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the chief advantage of the college curriculum is, that it trains a
young man to do what he ought to do, when he ought to do it, whether he
wants to do it or not. Any course of training for a young person that
fails to accomplish thus much, is part of a sadly imperfect system.

There are few, if any, children who do not need to be trained to
apply themselves earnestly to occupations which they dislike. The
tastes of some children are very good, and of others very poor; but
nearly all children have positive inclinations in one direction or
in another. They like playing better than working or reading; or
they prefer reading or working to playing. Some prefer to remain
indoors; others prefer to be outside. Some want to occupy themselves
always in mechanical pursuits; others would always be at games of one
sort or another. Some enjoy being with companions; others prefer to
be by themselves; yet others would attach themselves to one or two
persons only, having little care for the society of anybody else. In
their studies, children show, perhaps very early, a decided fancy
for geography, or history or mathematics, or the languages, and a
pronounced distaste for other branches of learning. Now, whether a
child’s tastes are elevated or unrefined, in the direction of better
or more undesirable pursuits, he ought not to be permitted to follow
always his own fancies, or to do only that which he really likes to do.

The parent or the teacher must decide what pursuit of activity, or what
branch of study, is best for each several child, and must train him to
it accordingly. In making this decision, it is important to consider
fully the tastes and peculiarities of the particular child under
training; but the decision itself must rest with the guardian rather
than with the child. Whatever place “elective” studies may properly
have in a university curriculum, there is need of positive limitations
to the elective system of duties in the nursery and in the home sphere
generally.

Hardly anything can be more important in the mental training of a
child than the bringing him to do what he ought to do, and to do it in
its proper time, whether he enjoys doing it or not. The measure of a
child’s ability to do this becomes in the long run, the measure of his
practical efficiency in whatever sphere of life he labors. No man can
work always merely in the line of his personal preferences. He must do
many things which are distasteful to him. Unless he was trained as a
child to do such things persistently, he cannot do them to advantage
when they are upon him as a necessity. Nor can any man do his best work
as well as he ought to, if he works always and only in one line. A
one-sided man is not a well-balanced man, even though his one side be
the right side. It is better to use the dextral hand than the sinister,
but it is certainly preferable to be ambidextrous.

There is little danger that intelligent Christian parents or teachers
will at this day refuse to consider duly a child’s tastes and
peculiarities, in their efforts to instruct and train him. While,
however, they are making study attractive and life enjoyable to a
child, parents should see to it that the child learns to keep quiet
at specified times, and to be active at other times; that he studies
assigned lessons, does set tasks, denies himself craved indulgences;
that he goes and comes, that he stands or moves, at designated
hours,—not because he wants to do these things, but because he _must_.
Now, as of old, “it is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his
youth.”




VII.

_DENYING A CHILD WISELY._


One of the hardest and one of the most important things in the training
of a loved child is to deny him that which he longs for, and which
we could give to him, but which he would better not have. It is very
pleasant to gratify a child. There is real enjoyment in giving to him
what he asks for, when we can do it prudently. But wise withholding is
quite as important as generous giving in the proper care of a child.

Next to denying a child necessary food and raiment, for the sustenance
of very life, the unkindest treatment of a child is to give him
everything that he asks for. Every parent recognizes this truth within
certain limits, and therefore refuses an unsheathed knife, or a
percussion cartridge, or a cup of poison, to a child who cries for it.
But the breadth and the full significance of the principle involved
are not so generally accepted as they should be.

A child ought to be denied, by his parents, many things which in
themselves are harmless. It is an injury to any child to have always
at the table the dishes which he likes best; to have uniformly the cut
or the portion which he prefers; to have every plaything which his
parents can afford to give him; to dress—even within their means—just
as he wants to; and to go, with them, where and when he pleases. That
child who has never a legitimate desire ungratified is poorly fitted
for the duties and the trials of every-day life in the world. He does
not, indeed, enjoy himself now as he might hope to through a different
training. It is sadly to a parent’s discredit when a child can truly
say, “My father, or my mother, never denied me any pleasure which it
was fairly in his, or her, power to bestow.”

It is because of the evil results of not wisely denying the little
ones, that an only child is in so many instances spoken of as a
spoiled child. There is but one to give to in that household. He can
have just so much more, than if there were half a dozen children to
share it; and, as a rule, he gets it all. Parents give to him freely;
so do grandparents, and so do uncles and aunts. He hardly knows what
self-denial or want is. His very fullness palls upon him. It is not
easy to surprise him with an unexpected pleasure. He not only is
liable to grow selfish and exacting, but at the best he lacks all the
enjoyment which comes of the occasional gratification of a desire which
has been long felt without the expectation of its being speedily met.

