H. Clay (Henry Clay) Trumbull.

Hints on child-training online

. (page 7 of 13)
Online LibraryH. Clay (Henry Clay) TrumbullHints on child-training → online text (page 7 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ought to secure the benefit of it in some way. A few minutes given to
the little ones, as they are privileged to clamber into the father’s
bed before he is up in the morning, and romp with them there, will do
much to connect him pleasantly with their play-time. So, again, will a
brief season at the close of the day, when he becomes acquainted with
their special amusements, and shows that they are much to him, because
they are much to his dear ones.

No companionship should be permitted to a child in his amusements that
is likely to lower his moral tone, or to vitiate his moral taste. There
are cases in which a parent is tempted to allow his children to be
taken into a portion of the home establishment, or of the immediate
neighborhood, in order that they may be amused by or with the children
or the grown persons there, when he would be unwilling to have them
under such influences or in such surroundings for any other purpose.
This is a great mistake. The companionships of a child in the stable or
at the street corner, while he is merely being amused, are likely to
be quite as potent and pervasive as those which are around him in the
parlor or the dining-room, at a time when his nature is not so actively
and freely at its fullest play. In fact, the companionships which
accompany a child’s amusements are an important feature in the training
forces of this sphere.

Amusements may be, and ought to be, such as will aid in developing and
upbuilding a child’s manliness or womanliness. Again, they may be such
as will prove an injury to the tastes and character of the child. Even
the simplest forms of amusement may have in them the one or the other
of these tendencies. A child’s earlier playthings and games may have
much to do with training his eye and ear and hand and voice and bodily
movements. They ought all to be watched and shaped accordingly. This
truth is the fundamental one in the kindergarten system; and a study
of the methods of that system may be of service to a parent who would
learn how to guide a child in his amusements in this direction.

Peculiarly is it important that a child’s amusements should not have
in them any element of _chance_, as tending to give him the idea that
his attainments or progress in life will depend in any measure upon
“luck.” From his play with building-blocks or with jack-straws, up to
his games of ball or of chess, every movement that a child is called on
to make in the sphere of his amusements ought to be one in which his
success or his failure is dependent on his skill or his lack of it. A
child may be harmed for life by the conviction that his hope of success
in the world rests on that “streak of luck” which seemed to be his in
the games of chance he played in boyhood. And a child may be helped for
life by the character which was developed in him in his boyhood’s games
of skill. It was an illustration of this principle, when the Duke of
Wellington pointed to the playground of Eton, and said, “It was there
that the battle of Waterloo was won.”

Children’s amusements should be such as do not of themselves involve
late hours, or tend directly to the premature developing of their young
natures. They should not be such as are likely to become permanent
occupations rather than temporary amusements; such as gain a stronger
and stronger hold with the passing years instead of being outgrown
with childhood; or such as open the way to the child’s becoming a
professional amusement-maker. They should be such as will have a
centripetal rather than a centrifugal force, as related to the home
circle.

It ought to be so, in every well-ordered home, that a child can find
more pleasure at home than away from home; and this state of things
will depend very much upon the kind of amusements that are secured
in a child’s home. It is not enough that there be amusements at the
home, but the amusements there must be those that cannot be engaged in
elsewhere as well as there. Many a parent makes the mistake of trying
to keep his children at home by introducing amusements there that
arouse in the children a desire to go elsewhere for something of the
same sort in greater freshness or variety. But wiser parents secure to
their children such home amusements as cannot be indulged in to the
same advantage outside of that home.

A child may have such a “baby-house,” such a collection of dolls and
doll-furniture, such a “playcloset,” such a store of building-blocks
and mechanical toys, such a cellar or such a garret, in his or her
own home, as cannot be found in any other home. To be at home with
these will be more attractive than to be in another home without
them. There may be such an interest excited in scrap-book making, in
picture-painting, in candy-making, with the advantages for carrying it
on, at the child’s home, that to go away from home would be a loss, so
far, instead of a gain. Singing and music may be such a feature in the
home life that the loss of it will be felt outside of that home. So it
may be with those social games that involve a measure of intelligence
and information not to be found in ordinary homes elsewhere. All such
amusements partake of the centripetal rather than the centrifugal
force, as related to the children’s home; and they have their advantage
accordingly. It is for the parents to secure these for the children, or
to incur the penalty of their lack.

Children will have amusements, whether their parents choose their
amusements for them, or leave the children to choose them for
themselves. The amusements of children will tend to the gain or to the
loss of the children. It is for parents to decide whether the children
shall be left to choose their own amusements, with the probability of
their choosing to their own harm; or whether the parents shall choose
helpful amusements for their children, and shall make these amusements
more attractive than the harmful ones. The result of this choice is
an important one to the parents, and a yet more important one to the
children.




XVII.

