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question the child, in order to a better understanding of the case,
or he may postpone his answer until he can learn more about it; but he
must not be over quick to reply merely as a means of pushing away the
request for the time being. He must consider carefully what his final
answer ought to be, before he gives an answer that the child is to
accept as final; and when the parent gives that answer, it ought to be
with such kindly firmness that the child will not think of pressing his
suit by teasing. And thus it is that any well-trained parent can train
his child well in this sphere.




XII.

_TRAINING A CHILD’S APPETITE._


What a grown person likes to eat or drink depends largely on what that
person was trained to eat or drink while a child. And a child can
be trained to like almost any sort of food or drink, either good or
bad. No small responsibility, therefore, for both the health and the
enjoyment of a child, devolves on him who has in hand the training of a
child’s appetite.

That a child inherits tastes in the matter of food and drink cannot be
questioned; but this fact does not forbid the training of a child’s
tastes away from its inborn tendencies; it merely adds an element to
be considered in the training process. A child born in the tropics
soon learns to like the luscious fruits which are given to him freely;
while a child born in the arctic regions learns with the same rapidity
to like the grosser diet of fish and oil which is his chief supply of
food. In one region the people live mainly on roots and berries; in
another, they devour raw flesh or drink fresh blood; in yet another,
they eat dried locusts or grasshoppers; in yet another, it is milk or
honey which is their chief means of sustaining life. In every region
the children are easily trained to enjoy the eating of that which they
have to eat; and if a child is taken at an early age from one region to
another, he quickly adapts himself to his new conditions, and learns
to like that which is given to him as his means of satisfying hunger.
All of which goes to show that the natural appetite of a child does not
demand one kind of food above another, to that extent which forbids the
training of a child to enjoy that which he can have and which he ought
to use.

As a rule, very little attention is given to the training of a child’s
appetite. The child is supplied with that food which is easiest
obtained, and which the child is readiest to take. If the parents give
little thought to their children’s welfare, they simply allow their
children to share with them at the common table, without considering
whether or not the food is that which is best suited to the children’s
needs. If the parents are tender-hearted, and lovingly indulgent toward
their children, they are quite likely to show favor by giving to them
those things which please a child’s palate, or which are favorites with
the parents themselves.

Finding that a child likes sugar, a parent is tempted to give a bit
of sugar to a child who is not ready to take anything else at its
meal-time; even though that bit of sugar may destroy the child’s
appetite for the hour, or disturb the child’s stomach for all day.
Again, seeing that the child is glad to try any article of food which
his parent enjoys, the parent, perhaps, proffers from his own plate
that which he deems a delicacy; although it may be of all things the
least suited to the child’s state of health, or condition of being. And
so it is that the child is trained in wrong ways of eating, at the very
time when he most needs training in the right way.

A child is quite likely to have his freaks and fancies of appetite,
which a kind parent is tempted to indulge instead of checking. One
child would eat only the softer part of bread, while rejecting its
crust. One would eat meat without vegetables; another would refuse one
kind of meat, or of vegetables, while eating all others freely; and so
on. The more these peculiarities are indulged, the stronger becomes
their hold on the child. The more they are checked and restrained,
the weaker their power becomes. Yet most parents seem to count such
peculiarities as beyond their control, and therefore to be accepted as
inevitable; instead of realizing their personal responsibility for the
continuance or the removal of them.

“Your boy ought to eat less meat and more farinaceous food,” says a
physician to a mother, whose boy is in the doctor’s hands. “Let him
have oatmeal and milk for breakfast; and see to it that he eats meat
only once a day, and sparingly at that.” “Johnny is a great hand for
meat,” is the answer; “and he can’t take oatmeal.” And in that
answer the mother shows that all the blame in the case rests on
herself, and not on her Johnny. Johnny ought to have been trained to
eat what is good for him, instead of indulging his personal whims in
the eating line.

When a mother says, “My boy won’t eat potatoes,” or “He won’t eat
tomatoes,” or “He will eat no meat but beef,” she simply confesses to
her culpable failure of duty in the training of her boy’s appetite. If
she were to say that she did not approve of one of those things, or of
the other, and therefore she would not give it to him, that would be
one thing; but when she says that he will not take it even though she
thinks it best for him, that is quite another thing; and there is where
the blame comes in.

Of course, it is to be understood that there are articles of food in
familiar use which, here and there, a child cannot eat with safety.
On the seashore, for example, the clam, which is eaten freely by
most persons, seems to be as poison to certain individuals. It is
not that these persons do not like the clam; but it is that their
systems recoil from it, and that its eating is sure to bring on a
serious illness. A like state of things exists with regard to fresh
strawberries in the country. They are a delicious fruit in the
estimation of most persons. They are as a mild form of poison to
certain individuals. But these cases are abnormal ones. They have no
practical bearing on the prevailing rule, that a child can be trained
to like whatever he ought to eat, and to refrain from the eating of
whatever is not best for him. And herein is the principle of wise
training in the realm of a child’s appetite.

