Two Systems of Child Training
By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1853
"It's no use to talk; I can't do it! The idea of punishing a child in cold blood, makes me shiver all over. I certainly think that, in the mind of anyone who can do it, there must be a latent vein of cruelty in their hearts!"
This remark was made by Mrs. Stanley, to her friend and visitor Mrs. Noland.
"I have known parents," she continued, "who would go about executing some punishment with a coolness and deliberation that to me was frightful. No promise, no appeal, no tear of alarm or agony, from the penitent little culprit — would have the least effect with them. The law must be fulfilled, even to the jot and tittle!"
"The disobedient child, doubtless, knew the law," remarked Mrs. Noland.
"Perhaps so. But even if it did, great allowance ought to be made for the ardor with which children seek the gratification of their desires, and the readiness with which they forget."
"No parent should lay down a law not right in itself; nor one command which was not good for the child."
"But it is very hard to do this. We have not the wisdom of Solomon. Every day, nay, almost every hour, we err in judgment; and especially in a matter so little understood as the management of children."
"Better, then, have very few laws — and them, of the clearest kind. But, having them — implicit obedience should be exacted. At least, that is my rule."
"And you punish for every infraction?"
"Certainly. But, I am always sure that the child is fully aware of his fault, and let my punishment be proportional according to the willfulness of the act."
"And you do this coolly?"
"Oh, yes. I never punish a child while I am excited with a feeling of anger for the offence."
"If I waited for that to pass off, I could never punish one of my children."
"Do you find, under this system, that your children are growing up orderly and obedient?"
"No, indeed! Of course I do not. Who ever heard of orderly and obedient children! In fact, who would wish their children to be mere robots? I am sure that I would not. They are, by nature, restless, and rebel against control. It will not do to break down their young spirits. As for punishments, I don't believe much in them, any how. I have an idea that the less demands on them — the better. They harden children. Kindness, patience, and forbearance will accomplish a great deal more, and in the end be better for the child."
At this moment, a little fellow came sliding into the parlor, with a look that said plainly enough, "I know you don't want me here."
"Go outside, Charley, dear," said Mrs. Stanley, in a mild voice.
But Charley did not seem to notice his mother's words, for he continued advancing toward her, until he was by her side, when he paused and looked the visitor steadily in the face.
"Charley, you must go outside, my dear," said Mrs. Stanley, in a firmer and more decided voice.
But Charley only leaned more heavily against his mother, not heeding her words in the smallest degree. Knowing how impossible it would be to get the child out of the room, without a resort to anger — Mrs. Stanley said no more to him, but continued the conversation with her friend. She had only spoken a few words, however, before Charley interrupted her by saying —
"Mother! — Mother! — Give me a piece of cake!"
"No, my son. You have had cake enough this afternoon," replied Mrs. Stanley.
"Do, mother — do give me a piece of cake!"
"It will make you sick, Charley."
"No, it won't. Please give me some!"
"I had rather not."
"Yes, mother. Oh do! I want a piece of cake!"
"Go away, Charles, and don't bother me!"
There was a slight expression of impatience in the mother's voice. The child ceased his bothering for a few moments — but just as Mrs. Stanley had commenced a sentence, intended to embody some wise saying in regard to the management of children, the little boy broke in upon her with —
"I say, mother, give me a piece of cake!" in quite a loud voice.
Mrs. Stanley felt irritated by this importunity, but she governed herself. Satisfied that there would be no peace unless the cake were given, she said, looking affectionately at the child:
"Poor little fellow! I suppose he does feel hungry. I don't think another piece of cake will hurt him. Excuse me a moment, Mrs. Noland."
The cake was obtained by Charley in the very way he had, hundreds of times before, accomplished his purpose — that is, by badgering it out of his mother! For the next ten minutes the friends conversed, unmolested by Charley. At the end of that time, Charley again made his appearance.
"Go up into the nursery, and stay with Ellen," said Mrs. Stanley.
The child took no notice, whatever, of this direction, but walked steadily up to where his mother was sitting, saying, as he paused by her side —
"I want another piece of cake!"
"Not any more, my son."
"Yes, mother. Give me some more!"
"No!" This was spoken in a very serious way. Charley began to beg in a whining tone, which, not producing the desired effect — soon rose into a well-defined cry.
"I declare! I never saw such a hungry set as my children are. They will eat constantly from morning until night." Mrs. Stanley did not say this in the most amiable tone of voice.