_TRAINING A CHILD TO COURTESY._


Unless a man is courteous toward others, he is at a disadvantage in
the world, even though he be the possessor of every other good trait
and quality possible to humanity, and of every material, mental, and
spiritual acquisition which can belong to mere man. And if a man be
marked by exceptional courtesy in all his intercourse with others, he
has an advantage to start with in the struggle of life, beyond all that
could be his in health and wealth and wisdom without courtesy. Yet
courtesy is never wholly a natural quality. It is always a result of
training; albeit the training will be far easier in one case than in
another.

Courtesy is the external manifestation of a right spirit toward others.
Its basis is in an unselfish and a fitting regard for the rights and
feelings of those with whom one is brought into intercourse; but the
principles of its expression must be a matter of wise study on the
part of those who have had experience in the ways of the world, and
who would give the benefit of their experience to those who come after
them. Courtesy is not merely a surface finish of manners; although
courtesy is sure to show itself in a finished surface of manners. Good
breeding, politeness, and fine manners, are all included in the term
“courtesy;” but these all are the expression of courtesy, rather than
its essence and inspiration. “Good breeding,” says one, “is made up of
a multitude of petty sacrifices.” “True politeness,” says another, “is
the spirit of benevolence showing itself in a refined way. It is the
expression of good-will and kindness.” Fine manners, De Quincey says,
consist “in two capital features: first of all, respect of others;
secondly, in self-respect.”

The courteous man is sure not to be lacking in self-respect, but he
is sure to be lacking in self-assertion. His self-respect is shown in
his sense of a responsibility for the comfort and welfare of others;
and his unselfish interest in others causes him to lose all thought of
himself in his effort to discharge his responsibility toward others.
His courtesy will be evidenced in what he is ready to do for others,
rather than in what he seems to look for from others.

Attractiveness of personal appearance, gracefulness in bearing,
tastefulness in dress, elegance in manners, and carefulness in word
and tone of voice, may, indeed, all be found where there is no true
courtesy. The very purpose on the part of their possessor to be thought
courteous, to command respect, and to appear to advantage, may cause
him or her to show a lack of courtesy, to fail of commanding respect,
and to appear far otherwise than advantageously. On the other hand,
there are, for example, ladies whose attractions of face and form
are but slight, who care little for dress, who pay no attention to
mere manners, who are yet so unselfishly thoughtful of others, in all
their intercourse with them, that they are called “just delightful”
by everybody who knows them. When they have callers, or when they are
making calls, they have absolutely no thought about themselves, their
appearance, their modes of expression, or the impression they may make
on others. They are for the time being absolutely given up to those
with whom they converse. They question and listen with enthusiastic
interest; they say kindly words because they feel kindly; they avoid
unpleasant subjects of mention, and they introduce topics that cannot
but be welcome. Because they keep self out of sight, they win respect,
admiration, and affection, beyond all that they would dare hope for.
And many a man shows a similar self-forgetfulness in his courteous
interest in others, and wins a loving recognition of his courtesy on
every side. Real courtesy is, however, impossible, in either sex,
except where self is practically lost sight of.

In training a child to courtesy, it is of little use to tell him
to be forgetful of himself; but it is of value to tell him to be
thoughtful of others. The more a person tries to forget himself, the
surer he will be to think of himself. Often, indeed, it is the very
effort of a person to forget himself, that makes that person painfully
self-conscious, and causes him to seem bashful and embarrassed. But
when a child thinks of others, his thoughts go away from himself, and
self-forgetfulness is a result, rather than a cause, of his action.

To tell a young person to enter a full room without any show of
embarrassment, or thought of himself, is to put a barrier in the way
of his being self-possessed through self-forgetfulness. But to send a
young person into a full room with a life-and-death message to some one
already there, is to cause him to forget himself through filling him
with thought of another. And this distinction in methods of training
is one to be borne in mind in all endeavors at training children to
courtesy.

In order to be courteous, a child must have a care to give due
deference to others, in his ordinary salutations and greetings, and in
his expression of thanks for every kindness or attention shown to him.
So far most parents, who give any thought to a matter like this, are
ready to go. But true courtesy includes a great deal more than this;
and a child needs training accordingly.

Many a boy who is careful to give a respectful greeting to his
superiors on the street, or in the house, and who never fails to
proffer thanks for any special favor shown to him, lacks greatly in
courtesy in his ordinary intercourse with others, because he has not
been trained to feel and to show an unselfish interest in those with
whom he is brought face to face. Such a boy is more ready to talk of
himself, and of that which has a personal interest to him, than to find
out what has an interest to others, and to make himself interested
in that, or to express his interest in it if he already feels such
an interest. If, indeed, from any reason, he finds himself unable to
talk freely of that which immediately concerns him, he is often at a
loss for a topic of conversation, and is liable to show awkwardness
and embarrassment in consequence. And so while courteous at points of
conventional etiquette, a boy of this sort is constantly exhibiting
his lack of courtesy.

