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 1. the Three Modes of Management
It is possible, that in the minds of some people the idea
of employing gentle measures in the management and training of children, may
seem to imply the abandonment of the principle of authority, as the basis of
the parental government, and the substitution of some weak and inefficient
system of artifice and maneuvering in its place. To suppose that the object
of this work is to aid in effecting such a substitution as that—is entirely
to mistake its nature and design. The only government of the parent over
the child that is worthy of the name, is one of authority—complete,
absolute, unquestioned authority. The object of this work is,
accordingly, not to show how the gentle methods which will be brought to
view can be employed as a substitute for such authority—but how they can be
made to aid in establishing and maintaining it.
There are three different modes of child-training,
customarily employed by parents as means of inducing their children to
comply with their requirements. They are,
1. Government by Maneuvering and Artifice.
2. Government by Reason and Affection.
3. Government by Authority.
1. Government by MANEUVERING and ARTIFICE.
Many mothers manage their children by means of tricks and
contrivances, more or less adroit, designed to avoid direct issues
with them, and to cajole or beguile them, as it were, into
compliance with their wishes. As, for example, where a mother, recovering
from sickness, is going out with her husband for the first time, and, as she
is still feeble—wishes for a very quiet drive, and so concludes not to take
little Mary with her, as she usually does on such occasions; but
knowing that if Mary sees the coach at the door, and discovers that her
father and mother are going in it, she will be very eager to go too—the
mother adopts a system of maneuvers to conceal her design. She brings down
her bonnet and shawl by stealth, and before the coach comes to the door she
sends Mary out into the garden with her sister, under pretense of showing
her a bird's nest which is not there, trusting to her sister's skill in
diverting the child's mind, and diverting her with something else in the
garden, until the coach has gone. And if, either from hearing the sound of
the wheels, or from any other cause, Mary's suspicions are awakened, (and
children habitually managed on these deceitful principles soon learn to be
extremely distrustful and suspicious,) and she insists on going into the
house, and thus discovers the mother's stratagem; then, perhaps, her mother
tells her that they are only going to the doctor's, and that if Mary goes
with them, the doctor will give her some dreadful medicine, and compel her
to take it, thinking thus to deter her from insisting on going with them to
As the coach drives away, Mary stands bewildered and
perplexed on the door-step, her mind in a tumult of excitement, in which
hatred of the doctor, distrust and suspicion of her mother, disappointment,
vexation, and peevishness—surge and swell in her heart—doing perhaps an
irreparable injury. The mother, as soon as the coach is so far turned that
Mary can no longer watch the expression of her countenance, goes away from
the door with a smile of satisfaction upon her face at the ingenuity and
success of her little artifice. In respect to her statement that she was
going to the doctor's, it may, or may not, have been true. Most likely not;
for mothers who manage their children on this system, find the line of
demarcation between deceit and falsehood so vague and poorly
defined, that they soon fall into the habit of disregarding it altogether,
and of saying, without hesitation, anything which will serve the purpose in
2. Government by REASON and AFFECTION.
The theory of many mothers is that they must govern their
children by the influence of reason and affection. Their method may be
exemplified by supposing that, under circumstances similar to those
described under the preceding head, the mother calls Mary to her side, and,
smoothing her hair caressingly with her hand while she speaks, says to her,
"Mary, your father and I are going out to ride this afternoon, and I am
going to explain it all to you why you cannot go too. You see, I have been
sick, and am getting well, and I am going out to ride, so that I may get
well faster. You love mamma, I am sure, and wish to have me get well soon.
So you will be a good girl, I know, and not make any trouble, but will stay
at home contentedly, won't you? Then I shall love you, and your papa will
love you, and after I get well we will take you to ride with us some day."
The mother, in managing the case in this way, relies
partly on convincing the reason of the child, and partly on an appeal
to her affection.
3. Government by AUTHORITY.
By the third method the mother secures the compliance of
the child by a direct exercise of authority. She says to her—the
circumstances of the case being still supposed to be the same— "Mary, your
father and I are going out to ride this afternoon, and I am sorry, for your
sake, that we cannot take you with us." "Why can't you take me?" asks Mary.
"I cannot tell you why, now," replies the mother, "but perhaps I will
explain it to you after I come home. I think there is a good reason, and, at
any rate, I have decided that you are not to go. If you are a good girl, and
do not make any difficulty, you can have your little chair out upon the
front door-step, and can see the coach come to the door, and see your father
and I get in and drive away; and you can wave your handkerchief to us for a
Then, if she observes any expression of discontent or
lack of submission in Mary's countenance, the mother would add, "If you
should not be a good girl, but should show signs of making us any trouble, I
shall have to send you out somewhere to the back part of the house until we
are gone." But this last supposition is almost always unnecessary; for if
Mary has been habitually managed on this principle she will not make any
trouble. She will perceive at once that the question is settled—settled
irrevocably—and especially that it is entirely beyond the power of any
demonstrations of lack of submission or rebellion, that she can make to
change it. She will acquiesce at once. She may be sorry that she cannot go,
but she will make no resistance.
Those children only attempt to carry their points by
noisy and violent demonstrations who find, by experience, that such measures
are usually successful. A child, even, who has become once accustomed to
these resistings, will soon drop them if she finds, owing to a change in the
system of management, that they now never succeed. And a child who never,
from the beginning, finds any efficiency in them, never learns to employ
them at all.
Conclusion. Of the three methods of managing children
exemplified in this chapter, the last is the only one which can be followed
either with comfort to the parent, or benefit to the child. And to show how
this method can be brought effectually into operation by gentle measures is
the object of this book. It is, indeed, true that the importance of tact
and skill in the training of the young, and of cultivating their
reason, and securing their affection—cannot be overrated. But the influences
secured by these means form, at the best, but a sandy foundation for filial
obedience to rest upon. The child is not to be made to comply with the
requirements of his parents—by being artfully cajoled into compliance; nor
is his obedience to rest on his love for father and mother, and his
unwillingness to displease them; nor on his conviction of the rightfulness
and reasonableness of their commands—but on simple submission to parental
authority—that absolute and almost unlimited authority which all parents are
commissioned by God, and nature—to exercise over their children during the
period while the children remain dependent upon their care.
Chapter 2. What Are Gentle Measures?
It being thus distinctly understood that the gentle
measures in the training of children herein recommended, are not to be
resorted to as a substitute for parental authority—but as the easiest and
most effectual means of establishing and maintaining that authority in its
most absolute form. We have now to consider what the nature of these gentle
measures—and by what characteristics they are distinguished, in their action
and influence, from such as may be considered more or less violent and
Gentle measures are those which tend to exert a calming,
quieting, and soothing influence on the mind, or to produce only such
excitements as are pleasurable in their character, as means of repressing
wrong actions, and encouraging right actions. Ungentle measures are those
which tend to inflame and irritate the mind, or to agitate it with painful
There seem to be three grades or forms of punishment to
which a mother may resort in controlling her children, or, perhaps, rather
three classes of measures which are more or less violent in their effects.
To illustrate these we will take an example.
Case supposed. One day Louisa, four years old, asked
her mother for an apple. "Have you had any already?" asked her mother. "Only
one," replied Louisa. "Then Bridget may give you another," says the mother.
What Louisa said was not true. She had already eaten two apples. Bridget
heard the falsehood—but she did not consider it her duty to betray the
child, so she said nothing. The mother, however, afterwards, in the course
of the day, accidentally ascertained the truth. Now, as we have said, there
are three grades in the kind and character of the measures which may be
considered violent that a mother may resort to in a case like this.
1. BODILY punishment.
The child may be whipped, or tied to the bed-post, and kept in a
constrained and uncomfortable position for a long time, or shut up in
solitude and darkness, or punished by the infliction of bodily suffering in
other ways. And there is no doubt that there is a tendency in such
treatment, to correct or cure the fault. But measures like these, whether
successful or not, are certainly violent measures. They shock the whole
nervous system, sometimes with the excitement of pain and terror, and most
always, with that of resentment and anger. In some cases this excitement is
extreme. The excessively delicate organization of the brain, through which
such agitations reach the senses, and which, in children of an early age, is
in its most tender and sensitive state of development, is subjected to a
most intense and violent agitation.
The evil effects of this excessive punishment, may
perhaps entirely pass away in a few hours, and leave no trace of injury
behind; but then, on the other hand, there is certainly reason to fear that
such violent measures, especially if often repeated, tend to impede the
regular and healthful development of the organs, and that they may become
the origin of mental derangements in future years. It is impossible,
perhaps, to know with certainty, whether permanent ill effects follow in
such cases or not. At any rate, such a remedy is a violent one.
2. Punishment by FRIGHTENING.
There is a second grade of punishment in the treatment of such a
case, which consists in exciting terror, or other painful or disagreeable
emotions, through the imagination, by presenting to the imagination of the
child images of phantoms, hobgoblins, and other frightful monsters, whose
ire, it is pretended, is greatly excited by the misdeeds of children, and
who come in the night-time to take them away, or otherwise visit them with
terrible retribution. Domestic servants are very prone to adopt this mode of
discipline. Being forbidden to resort to physical punishment as a means of
exciting pain and terror, they attempt to accomplish the same end by other
means, which, however, in many respects, are still more injurious in their
Servants and attendants upon children from certain
nationalities in Europe, are peculiarly disposed to employ this method of
governing children placed under their care. One reason is that they are
accustomed to this mode of management at home; and another is that many of
them are brought up under an idea, which prevails extensively in some of
those countries—that it is right to tell falsehoods where the honest object
is to accomplish a good or useful end. Accordingly, inasmuch as the
restraining of the children from wrong is a good and useful object, they can
declare the existence of ghosts and hobgoblins, who carry away and devour
bad girls and boys—with an air of positiveness and seeming honesty, and with
a calm and persistent assurance, which aids them very much in producing on
the minds of the children a conviction of the truth of what they say.