But it is by no means _necessary_ that an only child should be spoiled
in training. Some of the best trained children in the world have been
only children. Many a parent is more faithful and discreet in securing
to his or her only child the benefits of self-denial than is many
another with half a dozen children to care for. But whether there be
one child or more in the family, the lesson of wise denial is alike
important to the young, and the responsibility of its teaching should
be recognized by the parent.

Few grown persons can have everything they want, everything that
love can give, everything that money can buy. Most of them have many
reasonable wishes ungratified, many moderate desires unfilled. They
have to get along without a great many things which others have,
and which they would like. It is probable that their children will
be called to similar experiences when they must finally shift for
themselves. Their children ought, therefore, to be in training for
this experience now. It is largely the early education which gives one
proper control over himself and his desires. If in childhood one is
taught to deny himself, to yield gracefully much that he longs for, to
enjoy the little that he can have in spite of the lack of a great deal
which he would like to have, his lot will be an easier and a happier
one, when he comes to the realities of maturer life, than would be
possible to him if, as a child, he had only to express a reasonable
wish, to have it promptly gratified.

For this reason it is that men who were the children of the rich are
so often at a disadvantage, in the battle of life, in comparison with
those who have risen from comparative poverty. Their parents’ wealth,
so freely at their disposal, increased the number of wants which
they now think must be gratified; and their pampering in childhood
so enervated them for the struggles and endurances which are, at the
best, a necessity in ordinary business pursuits, that they are easily
distanced by those who were in youth disciplined through enforced
self-denial, and made strong by enduring hardness, and by finding
contentment with a little. It is a great pity that the full and
free gifts of a loving parent should prove a hindrance to a child’s
happiness, a barrier to his success in life; that the very abundance of
the parent’s giving should tend to the child’s poverty and unhappiness!
Yet this state of things is in too many instances an undeniable fact.

Children of the present day—especially children of parents in
comfortable worldly circumstances—are far more likely than were their
fathers and mothers to lack lessons of self-denial. The standard of
living is very different now from a generation since. There were few
parents in any community in this country fifty years ago who could buy
whatever they wanted for their children; or, indeed, for themselves.
There was no such freeness of purchases for children, for the table,
for the house or the household, as is now common on every side.
Children then did not expect a new suit of clothes every few months.
Often they had old ones made over for them, from those of their parents
or of their elder brothers and sisters. A present from the toy-shop
or bookstore was a rarity in those days. There was not much choosing
by children what they would eat as they sat down at the family table.
There was still less of planning by them for a summer journey with
their parents to a mountain or seaside resort. Self-denial, or more or
less of personal privation, came as a necessity to almost every child
in the younger days of many who are now on the stage of active life.
But how different now!

The average child of the present generation receives more presents and
more indulgences from his parents in any one year of his life than the
average child of a generation ago received in all the years of his
childhood. Because of this new standard, the child of to-day expects
new things, as a matter of course; he asks for them, in the belief
that he will receive them. In consequence of their abundance, he sets
a smaller value upon them severally. It is not possible that he should
think as highly of any one new thing, out of a hundred coming to him in
rapid succession, as he would of the only gift of an entire year.

A boy of nowadays can hardly prize his new bicycle, or his
“double-ripper” sled, after all the other presents he has received, as
his father prized a little wagon made of a raisin-box, with wheels of
ribbon-blocks, which was _his_ only treasure in the line of locomotion.
A little girl cannot have as profound enjoyment in her third wax doll
of the year, with eyes which open and shut, as her mother had with
her one clumsy doll of stuffed rags or of painted wood. A new child’s
book was a wonder a generation since; it is now hardly more to one of
our children than the evening paper is to the father of the family. It
is now hard work to give a new sensation—or, at all events, to make
a permanent impression—by the bestowal of a gift of any sort on a
child. It would be far easier to surprise and to impress many a child
by refusing to give to him what he asked for and expected; and that
treatment would in some cases be greatly to a child’s advantage.

A distinctive feature of the child-training of the ancient Spartans
was the rigid discipline of constant self-denial, to which the child
was subjected from infancy onward. And this feature of child-training
among that people had much to do with giving to the Spartans their
distinguishing characteristics of simplicity of manners, of powers
of endurance, and of dauntless bravery. The best primitive peoples
everywhere have recognized the pre-eminent importance of this feature
of child-training. Its neglect has come only with the growth in luxury
among peoples of the highest material civilization. The question is an
important one, whether it is well to lose all the advantages of this
method of training, simply because it is not found to be a necessity as
a means of sustaining physical life, where wealth abounds so freely.

