in his presence what you wish him
to be," is the secret of success.
The tendency of young children to become what they see
those around them whom they love are, seems to be altogether the most
universally acting and the most powerful of the influences on which the
formation of the character depends; and yet it is remarkable that we have no
really appropriate name for it. We call it sometimes sympathy; but
the word sympathy is associated more frequently in our minds with the idea
of compassionate participation in the sufferings of those we love. Sometimes
we term it a spirit of imitation—but that phrase implies rather a
conscious effort to 'act' like those whom we love, than that involuntary
tendency to 'become' like them—which is the real character of the principle
in question. We mean a willing, spontaneous and even unconscious tendency
to 'become what those around us are'. This tendency is very strong in
the young while the opening faculties are in the course of formation and
development—and it is immensely strengthened by the influence of love.
Whatever, therefore, a mother wishes her child to be—whether a sincere,
honest Christian, submissive to God's will and conscientious in the
discharge of every duty—or proud, vain, deceitful, hypocritical, and
pharisaical—she has only to be either the one or the other
herself—and without any special teaching—her child will be pretty sure to be
a good copy of the model.
6. If the principle above stated is correct—it helps to
explain why so little good effect is ordinarily produced by what may be
called instruction in theological truth on the minds of the young. Any
system of theological truth, consists of grand generalizations, which, like
all other generalizations, are very interesting—and often very profitable,
to mature minds, especially to minds of a certain class. But they are not
appreciable by children—and can only in general be received by them as words
to be fixed in the memory by rote. Particulars first, generalizations
afterwards, is, or ought to be, the order of progress in all acquisition of
This certainly has been the course pursued by the Divine
Spirit in the moral training of the human race. There is very little
systematic theology in the Old Testament—and it requires a considerable
degree of ingenuity— to see as much doctrine as the theologians desire to
find even in the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is very well to exercise this
ingenuity, and the systematic results which are to be obtained by it may be
very interesting, and very beneficial—to those whose minds are mature enough
to enter into and appreciate them. But they are not adapted to the spiritual
needs of children—and can only be received by them, if they are received at
all—in a dry, formal, mechanical manner.
Read, therefore, the stories in the Old Testament, or the
parables and discourses of Jesus in the New Testament, without attempting to
draw many inferences from them in the way of theoretical belief—but simply
to bring out to the mind and heart of the child the moral point intended in
each particular case—and the heart of the child will be touched—and he will
receive an 'element' of instruction which he can arrange and group with
others in theological generalization by-and-by, when his faculties have
advanced to the generalizing stage.
'No repulsive personal applications'.
7. In reading the Scriptures—and, indeed, in all forms of
giving religious counsel or instruction, we must generally beware of
presenting the thoughts that we communicate in the form of reproachful
personal application. There may be exceptions to this rule—but it is
undoubtedly, in general, a sound one. For the work which we have to do, is
not to attempt to drive the heart from the wrong to the right, by any
repellent action which the wrong may be made to exert—but to allure
it by an attractive action with which the right may be invested. We must,
therefore, present the incidents and instructions of the Word in their
alluring aspect—assuming, in a great measure, that our little pupil will
feel pleasure with us in the manifestations of the right—and will sympathize
with us in disapproval of the wrong. To secure them to our side, in the
views which we take, we must show a disposition to 'take' them to it by an
Our Savior set us an excellent example of relying on the
superior efficiency of the bond of sympathy and love in its power over
the hearts of children, as compared with that of formal theological
instruction, in the few glimpses which we have of his mode of dealing with
them. When they brought little children to him, he did not begin to expound
to them the principles of the government of God, or the theoretical aspects
of the way of salvation; but took them 'up in his arms and blessed them'—and
called the attention of the bystanders at the same time to qualities and
characteristics which they possessed, which he seemed to regard with special
affection—and which others must imitate to be fit for the kingdom of God. Of
course the children went away pleased and happy from such an interview—and
would be made ready by it to receive gladly to their hearts any truths or
sentiments which they might subsequently hear attributed to one who was so
kind a friend to them.
If, however, instead of this, he had told them—no
matter in what kind and gentle tones—that they had very wicked hearts, which
must be changed before either God or any good man could truly love them—and
that this change could only be produced by a power which they could only
understand to be one external to themselves—and that they must earnestly
pray for it every day—how different would have been the effect! They
would have listened in mute distress, would have been glad to make their
escape when the conversation was ended—and would shrink from ever seeing or
hearing again one who placed himself in an attitude so uncongenial to them.
They might have had yet only such appetites and
propensities developed within them as would, if these thoughts continued to
hold paramount control over them all their lives—make them selfish,
unfeeling and wicked men; and that they were, in a special though mysterious
manner, dependent on the Divine power for bringing into action within them
other and nobler principles.
