H. Clay (Henry Clay) Trumbull.

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tact, as well as patience and persistency on the parent’s part. Good
books must be looked up by the parent, and when they are put into the
child’s hand it must be with such words of commendation and explanation
as to awaken in the child’s mind a desire to become possessed of their
contents. The sex and age and characteristics and tendencies of the
child, as well as the circumstances and associations of the hour, must
all be borne in mind in the choice and presentation of the book or
books for a child’s reading; and a due regard to these incidents will
have its effect on the mind of the child under training.

For example, when the Fourth of July is at hand, or is in some way
brought into notice, then is a good time to tell a child briefly about
the war of the American Revolution, and to give him a book about the
Boys of Seventy-six. When his attention is called to a picture of
the Tower of London, he is in a good mood to read some of the more
impressive stories of English history. If he is at the seashore,
or among the mountains, on a visit, he can be shown some object of
nature,—a shell or a crab, a rock or a tree,—as a means of interesting
him in a little book about this or that phase of natural history or of
woodcraft.

A child’s question about Jerusalem, or Athens, or Rome, may be improved
to his advantage by pointing him to the narrative of the Children’s
Crusade, or to some of the collections of classic stories in guise for
children. An incidental reference to Africa, or India, or the South Sea
Islands, may open the way for a talk with a child about missions in
those parts of the world, and may be used to give him an interest in
some of the more attractive books in description of missionary heroes
ancient and modern. The every-day mentions of men and things may, each
and all of them, in their order, be turned to good account, as a help
in cultivating a taste in reading, by a parent who is alert to make use
of such opportunities.

A parent ought to be constantly on the watch to suggest books that
are suitable for his child’s reading, and to incite his child to an
interest in those books. It is a good plan to talk with a child in
advance about the subject treated in a book, which the parent is
disposed to commend, and to tell the child that which will tend to
awaken his wish to know more about it, as preparatory to handing
the book to him. Reading with the child, and questioning the child
concerning his reading, will intensify the child’s interest in his
reading, and will promote his enjoyment as he reads.

And so it is that a child’s taste in reading will be cultivated
steadily and effectively in the right direction by any parent who is
willing to do the work that is needful, and who is able to do it
wisely. A child needs help in this sphere, and he welcomes help when
it is brought to him. If the help be given him, he will find pleasure
as well as profit in its using; but if he goes on without help, he is
liable to go astray, and to be a lifetime sufferer in consequence.




XIX.

_THE VALUE OF TABLE-TALK._


In proportion as man rises in the intellectual scale, does he give
prominence to mental and moral enjoyments in conjunction with his
daily meals. He who looks upon the table merely as a place for feeding
the body, is so far upon the level of the lower order of animals. He
who would improve his time there for the advantage of his mind and
character, as well as for the supply of his physical wants, recognizes
a standard of utility in the humbler offices of daily life that is
perceptible only to one whose higher nature is always striving for
supremacy above the lower.

With all the tendency to excesses in the line of appetite among the
Greeks and Romans in classic times, there were even then gleams of a
higher enjoyment at the table through social intercourse than that
which mere eating and drinking supplied. When the Perfect Man was here
among men, he showed the possibility of making the household meal a
means of mental and spiritual improving; and there are no profounder
or more precious truths in the record of our Lord’s earthly teachings,
than those which are found in his words spoken to those who sat with
him eating and drinking at their common meal. The “table talk” of
great men has, for centuries, been recognized as having a freeness, a
simplicity, and a forcefulness, not to be found in their words spoken
elsewhere.

There are obvious reasons why the social talk at daily meals should
possess a value not attainable under other circumstances, in the
ordinary Christian household. Just there is the place where all the
members of the family must be together. However closely and however
diversely they may be occupied at other times, when the hour for the
household meal has arrived, everything else must be dropped by them
all for the one duty of eating and drinking; and they must all come
together for that common purpose. In the very nature of things,
too, those who have gathered at the family table must, for the time
being, have left all their work behind them, and be in a state of
relaxation and of kindlier feeling accordingly. Now it is, therefore,
that they are freest to speak with one another of matters having a
common interest to all, rather than to dwell in absorbed thought on the
special duties from which they have, severally, turned away, or toward
which they must turn at the meal’s close.

It is a matter of fact that those who sit together at a family table,
whether as members of the household or as guests there for a season,
learn to understand one another, and to give and receive help and
inspiration in their social converse, as they could not without the
advantage of this distinctive opportunity. It is also a fact that only
now and then is there a family circle the members of which recognize at
the fullest, and make available at the best, the value of table-talk
as a training agency for all who have a share in it, or who are under
its immediate influence. Yet he who would train his children as they
should be trained, cannot ignore this important training agency without
serious and permanent loss to them.