While, on the other hand, those who, in theory at least,
occupy the position that the direct falsifying of one's word is never
justifiable, act at a disadvantage in attempting this method. For although,
in practice, they are often inclined to make an exception to their
principles in regard to truth in the case of what is said to young children;
they cannot, after all, tell children what they know to be not true with
that bold and confident air necessary to carry full conviction to the
children's minds. They are embarrassed by a kind of half guilty feeling,
which, partially at least, betrays them, and the children do not really and
fully believe what they say. They cannot suppose that their mother would
really tell them what she knew was false.
In all countries there are many, among even the most
refined and highly cultivated classes, who are not at all embarrassed by any
lying of this kind. This is especially the case in those countries in
Europe, particularly on the Continent, where the idea above referred to, of
the allowableness of falsehood in certain cases as a means for the
attainment of a good end, is generally entertained.
The French have two terrible bugbears, under the names of
Monsieur and Madame Croquemitaine, who are as familiar to the
imaginations of French children as Santa Claus is, in a much more agreeable
way, to the children at our firesides. Monsieur and Madame Croqtuemitaine
are frightful monsters, who come down the chimney, or through the roof, at
night—and carry off bad children. They know who the bad children are, where
they live, and what they have done. The instinctive trust of young children
in their mother's truthfulness is so strong that no absurdity seems gross
enough to overcome it.
There are many mothers among us who, though not quite
prepared to call in the aid of ghosts, giants, and hobgoblins, or of
Monsieur and Madame Croquemitaine, are poorly managing their children still,
sometimes, try to eke out their failing authority by threatening them with
the "black man," or the "policeman," or some other less supernatural terror.
They seem to imagine that while there is no such thing in existence as a
hobgoblin, there really are policemen and prisons, they only half tell an
untruth by saying to the unruly little one that a policeman is coming to
carry him off to jail.
Injurious Effects. Although, by these various modes
of exciting imaginary fears, there is no direct and outward infliction of
bodily suffering, the effect produced on the delicate organization of the
brain by such excitements is violent in the extreme. The feelings of dread,
agitation and terror which they sometimes excite, and which are often
spontaneously renewed by darkness and solitude, and by other exciting
causes—are of the nature of temporary insanity. Indeed, the extreme fear
which they produce, sometimes becomes a real insanity, which, though it may,
in many cases, be finally outgrown—may probably in many others lead to
lasting and most deplorable results.
3. Punishment by harsh rebukes and threatenings.
There is a third mode of treatment, more common, perhaps,
among us than either of the preceding, which, though much milder in its
character than they—we still class among the violent measures, on account of
its operation and effects. It consists of stern and harsh rebukes, such as
denunciations of the heinousness of the sin of falsehood, with solemn
premonitions of the awful consequences of it, in this life and in that to
come, intended to awaken feelings of alarm and distress in the mind of the
child, as a means of promoting repentance and reformation. These are not
violent measures, it is true, so far as outward physical action is
concerned; but the effects which they produce are sometimes of quite a
violent nature, in their operation on the delicate mental susceptibilities
which are excited and agitated by them.
If the mother is successful in making the impression
which such a mode of treatment is designed to produce, the child, especially
if a girl, is agitated and distressed. Her mind is greatly disturbed. If
calmed for a time, the paroxysm is very liable to return. She wakes in the
night, perhaps, with an indefinable feeling of anxiety and terror, and comes
to her mother's bedside, to seek, in her presence, and in the sense of
protection which it affords—a relief from her distress. The conscientious
mother, supremely anxious to secure the best interests of her child, may say
that, after all, it is better that she should endure this temporary
suffering, than not be saved from her sins. This is true. But if she can be
saved just as effectually without it—it is better still.
4. GENTLE punishment. We now come to the
gentle measures which may be adopted in a case of discipline like this. They
are endless and varied in form—but, to illustrate the nature and operation
of them, and the spirit and temper of mind with which they should be
enforced, with a view of communicating to the mind of the reader some
general idea of the characteristics of that gentleness of treatment which it
is the object of this work to commend, we will describe an actual case,
substantially as it really occurred, where a child, whom we will still call
Louisa, told her mother a falsehood about the apple, as already
Choosing the right TIME. Her mother, though Louisa's
manner at the time of asking for the apple, led her to feel somewhat
suspicious. Yet she did not express her suspicions—but gave her the
additional apple. Nor did she afterwards, when she ascertained the facts,
say anything on the subject. The day passed away as if nothing unusual had
occurred. When bed-time came she laid Louisa in her bed, playing with
her, and talking with her in an amusing manner all the time, so as to bring
her into a contented and happy frame of mind, and to establish as close a
connection as possible of affection and sympathy between them. Then,
finally, when the child's prayer had been said, and she was about to be left
for the night, her mother, sitting in a chair at the head of her little bed,
and putting her hand lovingly upon her, said—"But first I must tell you one
more little story. Once there was a boy, and his name was Ernest. He was a
pretty big boy, for he was five years old." Louisa, it must be recollected,
was only four. "He was a very pretty boy. He had bright blue eyes and
curling hair. He was a very good boy, too. He did not like to do anything
wrong. He always found that it made him feel uncomfortable and unhappy
afterwards, when he did anything wrong. A good many children, especially
good children, find that it makes them feel uncomfortable and unhappy when
they do wrong. Perhaps you do." "Yes, mamma, I do," said Louisa. "I am glad
of that," replied her mother; "that is a good sign. Ernest went one day,"
added the mother, continuing her story, "with his little cousin Anna to
their uncle's, in hopes that he would give them some apples. Their uncle had
a beautiful garden, and in it there was an apple-tree which bore most
excellent apples. They were large, and rosy, and mellow, and sweet. The
children liked the apples from that tree very much, and Ernest and Anna went
that day in hopes that their uncle would give them some of them. He said he
would. He would give them three apiece. He told them to go into the garden
and wait there until he came. They must not take any apples off the tree, he
said—but if they found any on the ground, they might take them, provided
that there were not more than three apiece; and when he came he would take
enough off the tree, he said, to make up the number to three. So the
children went into the garden and looked under the tree. They found two
apples there, and they took them up and ate them—one apiece. Then they sat
down and began to wait for their uncle to come. While they were waiting Anna
proposed that they should not tell their uncle that they had found the two
apples, and so he would give them three more, which he would take from the
tree; whereas, if he knew that they had already had one apiece, then he
would only give them two more. Ernest said that his uncle would ask them
about it. Anna said, 'That doesn't matter—we can tell him that we did not
find any.' Ernest seemed to be thinking about it for a moment, and then,
shaking his head, said, 'No, I think we had better not tell him a lie!' So
when he saw their uncle coming, he said, 'Come, Anna, let us go and tell him
about it, just how it was.' So they ran together to meet their uncle, and
told him that they had found two apples under the tree, one apiece, and had
eaten them. Then he gave them two more apiece, according to his promise, and
they went home feeling contented and happy. They might have had one more
apple apiece, probably, by combining together to tell a falsehood; but in
that case they would have gone home feeling guilty and unhappy."
Louisa's mother paused a moment, after finishing her
story, to give Louisa time to think about it a little. "I think," she added
at length, after a suitable pause, "that it was a great deal better for them
to tell the truth, as they did." "I think so too, mamma," said Louisa, at
the same time casting down her eyes and looking a little confused. "But you
know," added her mother, speaking in a very kind and gentle tone, "that you
did not tell me the truth today about the apple that Bridget gave you."
Louisa paused a moment, looked in her mother's face, and then, reaching up
to put her arms around her mother's neck, she said, "Mamma, I am determined
never to tell you another wrong story as long as I live."
Now it is not at all probable that if the case had ended
here, Louisa would have kept her promise. This was one good lesson, it is
true—but it was only one. And the lesson was given by a method so gentle,
that the child's mind was not irritated or morbidly excited by it. Moreover,
no one who knows anything of the workings of the childish mind can doubt
that the impulse in the right direction given by this conversation was not
only better in character—but was greater in amount, than could have been
effected by either of the other methods of management previously described.
How gentle measures operate. By the gentle measures,
then, which are to be here discussed and recommended, are meant such as do
not react in a violent and irritating manner, in any way, upon the extremely
delicate condition of the child's mind, in which the gradual development of
the mental and moral faculties are so intimately involved. They do not imply
any relaxation of the force of parental authority, or any lowering whatever
of the standards of moral obligation—but are, on the contrary, the most
effectual, the surest and the safest way of establishing the one and of
enforcing the other.
Chapter 3. There must be PARENTAL AUTHORITY.
The first duty which devolves upon the mother in the
training of her child—is the establishment of her authority over him—that
is, the forming in him the habit of immediate, implicit, and unquestioning
obedience to all her commands. And the first step to be taken, or, rather,
perhaps the first essential condition required for the performance of this
duty—is the fixing of the conviction in her own mind that this is her
God-given duty. Unfortunately, however, there are not only vast numbers
of mothers who do not in any degree perform this duty—but a large proportion
of them have not even a theoretical idea of the obligation of it!
