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to study or to work untiringly in the line of his own tastes, and in no
other line, it does not always occur to his parents that just here—in
this reluctance to apply himself in the line of wise expediency rather
than of personal fancy—there is a failing which, if not trained out of
that boy, will stand as a barrier to his truest manhood, and will make
him a second-rate man when he might be a first-rate one; a one-sided
man instead of a well-proportioned man. Such a boy is quite likely to
be looked upon as one who must be permitted to have his own way, since
that way is evidently not a bad way, and he shows unusual power in its
direction. So that boy may be left untrained in this particular until
he is hopelessly past training, merely because his chief fault is
unrecognized by those who could correct it, and who would gladly do so
if they saw it in its due proportions.

Careful study and a wise discrimination are needed on a parent’s part
to ascertain a child’s peculiar faults. Each parent would do well to
ask himself, or herself, the questions, “What are the special faults
of my child? Where is he weakest? In what direction is his greatest
strength liable to lead him astray, and when is it most likely to fail
him? Which of his faults is most prominent? Which of them is of chief
importance for immediate correction?” Such questions as these should
be considered at a time favorable to deliberate judgment, when there
is least temptation to be influenced by personal feeling, either of
preference or dissatisfaction. They should be pondered long and well.

The unfriendly criticisms of neighbors, and the kind suggestions of
friends, are not to be despised by a parent in making up an estimate
of his child’s failings and faults. Rarely is a parent so discerning,
so impartial, and so wise, that he can know his children through and
through, and be able to weigh the several traits, and perceive the
every imperfection and exaggeration, of their characters, with unerring
accuracy and absolute fairness. A judge is supposed to be disqualified
for an impartial hearing of a case in which he has a direct personal
interest. A physician will not commonly make a diagnosis of his own
disorders, lest his fears or hopes should bias his judgment. And a
parent is as liable as a judge or a physician to be swayed unduly by
interest or affection, in an estimate of a case which is before him for
a decision.

Even though, therefore, every parent must decide for himself concerning
the interests and the treatment of his own children, he ought to be
glad to take into consideration what others think and say of those
children, while he is making up his mind as to his duty in the
premises. And what is written or said on this subject by competent
educators is worthy of attention from every parent who would train
his children understandingly. There is little danger that any parent
will give too much study to the question of his child’s specific needs,
or have too many helps to a wise conclusion on that point. There is
a great deal of danger that the whole subject will be neglected or
undervalued by a parent.

If a parent were explicitly to ask the question of a fair and
plain-speaking friend, familiar with that parent’s children, and
competent to judge them, What do you think is the chief fault—or the
most objectionable characteristic—of my son—or daughter? the frank
answer to that question would in very many cases be an utter surprise
to the parent, the fault or characteristic named not having been
suspected by the parent. A child may be so much like the parent just
here, that the parent’s blindness to his or her own chief fault or lack
may forbid the seeing of the child’s similar deformity. Or, again,
that child may be so totally unlike the parent, that the parent will
be unable to appreciate, or even to apprehend, that peculiarity of
the child which is apparent to every outside intelligent observer.
A child’s reticence from deep feeling has often been counted by an
over-demonstrative parent as a sign of want of sensitiveness; and so
_vice versa_.

Parents need help from others, from personal friends whom they can
trust to speak with impartiality and kindness, or from the teachers of
their children, in the gaining of a proper estimate and understanding
of their children’s characteristics and needs. The parent who does
not realize this truth, and act on it, will never do as well as might
be done for his or her child. God has given the responsibility of the
training of that child to the parent; but he has also laid on that
parent the duty of learning, by the aid of all proper means, what are
that child’s requirements, and how to meet them.



The measure of will-power is the measure of personal power, with a
child as with an adult. The possession or the lack of will-power is
the possession or the lack of personal power, in every individual’s
sphere of life and being. The right or the wrong use of will-power is
the right or the wrong exercise of an individual’s truest personality.
Hence the careful guarding and the wise guiding of a child’s will
should be counted among the foremost duties of one who is responsible
for a child’s training.

Will-training is an important element in child-training; but
will-breaking has no part or place in the training of a child. A broken
will is worth as much in its sphere as a broken bow; just that, and
no more. A child with a broken will is not so well furnished for the
struggle of life as a child with only one arm, or one leg, or one eye.
Such a child has no power of strong personality, or of high achievement
in the world. Every child ought to be trained to conform his will to
the demands of duty; but that is bending his will, not breaking it.
Breaking a child’s will is never in order.

The term “will” as here employed applies to the child’s faculty of
choosing or deciding between two courses of action. Breaking a child’s
will is bringing the pressure of external force directly upon that
will, and causing the will to give way under the pressure of that
force. Training a child’s will is bringing such influences to bear upon
the child that he is ready to choose or decide in favor of the right
course of action.