A prominent American educator put this principle into practice in his
own family, consisting of four boys and four girls. He was a man of
limited means, and he felt the necessity of training his children to
eat such food as he deemed proper for them, and as good as he could
afford to supply. His choice of food for his family table was wisely
made, to begin with; and then he showed wisdom in his mode of pressing
it upon his children.

If those children deemed a dish distasteful, they were privileged to
wait until they were willing to eat it. There was no undue pressure
brought to bear on them. They could simply eat it, or let it alone. If
they went without it that meal, the same dish, or a similar one, was
before them for the next meal; and so on until hunger gave them the
zest to eat it with unfeigned heartiness. By this means those children
learned to eat what they ought to eat; and when they had come to years
of maturity they realized the value of this training, which had made
them the rulers of their appetite, instead of being its slaves. It
needs no single example to illustrate the opposite course from this
one. On every side we see persons who are subject to the whims and
caprices of their appetite, because their appetite was never trained to
be subject to them. And in one or another of these two directions the
upbringing of every child is tending to-day.

Peculiarly in the use of candy and of condiments is a child’s appetite
likely to be untrained, or trained amiss. Neither the one nor the other
of these articles is suited to a child’s needs; but both of them are
allowed to a child, regardless of what is best for him. The candy is
given because the child fancies it. The condiments are given because
the parents fancy them. Neither of the two is supposed to be beneficial
to the child, but each is given in its turn because of the child’s wish
for it, and of the parent’s weakness. There _are_ parents who train
their children not to eat candy between meals, nor to use condiments
at meals. These parents are wiser than the average; and their children
are both healthier and happier. There ought to be more of such parents,
and more of such children. The difficulty in the way is always with the
parents, instead of with the children.

It is affirmed as a fact, that some Shetland ponies which were brought
to America had been accustomed to eat fish, and that for a time they
refused to eat hay, but finally were trained to its eating until they
seemed to enjoy it as heartily as other ponies. Children to whom
cod-liver oil was most distasteful when it was first given to them as
a medicine, have been trained to like cod-liver oil as well as they
liked syrup. And so it has been in the use of acid drinks, or of bitter
coffee, by young children under the direction of a physician. By firm
and persistent training the children have been brought to like that
from which for a time they recoiled. It is for the parents to decide,
with the help of good medical counsel, what their children ought to
like, and then to train them to like it.

It is by no means an easy matter for a parent to train a child’s
appetite; but it is a very important matter, nevertheless. Nothing
that is worth doing in this world is an easy matter; and whatever is
really worth doing is worth all that its doing costs—and more. In spite
of all its difficulties, the training of any child’s appetite can be
compassed, by God’s blessing. And compassed it ought to be, whatever
are its difficulties. It is for the parent to decide what the child
shall eat, as it is for the parent to decide what that child shall
wear. The parent who holds himself responsible for what a child shall
put on, but who shirks his responsibility for what that child shall
take in, would seem to have more regard for the child’s appearance than
for his upbuilding from within; and that could hardly be counted a sign
of parental wisdom or of parental love.




XIII.

_TRAINING A CHILD AS A QUESTIONER._


A child is a born questioner. He does not have to be trained to be
a questioner; but he does need to be trained as a questioner. A
child has been not inaptly called “an animated interrogation-point.”
Before a child can speak his questions, he looks them; and when he
can speak them out, his questions crowd one another for expression,
until it would seem that, if a parent were to answer all of his
child’s questions, that parent would have time to do nothing else. The
temptation to a parent, in view of this state of things, is to repress
a child as a questioner, rather than to train him as a questioner; and
just here is where a parent may lose or undervalue a golden privilege
as a parent.

The beginning of all knowledge is a question. All progress in knowledge
is a result of continued questioning. Whence? What? Why? Wherefore?
Whither? These are the starting-points of investigation and research
to young and to old alike; and when any one of these questions has
been answered in one sphere, it presents itself anew in another.
Unless a child were a questioner at the beginning of his life, he
could make no start in knowledge; and if a child were ever caused to
stay his questionings, there would be at once an end to his progress
in knowledge. Questioning is the expression of mental appetite. He who
lacks the desire to question, is in danger of death from intellectual
starvation.

Yet with all the importance that, on the face of it, attaches to a
child’s impulse to ask questions, it is unmistakably true that far
more pains are taken by parents generally to check children in their
questionings, than to train them in their questioning. “Don’t be asking
so many questions;” “Why will you be asking questions all the time?”
“You’ll worry my life out with your questions.” These are the parental
comments on a child’s questions, rather than, “I’m glad to have you
want to know about all these things;” or, “Never hesitate to ask me a
question about anything that you want to know more of;” or, “The more
questions you ask, the better, if only they are proper questions.”