An Objection. "I wish my child to be governed
by reason and reflection," says one. "I wish him to see the
necessity and propriety of what I require of him, so that he may render a
ready and willing compliance with my wishes, instead of being obliged
blindly to submit to arbitrary and despotic power." She forgets that the
faculties of reason and reflection, and the power of appreciating "the
necessity and propriety of things," and of bringing considerations of
future, remote, and perhaps contingent good and evil to restrain and subdue
the impetuousness of appetites and passions eager for present pleasure—are
qualities that appear late, and are very slowly developed, in the childish
mind; that no real reliance whatever, can be placed upon them in the early
years of life; and that, moreover, one of the chief and expressly intended
objects of the establishment of the parental relation is to provide, in the
mature reason and reflection of the father and mother, the means of guidance
which the youthful reason and reflection of the child do not possess during
the period of his immaturity.
The elements of parental duty and obligation.
Indeed, the chief end and aim of the parental relation, as designed by the
Author of nature, may be considered as comprised, it would seem, in these
two objects, namely: First, the physical sustenance of the child by
his parents, during the period necessary for the development of his
strength. Secondly, the guidance and direction of the child's mind, during
the development of his reason. The second of these obligations is no less a
duty than the first. To expect him to provide the means of his physical
sustenance from the resources of his own childish strength—would imply
no greater misapprehension on the part of his father and mother, than to
expect him to provide the means of his mental sustenance by his
childish reason. The expectation in the two cases would be equally vain. The
only difference would be that, in the failure which would inevitably result
from the trial, it would be in the one case the body that would
suffer, and in the other the mind.
The judgment and mental capacity, are more slowly
developed than the body. Indeed, the necessity that the mind and conduct of
the child should be controlled by the reason of the parents—is in one point
of view greater, or at least more protracted, than that his physical needs
should be supplied by their power; for the development of the thinking and
reasoning powers is late and slow, in comparison with the advancement toward
maturity of the physical powers. It is considered that a boy attains, in
this country, to a sufficient degree of physical strength at the age
of from seven to ten years, to earn his living; but his reason is not
sufficiently mature to make it safe to entrust him with the care of himself
and of his affairs—until he is of more than twice that age. The parents can
actually thus sooner look to the physical strength of the child for his
support, than they can to his reason for his guidance.
To aid in the development and cultivation of the child's
thinking and reasoning powers, is doubtless a very important part of a
parent's duty. But to cultivate these faculties is one thing, while to make
any control which may be procured for them over the mind of the child the
basis of government, is another. To explain the reasons of our commands is
excellent—if it is done in the right time and manner. The wrong time
is when the question of obedience is pending; and the wrong manner is
to offer them inducements to obey. We may offer reasons for recommendations,
when we leave the child to judge of their force, and to act according to our
recommendations or not, as his judgment shall dictate. But reasons should
never be given as inducements to obey a command. The more completely the
obedience to a command rests on the principle of simple submission to
parental authority—the easier and better it will be both for parent and
MANNER of exercising authority. Let no reader
fall into the error of supposing that the mother's making her authority the
basis of her government, renders it necessary for her to assume a stern and
severe demeanor towards her children, in her interactions with them; or to
issue her commands in a harsh, abrupt, and imperious manner; or always to
refrain from explaining, at the time, the reasons for a command or a
prohibition. The more gentle the manner, and the more kind and
courteous the tones in which the mother's wishes are expressed, the
better; provided only that the wishes, however expressed, are really the
mandates of an authority which is to be yielded to at once, without question
or delay. Regardless of the manner of the parents' commands, the children
are to be trained to understand, that they are immediately to obey.
A second objection. Another large class of
mothers are deterred from making any efficient effort to establish their
authority over their children— for fear of thereby alienating their
affections. "I wish my child to love me," says a mother of this class. "That
is the supreme and never-ceasing wish of my heart; and if I am continually
thwarting and constraining her by my authority, she will soon learn to
consider me an obstacle to her happiness, and I shall become an object of
her aversion and dislike." There is some truth, no doubt, in this statement
thus expressed—but it is not applicable to the case, for the reason that
there is no need whatever for a mother's "continually thwarting and
constraining" her children in her efforts to establish her authority over
them. The love which they will feel for her, will depend in a great measure
upon the degree in which she sympathizes and takes part with them in their
occupations, their enjoyments; their disappointments, and their sorrows, and
in which she indulges their child-like desires. The love, however, awakened
by these means will be not weakened nor endangered—but immensely
strengthened and confirmed—by the exercise on her part, of a just and
equitable—but firm and absolute, authority. The mother who does not govern
her children, is bringing them up not to love her—but to despise
EFFECT of authority. If, besides being their
playmate, their companion, and friend—indulgent in respect to all their
harmless fancies, and patient and forbearing with their childish
faults and foolishness—she also exercises in cases requiring it, an
authority over them which, though just and gentle—is yet absolute and
supreme—she rises to a very exalted position in their view. Their affection
for her has infused into it an element which greatly aggrandizes and
ennobles it—an element somewhat analogous to that sentiment of lofty
devotion, which a loyal subject feels for his queen.
Effect of the LACK of authority.
On the other hand, if she is inconsiderate enough to
attempt to win a place in her children's hearts by the sacrifice of her
maternal authority—she will never succeed in securing a place there,
which is worth possessing. The children will all, girls and boys alike, see
and understand her weakness—and they will soon learn to look down
upon her, instead of looking up to her, as they ought. As they grow
older they will all become more and more unmanageable. The insubordination
of the boys will in time grow to be intolerable, and it will become
necessary to send them away to school, or to adopt some other plan for
ridding the house of their turbulence, and relieving the poor mother's heart
of the insupportable burden she has to bear in finding herself despised and
trampled upon by her own children.
In the earlier years of life, the feeling entertained for
their mother in such a case by the children is simply that of contempt;
for the sentiment of gratitude which will modify it in time, is very
late to be developed, and has not yet begun to act. In later years, however,
when the boys have become young men, this sentiment of gratitude begins to
come in—but it only changes the contempt into pity. And when
years have passed away, and the mother is perhaps in her grave, her sons
think of her with a mingled feeling excited by the conjoined remembrance of
her helpless imbecility and of her true maternal love, and say
to each other, with a smile, "Poor dear mother! what a time she had of it
trying to govern us boys!"
If a mother is willing to have her children thus regard
her with pure and simple contempt while they are children; and with
contempt transformed into pity, by the infusion of a tardy sentiment of
gratitude, when they are grown—she may try the plan of endeavoring to secure
their love by 'indulging' them without 'governing' them. But if she sets her
heart on being the object through life of their respectful love—she
she 'must govern' them.
A great deal is said sometimes about the evils of
indulgence in the management of children; and so far as the condemnation
refers only to indulgence in what is injurious or evil, it is doubtless very
just. But the harm is not in the indulgence itself—that is, in the act of
affording gratification to the child—but in the injurious or dangerous
nature of the things indulged in. It seems to me that children are not
generally indulged enough. They are thwarted and restrained in respect to
the gratification of their harmless wishes a great deal too much.
Indeed, as a general rule, the more that children are gratified in respect
to their childish fancies and impulses, and even their caprices, when no
evil or danger is to be apprehended, the better.
When, therefore, a child asks, "May I do this?" or, "May
I do that?" the question for the mother to consider is not whether the thing
proposed is a wise or a foolish thing to do—that is, whether it would be
wise or foolish for 'her', if she, with her ideas and feelings, were in the
place of the child—but only whether there is any harm or danger in it; and
if not, she should give her ready and cordial consent.
'Antagonism between Free Indulgence and Absolute
There is no necessary antagonism, nor even any
inconsistency, between the freest indulgence of children—and the maintenance
of the most absolute authority over them. Indeed, the authority can be most
easily established in connection with great liberality of indulgence. At any
rate, it will be very evident, on reflection, that the two principles do not
stand at all in opposition to each other, as is often vaguely supposed.
Children may be greatly indulged—and yet perfectly governed. On the
other hand, they may be continually checked and thwarted—and their lives
made miserable by a continued succession of vexations, restrictions and
refusals—and yet not be governed at all. An example will, however, best
'Mode of Management with Louisa'.
A mother, going to the village by a path across the
fields, proposed to her little daughter Louisa to go with her for a walk.
Louisa asked if she might invite her cousin Mary to go
too. "Yes," said her mother; "I think she is not at home; but you can go and
see, if you like."
Louisa went to see—and returned in a few minutes, saying
that Mary was not at home.
"Never mind," replied her mother; "it was polite in you
to wish to invite her."
They set out upon the walk. Louisa runs hither and
thither over the grass, returning continually to her mother to bring her
flowers and curiosities. Her mother looks at them all, seems to approve
of—and to sympathize in, Louisa's wonder and delight—and even points out new
charms in the objects which she brings to her, that Louisa had not observed.
At length Louisa spied a butterfly.
"Mother," said she, "here's a butterfly. May I run and
"You may try," said her mother.
Louisa ran till she was tired—and then came back to her
mother, looking a little disappointed.
"I could not catch him, mother."
"Never mind," said her mother, "you had a good time
trying, at any rate. Perhaps you will see another by-and-by. You may
possibly see a bird—and you can try and see if you can catch him."
So Louisa ran off to play again, satisfied and happy.
A little farther on a pretty tree was growing, not far
from the path on one side. A short, half-decayed log lay at the foot of the
tree, overtopped and nearly concealed by a growth of raspberry-bushes,
grass—and wild flowers.
"Louisa," said the mother, "do you see that tree with the
pretty flowers at the foot of it?"
"I would rather not have you go near that tree. Come over
to this side of the path—and keep on this side till you get by."
Louisa began immediately to obey—but as she was crossing
the path she looked up to her mother and asked why she must not go near the
"I am glad you would like to know why," replied her
mother, "and I will tell you the reason as soon as we get past."
Louisa kept on the other side of the path until the tree
was left well behind—and then came back to her mother to ask for the
"It was because I heard that there was a wasp's nest
under that tree," said her mother.