To break a child’s will is to crush out for the time being, and so far
to destroy, the child’s privilege of free choice; it is to force him
to an action against his choice, instead of inducing him to choose in
the right direction. A child’s will is his truest personality; the
expression of his will in a free choice is the highest expression of
his personality. And a child’s personality is to be held sacred by
God’s representative who is over the child, even as God himself holds
sacred the personality of every human being created in the image of God.

God never says unqualifiedly to a human being, “You shall not exercise
your faculty of choice between the way of life and the way of death;
you shall walk in the way which I know to be best for you.” But, on the
contrary, God says to every one (Deut. 30: 15): “See, I have set before
thee this day life and good, and death and evil,”—for thy choice.
Here, as everywhere, God concedes to man the privilege of exercising
his will-power in the direction of life and good, or of death and
evil. The strictest Calvinist and the broadest Arminian are at one in
their opinion so far. Whatever emphasis is laid, in their philosophy,
on God’s influencing or enabling the human will to its final choice,
neither of them disputes the fact that man is actually permitted to use
that will in the direction of his choice. “It is God that worketh _in_
man to _will_ and to work for His good pleasure.” It is not that God
worketh above man to crush out man’s faculty of willing whether to act
for or against His good pleasure. In other words, God has fore-ordained
that every man shall have the freedom of his will—and take the

It is true that God holds out before man, as an inducement to him in
his choosing, the inevitable results of his choice. If he chooses good,
life comes with it. If he chooses evil, death is its accompaniment. The
rewards and the punishments are declared in advance; but after all, and
in spite of all, the choice is man’s own. And every soul shall have
eternally the destiny of its own choosing. The representative of God
clothed with power, as he stood before the people of Israel, did not
say, “You _shall_ choose God’s service now; and if you deliberately
refuse to do so, God will break your will so that you do do it;” but he
said, “If it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day
whom ye will serve” (Josh. 24: 15).

As God, our wise and loving Father in heaven, deals with us his
children, so we, as earthly fathers, should deal with our children. We
should guard sacredly their privilege of personal choice; and while
using every proper means to induce them to choose aright, we should
never, never, never force their choice, even into the direction of our
intelligent preference for them. The final responsibility of a choice
and of its consequences rests with the child, and not with the parent.

A child’s will ought to be strong for right-doing. If it be not so at
the start, it is the parent’s duty to guide, or train, it accordingly.
But to break, or crush, a child’s will, is inconsistent with the
educating and training of that will. A conflict between a parent and a
child, where the only question is, Whose will shall yield to the other?
is, after all, neither more nor less than a conflict of brute force.

Whether, in any instance, the will of the parent be set on having his
child commit some repulsive crime against which the child’s moral
nature recoils, or whether the will of the parent be set on the
child’s reciting a Bible text or saying a prayer, the mere conflict of
wills as a conflict of wills is a conflict of brute force; and in such
a conflict neither party ought to succeed,—for success in any such case
is always a failure. If the parent really wills that the child shall do
right, the parent’s endeavor should be to have the child will in the
same direction. Merely to force one will into subjection to the other
is, however, an injury both to the one who forces and to the one who

A hypothetical illustration may make this matter clearer. A father says
to his strong-willed child: “Johnny, shut that door.” Johnny says, “I
won’t.” The father says, “You shall.” Johnny rejoins, “I won’t.” An
issue is here made between two wills—the father’s and the son’s. Many
a parent would suppose that in such a case the child’s will ought to
be broken, subjugated, forced, if need be, under the pressure of the
father’s will; and the more conscientious the parent, the firmer is
likely to be his conviction of duty accordingly.

It is at such a point as this that the evil of breaking a child’s will,
instead of training it, finds its foothold in many a Christian home.
The father is determined not to yield his will to his child’s will. The
child is determined not to yield his will to his father’s will. It is
the old conflict between “an irresistible force and an immovable body.”
In such a case, brute force may compel the child to do that which he
chooses not to do, just as the rack and thumb-screws of the Inquisition
could compel the tortured one to deny a belief which he chooses to
adhere to; but in the one case, as in the other, the victim of the
torturing pressure is permanently harmed, while the cause of truth and
right has been in no sense the gainer by the triumph. Oh, what if God
should treat his children in that way!

What, then, it may be asked, should be done with such a child in an
issue like this? It certainly would have been better, it would have
been far better, for the parent not to make a direct issue by following
the child’s first refusal with the unqualified declaration, “You
shall.” But with the issue once made, however unfortunately, then what?
Let the parent turn to the child in loving gentleness,—not _then_ in
severity, and never, never, never in _anger_,—and tell him tenderly of
a better way than that which he is pursuing, urging him to a wiser,
nobler choice. In most cases the very absence of any show of angry
conflict on the father’s part will prompt the child to choose to do
that which he said he would not do. But if worst comes to worst (for
we are here taking the extremest supposable issue, which ought indeed
rarely, if ever, to occur), let the parent say to the child: “Johnny, I
shall have to give you your choice in this matter. You can either shut
that door or take a whipping.” Then a new choice is before the boy, and
his will is free and unbroken for its meeting.