With family customs as they are in the United States, there is more of
an opportunity here than abroad, for the training of children by means
of table-talk. In England, and in Europe generally, young children are
likely to be by themselves with nurses or governesses, at meal-time,
rather than at the table with their parents. But in this country
children are, as a rule, brought to the family table at a very early
age, and are permitted to be there not merely while the members of the
family are there gathered, but on occasions when a guest is, for the
time being, made a member of the household circle. Therefore it is that
an important feature of child-training in American families is the
table-talk in those families. This feature varies much in different
homes; but at its best it is one of the most potent factors in the
intellectual and moral training of the young.

Fifty years ago a gentleman of New England had, as a philanthropist,
an educator, and an author, an exceptional acquaintance with men of
prominence in similar fields of endeavor in this country and abroad.
His home was a place of resort for them. He had a large family of
children, all of whom were permitted to be at the family table while
those guests were present, as well as at other times. The table-talk
in that home, between the parents and the guests, or between the
parents and their children when no guests were present, was in itself
“a liberal education.” It gave to those children a general knowledge
such as they could hardly have obtained otherwise. It was a source of
promptings and of inspiration to them in a multitude of directions. Now
that they are themselves parents and grandparents, they perceive how
greatly they were the gainers by their training through the table-talk
of their early home; and they are doing what they can to have the value
of table-talk as a training agency for the young recognized and made
effective in the homes which they direct or influence.

In another New England home, the father was a man of quiet
thoughtfulness, and at ordinary times a man of peculiar reticence
before his children. But at the family table he was accustomed to
unbend as nowhere else. He, also, had a large family of children, and
there were frequent visitors among them. The utmost freedom of question
and of expression was cultivated in the table-talk of that home. The
spirited discussions carried on there, between father and mother and
children and visitors, were instructive, suggestive, and stimulating,
in a very high degree. The family table was, in fact, the intellectual
and moral center of that home. No other place was so attractive as
that. Not a person, young or old, would leave that table until he had
to; and now that the survivors of that happy circle are scattered
widely, every one of them will say that no training agency did more for
him in his early life than the table-talk of his childhood’s home.

In one home, where parents and children enjoy themselves in familiar
and profitable table-talk, it is a custom to settle on the spot every
question that may be incidentally raised as to the pronunciation
or meaning of a word, the date of a personage in ancient or modern
history, the location of a geographical site, or anything else of that
nature that comes into discussion at the family table. As an aid to
knowledge in these lines, there stands in a corner of the dining-room a
book-rest, on the top of which lies an English dictionary, while on the
shelves below are a biographical dictionary and a pronouncing gazetteer
of the world, ready for instant reference in every case of dispute or
doubt.

At the breakfast-table, in that home, the father runs his eye over
the morning paper, and gives to his family the main points of its
news which he deems worthy of special note in the family circle. The
children there are free to tell of what they have studied in school,
or to ask about points that have been raised by their teachers or
companions. And in such ways the children are trained to an intelligent
interest in a variety and range of subjects that would otherwise be
quite beyond their ordinary observation.

One father has been accustomed to treasure up the best things of his
experience or studies for each day, with a view to bringing them
attractively to the attention of his children at the family table, at
the day’s close, or at the next day’s beginning. Another has had the
habit of selecting a special topic for conversation at the dinner-table
a day in advance, in order that the children may prepare themselves, by
thinking or reading, for a share in the conversation. Thus an item in
the morning paper may suggest an inquiry about Bismarck, or Gladstone,
or Parnell, or Henry M. Stanley; and the father will say, “Now let
us have that man before us for our talk to-morrow at dinner. Find
out all you can about him, and we will help one another to a fuller
knowledge of him.” In this way the children are being trained to an
ever-broadening interest in men and things in the world’s affairs, and
to methods of thought and study in their search for knowledge.

There is no end to the modes of conducting table-talk as a means of
child-training; and there is no end to the influence of table-talk in
this direction, however conducted. Indeed, it may be said with truth,
that table-talk is quite as likely to be influential as a means of
child-training when the parents have no thought of using it to this
end, as when they seek to use it accordingly. At every family table
there is sure to be talking; and the talk that is heard at the family
table is sure to have its part in a child’s training, whether the
parents wish it to be so or not.

There are fathers whose table-talk is chiefly in complaint of the
family cooking, or in criticism of the mother’s method of managing
the household. There are mothers who are more given to asking where
on earth their children learned to talk and act as they do, than to
inquiring in what part of the earth the most important archæological
discoveries are just now in progress. And there are still more fathers
and mothers whose table-talk is wholly between themselves, except as
they turn aside, occasionally, to say sharply to their little ones,
“Why don’t you keep still, children, while your father and mother are
talking?” All this table-talk has its influence on the children. It
leads them to have less respect for their parents, and less interest in
the home table except as a place of satisfying their natural hunger. It
is potent, even though it be not profitable.