"A wasp's nest!" repeated Louisa, with a look of alarm.
"Yes," rejoined her mother, "and I was afraid that the
wasps might sting you."
Louisa paused a moment—and then, looking back towards the
tree, said, "I am glad I did not go near it."
"And I am glad that you obeyed me so readily," said her
mother. "I knew you would obey me at once, without my giving any reason. I
did not wish to tell you the reason, for fear of frightening you while you
were passing by the tree. But I knew that you would obey me without any
reason. You always do—and that is why I always like to have you go with me
when I take a walk."
Louisa is much gratified by this commendation—and the
effect of it—and of the whole incident, in confirming and strengthening the
principle of obedience in her heart, is very much greater than
rebukes or punishments for any overt act of disobedience could possibly be.
These and similar incidents marked the whole progress of
We see that in such a case as this, firm government and
free indulgence are conjoined; and that, far from there being any antagonism
between them, they may work together in perfect harmony.
'Mode of Management with Hannah'.
On the other hand, there may be an extreme limitation in
respect to a mother's indulgence of her children, while yet she has no
government over them at all. We shall see how this might be by the case of
Hannah was asked by her mother to go with her across the
fields to the village under circumstances similar to those of Louisa's
invitation, except that the real motive of Hannah's mother, in proposing
that Hannah should accompany her, was to have the child's help in bringing
home her parcels.
"Yes, mother," said Hannah, in reply to her mother's
invitation, "I would like to go; and I will go and ask cousin Sarah to go
"Oh no!" rejoined her mother, "why do you wish Sarah to
go? She will only be a trouble to us."
"She won't be any trouble at all, mother—and I mean to go
and ask her," said Hannah; and, putting on her bonnet, she set off towards
"No, Hannah!" insisted her mother, "you must not go. I
don't wish to have Sarah go with us today."
Hannah paid no attention to this prohibition—but ran off
to find Sarah. After a few minutes she returned, saying that Sarah was not
"I am glad of it," said her mother; "I told you not to go
to ask her—and you did very wrong to disobey me. I have a great mind not to
let you go yourself."
Hannah ran off in the direction of the path, not caring
for the censure or for the threat, knowing well that they would not result
in any punishment.
Her mother followed. When they reached the pastures,
Hannah began running here and there over the grass.
"Hannah!" said her mother, speaking in a stern and
reproachful tone; "why do you keep running about all the time, Hannah?
You'll get tired out before we get to the village—and then you'll be
pestering me to let you stop and rest. Come and walk along quietly with me."
But Hannah paid no attention whatever to this command.
She ran to and fro among the rocks and clumps of bushes—and once or twice
she brought to her mother flowers or other curious things that she found.
"Those things are not good for anything, child," said her
mother. "They are nothing but common weeds and trash. Besides, I told you
not to run about so much. Why can't you come and walk quietly along the
path, like a sensible person?"
Hannah paid no attention to this reiteration of her
mother's command—but continued to run about as before.
"Hannah," repeated her mother, "come back into the path.
I have told you again and again that you must come and walk with me—and you
don't pay the least heed to what I say. By-and-by you will fall into some
hole, or tear your clothes against the bushes, or get pricked with the
briers. You must not, at any rate, go a step farther from the path than you
Hannah walked on, looking for flowers and curiosities—and
receding farther and farther from the path, for a time—and then returning
towards it again, according to her own fancy or caprice, without paying any
regard to her mother's directions.
"Hannah," said her mother, "you must not go so far away
from the path. Then, besides, you are coming to a tree where there is a
wasps' nest. You must not go near that tree; if you do, you will get stung."
Hannah went on, looking for flowers—and gradually drawing
nearer to the tree.
"Hannah!" exclaimed her mother, "I tell you that you must
not go near that tree. You will certainly get stung."
Hannah went on—somewhat hesitatingly and cautiously, it
is true—towards the foot of the tree—and, seeing no signs of wasps there,
she began gathering the flowers that grew at the foot of it.
"Hannah! Hannah!" exclaimed her mother; "I told you not
to go near that tree! Get your flowers quick, if you must get them—and come
Hannah went on gathering the flowers at her leisure.
"You will certainly get stung," said her mother.
"I don't believe there is any hornets' nest here,"
"Wasps' nest," said her mother; "it was a wasps' nest."
"Or wasps' nest either," said Hannah.
"Yes," rejoined her mother, "the boys said there was."
"That's nothing," said Hannah; "the boys think there are
wasps' nests in a great many places where there are not any."
After a time Hannah, having gathered all the flowers she
wished for, came back at her leisure towards her mother.
"I told you not to go to that tree," said her mother,
"You told me I would certainly get stung if I went
there," rejoined Hannah, "and I didn't."
"Well, you might have got stung," said her mother—and so
Pretty soon after this Hannah said that she was tired of
walking so far—and wished to stop and rest.
"No," replied her mother, "I told you that you would get
tired if you ran about so much; but you would do it—and so now I shall not
stop for you at all."
Hannah said that she would stop, at any rate; so
she sat down upon a log by the way-side. Her mother said that she
would go on and leave her. So her mother walked on, looking back now and
then—and calling Hannah to come. But finding that Hannah did not come, she
finally found a place to sit down herself and wait for her.
'The principle illustrated by this case'.
Many a mother will see the image of her own management of
her children reflected without exaggeration or distortion, in this
looking-glass; and, as the former story shows how the freest indulgence is
compatible with the maintenance of the most absolute authority, this story
enables us to see how a perpetual resistance to the impulses and desires of
children may co-exist with no government over them at all.
Let no mother fear, then, that the measures necessary to
establish for her the most absolute authority over her children, will at all
curtail her power to promote their happiness. The maintenance of the best
possible government over them will not in any way prevent her yielding to
them all the harmless gratifications they may desire. She may indulge them
in all their childish impulses, fancies—and even caprices, to their heart's
content, without at all weakening her authority over them. Indeed, she may
make these very indulgences the means of strengthening her authority. But
without this parental authority, she can never develop in the hearts of her
children the only kind of love that is worth possessing—namely, that in
which the feeling of affection is dignified and ennobled, by the sentiment
'One more consideration'.
There is one consideration which, if properly
appreciated, would have an overpowering influence on the mind of every
mother in inducing her to establish and maintain a firm authority over her
child during the early years of his life—and that is the possibility that he
may not live to reach maturity. Should the terrible calamity befall her of
being compelled to follow her boy, yet young, to his grave, the character of
her grief—and the degree of distress and anguish which it will occasion her,
will depend very much upon the memories which his life and his relations to
her have left in her soul. When she returns to her home, bowed down by the
terrible burden of her bereavement—and wanders over the now desolated rooms
which were the scenes of his childish occupations and joys—and sees the now
useless playthings and books—and the various objects of curiosity and
interest with which he was so often and so busily engaged, there can, of
course, be nothing which can really assuage her overwhelming grief. But it
will make a vital difference in the character of this grief, whether the
image of her boy, as it takes its fixed and final position in her memory and
in her heart—is associated with recollections of docility, respectful regard
for his mother's wishes—and of ready and unquestioning submission to her
authority and obedience to her commands; or whether, on the other hand, the
picture of his past life, which is to remain forever in her heart, is to be
distorted and marred by memories of outbreaks, acts of ungovernable impulse
and insubordination, habitual disregard of all authority—and disrespectful,
if not contemptuous, treatment of his mother.
There is a sweetness as well as a bitterness of grief;
and something like a feeling of joy and gladness will spring up in the
mother's heart—and mingle with and soothe her sorrow, if she can think of
her boy, when he is gone, as always docile, responsive, submissive to her
authority—and obedient to her commands. Such recollections, it is true,
cannot avail to remove her grief—perhaps not even to diminish its intensity;
but they will greatly assuage the bitterness of it—and wholly take away its
Chapter 4. Gentle Punishment of Disobedience.
Children have no natural instinct of obedience to
their parents, though they have other instincts by means of which the habit
of obedience, as an acquisition, can easily be formed.
The true state of the case is well illustrated by what we
observe among the lower animals. The hen can call her chickens when she has
food for them, or when any danger threatens—and they come to her. They come,
however, simply under the impulse of a desire for food or fear of danger,
not from any instinctive desire to conform their action to their mother's
will; or, in other words, with no idea of submission to parental authority.
It is so, substantially, with many other animals whose habits in respect to
the relation between parents and children, come under human observation. The
colt and the calf follow and keep near the mother, not from any instinct of
desire to conform their conduct to her will—but solely from love of food, or
fear of danger. Cows last are strictly instinctive. They act
spontaneously—and require no training of any sort to establish or to
The case is substantially the same with children. They
run to their mother by instinct, when need, fear, or pain impels them. They
require no teaching or training for this. But for them to come simply
because their mother wishes them to come—to be controlled, in other words,
by her will, instead of by their own impulses—is a different thing
altogether. They have no instinct for that. They have only a 'capacity for
'Instincts and Capacities'.
It may, perhaps, be maintained that there is no real
difference between instincts and capacities—and it certainly
is possible that they may pass into each other by insensible gradations.
Still, practically, and in reference to our treatment of any intelligent
nature which is in course of gradual development under our influence, the
difference is wide. The dog has an instinct impelling him to attach himself
to and follow his master; but he has no instinct leading him to draw his
master's cart. He requires no teaching for the one. It comes, of course,
from the innate impulses of his nature. For the other he requires a skillful
and careful training. If we find a dog who evinces no disposition to seek
the society of man—but roams off into woods and solitudes alone, he is
useless—and we attribute the fault to his own wolfish nature. But if he will
not fetch and carry at command, or bring home a basket in his mouth from
market, the fault, if there be any fault, is in his master, in not having
taken the proper time and pains to train him, or in not knowing how to do
it. He has an instinct leading him to attach himself to a human master—and
to follow his master wherever he goes. But he has no instinct leading him to
fetch and carry, or to draw carts for anybody. If he shows no affection for
man, it is his own fault—that is, the fault of his nature. But if he does
not fetch and carry well, or go out of the room when he is ordered out, or
draw steadily in a cart, it is his teacher's fault. He has not been properly
'Who is Responsible?'