Be it understood, the father has no right to say, “I will whip you
until you shut that door;” for that would be to deprive the boy of
a choice, to deprive the boy of his will-power in the direction of
his action: and that no parent is ever justified in doing. If the boy
chooses to be whipped rather than to obey, the father must accept the
result so far, and begin again for the next time; although, of course,
there must be no undue severity in a child’s punishment; even the
civil law forbids that. The father as a father is not entitled to have
his will stand in the place of his child’s will; even though he is
privileged to strive to bring the child to will in the same direction
that the father’s will trends.

All the way along through his training-life, a child ought to know
what are to be the legitimate consequences of his chosen action, in
every case, and then be privileged to choose accordingly. There is
a place for punishment in a child’s training, but punishment is a
penalty attached to a choice; it is not brute force applied to compel
action against choice. No child ought ever to be punished, unless he
understood, when he chose to do the wrong in question, that he was
thereby incurring the penalty of that punishment.

In most cases it is better, as has been said, for a parent to _avoid_
a direct issue with a child, than to seek, or even than to recognize
and meet, an issue. And in the endeavor to train a child’s will, there
is often a gain in giving the child an alternative consequence of
obedience or disobedience. _That_ is God’s way of holding out rewards
and punishments. For example, a wise young mother was just giving her
little boy a bit of candy which was peculiarly prized by him, when,
in speaking to a lady visitor he called her by the familiar term used
by older members of the family in addressing her. The mother reminded
him of the manner in which he should speak to the lady. He refused to
conform to this. “Then I cannot let you have this candy,” said the
mother. “All right,” was the wilful reply. “I’d rather go without the
candy than call her what you tell me to.” The mother turned quietly
away, taking the candy with her. An hour later that child came to his
mother, saying, “Mamma, perhaps you can give me that candy now; for
I will always call that lady just what you tell me to.” A few added
words from the mother at that juncture settled that point for all time.
Thenceforward the child did as he had thus been led to will to do. His
will had not been broken, but it had been newly directed by judicious

But, it may be asked, if a child be told by his mother to leave the
room, at a time when it is peculiarly important that he should not
remain there, and he says that he will not go, what shall be done with
him? Shall he be permitted to have his own way, against his own true
welfare? If the chief point be to get him out of the room, and there
is no time just then for his training, the child can be carried out by
main strength. But that neither breaks nor trains the child’s will. It
is not a triumph of will, but of muscle. The child, in such a case,
leaves the room against his will, and in spite of it. His will has
simply been ignored, not broken. And there are times when a child’s
bodily removal from one place to another is more important for the
time being than is, just then, the child’s will-training. Such would
be the case if the house were on fire, or if the child were taken
suddenly ill. But that is apart from the question of will-training or
will-breaking. The distinction here noted ought not to be lost sight of
in considering this question.

If, however, in the case above cited, the purpose of the mother be to
meet the issue which is there raised, and to have it settled once for
all whose will shall triumph, right or wrong, the mother can bring the
pressure of brute force to bear on the child’s will, in order to its
final breaking. Under that pressure, the child’s life may go out before
his will is broken. In many an instance of that sort, this has been the
result. Or, again, the child’s will may then be broken. If it be so,
the child is harmed for life; and so is his mother. The one has come
into a slavish submission to the conscientiously tyrannical demands of
the other. Both have obtained wrong conceptions of parental authority,
wrong conceptions of filial obedience, and wrong conceptions of the
plan and methods of the Divine-Paternal government. But if, on the
other hand, now be the time for teaching a child to use his own will
aright, at the summons of one who is older and wiser than himself, and
who is over him in the plan of God for his guidance and training, there
is a better way than either the forcing a child out of the room against
his will, or the breaking of his will so that that will is powerless to
prompt him to stay or to go.

The course to be pursued in this case is that already suggested in
the case of the child whose father told him to shut the door. Let the
mother give herself, at once, to firm and gentle endeavors to bring
that child to use his own will, freely and gladly, in the direction of
her commands to him. If necessary, let there be no more of sleeping or
eating in that home until that child, under the forceful pressure of
wise counsel and of affectionate entreaty, has willed to do that which
he ought to do,—has willed to be an obedient child. Here, again, is the
difference between the wise training of the will, and the always unwise
and unjustifiable breaking of the will.