"Mother! I want a piece of cake!" cried Charley.
"I'll give you one little piece more; but, remember, that it will be the last; so don't ask me again!"
Charley stopped crying at once. Mrs. Stanley went out with him. As soon as she was far enough from the parlor not to be heard, she took Charley by the shoulders, and giving him a violent shake, said —
"You little rebel, you! If you come into the parlor again, I'll skin you alive!"
The cake was given. Charley cared about as little for the threat as he did for the shaking. He had gained his end.
"I pray daily for patience to bear with my children," said Mrs. Stanley, on returning to the parlor. "They irritate us severely."
"That they do," replied Mrs. Noland. "But it is in our power, by firmness, consistency, and kindness — to render our tasks comparatively light."
"Perhaps so. I try to be firm, and consistent, and kind with my children; to exercise patience toward them; but, after all, it is very hard to know exactly how to govern them."
"Mother, can I go over into the square?" asked Emma, looking into the parlor just at this time. She was a little girl about eight years old.
"I would rather not have you go, my dear," returned Mrs. Stanley.
"Oh yes, mother, do let me go!" urged Emma.
"Ellen can't go with you now; and I do not wish you to go alone."
"I can go well enough alone, mother."
"Well, run along then, you intolerable little pest, you!"
Emma scampered away, and Mrs. Stanley remarked —
"That is the way. They gain their ends by constant badgering."
"But should you allow that, my friend?"
"There was no particular reason why Emma should not go to the square. I didn't think, at first, when I said I would rather not have her go — or I would have said 'yes' at once. It is so difficult to decide upon children's requests, on the spur of the moment."
"But after you had said that you did not want her to go to the square — would it not have been better to have made her abide by your wishes?"
"I don't think it would have been right for me to have deprived the child of the pleasure of playing in the square, from the mere pride of consistency. I was wrong in objecting at first — to have adhered to my objection, would have been still a greater wrong — don't you think so?"
"I do not," returned Mrs. Noland. "I know of no greater evil in a family, than for the children to discover that their parents vacillate in any matter regarding them. A denial once made to any request, should be decisive — even if, in a moment after, it is seen to have been made without sufficient reason."
"I cannot agree with you. Justice, I hold, to be paramount in all things. We should never wrong a child."
The third appearance of Charley again broke in upon the conversation.
"Give me another piece of cake, mother!"
"What! Didn't I tell you that there was no more for you? No! you cannot have another morsel!"
"I want more cake!" whined the child.
"Not a crumb more, child!"
The whine rose into a cry.
"Go upstairs, child!"
Charley did not move.
"Go this instant!"
"Give me some cake!"
The cry swelled into a loud bawl.
Mrs. Stanley became excessively annoyed. "I never saw such obstinate children in my life!" said she, impatiently. "They don't regard what I say, any more than if I had not spoken! Charles! Go out of the parlor this moment!"
The tone in which this was uttered, the child understood. He left the parlor slowly, but continued to cry at the top of his voice. The parlor bell was rung, and Ellen the nurse appeared.
"Do, Ellen, give that boy another piece of cake! There is no other way to keep him quiet!"
In about three minutes after this direction had been given, all was still again. Mrs. Stanley now changed the topic of conversation. Her manner was not quite so cheerful as before. The conduct of Charley had worried and embarrassed her.
The last piece of cake had not been really wanted. Charley asked for it, because a spirit of opposition had been aroused — but he had no appetite to eat it. It was crumbled around the floor and wasted. His mother had peace for the next hour. After that she went into the kitchen to give directions, and make some preparations for tea. Charley was by her side.
"Ellen, take this child out," said she.
Ellen took hold of Charley's arm.
"No! — no! — Go away Ellen!" he screamed.
"There! — there! — never mind. Let him stay," said the mother.
A jar of preserved fruit was brought forth.
"Give me some!" asked Charley.
"No, not now. You will get some at the table."
"I want some now. Give me some now!"
A spoonful of the preserves was put into a saucer, and given to the child.
"Give me some more!" said he, holding up his saucer in about half a minute.
"No. Wait until tea is ready."
"Give me some sweets. I want more, mother!"
"I tell you, no!"
A loud bawl followed.
"I declare this child will bother me to death!" exclaimed the mother, her mind all in confusion — scooping out a large spoonful of the fruit, and putting it into his saucer.