So with the child. If he does not seem to know how to
take his food, or shows no disposition to run to his mother when he is hurt
or when he is frightened, we have reason to suspect something wrong, or, at
least, something abnormal, in his mental or physical constitution. But if he
does not obey his mother's commands—no matter how insubordinate or
unmanageable he may be—the fault does not, certainly, indicate anything at
all wrong in 'him'. The fault is in his training. In witnessing his
disobedience, our reflection should not be, "What a bad boy!" but,
"What an incompetent mother!"
I have dwelt the longer on this point because it is
fundamental. As long as a mother imagines, as so many mothers seem to do,
that obedience on the part of the child is, or ought to be, a matter of
course, she will never properly undertake the work of training him. But when
she thoroughly understands that her children will not submit their will to
hers—except so far as she forms in them the habit of submission—the
battle is half won.
'Actual Instincts of Children'.
The natural instinct which impels her children to come at
once to her for refuge and protection in all their troubles and fears—is a
great source of happiness to every mother. This instinct shows itself in a
thousand ways. "A mother, one morning"—I quote the anecdote from a newspaper
which came to hand while I was writing this chapter—"gave her two little
ones books and toys to amuse them, while she went to attend to some work in
an upper room. Half an hour passed quietly—and then a timid voice at the
foot of the stairs called out:
'Mamma, are you there?'
'All right, then!' and the child went back to its play.
"By-and-by the little voice was heard again, repeating,
'Mamma, are you there?'
'All right, then;' and the little ones returned again,
satisfied and reassured, to their toys."
The sense of their mother's presence, or at least the
certainty of her being near at hand, was necessary to their security and
contentment in their playings. But this feeling was not the result of any
teachings that they had received from their mother, or upon her having
inculcated upon their minds in any way the necessity of their keeping always
within reach of maternal protection; nor had it been acquired by their own
observation or experience of dangers or difficulties which had befallen them
when too far away. It was a natural instinct of the soul—the same that leads
the lamb and the calf to keep close to their mother's side—and causes the
unweaned babe to cling to its mother's bosom—and to shrink from being put
away into the crib or cradle alone.
'The Responsibility rests upon the Mother'.
The mother must understand that the principle of
obedience is not to be expected to come by nature into the heart of her
child—but to be implanted by parental training. She must understand this so
fully as to feel that if she finds that her children are disobedient to her
commands, that it is 'her' fault, not theirs. Perhaps I ought not to say her
'fault' exactly, for she may have done as well as she knows how; but, at any
rate, her failure. Instead, therefore, of being angry with the
children, or fretting and complaining about the trouble they give her, she
should leave them, as it were, out of the case—and turn her thoughts to
herself—and to her own management, with a view to the discovery and the
correcting of her own delinquencies and errors. In a word, she must set
regularly and systematically about the work of 'teaching' her children to
subject their will to hers.
I shall give three principles of management, or rather
three different classes of measures, by means of which children may
certainly be made obedient. The most perfect success will be attained by
employing them all. But they require very different degrees of skill and
tact on the part of the mother. The first requires very little skill.
It demands only steadiness, calmness—and perseverance. The second
draws much more upon the mother's mental resources—and the last, most
of all. Indeed, as will presently be seen, there is no limit to the amount
of tact and ingenuity, not to say genius, which may be advantageously
exercised in the last method. The first is the most essential; and it
will alone, if faithfully carried out, accomplish the end. The second,
if the mother has the tact and skill to carry it into effect, will aid very
much in accomplishing the result—and in a manner altogether more agreeable
to both parties. The third will make the work of forming the habit
of obedience on the part of the mother—and of acquiring it on the part
of the child, a source of the highest enjoyment to both. But then,
unfortunately, it requires more skill and dexterity, more gentleness of
touch, so to speak—and a more delicate constitution of soul, than most
mothers can be expected to possess. But let us see what the three methods
1. The first principle
is that the mother should so regulate her management of her child, that he
should 'never' gain any desired end by any act of insubmission—but 'always'
incur some small trouble, inconvenience, or privation, by disobeying or
neglecting to obey his mother's command. The important words in this
statement of the principle are 'never' and 'always'. It is the absolute
certainty that disobedience will hurt him—and not help him, in which the
whole efficacy of the rule consists.
It is very surprising how small a punishment will prove
efficacious if it is only 'certain' to follow the transgression. You may set
apart a certain place for a prison—a corner of the sofa, a certain ottoman,
a chair, a stool, anything will answer; and the more entirely everything
like an air of displeasure or severity is excluded, in the manner of making
the preliminary arrangements, the better.
A mother without any tact, or any proper understanding of
the way in which the hearts and minds of young children are influenced, will
begin, very likely, with a scolding—"Children! You are getting very
disobedient. I have to speak three or four times before you move to do what
I say. Now, I am going to have a prison. The prison is to be that dark
closet—and I am going to shut you up in it for half an hour every time you
disobey. Now, remember! The very next time!"
Mothers who govern by threatening, seldom do anything but
threaten. Accordingly, the first time the children disobey her, after such
an announcement, she says nothing, if the case happens to be one in which
the disobedience occasions her no particular trouble. The next time, when
the transgression is a little more serious, she thinks, very rightly
perhaps, that to be shut up half an hour in a dark closet would be a
disproportionate punishment. Then, when at length some very willful and
grave act of insubordination occurs, she happens to be in a particularly
good-mood, for some reason—and has not the heart to shut "the poor thing" in
the closet; or, perhaps, there is company present—and she does not
wish to make a scene. So the penalty announced with so much emphasis turns
out to be an empty threat, as the children knew it would from the beginning.
'How Discipline may be both Gentle and Efficient'.
With a little dexterity and tact on the mother's part,
the case may be managed very differently—and with a very different result.
Let us suppose that some day, while she is engaged with her sewing or her
other household duties—and her children are playing around her, she tells
them that in some great schools in Europe, when the boys are disobedient, or
violate the rules, they are shut up for punishment in a kind of prison; and
perhaps she entertains them with invented examples of boys that would not go
to prison—and had to be taken there by force—and kept there longer on
account of their defiance. She also tells them of other noble boys, who went
readily when they had done wrong and were ordered into confinement—and bore
their punishment like men—and who were accordingly set free all the sooner
on that account. Then she proposes to them the idea of adopting that plan
herself—and asks them to look all about the room and find a good seat which
they can have for their prison—one end of the sofa, perhaps, a stool in a
corner, or a box used as a house for a kitten. I once knew an instance where
a step before a door leading to a staircase served as penitentiary—and
sitting upon it for a minute or less was the severest punishment required to
maintain most perfect discipline in a family of young children for a long
When any one of the children violated any rule or
direction which had been enjoined upon them—as, for example, when they left
the door open in coming in or going out, in the winter; or interrupted their
mother when she was reading, instead of standing quietly by her side and
waiting until she looked up from her book and gave them permission to speak
to her; or used any violence towards each other, by pushing, or pulling, or
struggling for a plaything or a place; or did not come promptly to her when
called; or did not obey at once, the first command in any case, the mother
would say simply, "Mary! — Prison!" She would pronounce this sentence
without any appearance of displeasure—and often with a smile, as if they
were only playing prison—and then, in a very few minutes after they had
taken the penitential seat, she would say "Free!" which word set them at
'Must begin at the Beginning'.
I have no doubt that some mothers, in reading this, will
say that such management as this is mere trifling and play; and that real
and actual children, with all their natural turbulence, insubordination and
obstinacy, can never be really governed by any such means. I answer that
whether it proves on trial to be merely trifling and play, or not, depends
upon the firmness, steadiness—and decision with which the mother carries it
into execution. Every method of management requires firmness, perseverance
and decision on the part of the mother to make it successful—but, with these
qualities duly exercised, it is astonishing what slight and gentle penalties
will suffice for the most complete establishment of her authority. I knew a
mother whose children were trained to habits of almost perfect obedience—and
whose only method of punishment, so far as I know, was to require the
offender to stand on one foot and count five, ten, or twenty, according to
the nature and aggravation of the offense. Such a mother, of course, begins
early with her children. She trains them from their earliest years to
this constant subjection of their will to hers.
Such penalties, moreover, owe their efficiency not to the
degree of pain or inconvenience that they impose upon the offender—but
mainly upon their 'calling his attention, distinctly', after every
offense, to the fact that he has done wrong. Slight as this is, it will
prove to be sufficient if it 'always' comes—if no case of disobedience or of
willful wrong-doing of any kind is allowed to pass unnoticed, or is not
followed by the infliction of the proper penalty. It is in all cases the
certainty—and not the severity, of punishment, which constitutes
'Suppose one is not at the Beginning'.
What has been said thus far relates obviously to cases
where the mother is at the commencement of her work of child training. This
is the way to 'begin'; but you cannot begin unless you are at the beginning.
If your children are partly grown—and you find that they are not under your
command, the difficulty is much greater. The principles which should govern
the management are the same—but they cannot be applied by means so gentle.