And so, if a physician were called in to see a sick
child, he might see that it was in desperate danger—and that unless
something could be done—and that speedily, to arrest the disease, his little
patient would be dead in a few hours. And yet to overwhelm that poor child
with terror and distress, would not be a very suitable course of procedure
for averting the apprehended result.
'Promised Rewards and threatened Punishments'.
8. It is necessary to be extremely moderate and cautious
in employing the influence of promised rewards or threatened
punishments, as a means of promoting early piety. In a religious point
of view, as in every other, goodness that is bought is only a pretense of
goodness—is, in reality—no goodness at all. And as it is true that love
casts out fear, so it is also true that fear casts out love.
Suppose, though it is almost too violent a supposition to
be made even for illustration's sake—that the whole Christian world could be
suddenly led to believe that there was to be no happiness or suffering at
all for them beyond the grave—and that the inducement to be grateful to God
for his goodness and submissive to his will—and to be warmly interested in
the welfare and happiness of man—were henceforth to rest on the intrinsic
excellence of those principles—and to their constituting essentially the
highest and noblest development of the moral and spiritual nature of man. In
such a case, how many of the professed disciples of Jesus would abandon
their present devotion to the cause of love to God and love to man? Not
one—except the hypocrites and pretenders!
The truth is, that as piety which is genuine and sincere
must rest on very different foundations, from hope of future reward or fear
of future punishment; so this hope and this fear are very unsuitable
instrumentalities to be relied on for awakening it. The kind of
gratitude to God which we wish to cherish in the mind of a child is not such
as would be awakened towards an earthly benefactor by saying—in the case of
a present made by an uncle, for instance—"Your uncle has made you a
beautiful present. Go and thank him very cordially—and perhaps you will get
another." It is rather of a kind which might be induced by saying, "Your
uncle, who has been so kind to you in past years, is poor and sick—and can
never do anything more for you now. Would you like to go and sit in his
sick-room to show your love for him—and to be ready to help him if he needs
True piety, in a word, which consists in entering into
and steadily maintaining the right moral and spiritual relations with God
and man—marks the highest condition which the possibilities of human nature
allow—and must rest in the soul which attains to it on a very different
foundation from anything like hope or fear. That there is a function which
it is the province of hope or fear to fulfill, is abundantly proved by the
use that is sometimes made of them in the Scriptures. But the more we
reflect upon the subject, the more we shall be convinced, I think, that all
such considerations ought to be kept very much in the back-ground in our
dealings with children.
If a child is sick—and is even likely to die, it is a
very serious question whether any warning given to him of his danger will
not operate as a hindrance rather than a help, in awakening those feelings
which will constitute the best state of preparation for the change. For a
sense of gratitude to God for his goodness—and to the Savior for the
sacrifice which he made for his sake, penitence for his sins, and trust in
the forgiving mercy of his Maker—are the feelings to be awakened in his
bosom; and these, so far as they exist, will lead him to lie quietly, calmly
and submissively in God's hands, without anxiety in respect to what is
before him. It is a serious question whether an entire uncertainty as to the
time when his death is to come, is not more favorable to the awakening of
these feelings, than the state of alarm and distress which would be excited,
by the thought that it was near.
'The Reasonableness of Gentle Measures in Religious
The mother may sometimes derive from certain religious
considerations, the idea that she is bound to look upon the moral
delinquencies and dangers which she observes in her children, under an
aspect more stern and severe, than seems to be recommended here in this
book. But a little reflection must convince us, that the way to true
repentance of, and turning from sin—is not necessarily through the suffering
of terror and distress. The Gospel is not an instrumentality for producing
terror and distress, even as means to an end. It is an instrumentality for
saving us from these ills; and the Divine Spirit, in the hidden and
mysterious influence which it exercises in forming, or transforming, the
human soul into the image of God—must be as ready, it would seem, to
sanction and bless efforts made by a mother to allure her child away
from its sins, by loving and gentle invitations and encouragements—as any
attempts to drive her from them, by the agency of terror or pain. It
would seem that no one who remembers the way in which Jesus Christ dealt
with the children who were brought to him could possibly have any doubt of
Chapter 24. Conclusion.