This liability of a child must be borne in mind by his parents in
his training, and it must be guarded against by wise counsel and by
watchful inquiry on their part. When a child has a playmate with him
in his home, he must be trained to make it his first business to find
out what that playmate would enjoy, and to shape his own words and ways
in conformity with that standard, for the time being. When a child
is going into another home, he must be told in advance of his duty
to be a sharer with those whom he meets there, in their employments
and pleasures, and to express heartily his sense of enjoyment in that
which pleases them. When he returns from a visit from another home, he
should be asked to tell what he found of interest there, and what he
said about it while there; and he should be commended or counseled in
proportion to his well-doing or his lack in his exhibit of courtesy in
this connection. When he has been talking with an older person, in
his own home or abroad, his parents ought to ascertain just how far
he has been lacking in courtesy by putting himself forward unduly, or
how far he has shown courtesy by having and evidencing an interest in
that which was said to him or done for him by his superior; and kindly
comment on his course should be given to him by his parents at such a
time.

If, indeed, a child has shown any lack of courtesy toward another,
whether a person of his own age or older, he should be instructed to
be frank and outspoken in expression of his regret for his course, and
of his desire to be forgiven for his fault. True courtesy involves a
readiness to apologize for any and every failure, whether intentional
or unintentional, to do or say just that which ought to have been done
or said; and the habit of frank apologizing is acquired by a child
only through his careful training in that direction. He who has any
reluctance to proffer apologies on even the slightest cause for them,
is sadly lacking in the spirit of courtesy; for just so far as one is
thoughtfully considerate of the feelings of another will he want to
express his regret that any performance or failure on his part has been
a cause of discomfort to another.

All this is, of course, a trying matter to a child, and a taxing matter
to a parent; but it is to the obvious advantage of both parties. If a
child is seen to be lacking in courtesy, his parents are understood to
be at fault in his training, so far. If, on the other hand, a child is
not trained to courtesy while a child, he is at a disadvantage from
his lack of training, as long as he lives. If he has not been trained
to give others the first place in his thoughts while he is with them,
and to give open expression to all the interest in them which he
really has, he cannot be free and unembarrassed in conversation with
any and all whom he meets. If, on the other hand, he has had wise and
careful training in this direction, he is sure to be as pleasing as he
is courteous to others; and to receive as much enjoyment as he gives,
through his courtesy in intercourse with all whom he meets.

Personal embarrassment in the presence of others, and a lack of freedom
in the expression of one’s interest in others, are generally the result
of an undue absorption in one’s own interests or appearance, and of
one’s lack of self-forgetful interest in the words and ways and needs
of those whom he is summoned to meet. The surest protection of one’s
children against these misfortunes, is by the wise training of those
children to have an interest in others, and to give expression to that
interest, whenever they are with others, at home or abroad; and so to
be courteous and to show their courtesy as a result of such training.




XVIII.

_CULTIVATING A CHILD’S TASTE IN READING._


“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body,” says Addison.
“As, by the one, health is preserved, strengthened, and invigorated;
by the other, virtue (which is the health of the mind) is kept alive,
cherished, and confirmed.” And Dr. Johnson adds, “The foundation of
knowledge must be laid by reading.”

But there is reading, and reading; there is reading that debilitates
and debases the mind; as there is reading that strengthens and
invigorates it. There is reading that forms the basis of knowledge,
and there is reading that lessens the reader’s desire for knowledge. A
love of reading is an acquired taste, not an instinctive preference.
The habit of reading is formed in childhood; and a child’s taste in
reading is formed in the right direction or in the wrong one while
he is under the influence of his parents; and _they_ are directly
responsible for the shaping and cultivating of that taste.

A child ought to read books that are helpful to his growth in character
and in knowledge; and a child ought to love to read these books. A
child will love to read such books as his parents train, or permit,
him to find pleasure in reading. It is the parent who settles this
question—by action or by inaction. It is the child who reaps the
consequences of his parents’ fidelity or lack in this sphere.

Of course, it is not to be understood that a child is to read, and to
love to read, only those books which add to his stock of knowledge,
or which immediately tend to the improvement of his morals; for there
is as legitimate a place for amusement and for the lighter play of
imagination in a child’s reading, as there is for recreation and
laughter in the sphere of his physical training. As one of the fathers
of English poetry has told us,

“Books should to one of these four ends conduce,
For wisdom, piety, delight, or use;”

and that reading which conduces merely to “delight” for the time being,
has its essential part in the formation of a character that includes
wisdom and piety and useful knowledge. But it is to be understood that
no child should be left to read only those books to which his untutored
tastes naturally incline him; nor should he be made to read other books
simply as a dry task. His taste for instructive books as well as for
amusing ones should be so cultivated by the judicious and persistent
endeavors of his parents, that he will find enjoyment in the one class
as truly as in the other.