Even in the matter of dealing with the lower animals, it has been
found that the old idea of “breaking” the will as a substitute for,
or as a necessary precedent of, the “training” the will, is an
erroneous one; and the remarkable power of such horse-trainers as
Rarey and Gleason grows out of the fact that they are _trainers_, and
not _breakers_, of horses. A standard work on Dog Training, by S. T.
Hammond, is based on the idea, indicated in one of its titles, of
“Training _versus_ Breaking.” It might seem, indeed, that the counsel
of this latter writer, concerning the wise treatment of a young dog
taken newly in hand for his training, were given to a parent concerning
the wise treatment of a young child when first taken in hand for this

“Do not fail to abundantly caress him and speak kindly words,” he says;
“and never under any circumstances, no matter what the provocation,
allow yourself to scold, or [in this early stage] strike him, as this
is entirely at variance with our system, and is sure to result in
the defeat of our plans.... Be very gentle with him at all times.
Carefully study his disposition, and learn all of his ways, that you
may the more readily understand just how to manage him. You should be
in perfect sympathy with him, and humor all his whims and notions, and
endeavor to teach him that you truly love him. In a short time you
will find that this love will be returned tenfold, and that he is ever
anxiously watching for your coming, and never so happy as when in your
presence and enjoying your caresses.” This, be it borne in mind, is in
a line of work that seeks to bring the entire will of the trained in
loving subjection to the will of the trainer. And that which is none
too high a standard for a young dog ought not to be deemed too high for
attainment by a rational child.

Surely that which is found to be the best way for a trainer of dogs on
the one hand, and which, on the other hand, is God’s way with all his
children, may fairly be recognized as both practicable and best for a
human parent’s dealing with his intelligent little ones. And all this
is written by one who in well-nigh forty years of parental life has
tried more than one way in child-training, and who long ago learned
by experience as well as by study that God’s way in this thing is
unmistakably the best way.



With all the modern improvements in methods of dealing with
children,—and these improvements are many and great,—it is important to
bear in mind that judicious _discipline_ has an important part in the
wise training of the young. Discipline is not everything in the sphere
of child-training; but discipline is much, in that sphere. Discipline
is an important factor in will-training; and will-training is an
important factor in wise child-training, although will-breaking is not.

Formerly, discipline was the great feature, if not, indeed, the only
feature, in the training of children. There was a time when children
were not allowed to sit in the presence of their parents, or to speak
to them unless they were first spoken to, or to have a place with
their parents at the home table or in the church pew; when the approved
mode of teaching was a primitive and very simple one. “They told a
child to learn; and if he did not, they beat him.” The school-days
of children were then spoken of as “when they were under the rod.”
Even the occasional celebration of a holy day did not bring unalloyed
delight to the little ones; as, for instance, “on Innocents’ Day, an
old custom of our ancestors was to flog the poor children in their
beds, not as a punishment, but to impress on their minds the murder of
the innocents.”

But all this is in the long past. For a century or more the progress of
interest in and attention to the children has been steady and rapid.
And now the best talent of the world is laid under contribution for
the little ones. In the provisions of song and story and pictures and
toys and games, as well as in school buildings and school appliances
and school methods, the place of the children is foremost. At home they
certainly do not hesitate to sit down when and where they please, or
to speak without waiting to be spoken to. Indeed, there are parents
who wonder if _they_ will ever get a chance to sit down while their
children are in the house; or if ever those children will stop asking
questions. Meanwhile in secular schools and in Sunday-schools the aim
seems to be to make learning as attractive as possible to children, and
to relieve study, as far as may be, of all tediousness and discomfort.

Now, that this state of things is, on the whole, a decided improvement
over that which it displaced, there is no room for fair doubt. Yet
there is always a danger of losing sight of one important truth in
the effort to give new and due prominence to another. Hence attention
should be given to the value of judicious discipline in the training
of children. Children need to learn how to do things which they do
not want to do, when those things ought to be done. Older people have
to do a great many things from a sense of duty. Unless children are
trained to recognize duty as more binding than inclination, they will
suffer all their lives through from their lack of discipline in this

Children ought to be trained to get up in the morning at a proper hour,
for some other reason than that this is to be “the maddest, merriest
day in all the glad new year.” They ought to learn to go to bed at a
fitting time, whether they are sleepy or not. Their hours of eating,
and the quality and quantity of their food, ought to be regulated
by some other standard than their inclinations. In their daily life
there must be a place for tasks as tasks, for times of study under the
pressure of stern duty, in the effort to train them to do their right
work properly. It is not enough to have children learn only lessons
which they enjoy, and this at times and by methods which are peculiarly
pleasing to them. President Porter, of Yale, said, in substance, that

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Online LibraryH. Clay (Henry Clay) TrumbullHints on child-training → online text (page 2 of 13)