Any person who has acquired the art of examining and
analyzing his own thoughts, will generally find that the mental pictures
which he forms of the landscapes, or the interiors, in which the scenes are
laid of the events or incidents related in any work of fiction which
interests him, are modeled more or less closely from prototypes previously
existing in his own mind—and generally upon those furnished by the
experiences of his childhood. If, for example, he reads an account of
transactions represented as taking place in an English palace or castle, he
will usually, on a careful scrutiny, find that the basis of his conception
of the scene is derived from the arrangement of the rooms of some fine house
with which he was familiar in early life. Thus, a great many things which
attract our attention—and impress themselves upon our memories in childhood,
become the models and prototypes—more or less aggrandized and improved,
perhaps—of the conceptions and images which we form in later years.
'Nature of the Effect produced by Early Impressions'.
Few people who have not specially reflected on this
subject, or examined closely the operations of their own minds, are aware
what an extended influence the images thus stored in the mind in
childhood, have in forming the basis, or furnishing the elements of the
mental structures of future life. But the truth, when once understood, shows
of what vast importance it is with what images the youthful mind is to be
stored. A child who ascends a lofty mountain, under favorable circumstances
in his childhood, has his conceptions of all the mountain scenery that he
reads of, or hears of through life, modified and aggrandized by the
impression made upon his sensorium at this early stage. Take your daughter,
who has always, we will suppose, lived in the country, on an excursion with
you to the sea-shore—and allow her to witness for an hour, as she sits in
silence on the cliff, the surf rolling in incessantly upon the beach—and
infinitely the smallest part of the effect, is that one day's
gratification which you have given her. That is comparatively nothing.
You have made a life-long change, if not in the very structure, at least in
the permanent furnishing of her mind—and performed a work which can never by
any possibility be undone. The images which have been awakened in her mind,
the emotions connected with them—and the effect of these images and emotions
upon her faculties of imagination and conception, will infuse a life into
them which will make her a different being as long as she lives.
'The Nature and Origin of general Ideas'.
It is the same substantially in respect to all those
abstract and general ideas on moral or other kindred subjects which
constitute the mental furnishing of the adult man—and have so great an
influence in the formation of his habits of thought and of his character.
They are chiefly formed from combinations of the impressions made in
childhood. A person's idea of justice, for instance, or of
goodness—is a generalization of the various instances of justice or
goodness which ever came to his knowledge; and of course, among the
materials of this generalization, those instances which were brought to his
mind during the impressible years of childhood must have taken a very
prominent part. Every story, therefore, which you relate to a child to
exemplify the principles of justice or goodness takes its place, or, rather,
the impression which it makes takes its place, as one of the elements out of
which the ideas that are to govern his future life are formed.
'Vast Importance and Influence of this mental
The ideas and generalizations thus mainly formed from the
images and impressions received in childhood become, in later years, the
elements of the machinery, so to speak, by which all his mental operations
are performed. Thus they seem to constitute more than the mere furniture of
the mind; they form, as it were, almost a part of the structure itself. So
true, indeed, is this—and so engrossing a part does what remains in the mind
of former impressions play in its subsequent action—that some
philosophers have maintained that the whole of the actual consciousness of
man consists only in the 'resultant' of all these impressions preserved more
or less imperfectly by the memory—and made to mingle together in one
infinitely complicated but harmonious whole. Without going to any such
extreme as this, we can easily see, on reflection, how vast an influence on
the ideas and conceptions, as well as on the principles of
action in mature years, must be exerted by the nature and character of
the images which the period of infancy and childhood impresses upon the
mind. All parents should, therefore, feel that it is not merely the
present welfare and happiness of their child which is concerned in their
securing to him a tranquil and happy childhood—but that his capacity for
enjoyment through life is greatly dependent upon it! They are, in a very
important sense, entrusted with the work of building up the structure of his
soul for all time! It is incumbent upon them, with reference to the
future as well as to the present—to be very careful what
materials they allow to go into the work, as well as in what manner they lay
Among the other bearings of this thought, it gives great
weight to the importance of employing gentle measures in the
management and training of the young, provided that such measures can be
made effectual in the accomplishment of the end. The pain produced by
an act of hasty and angry violence to which a father subjects his son may
soon pass away—but the memory of it does not pass away with the pain.
Even the remembrance of it may at length fade from the mind—but there is
still an 'effect' which does not pass away with the remembrance. Every
strong impression which you make upon his perceptive powers, must have a
very lasting influence—and even the impression itself may, in some cases, be
Let us, then, take care that these impressions shall be,
as far as possible, such as shall be sources of enjoyment for them in future
years. It is true that we 'must' govern them. They are committed to our
charge during the long time which is required for the gradual unfolding of
their youthful powers, for the express purpose that during that interval
they may be guided by our reason—and not by their own. We cannot
surrender this trust. But there is a way of faithfully fulfilling the duties
of it—if we have discernment to see it—and skill to follow it—which will
make the years of their childhood years of tranquility and happiness, both
to ourselves and to them.