It is not that a child is to be denied what he wants, merely for the
sake of the denial itself; but it is that a child ought not to have
what he wants merely because he wants it. It is not that there is a
necessary gain in a denial to a child; but it is that when a denial to
a child is necessary, there is an added gain to him through his finding
that he must do without what he longs for. It is every parent’s duty to
deny a child many things which he wants; to teach him that he must get
along without a great many things which seem very desirable; to train
him to self-denial and endurance, at the table, in the play-room;
with companions, and away from them: and the doing of this duty by the
parent brings a sure advantage to the child. Whatever else he has, a
child ought not to lack this element of a wise training.




VIII.

_HONORING A CHILD’S INDIVIDUALITY._


A child is liable to be looked upon as if he were simply one child
among many children, a specimen representative of childhood generally;
but every child stands all by himself in the world as an individual,
with his own personality and character, with his own thoughts and
feelings, his own hopes and fears and possibilities, his own relations
to his fellow-beings and to God. This truth is often realized by a
child before his parents realize it; and if it be unperceived and
unrecognized by his parents, they are thereby shut off from the
opportunity of doing for him much that can be done by them only as they
give due honor to their child’s individuality as a child.

A little babe is not a mere bit of child-material, to be worked up by
outside efforts and influences into a child-reality; but he is already
a living organism, with all the possibilities of his highest manhood
working within him toward their independent development. Here is the
difference, on a lower plane, between a mass of clay being molded by
the sculptor’s hands into a statue of grace and beauty, and a seed of
herb or tree containing within itself the germ of a new and peculiar
individual specimen of its own unchanging species. An acorn is more
than the fruit of the oak that bore it; it is the germ of another oak,
like, and yet unlike, all the oaks that the world has known before the
growth of this one. So, also, a child is more than the mere child of
his earthly parents; he is, in embryo, a man with characteristics and
qualities such as his parents could never attain to, and which, it may
be, the world has never before seen equaled.

The possibilities of Moses, who was to put his impress upon the world’s
character, were in the Hebrew babe, as his loving mother laid him
tenderly in the pitch-daubed basket of papyrus, to hide him away among
the flags of the Nile-border, as they were not in any native babe of
the household of Pharaoh; and if his mother had any intuitive womanly
sense of his grand future in the providence of God, her zeal and faith
in his behalf were quickened and inspired accordingly. And so it has
been all along the ages; the germs of power and achievement were
already in the babe, who was afterward known as Plato, or Cæsar, or
Muhammad, or Charlemagne, or Columbus, or Shakespeare, or Washington.
And who will doubt that many a germ of such possibility in a young
child has been quickened or repressed, according as that child’s
parents have perceived and honored, or have failed to realize and to
foster, the best that was involved in the child’s individuality?

It was to the credit of the high-priest Eli, that he perceived that the
child Samuel was capable of receiving communications from the Lord,
such as were denied to the possessor of Urim and Thummim; and that he
honored the child’s individuality so far as to encourage him to declare
the message that God had sent by him; instead of treating the child
as one who could receive nothing from God, save as it came to him
through the medium of his guardians and seniors. This spirit it was
that prompted Trebonius to bare his head as he entered the school-room
where he was looked up to as the teacher; because, as he suggested,
he recognized in every child before him there the possibility of
lofty attainment in his developed individuality. And it can hardly be
doubted that this attitude of the teacher Trebonius had its measure of
influence in bringing to its fruition the germinal power in his pupil
Martin Luther. Trebonius and Eli are—so far, at least—a pattern to the
parents of to-day.

It is not merely that the child _is to be_ the possessor of a marked
and distinctive individuality, and that therefore he is to be honored
for his possibilities in that direction; but it is that _he already
is_ the possessor of such an individuality, and that he is worthy of
honor for that which he has and is at the present time. Many a child,
while a child, is the superior of his parents in the basis and scope
of character, in the attributes of genius, and in the instincts of high
spiritual perception. This is the true order of things in the progress
of God’s plans for the race; the better is in the coming generations,
not in the past. But even where the child is not the superior, he is
always the peer in individuality of those to whom he looks up with
honoring reverence as his parents, and he is entitled to recognition by
them in that peership.

Every one who recalls clearly his child-time thoughts and feelings,
remembers that even in his earliest days he had his own standpoint of
observation and reflection; that he was conscious of his individual
relations to others and to God; and that, in a sense, his independent
outlook and his independent uplook as an individual were the same then
as now, in kind, although not in degree. He also remembers that, as a
child, he was often made to feel that his individuality was not fully
recognized by others, but that it was frequently ignored or trenched
upon by those who took it for granted that, because he was still a
child, he had as yet no truly individual position, attitude, and rights
in the world. Yet it is not an easy thing for a parent of to-day to
bear always in mind that every child of his is as truly an individual
as he was when he was a child.