“Nonsense songs” and the rhymes of “Mother Goose” are not to be
undervalued, in their place, as a means of amusement and of attraction
in the direction of a child’s earliest reading. Their mission in
this realm is as real as that of the toy rattle in the education of a
child’s ear, or the dancing-jack in the training of his eye. But these
helps to amusement are to be looked upon only as aids toward something
better; not as in themselves sufficient to an end. So, also, it is with
the better class of fairy tales. They meet a want in a child’s mind
in the developing and exercising of his imagination; and he who has
never read them will inevitably lack something of that incitement and
enjoyment in the realm of fancy which they supply so liberally. But it
is only a beginning of good work in the sphere of a child’s reading,
when he has found that there is amusement there together with food for
his imagination and fancy. And it is for the parent to see that the
work thus begun does not stop at its beginning.

There is a place for fiction in the matter of a child’s reading.
Good impressions can be made on a child’s mind, and his feelings
can be swayed in the direction of the right, by means of a story
that is fictitious without being false. And thus it is that the
average Sunday-school library book has its mission in the work of
child-training. But fiction ought not to be the chief factor in any
child’s reading, nor can influence and impressions take the place
of instruction and information in the proper filling of his mind’s
treasure-chambers. Even if a child were to read only the best religious
“story-books” which the world’s literature proffers to him, this
reading by itself would not tend to the development of his highest
mental faculties, or to the fostering of his truest manhood. Unless
he reads also that which adds to his stock of knowledge, and which
gives him a fresh interest in the events and personages of the world’s
history, a child cannot obey the Divine injunction to grow in knowledge
as well as in grace, and he will be the loser by his lack.

That a child is inclined by nature to prefer an amusing or an exciting
story-book to a book of straightforward fact, everybody knows. But that
is no reason why a child should follow his own unguided tastes in the
matter of reading, any more than he should be permitted to indulge at
all times his preference, in the realm of appetite, for sweet cakes
instead of bread and butter, or for candies rather than meat and
potatoes. “A child left to himself causeth shame to his mother,”—and
dishonor to himself, in one sphere of action as in another; and unless
a parent cultivates a taste for right reading of every sort on a
child’s part, that child can never be at his best in the world, nor
can his parents have such delight in his attainments as otherwise they
might have.

A wise parent can train his children to an interest in any book in
which they ought to be interested. He can cultivate in their minds
such a taste for books of history, of biography, of travel, of popular
science, and of other useful knowledge, that they will find in these
books a higher and more satisfying pleasure than is found by their
companions in the exciting or delusive narrations of fiction and
fancy. Illustrations of this possibility are to be seen on every
side. There are boys and girls of ten and twelve years of age whose
chief delight in reading is in the realm of instructive fact, and
who count it beneath them to take time for the reading of fictitious
story-books—religious or sensational. And if more parents were wise
and faithful in this department of child-training, there would be more
children with this elevated taste in their reading.

It is, however, by no means an easy matter, even though it be a simple
one, for a parent to cultivate wisely the taste of his children in
their reading. He must, to begin with, recognize the importance and
magnitude of his work so far, and must give himself to it from the
earlier years of his children until they are well established in the
good habits he has aided them to form. He must know what books his
children ought to read, and what books ought to be kept away from them.
Then he must set himself to make the good books attractive to his
children, while he resolutely shuts out from their range of reading
those books which are pernicious. All this takes time, and thought, and
patience, and determination, and intelligent endeavor on his part; but
it is work that is remunerative beyond its extremest cost.

The exclusion of that which is evil is peculiarly important in this
realm of effort; for if a child has once gained a love of the exciting
incidents of the book of sensational fiction, it is doubly difficult to
win him to a love of narrations of sober and instructive fact. Hence
every parent should see to it that his child is permitted no indulgence
in the reading of high-colored and over-wrought works of fiction
presented in the guise of truth—with or without a moral; whether they
come in books from a neighbor’s house, or as a Christmas or birthday
gift from a relative, or are brought from the Sunday-school library.
Fairy tales are well enough in their time and way, if they are read
as fairy tales, and are worth the reading—are the best of their kind.
Fiction has its place in a child’s reading, within due bounds of
measure and quality. But neither fancy nor fiction is to be tolerated
in a child’s reading in such a form as to excite the mind, or to
vitiate the taste of the child. And for the limitation of such reading
by a child the child’s parent must hold himself always responsible. No
pains should be spared to guard the child from mental as well as from
physical poison.

Keeping bad books away from a child is, however, only one part of
the work to be done in the effort at cultivating a child’s taste in
reading. A child must be led to have an intelligent interest in books
that are likely to be helpful to him; and this task calls for skill and


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryH. Clay (Henry Clay) TrumbullHints on child-training → online text (page 7 of 13)