The prison, it may be, must now be somewhat more real, the terms of
imprisonment somewhat longer—and there may be cases of insubordination so
decided as to require the offender to be carried to it by force, on account
of his refusal to go of his own accord—and perhaps to be held there, or even
to be tied. Cases requiring treatment so decisive as this, must be very rare
with children under ten years of age; and when they occur, the mother has
reason to feel great self-condemnation—or at least great self-abasement—at
finding that she has failed so entirely in the first great moral duty of the
mother—which is to train her children to complete submission to her
authority from the beginning.
'Children coming under New Control'.
Sometimes, however, it happens that children are
transferred from one charge to another, so that the one upon whom the duty
of government devolves, perhaps only for a time, finds that the child or
children put under his or her charge have been trained by previous
mismanagement to habits of utter insubordination. I say, trained
to such habits, for the practice of allowing children to gain their ends by
any particular means is really training them to the use of those means. Thus
multitudes of children are taught to disobey—and trained to habits of
insubmission and insubordination, by the means most effectually adapted to
When under these circumstances the children come under a
new charge, whether permanently or temporarily, the task to re-form their
characters is more delicate and difficult than where one can begin at the
beginning; but the principles are the same—and the success is equally
certain. The difficulty is somewhat increased by the fact that the person
thus provisionally in charge has often no natural authority over the
child—and the circumstances may moreover be such as to make it necessary to
abstain carefully from any measures that would lead to difficulty or
complaints to the mother—or any of those other forms of commotion or
annoyance, which ungoverned children know so well how to employ in gaining
their ends. The mother may be one of those weak-minded women who can
never see anything unreasonable in the crying complaints made by their
children against other people.
If the penalty annexed to the transgression is made as
much as possible the necessary and natural consequence of it—and is insisted
upon calmly, deliberately, and with inflexible decision—but without
irritation, without reproaches, almost without any indications even of
displeasure—but is, on the contrary, lightened as much as possible by
sympathy and kindness, and admitting the most palliating considerations in
respect to the nature of the offense, the result will certainly be the
establishment of the authority of the parent or guardian on a firm and
There are a great many cases of this kind, where a child
with confirmed habits of insubordination comes under the charge of a person
who is not responsible for the formation of these habits. Even the mother
herself sometimes finds herself in substantially this position with her own
children; as, for example, when after some years of lax and inefficient
government she becomes convinced that her management has been wrong—and that
it threatens to bring forth bitter fruits unless it is reformed. In these
cases, although the work is somewhat more difficult, the principles on which
success depends are the same. Slight penalties, firmly, decisively, and
invariably enforced—without violence, without scolding, without any
manifestation of resentment or anger—and, except in extreme cases, without
even expressions of displeasure—constitute a system which, if carried out
calmly—but with firmness and decision, will assuredly succeed.
'The real Difficulty'.
The case would thus seem to be very simple—and success
very easy. But, alas! this is far from being the case. Nothing is required,
it is true—but firmness, steadiness and decision; but, unfortunately, these
are the very requisites which, of all others, it seems most difficult for
mothers to command. They cannot govern their children—because they cannot
Still, if the mother possesses these qualities in any
tolerable degree, or is able to acquire them, this method of training her
children to the habit of submitting implicitly to her authority, by calmly
and good-naturedly—but firmly and invariably, affixing some slight privation
or penalty to every act of resistance to her will, is the easiest to
practice—and will certainly be successful. It requires no ingenuity, no
skill, no contrivance, no thought—nothing but steady persistence in a simple
routine. This was the first of the three modes of action enumerated at the
commencement of this discussion. There were two others named, which, though
requiring higher qualities in the mother than simple steadiness of purpose,
will make the work far more easy and agreeable, where these qualities are
Some further consideration of the subject of punishment,
with special reference to the light in which it is to be regarded in respect
to its nature and its true mode of action, will occupy the next chapter.
Chapter 5. The Philosophy of
It is very desirable that every parent and teacher should
have a distinct and clear conception of the true nature of
punishment—and of the precise manner in which it is designed to act
in repressing offenses. This is necessary in order that the punitive
measures which he may employ, may accomplish the desired good—and avoid the
evils which so often follow in their train.
'Nature and Design of Punishment'.
The first question which is to be considered in
determining upon the principles to be adopted and the course to be pursued
with children in respect to punishment, is—which of the two views in respect
to the nature and design of punishment which prevail in the minds of men we
will adopt in shaping our system. For,
1. Punishment may be considered in the light of a
vindictive retribution for sin—a penalty demanded by the eternal
principles of justice, as the natural and proper sequel and complement of
the past act of transgression, with or without regard to any beneficial
effects which may result from it in respect to future acts. Or,
2. It may be considered as a remedial measure,
adopted solely with reference to its influence as a means of deterring
the subject of it, or others, from transgression in time to come.
According to the first view, punishment is a 'penalty'
which 'justice' demands as a satisfaction for the past. According to the
other it is a 'remedy' which 'goodness' devises for the benefit of the
Theologians have lost themselves in endless speculations
on the question how far, in the government of God, punishment is to be
considered as possessing one or the other of these two characters, or both
combined. There seems to be also some uncertainty in the minds of men, in
relation to the precise light in which the penalties of violated law are to
be regarded by civil governments—and the spirit in which they are to be
administered—they being apparently, as prescribed and employed by most
governments, in some respects—and to some extent, retributive and
vindictive—and in other respects remedial and curative.
It would seem, however, that in respect to school and
family government, there could be no question on this point. The punishment
of a child by a parent, or of a pupil by a teacher, ought certainly, one
would think, to exclude the element of vindictive retribution altogether—and
to be employed solely with reference to the beneficial influences that may
be expected from it in time to come. If the injunction "Vengeance is Mine, I
will repay it, says the Lord" is to be recognized at all, it certainly ought
to be acknowledged here.
This principle, once fully and cordially admitted,
simplifies the subject of punishment, as administered by parents and
teachers, very much. One extremely important and very striking result of it
will appear from a moment's reflection. It is this, namely:
It excludes completely and effectually all manifestations
of irritation or annoyance in the infliction of punishment—all
harsh tones of voice, all scowling or angry looks, all violent or
threatening gesticulations—and every other mode, in fact, of expressing
indignation or passion. Such indications as these are wholly out of place in
punishment considered as the 'application of a remedy' devised beneficently
with the sole view of accomplishing a future good. They comport only with
punishment considered as vengeance, or a vindictive retribution for the past
This idea is fundamental. The mother who is made angry by
the misconduct of her children—and punishes them in a passion—acts under the
influence of a brute instinct. Her family government is in principle the
same as that of the lower animals over their young. It is, however, at any
rate, a 'government'; and such government is certainly better than none. But
human parents, in the training of their children, ought surely to aim at
something higher and nobler. They who do so, who possess themselves fully
with the idea that punishment, as they are to administer it, is wholly
remedial in its character—that is to say, is to be considered solely with
reference to the future good to be attained by it—will have established in
their minds a principle that will surely guide them into right ways—and
bring them out successfully in the end. They will soon acquire the habit of
never threatening, of never punishing in anger—and of calmly
considering, in the case of the faults which they observe in their children,
what course of procedure will be most effectual in correcting them.
Parents seem sometimes to have an idea that a
manifestation of something like anger—or, at least, very serious displeasure
on their part—is necessary in order to make a proper impression in respect
to its fault on the mind of the child. This, however, I think, is a mistake.
The impression is made by what we 'do'—and not by the indications of
irritation or displeasure which we manifest in doing it. To illustrate this,
I will state a case, narrating all its essential points just as it occurred.
"Mary," said Mary's aunt, Jane, who had come to make a
visit at Mary's mother's in the country, "I am going to the village this
afternoon—and if you would like you may go with me."
Mary was, of course, much pleased with this invitation.
"A part of the way," continued her aunt, "is by a path
across the fields. While we are there you must keep in the path all the
time, for it rained a little this morning—and I am afraid that the grass may
not be quite dry."
"Yes, Aunt Jane; I'll keep in the path," said Mary.
So they set out on the walk together. When they came to
the gate which led to the path across the fields, Aunt Jane said, "Remember,
Mary, you must keep in the path."
Mary said nothing—but ran forward. Pretty soon she began
to walk a little on the margin of the grass—and, before long, observing a
place where the grass was short and where the sun shone, she ran out boldly
upon it—and then, looking down at her shoes, she observed that they were not
wet. She held up one of her feet to her aunt as she came opposite to the
place, saying, "See, aunt, the grass is not wet at all."
"I see it is not," said her aunt. "I thought it would not
be wet; though I was not sure but that it might be. But come," she added,
holding out her hand, "I have concluded not to go to the village, after all.
We are going back home."
"Oh, Aunt Jane!" said Mary, following her aunt as she
began retracing her steps along the path. "What is that for?"
"I have altered my mind," said her aunt.
"What makes you alter your mind?"
By this time Aunt Jane had taken hold of Mary's hand—and
they were walking together along the path towards home.
"Because you don't obey me," she said.
"Why, auntie," said Mary, "the grass was not wet at all
where I went."
"No," said her aunt, "it was perfectly dry."
"But it did not do any harm at all for me to walk upon
it," said Mary.
"Not a bit of harm," said her aunt.
"Then why are you going home?" asked Mary.
"Because you don't obey me," replied her aunt.
"You see," said her aunt, "there is one thing about this
that you don't understand, because you are such a little girl. You will
understand it by-and-by, when you grow older; and I don't blame you for not
knowing it now, because you are so young."
"What is it that I don't know?" asked Mary.
"I am afraid you would not understand it very well, if I
were to explain it," replied her aunt.
"Try me," said Mary.
"Well, you see," replied her aunt, "I don't feel safe
with any child that does not obey me. This time no harm was done, because
the grass happened to be dry; but farther on there was a brook. I might have
told you not to go near the brink of the brook for fear of your falling in.