Sooner or later the average child comes to feel that, the fewer
questions he asks, the more of a man he will be; and so he represses
his impulse to inquire into the nature and purpose and meaning of that
which newly interests him; until, perhaps, he is no longer curious
concerning that which he does not understand, or is hopeless of any
satisfaction being given to him concerning the many problems which
perplex his wondering mind. By the time he has reached young manhood,
he who was full of questions in order that he might have knowledge,
seems to be willing to live and die in ignorance, rather than to make a
spectacle of himself by multiplying questions that may be an annoyance
to others, or that may be deemed a source of discredit to himself.

There are obvious reasons why the average parent is not inclined to
encourage his child to ask all the questions he thinks of. In the first
place, it takes a great deal of time to answer a child’s questions.
It takes time to feed a child, and to wash it and dress it; but it
takes still more time to supply food and clothing for a child’s mind.
And when a parent finds that the answering of fifty questions in
succession from a child only seems to prompt the child to ask five
hundred questions more, it is hardly to be wondered at that the parent
thinks there ought to be a stop put to this sort of thing somewhere.
Then, again, a child’s questions are not always easy to be answered
by the child’s parent. The average child can ask questions that the
average parent cannot answer; and it is not pleasant for a parent to
be compelled to confess ignorance on a subject in which his child has
a living interest. It is so much easier, and so much more imposing,
for a parent to talk to a child on a subject which the parent does
understand, and which the child does not, than it is for the parent
to be questioned by the child on a subject which neither child nor
parent understands, that the parent’s temptation is a strong one to
discountenance a habit that has this dangerous tendency.

That there ought to be limitations to a child’s privilege of
question-asking is evident; for every privilege, like every duty, has
its limitations. But the limitations of this privilege ought to be as
to the time when questions may be asked, and as to the persons of whom
they may be asked, rather than as to the extent of the questioning. A
child ought not to be free to ask his mother’s guest how old she is,
or why she does not look as pleasant as his mother; nor yet to ask one
of his poorer playmates why he has no better shoes, or how it is that
his mother has to do her own washing. A child must not interrupt others
in order to ask a question that fills his mind, nor is it always right
for him to ask a question of his father or mother before others. When
to ask, and of whom to ask, the questions that it is proper for him to
ask, must be made known to a child in connection with his training by
his parents as a questioner.

It is to the parent that a child ought to be privileged to come in
unrestrained freeness as a questioner. Both the mother and the father
should welcome from a child any question that the child honestly
desires an answer to. And every parent ought to set apart times for a
child’s free questioning, when the child can feel that the hour is as
sacred to that purpose as the hour of morning and evening devotion is
sacred to prayer. It may be just before breakfast, or just after, or at
the close of the day, that the father is to be always ready to answer
his child’s special questions. It may be when father and child walk out
together, or during the quieter hours of Sunday, that the child is sure
of his time for questioning his father. The mother’s surest time for
helping her child as a questioner, is at the child’s bed-time; although
her child may be free to sit by her side when she is sewing, or to
stand near her when she is busy about other household matters, and to
question her while she is thus working. Whenever the child’s hour for
questioning his parent has come, the child ought to be encouraged to
ask any and every question that he really wants to ask; and the parent
ought to feel bound to give to the child’s every question a loving and
well-considered answer.

A child needs parental help in his training as a questioner. While he
is to be free to ask questions, he is to exercise his freedom within
the limits of reason and of a right purpose. A child may be inclined to
multiply silly questions, thoughtless questions, aimless questions. In
such a case, he needs to be reminded of his duty of seeking knowledge
and of trying to gain it, and that neither his time nor his parent’s
time ought to be wasted in attending to questions that have no point to
them. Again, a child may be inclined to dwell unduly on a single point
in his questioning. Then it is his parent’s duty to turn him away from
that point by inducing him to question on another point. Whenever a
child is questioning his parent, that parent has the responsibility
and the power of training the child as a questioner, by receiving in
kindness and by shaping with discretion the child’s commendable impulse
and purpose of questioning.

When a child asks a question that a parent really cannot answer, it is
a great deal better for the parent to say frankly, “I do not know,”
than to say impatiently, “Oh! don’t be asking such foolish questions.”
But, on the other hand, it is often better to give a simple answer, an
answer to one point in the child’s question, than to attempt an answer
that is beyond the child’s comprehension, or than to say that it is
impossible to explain that subject to a child just now. For example, if
a child asks why it is that the sunrise is always to be seen from the
windows on one side of the house, and the sunset from the windows on
the other side, there is no need of telling him that he is too young
to have that explained to him, nor yet of attempting an explanation of
the astronomical facts involved. The better way is to answer him that
the one window looks toward the east and the other toward the west; and
that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. This will give the
child one new item of knowledge; and that is all that he cares for just
then.