In little things, as in larger, a child’s individuality is liable to
be overlooked, or to be disregarded. A little boy was taken alarmingly
ill one day. For several hours his loving mother watched him anxiously.
The next day he was in his accustomed health again. His mother, with
the evident thought that a child could have no comprehension like a
parent’s of such a state of things as that, said to him, tenderly: “My
dear boy, you don’t know how sick you were yesterday.” “Oh, yes! I do,
dear mamma,” he answered; “I know a great deal better than you do; for
I was the one that was sick.” And many a child has the thought that
was in that child’s mind, when he is spoken to as though he must get
all his ideas of his own feelings and conditions and needs from some
one who is supposed to represent him better than he can represent
himself—while he is still in childhood.

It is much the same in the matter of personal rights, as in the
matter of personal feelings. A child finds that his individuality is
constantly lost sight of, because he is a child; as it ought not to be.
A little fellow who had been given a real watch, was conscious of an
advance in his relative position by that possession. His uncle, having
taken his own watch to the watchmaker’s, asked the loan of the little
fellow’s watch for the time being, saying that he could not get along
without one. “Can’t you get along without a watch?” asked the nephew.
“No, I cannot,” replied the uncle. “If I had mine at the watchmaker’s,
would you lend me yours till mine came back?” was the little fellow’s
searching inquiry. “Why, no; I don’t suppose I would,” replied the
other. “But then, you know, I’m a man, and you are a boy.” “Well,
then,” said the individual boy to the individual man; “if you can’t get
along without a watch, and you wouldn’t lend me yours if I needed it,
I can’t get along without a watch, and I can’t let you have mine.”

Now, the trouble in that case was that the boy’s individuality was
not sufficiently recognized and honored by the manner of that request
for his watch. It seemed to be taken for granted that, because he
was a child, he had no such rights in his own possessions as a man
has in his, and that he put no such value on that which he had, as a
man would be sure to put on his belongings. Against that assumption
the child quite naturally, and with a good show of logic, resolutely
asserted himself. If, on the other hand, the boy had been appealed to
as an equal, to render a favor to the other because of a special and a
clearly explained need, there is no reason to doubt that he would have
been prompt to respond to it, with a feeling of satisfaction in being
able to render that favor.

Just here is where so many children are deprived of their rights as
individuals, by inconsiderate parents or others. When seats are lacking
for new comers in a room or a street-car, and two or three children
are seated together by themselves in absorbing chat, the temptation is
to speak quickly to the little ones, telling them to vacate those seats
for their elders, in a tone that seems to indicate that a child has no
rights in comparison with a grown person; instead of showing by the
very manner of address that the children’s attention is called to their
privilege of showing courtesy to their elders. In the one case, every
child of that party feels aggrieved through being made to feel that his
rights are not recognized as rights. In the other case, he is gratified
by the implied confidence in his gentlemanliness, and in his readiness
to yield his rights gracefully. A child’s rights as an individual are
as positive and as sacred as a man’s; and it is never proper to ignore
these rights in a child, any more than it would be in a man.

When a child shows an unexpected interest in a subject of conversation
between adults, it is not fair for the adults to brush aside the
child’s questions or comments in a way that seems to say, “Oh! you are
only a child. Your opinions are of no account. This is a matter for
real people to think and talk about.” Yet how common a thing it is for
parents to treat their children in this way; and what a mistake it is!
If, indeed, the subject be one that is fairly beyond a child’s grasp,
it is quite proper to give the child to understand this fact, without
any lack of respect for his individuality; but under no circumstances
is it right to ignore that individuality at such a time.

The deeper the theme of converse, and the profounder the thought
involved in it, the greater the probability of a child’s freshness
and life in its considering, if he indicates an appreciative interest
in its discussion. It is not merely in the story of the child Samuel
that there is a gleam of childhood’s possibilities in the direction
of closer communion with God than is granted to ordinary manhood; but
all the teachings of Scripture and of human experience tend to the
disclosure and confirmation of this same truth. “Verily I say unto
you,” says our Lord, “Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye
shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And again: “See
that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that
in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is
in heaven.” And there is an echo of these Divine words in the familiar
teachings of the Christian poet of nature:

“Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,—
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the East
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.”

There is, indeed, a possibility of retaining the child-freshness of
acquaintance with spiritual truths even into manhood and through all
one’s life. That possibility every parent ought to strive to attain to.
“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child,” said
our Lord, as he pointed to a veritable human little one, “the same is


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