Then you might have gone, notwithstanding, if you thought there was no
danger, just as you went out upon the grass because you thought it was not
wet, notwithstanding my saying that you must keep in the path. So you see I
never feel safe in taking walks in places where there is any danger with
children that I cannot always depend upon to do exactly what I say."
Mary was, of course, now ready to make profuse promises
that she would obey her aunt in future on all occasions, and began to beg
that she would continue her walk to the village.
"No," said her aunt, "I don't think it would be quite
safe for me to trust to your promises, though I have no doubt you honestly
mean to keep them. But you remember you promised me that you would keep in
the path when we planned this walk; and yet when the time of temptation
came, you could not keep the promise; but you will learn. When I am going on
some perfectly safe walk I will take you with me again; and if I stay here
some time you will learn to obey me so perfectly, that I can take you with
me to any place, no matter how dangerous it may be."
Aunt Jane thus gently—but firmly, persisted in abandoning
the walk to the village—and returning home. But she immediately turned the
conversation away from the subject of Mary's fault—and amused her with
stories and aided her in gathering flowers, just as if nothing had happened;
and when she arrived at home she said nothing to anyone of Mary's
disobedience. Here now was punishment calculated to make a very strong
impression—but still without scolding, without anger, almost, in fact,
without even any manifestations of displeasure. And yet how long can any
reasonable person suppose it would be before Mary would learn, if her aunt
acted invariably on the same principles, to submit implicitly to her will?
'A Different Management'.
Compare the probable result of this mode of management
with the scolding and threatening policy. Suppose Aunt Jane had called to
Mary angrily, "Mary! Mary! come directly back into the path. I told you not
to go out of the path—and you are a very naughty child to disobey me. The
next time you disobey me, I will send you directly home!"
Mary would have been vexed and irritated, perhaps—and
would have said to herself, "How cross Aunt Jane is today!" but the "next
time" she would have been as disobedient as ever.
If mothers, instead of scowling, scolding and
threatening—and putting off doing the thing that ought to be done to the
"next time," would do that thing at once—and give up the scowling, scolding
and threatening altogether, they would find all parties immensely benefited
by the change.
It is evident, moreover, that by this mode of management
the punishment is employed not in the way of retribution—but as a
remedy. Mary loses her walk, not on the ground that she deserved to lose
it—but because it was not safe to continue it.
Some mother may perhaps say, in reference to the case of
Mary and her aunt, that it may be all very well in theory—but that
practically mothers have not the leisure and the means for adopting such
moderate measures. We cannot stop, she may say, every time we are going to
the village, on important business perhaps—and turn back and lose the
afternoon on account of the waywardness of a disobedient child.
My answer is that it will not have to be done
continually—but only very seldom. The effect of acting once or twice on this
principle, with the certainty on the part of the child that the mother or
the aunt will always act consistently, when the occasion calls for it, very
soon puts an end to all necessity for such action. Indeed, if Mary, in the
instance above given, had been managed in this way from infancy—she would
not have thought of leaving the path when forbidden to do so. It is only in
some such case as that of an aunt who knows how to manage right, coming as a
visitor into the family of a mother who manages wrong—that such an incident
as this could occur.
Still it must be admitted that the gentle methods of
discipline, which reason and common sense indicate as the true ones for
permanently influencing the minds of children and forming their characters,
do, in each individual case, require more time and care than the cuffs
and slaps dictated by angry passion. A cuff on the ear, such as a
cat gives to a rebellious kitten, is certainly the 'quickest' application
that can be made. The measures which are calculated to reach and affect the
heart, cannot vie with blows and scoldings—in respect to the promptness of
their action. Still, the parent or the teacher who will begin to act on the
principles here recommended with children while they are young, will find
that such methods are far more prompt in their action and more effectual in
immediate results than they would suppose—and that they will be the means of
establishing the only kind of authority which is really worthy of the name,
more rapidly than any other.
The special point, however, with a view to which these
illustrations are introduced, is, as has been already remarked, that
penalties of this nature—and imposed in this spirit, are not vindictive—but
simply remedial and reformatory. They are not intended to
satisfy the sense of justice for what is past—but only to secure greater
safety and happiness in time to come.
'The Element of Invariableness'.
Punishments may be very light and gentle in
their character, provided they are certain to follow the offense. It
is in their 'certainty'—and not in their 'severity', that the efficiency of
them lies. Very few children are ever severely burnt by putting their
fingers into the flame of a candle. They are effectually taught not to put
them in by very slight burnings, on account of the 'absolute invariableness'
of the result produced by the contact.
Mothers often do not understand this. They attempt to
cure some habitual fault by scoldings and threats, and declarations of what
they will certainly do "next time," and perhaps by occasional acts of real
severity in cases of peculiar aggravation. Instead, a quiet, gentle and
comparatively trifling infliction in 'every instance' of the fault, which
would be altogether more effectual.
A child, for example, has acquired the habit of leaving
the door open. Now occasionally scolding him, when it is specially cold—will
never cure him of the fault. But if there were an 'automaton' standing by
the side of the door, to say to him 'every time' that he came through
without shutting it, 'Door!' which call should be a signal to him to go back
and shut the door—and then sit down in a chair near by and count ten; and if
this slight penalty was 'invariably' enforced, he would be most effectually
cured of the fault in a very short time.
Now, the mother cannot be exactly this automaton, for she
cannot always be there; but she can recognize the principle—and carry it
into effect as far as possible—that is, 'invariably, when she is there'. And
though she will not thus cure the boy of the fault so soon as the automaton
would do it, she will still do it very soon.
'Irritation and Anger'.
Avoid, as much as possible, everything of an irritating
character in the punishments inflicted, for to irritate frequently the mind
of a child tends, of course, to form within him an irritable and unamiable
temper. It is true, perhaps, that it is not possible absolutely to avoid
this effect of punishment in all cases; but a great deal may be done to
diminish the evil, by the exercise of a little tact and ingenuity on the
part of the mother whose attention is once particularly directed to the
The first and most important measure of precaution on
this point is the absolute exclusion of everything like angry looks and
words—as accompaniments of punishment. If you find that any wrong which your
child commits awakens irritation or anger in your mind, suspend your
judgment of the case and postpone all action until the irritation and anger
have subsided—and you can consider calmly and deliberately what to do, with
a view, not of satisfying your own resentment—but of doing good to the
child. Then, when you have decided what to do, carry your decision into
effect in a good-natured manner—firmly and inflexibly—but still without any
bitterness, or even harshness of manner.
'Cooperation of the Offender'.
There are many cases in which, by the exercise of a
little tact and ingenuity, the parent can actually secure the 'cooperation'
of the child in the infliction of the punishment prescribed for incurring of
a fault. There are many advantages in this, when it can be done. It gives
the child an interest in curing himself of the fault; it makes the
punishment more effectual; and it removes almost all possibility of its
producing any irritation or resentment in his mind. To illustrate this we
will give a case. It is of no consequence, for the purpose of this article,
whether it is a real or an imaginary one.
Little Egbert, seven years old, had formed the habit so
common among children of wasting a great deal of time in dressing himself,
so as not to be ready for breakfast when the second bell rang. His mother
offered him a reward if he would himself devise any plan that would cure him
of the fault.
"I don't know what to do, exactly, to cure you," she
said; "but if you will think of any plan that will really succeed, I will
give you an excursion in a carriage."
"How far?" asked Egbert.
"Ten miles," said his mother. "I will take you in a
carriage on an excursion anywhere you say, for ten miles, if you will find
out some way to cure yourself of this fault."
"I think you ought to punish me," said Egbert, speaking
in rather a timid tone.
"That's just it," said his mother, "It is for you to
think of some kind of punishment that won't be too disagreeable for me to
inflict—and which will yet be successful in curing you of the fault. I will
allow you two weeks to get cured. If you are not cured in two weeks I shall
think the punishment is not enough, or that it is not of a good kind; but if
it works so well as to cure you in two weeks, then you shall have the ride."
Egbert wished to know whether he must think of the
punishment himself, or whether his sister Mary might help him. His mother
gave him permission to ask anybody to help him that he pleased. Mary, after
some reflection, recommended that, whenever he was not dressed in time, he
was to have only one lump of sugar, instead of four, in his tumbler of water
His usual drink at breakfast was a tumbler of water, with
four lumps of sugar in it. The first bell was rung at half-past six—and
breakfast was at half-past seven. His sister recommended that, as half an
hour was ample time for the work of dressing, Egbert should go down every
morning and report himself ready before the clock struck seven. If he failed
of this, he was to have only one lump of sugar, instead of four, in his
glass of water.
There was some question about the necessity of requiring
him to be ready before seven; Egbert being inclined to argue that if he was
ready by breakfast-time, that would be enough. But Mary said no. "To allow
you a full hour to dress," she said, "when half an hour is enough, may
answer very well in respect to having you ready for breakfast—but it is no
way to cure you of the fault. That would enable you to play half of the time
while you are dressing, without incurring the punishment; but the way to
cure you is to make it sure that you will have the punishment to bear if you
play at all."
So it was decided to allow only half an hour for the
Egbert's mother said she was a little afraid about the
one lump of sugar that was left to him when he failed.
"The plan may succeed," she said; "I am very willing that
you should try it; but I am afraid that when you are tempted to stop and
play in the midst of your dressing, you will say, I shall have 'one' lump of
sugar, at any rate—and so will yield to the temptation. So perhaps it would
be safer for you to make the rule that you are not to have 'any' sugar at
all when you fail. Still, perhaps your plan will succeed. You can try it and
see. I would wish to have the punishment as slight as possible, to produce
By such management as this, it is plain that Egbert is
brought into actual cooperation with his mother in the infliction of a
punishment to cure him of a fault. It is true, that making such an
arrangement as this—and then leaving it to its own working, would lead to no
result. As in the case of all other plans and methods, it must be strictly,
firmly—and perseveringly followed up, by the watchful efficiency of the
mother. We cannot 'substitute' the action of the child for that of the
parent in the work of early training—but we can often derive very great
advantage by securing his cooperation.