When this was eaten, still more was demanded — and instantly refused. Crying was resorted to, but without effect, though it was loud and deafening. Finding this unsuccessful, the spoiled rebel determined to help himself. As soon as his mother's back was turned — he clambered up to the table and seized the jar containing the preserves. In pulling it over far enough to get his spoon into it, he lost hold of it — and over it went, rolling off upon the floor, and breaking with a loud crash!
At the moment this occurred, Mrs. Stanley entered the room. Her patience, which had been severely tried, was now completely overthrown. She was angry enough to punish her child, and feel a delight in doing so. Seizing him by one arm, she lifted him from the floor, as if he had been but a feather, and hurried with him up to her chamber. There she whipped him unmercifully, and then put him to bed! He continued to cry after she had done so, when she commanded him to stop in a voice that he dared not disobey. An hour afterward, when much cooled down, she passed through the chamber. She looked down upon her little boy with a feeling of repentance for her anger, and the severity of her punishment. This feeling was in no way mitigated on hearing the child sob in his sleep. The mother felt very unhappy.
So much for Mrs. Stanley — so much for her tenderness of feeling — so much for her "kind" system of child training. Its effects need not be exposed further. Its folly need not be set in any plainer light.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Some weeks afterward she was spending an afternoon with Mrs. Noland. Her favorite topic was the management of children, and she introduced it as usual, inveighing as was her custom, against the cruelty of punishing children — especially in cold blood, as she called it. For her part, she never punished except in extreme cases, and not then, unless provoked to do so. Unless she felt angry, and punished on the spur of the moment — she could not do it at all. During the conversation, which was led pretty much by Mrs. Stanley, a child, about the age of Charley, came into the parlor. He walked up to his mother and whispered some request in her ear.
"Oh no, Henry." was the smiling, but decided reply.
The child lingered with a look of disappointment. At length he came up, and kissing his mother, asked again, in a sweet, earnest way, for what he had been at first denied.
"I said no!" And Mrs. Noland looked gravely into his face.
Tears came into Henry's eyes. But he said no more. In a moment or two, he silently left the room.
"Mrs. Noland! How could you resist that dear little fellow? I declare it was downright cruel in you."
The eyes of Mrs. Stanley glistened as she spoke.
"It would have been far more cruel to him if I had yielded, after once having said 'no' — far more cruel had I given him what I knew would have injured him."
"But, I don't see how you could refuse so dear a child, when he asked you in such a sweet, affectionate manner. I would have given him anything in the world he had asked for."
"That's not my way. I say 'no' only when I have good reason — and then I never change."
Henry appeared at the parlor door again.
"Come in, dear," said Mrs. Noland.
The child came quickly forward, put up his mouth to kiss her, and then nestled closely by his mother's side. The conversation continued, without the slightest interruption from him.
"Dear little fellow," said Mrs. Stanley, once or twice, looking into the child's face, and smoothing his hair with her hand.
When the tea-bell rang, the family assembled in the dining-room. A visitor made it necessary that one of the children should wait. Henry was by the table as usual.
"Henry, dear," said his mother, "you will have to wait and come with Ellen."
The child felt very much disappointed. He looked up into his mother's face for a moment, and then, without a word, went out of the room.
"Poor little fellow! It is really a pity to make him wait; and he is so good," said Mrs. Stanley. "I am sure we can make room for him. Do call him back, and let him sit by me."
And she moved close to one of the older children as she spoke. "Here is plenty of room."
Mrs. Noland thought for a moment, and then told the waiter to call Henry back. The child came in as quietly as he had gone out, and came up to his mother's side.
"My dear Henry," said Mrs. Noland, "this good lady here has made room for you by her side. You can go and sit by her."
The child's face brightened. He went quickly and took the offered seat. By the time tea was over, Henry had fallen asleep in his chair. Mrs. Noland, when all arose from the table, took Henry in her arms, and went with him, accompanied by Mrs. Stanley, to her chamber, where she undressed him, and kissing fondly his bright young cheek, laid him in his little bed.
Mrs. Stanley stood for some moments over the sleeping child, and looked down upon his calm face. As she did so — she remembered her own little Charley, and under what different circumstances and feelings he had been put to bed on the evening of Mrs. Noland's visit to her.
Whether the contrast did her any good, we have no means of knowing. We trust the lesson was not without its good effect upon her.