Table-talk ought to be such, in every family, as to make the hour of
home meal-time one of the most attractive as well as one of the most
beneficial hours of the day to all the children. But in order to make
table-talk valuable, parents must have something to talk about at
the table, must be willing to talk about it there, and must have the
children lovingly in mind as they do their table-talking.




XX.

_GUIDING A CHILD IN COMPANIONSHIPS._


A child cannot easily go on through childhood without companions, even
if it were desirable for him to do so. Moreover, it is not desirable
for a child to go on through childhood without companions, even if it
were every way practicable for him to do so. Companions are a necessity
to a child, whether the case be looked at in the light of the world
as it is, or in the light of the world as it ought to be. Hence, as a
child will have companions, and as he needs to have them, it is doubly
important that a parent be alive to the importance of guiding his every
child in the choice of his companions and in his relations to those
companions whom he has without choosing.

No child can be rightly trained all by himself, nor yet wholly by
means of those agencies and influences that come to him directly
from above his head. There are forces which operate for a child’s
training through being brought to bear upon him laterally rather than
perpendicularly; coming in upon him by way of his sympathies, instead
of by way of his natural desire for knowledge. There are lessons which
a child cannot learn so well from an elder teacher above him as from a
young teacher alongside of him. There are impulses which can never be
at their fullest with a child when he is alone as a child, but which
will fill and sway him when they are operative upon him as one of a
little company of children. Only as he learns these lessons from, and
receives these impulses with, wisely chosen and fitting companions, can
a child have the benefit of them to which he is fairly entitled.

Any observing parent will testify that, on more than one occasion,
his child has come to him with a new interest in a thought or a
theme, inspired by the words or example of a young companion, to
the surprise of the parent—who had before sought in vain to excite
an interest in that very direction. All that the parent had said on
the subject had been of no value, in comparison with that which had
been said or done by the child’s companion, as another self. Again,
there are few parents who have not found to their regret that their
child has received lessons and impulses directly opposed to all the
parental counsel and purposes, through a brief and comparatively
unnoticed companionship that ought to have been guarded against. And
these are but illustrations of the instructive and swaying power of
child companionships. Such a power as this ought not to be ignored or
slighted by any parent who would do most and best for his child’s wise
training.

Any thoughtful parent will realize that a child cannot be trained to
be unselfishly considerate of his companions; to bear and forbear with
companions who are weak or impatient or exacting; to show sympathy with
companions who need sympathy, and to minister lovingly to companions
who deserve a loving ministry,—unless he has companions toward whom
he can thus exercise and evidence a right spirit at all times. And no
parent will say, or think, that it would be well for a child to be
without these elements of character-training in his life-progress.

An only child is naturally at a disadvantage in his home, because he is
an only child. He lacks the lessons which playmates there would give
him; the impulses and inspirations which he would receive from their
fellowship; the demands on his better nature, and the calls on his
self-control and self-denial, which would come from their requirements.
Parents who have but one child ought to see to it that the lack in this
regard is, in a measure, supplied by the companionships of children
from other homes. It is, indeed, a mistake for any parent to attempt
the training of his child without the help of child companionships.
No child can be so inspiringly and symmetrically trained without, as
with, these. Even where there are half a dozen or more children in one
family, there is still a need of outside companions for each child, of
the same age and wants of that child; for it is not possible for any
person to bring himself into the same relations with a child as can be
entered into by a child of his own years and requirements.

Because a child’s companionships are so influential, it is the more
important that they be closely watched and carefully guided by the
child’s parents. In choosing a neighborhood—for a residence or
for a summer vacation; in choosing a week-day school; in choosing
a Sunday-school, where a choice is open to the parents, the
companionships thus secured to their child ought to have prominence
in the minds of the parents. And when the neighborhood, and week-day
school, and Sunday-school, are finally fixed upon, the responsibility
is still upon the parent to see to it that the best available
companionships there are cultivated, and the most undesirable ones are
shunned, by the child. Neglect or carelessness at this point may be a
means of harm to the child for his lifetime. Attention just here may
do more for him than were possible through any other agency.

It is a parent’s duty to know who are his child’s companions, and to
know the character, and course of conduct, and influence upon his
child, of every one of those companions separately. Here is where
a parent’s chief work is called for in the matter of guiding and
controlling his child’s companionships. A parent must have his child’s
sympathy, in order to gain this knowledge; and a parent must give
his sympathy to his child, in order to be able to use this knowledge
wisely. It may be necessary to keep an open house for these companions,
and an open heart and hand to them personally, as it surely is
necessary to keep an open ear to the child’s confidences concerning
their sayings and doings, if the parent would know all about them that
he needs to know. There are parents who do all this for and with their
children, as an effective means of guiding those children in their
companionships. It is a pity that there are net more who are willing
to do it, in view of all that it may be a means of accomplishing for
children.