A child may ask a question on a point that cannot with propriety be
made clear to him just yet. In such a case he ought not to be rebuked
for seeking light, but an answer of some kind is to be given to him,
in declaration of a general truth that includes the specific subject
of his inquiry; and then he is to be kindly told that by and by he can
know more about this than he can now. This will satisfy a well-disposed
child for the time being, while it will encourage him to continue in
the attitude of a truth-seeking questioner.

A very simple answer to his every question is all that a child looks
for; but that is his right, if he is honestly seeking information, and
it is his parent’s duty to give it to him, if he comes for it at a
proper time and in a proper spirit. A child is harmed if he be unduly
checked as a questioner; and he is helped as he could be in no other
way, as a truth-seeker, if he be encouraged and wisely trained by his
parents in a child’s high prerogative as a questioner.




XIV.

_TRAINING A CHILD’S FAITH._


There is no need of trying to implant faith in a child’s nature, for
it is there to begin with. But there is need of training a child’s
faith, so that it shall be rightly directed and wisely developed. Every
child has the instinct of faith, as surely as it has the instinct of
appetite. The inborn impulse to seek nourishment is not more real and
positive in a normal child, than is the impulse in such a child to
cling to and to trust another. Both instincts are already there, and
both need training.

The faith here spoken of is that faith that rests on a person, not that
miscalled “faith” which applies to an assent to a series of dogmas.
True faith, indeed, always rests on a person. Any other use of the term
is only by accommodation, and is liable to be misleading. One of the
best definitions of Christian faith is, “That act by which one person,
a sinner, commits himself to another person, a Saviour.” Even before
a child is old enough to learn of a Saviour, the instinct of faith
is one of the child’s qualities; just as the instinct of hunger is a
child’s quality before the child is old enough to know the nature of
its fitting food. If a mother, or a nurse, or even a stranger, puts a
finger into the chubby hand of an infant, that little hand will close
over the proffered finger, and cling to it as for dear life. And it is
not until a child has learned to distrust, that it is said to be “old
enough to be afraid.” While a child’s faith is yet undisturbed, as also
after a child’s faith has become discriminating, a child’s faith needs
wise directing and developing; and to this end there is need of wisdom
and of care on the part of those who have the responsibility of this
training.

While the instinct of faith is innate in the child, a knowledge of
the One on whom his faith can rest with ultimate confidence is not
innate. A knowledge of God comes to man by revelation; and whoever has
responsibility for a child’s moral training, has the duty of revealing
to that child a knowledge of God. But a child can understand God, and
can grasp a true conception of him, quite as easily as the profoundest
philosopher can. A child does not need to be led by degrees into a
knowledge of God. As soon as he is capable of learning that his voice
can be heard by his loving mother or his loving father in another room,
he is capable of learning that his voice can be heard by a loving
Father whom he has never seen; who is always within hearing, but never
within sight; who is the loving Father of his father and mother, as
well as of himself and of everybody else; who is able to do all things,
and who is sure to do all things well. In the knowledge of this truth,
a child can be taught to pray to God in faith, as early as he can
speak; and even to know something of the meaning of prayer before he
can utter words intelligently.

From the very beginning the child can take in the great truths
concerning God’s nature, and the scope of God’s power, as fully as a
theologian can take them in. Therefore there need be no fear that too
much is proffered to the child’s mind in this sphere, if only it all be
proffered in simplicity as explicit truth, without any attempt at its
explanation.

Bishop Patteson, in his missionary work among the South Sea Islanders,
found it best to begin with John’s Gospel, in imparting religious
instruction to untutored natives; for they could take that in easier
than they could comprehend the historical books of the Bible. It is
much the same with children. They can receive the profoundest truths of
the Bible without any explanation. When they are older, they will be
better fitted to grapple with the difficulties of elementary religious
teachings. The idea that a child must have a knowledge of the outline
of the Bible story before he knows the central truth that Jesus Christ
is his loving Saviour, is as unreasonable as it would be to suppose
that a child must know the anatomy of the human frame before he is
able to believe in his mother’s love for him.

The first lesson in the training of a child’s faith is the lesson that
he is to have faith in God. Many a child is told to have faith in the
power of prayer, or faith in the value of good conduct, without being
shown that his faith should rest wholly and absolutely on God. He is
told that he can hope to have whatever he prays for; and that if he is
a good boy he can expect a blessing, while if he is a bad boy he cannot
expect to be blessed. With this training the child’s faith is drawn
away from God, and is led to rest on his personal conduct; whereas his
faith ought to be trained to rest on the God to whom he prays, and in
loving obedience to whom he strives to be good.


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