So true is it that the efficacy of any mode of punishment
consists in the 'certainty of its infliction', that even playful punishments
are in many cases sufficient to accomplish the cure of a fault. George,
for example, was in the habit of continually getting into disputes and mild
quarrels with his sister Amelia, a year or two younger than himself. "I know
it is very foolish," he said to his mother, when she was talking with him on
the subject one evening after he had gone to bed—and she had been telling
him a story—and his mind was in a calm and tranquil state. "It is very
foolish—but somehow I can't help it. I forget."
"Then you must have some punishment to make you
remember," said his mother.
"But sometimes 'she' is the one to blame," said George,
"and then she must have the punishment."
"No," replied his mother. "When a lady and a gentleman
become involved in a dispute in polite society, it is always the gentleman
that must be considered to be to blame."
"But Amelia and I are not polite society," said George.
"You ought to be," said his mother. "At any rate, when
you, an older brother, get into disputes with your sister, it is because you
have not sense enough to manage so as to avoid them. If you were a little
older and wiser you would have sense enough."
"Well, mother, what shall the punishment be?" said
"Would you really like to have a punishment, so as to
cure yourself of the fault?" asked his mother.
George said that he 'would' like one.
"Then," said his mother, "I propose that every time you
get into a dispute with Amelia, you turn your jacket wrong side out—and wear
it so a little while as a symbol of folly."
George laughed heartily at this idea—and said he would
like such a punishment as that very much. It would only be fun, he said. His
mother explained to him that it would be fun, perhaps, two or three
times—but after that it would only be a trouble; but still, if they decided
upon that as a punishment, he must submit to it in every case. Every time he
found himself getting into any dispute or difficulty with his sister, he
must stop at once and turn his jacket inside out; and if he did not himself
think to do this, she herself, if she was within hearing, would simply say,
"Jacket!" and then he must do it.
"No matter which of us is most to blame?" asked George.
"You will always be the one that is most to blame,"
replied his mother, "or, at least, almost always. When a boy is playing with
a sister younger than himself, 'he' is the one that is most to blame for the
quarreling. His sister may be to blame by doing something wrong in the first
instance; but he is the one to blame for allowing it to lead to a quarrel.
If it is a little thing, he ought to yield to her—and not to mind it; and if
it is a great thing, he ought to go away and leave her, rather than to stop
and quarrel about it. So you see you will be the one to blame for the
quarrel in almost all cases. There may possibly be some cases where you will
not be to blame at all—and then you will have to be punished when you don't
deserve it—and you must bear it like a man. This is a liability that happens
under all systems."
"We will try the plan for two weeks," she continued. "So
now remember, every single time that I hear you disputing or quarreling with
Amelia, you must take off your jacket and put it on again—wrong side out—no
matter whether you think you were to blame or not—and wear it so a few
minutes. You can wear it so for a longer or shorter time, just as you think
is best to make the punishment effectual in curing you of the fault. By the
end of the two weeks we shall be able to see whether the plan is working
well and doing any good."
"So now," continued his mother, "shut up your eyes and go
to sleep. You are a good boy to wish to cure yourself of such faults—and to
be willing to help me in contriving ways to do it. And I have no doubt that
you will submit to this punishment good-naturedly every time—and not make
any trouble about it."
Let it be remembered, now, that the efficacy of such
management as this, consists not in the devising of it, nor in holding such
a conversation as the above with the boy—beneficial as this might be—but in
the 'faithfulness and strictness with which it is followed up' during the
two weeks of trial.
In the case in question, the progress which George made
in diminishing his tendency to get into disputes with his sister was so
great, that his mother told him, at the end of the first two weeks, that
their plan had succeeded "admirably"—so much so, she said, that she thought
the punishment of taking off his jacket and turning it inside out would be
for the future unnecessarily severe—and she proposed to substitute for it
taking off his cap—and putting it on upside down.
The reader will, of course, understand that the object of
such an illustration as this is not to recommend the particular measure here
described for adoption in other cases—but to illustrate the spirit and
temper of mind in which all measures adopted by the mother in the training
of her children should be carried into effect. Measures that involve no
threats, no scolding, no angry manifestations of displeasure—but are even
playful in their character, may be very efficient in action—if they
are firmly and perseveringly maintained.
'Punishments that are the Natural Consequence of the
There is great advantage in adapting the character of the
punishment, to that of the fault—making it, as far as possible, the natural
and proper consequence of it. For instance, if the boys of a school do not
come in promptly at the close of the twenty minutes' recess—but waste five
minutes by their dilatoriness in obeying the summons of the bell—and the
teacher keeps them for 'five minutes beyond the usual hour of dismissal', to
make up for the lost time, the punishment may be felt by them to be
deserved—and it may have a good effect in diminishing the evil it is
intended to remedy. But it will probably excite a considerable degree of
mental irritation, if not of resentment, on the part of the children, which
will diminish the good effect, or is, at any rate, an evil which is to be
avoided if possible.
If now, on the other hand, he assigns precisely the same
penalty in another form, the whole of the good effect may be secured without
the evil. Suppose he addresses the boys just before they are to go out at
the next recess, as follows:
"I think, boys, that twenty minutes is about the right
length of time for the recess, all told—that is, from the time you go out to
the time when you are 'all' back in your seats again, quiet and ready to
resume your studies. I found yesterday that it took five minutes for you all
to come in—that is, that it was five minutes from the time the bell was rung
before all were in their seats; and today I shall ring the bell after
'fifteen' minutes, so as to give you time to come in. If I find today that
it takes ten minutes, then I will give you more time to come in tomorrow, by
ringing the bell after you have been out 'ten' minutes."
"I am sorry to have you lose so much of your recess—and
if you can make the time for coming in shorter, then, of course, your recess
can be longer. I would not wonder if, after a few trials, you should find
that you could all come in and get into your places in 'one' minute; and if
so, I shall be very glad, for then you can have an uninterrupted recess of
'nineteen' minutes, which will be a great gain."
Everyone who has had any considerable experience in the
management of boys will readily understand how different the effect of this
measure will be from that of the other, while yet the penalty is in both
cases precisely the same—namely, the loss, for the boys, of five minutes of
'The Little Runaway'.
In the same manner, where a child three or four years old
was in the habit, when allowed to go out by himself in the yard to play, of
running off into the street, a very appropriate punishment would be to
require him, for the remainder of the day, to stay in the house and keep in
sight of his mother, on the ground that it was not safe to trust him by
himself in the yard. This would be much better than sending him to bed an
hour earlier, or subjecting him to any other inconvenience or privation
having no obvious connection with the fault. For it is of the greatest
importance to avoid, by every means, the exciting of feelings of irritation
and resentment in the mind of the child, so far as it is possible to do this
without impairing the efficiency of the punishment. It is not always
possible to do this. The efficiency of the punishment is, of course, the
essential thing. But parents and teachers who turn their attention to the
point, will find that it is much less difficult than one would suppose to
secure this end completely without producing the too frequent accompaniments
of punishment—anger, ill-temper, and ill-will.
In the case, for example, of the child not allowed to go
out into the yard—but required to remain in the house in sight of his
mother, the mother should not try to make the punishment 'more heavy' by
speaking again and again of his fault—and evincing her displeasure by trying
to make the confinement as irksome to the child as possible; but, on the
other hand, should do all in her power to alleviate it. "I am very sorry,"
she might say, "to have to keep you in the house. It would be much
pleasanter for you to go out and play in the yard—if it was only safe. I
don't blame you very much for running away. It is what foolish little
children, as little as you, very often do. I suppose you thought it would be
good fun to run out a little way in the street. And it is good fun; but it
is not safe. By-and-by, when you grow a little older, you won't be so
foolish—and then I can trust you in the yard at any time without having to
watch you at all. And now what can I get for you to amuse you while you stay
in the house with me?"
Punishment coming in this way—and administered in this
spirit, will irritate the mind and injure the temper comparatively little;
and, instead of being less; will be much more effective in accomplishing the
'right kind' of cure for the fault, than any stern, severe and vindictive
retribution can possibly be.
'The Question of Physical Punishment'.
The question of resorting to physical punishment in the
training of the young has been much, very much, argued and discussed on both
sides by writers on education; but it seems to me to be mainly a question of
competency and skill. If the parent or teacher has tact or skill enough—and
practical knowledge enough of the workings of the youthful mind, he can gain
all the necessary ascendency over it—without resort to the violent
infliction of bodily pain in any form. If he has not these qualities, then
he must turn to the next best means at his disposal; for it is better that a
child should be trained and governed by the rod—than not trained and
governed at all. I do not suppose that savages could possibly control their
children without blows.
On the other hand, Maria Edgeworth would have brought
under complete submission to her will, a family of the most ardent and
impulsive juveniles, perhaps without even a harsh word or a frown. If a
mother begins with children at the beginning, is just and true in all her
dealings with them, gentle in manner—but inflexibly firm in act—and looks
constantly for Divine guidance and aid in her conscientious efforts to do
her duty—I feel quite confident that it will never be necessary for her to
strike them. The necessity may, however, sooner or later come—in the
case of those who act on the contrary principle. Under such management,
the rod may come to be the only alternative to absolute unmanageableness
There will be occasion, however, to refer to this subject
more fully in a future chapter.