Knowing his child’s companionships, a parent ought to encourage such
of them as are worthiest, and discourage such as he cannot approve.
He ought to help his child to see the advantages of the one class and
the disadvantages of the other, and to regulate his social intimacies
according to the standards thus set before him. It will not do for a
parent to allow matters in this line to take their own course, and to
accept all companionships for his child just as they may come to him.
He must feel responsible for his child’s wise selection, from among
the number of proffered companions, of those who are to be retained
while others are dropped or avoided. And it devolves upon a parent to
see to it that his child’s companionships are of growing value to his
companions as well as to himself; that his child’s influence over his
very playfellows is for their good, while his good is promoted by their
association with him. A child’s companionships, like those of older
persons, ought to be of advantage to both parties alike, through the
very purpose of making them so.

Recognizing the desirableness and importance of companionships for
his child, securing the best that are available, learning fully their
characteristics and tendencies, aiding in their sifting, and seeking
in their steady uplifting, a parent can do effective service in the
way of guiding his child in and through that child’s companionships.
To neglect this agency of a child’s training, would be to endanger his
entire career in life, whatever else were done in his behalf.




XXI.

_NEVER PUNISH A CHILD IN ANGER._


Anger is not always wrong. A parent may be angry without sin. And, as
a matter of fact, most parents do get angry, whether they ought to or
not. Children are sometimes very provoking, and parents are sometimes
very much provoked. It is not always wrong to punish a child. A child
may need punishing, and it may be a parent’s duty to punish a child
accordingly. But it is always wrong for a parent to punish a child in
anger; and however great may be the need of a child’s punishing, a
parent ought never to administer punishment to a child while angry.

Here is a rule which, strictly speaking, knows no exception; yet, as a
matter of fact, probably nine-tenths of all the punishing of children
that is done by parents in this world is done in anger. And this is
one of the wrongs suffered by children through the wrong-doing of their
parents.

Anger is hot blood. Anger is passion. Anger is for the time being a
controlling emotion, fixing the mind’s eye on the one point against
which it is specifically directed, to the forgetfulness of all else.
But punishment is a judicial act, calling for a clear mind, and a cool
head, and a fair considering of every side of the case in hand. Anger
is inconsistent with the exercise of the judicial faculty; therefore no
person is competent to judge fairly while angry.

If, indeed, in any given case, the anger itself be just, the impulse
of the angry man may be in the right direction, and the punishment he
would inflict a fitting one; but, again, his impulse may be toward
a punishment that is not merited. At all events, the man is not in
a frame of mind to decide whether or not his impulse is a wise one;
and it is his duty to wait until he can dispassionately view the case
in another light than that in which it presents itself to his heated
brain. No judge is worthy of the office he administers, if he acts on
the impulse of his first estimate of a case before him, without taking
time to see what can be shown on the other side of that case. And no
parent acts worthily who jumps to the punishment of a child while under
the impulse of an angry mood.

There are strong provocatives to anger in many a child’s conduct,
especially to a parent who is of an intense nature, with an inclination
to quickness of temper. A child is disobedient at a point where he has
been repeatedly told of his duty; he is quarrelsome with his playmates,
or insolent toward his nurse; he is persistently irritable, or he gives
way to a fit of ungovernable rage; he destroys property recklessly, or
he endangers life and limb; he snatches away a plaything from a little
brother, or he clutches his hands into his mother’s hair; he indulges
in foul language, or he utters threats of revenge; he meets a proffered
kiss with a slap or a scratch; his conduct may be even that which would
excite anger in a saint, but it certainly is such as to excite anger
in the average parent—who is not a saint. Then, while the parent is
angry, and while punishment seems merited by the child, the temptation
of the parent is to administer punishment; but that temptation is one
that ought never to be yielded to, or, if yielded to, it is not without
sin.

Punishment may be needed in such a case, but the punishment, to be
surely just and to be recognized as just, must be well considered, and
must be administered in a manner to show that it is not the outcome
of passionate impulse. No punishment ought to be administered by a
parent at any time that would not be administered by that parent when
he was cool and calm and deliberate, and after he had had a full and
free talk on the subject with the child, in the child’s best state of
mind. Whether the punishment that seems to the parent to be the desert


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Online LibraryH. Clay (Henry Clay) TrumbullHints on child-training → online text (page 8 of 13)