Jacob Abbott.

Gentle Measures in the Management and Training of the Young Or, the Principles on Which a Firm Parental Authority May Be Established and Maintained, Without Violence or Anger, and the Right Developmen online

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replenish it by filling it nearly full of water, and then pouring a
sufficient quantity of the saccharine powder into the mouth of it from the
sugar-bowl with a spoon. Nothing more was necessary except to shake up the
mixture in order to facilitate the process of solution, and the medicine
was ready.

_A Medium of Reproof._

Delia was accustomed to use the dolls not only for the purpose of
instruction, but sometimes for reproof, in many ingenious ways. For
instance, one day the children had been playing upon the piazza with blocks
and other playthings, and finally had gone into the house, leaving all the
things on the floor of the piazza, instead of putting them away in their
places, as they ought to have done. They were now playing with their dolls
in the parlor.

Delia came to the parlor, and with an air of great mystery beckoned the
children aside, and said to them, in a whisper, "Leave Andella and Rosalie
here, and don't say a word to them. I want you to come with me. There is a
secret - something I would not have them know on any account."

So saying, she led the way on tiptoe, followed by the children out of the
room, and round by a circuitous route to the piazza.

"There!" said she, pointing to the playthings; "see! all your playthings
left out! Put them away quick before Andella and Rosalie see them. I would
not have them know that their mothers leave their playthings about in that
way for any consideration. They would think that they might do so too, and
that would make you a great deal of trouble. You teach them, I have no
doubt, that they must always put their playthings away, and they must see
that you set them a good example. Put these playthings all away quick, and
carefully, and we will not let them know any thing about your leaving them

So the children went to work with great alacrity, and put the playthings
all away. And this method of treating the case was much more effectual in
making them disposed to avoid committing a similar fault another time than
any direct rebukes or expressions of displeasure addressed personally to
them would have been.

Besides, a scolding would have made them unhappy, and this did not make
them unhappy at all; it amused and entertained them. If you can lead
children to cure themselves of their faults in such a way that they shall
have a good time in doing it, there is a double gain.

In due time, by this kind of management, and by other modes conceived and
executed in the same spirit, Bella gained so great an ascendency over the
children that they were far more ready to conform to her will, and to
obey all her directions, than they would have been to submit to the most
legitimate authority that was maintained, as such authority too often is,
by fault-finding and threats, and without any sympathy with the fancies and
feelings which reign over the hearts of the children in the little world in
which they live.



The subject of sympathy between children and parents is to be considered in
two aspects: first, that of the child with the parent; and secondly, that
of the parent with the child. That is to say, an emotion may be awakened in
the child by its existence and manifestation in the parent, and secondly,
it may be awakened in the parent by its existence in the child.

We are all ready to acknowledge in words the great power and influence
of sympathy, but very few are aware how very vast this power is, and how
inconceivably great is the function which this principle fulfills in the
formation of the human character, and in regulating the conduct of men.

_Mysterious Action of the Principle of Sympathy_.

There is a great mystery in the nature of it, and in the manner of its
action. This we see very clearly in the simplest and most striking material
form of it - the act of gaping. Why and how does the witnessing of the act
of gaping in one person, or even the thought of it, produce a tendency
to the same action in the nerves and muscles of another person? When we
attempt to trace the chain of connection through the eye, the brain, and
the thoughts - through which line of agencies the chain of cause and effect
must necessarily run - we are lost and bewildered.

Other states and conditions in which the mental element is more apparent
are communicated from one to another in the same or, at least, in some
analogous way. Being simply in the presence of one who is amused, or happy,
or sad, causes us to feel amused, or happy, or sad ourselves - or, at least,
has that tendency - even if we do not know from what cause the emotion which
is communicated to us proceeds. A person of a joyous and happy disposition
often brightens up at once any little circle into which he enters, while
a morose and melancholy man carries gloom with him wherever he goes.
Eloquence, which, if we were to hear it addressed to us personally and
individually, in private conversation, would move us very little, will
excite us to a pitch of the highest enthusiasm if we hear it in the midst
of a vast audience; even though the words, and the gestures, and the
inflections of the voice, and the force with which it reaches our ears,
were to be precisely the same in the two cases. And so a joke, which would
produce only a quiet smile if we read it by ourselves at the fireside
alone, will evoke convulsions of laughter when heard in a crowded theatre,
where the hilarity is shared by thousands.

A new element, indeed, seems to come into action in these last two cases;
for the mental condition of one mind is not only communicated to another,
but it appears to be increased and intensified by the communication. Each
does not feel _merely_ the enthusiasm or the mirth which would naturally
be felt by the other, but the general emotion is vastly heightened by its
being so largely shared. It is like the case of the live coal, which does
not merely set the dead coal on fire by being placed in contact with it,
but the two together, when together, burn far more brightly than when

_Wonderful Power of Sympathy_.

So much for the reality of this principle; and it is almost impossible
to exaggerate the extent and the magnitude of the influence it exerts in
forming the character and shaping the ideas and opinions of men, and in
regulating all their ordinary habits of thought and feeling. People's
opinions are not generally formed or controlled by arguments or reasonings,
as they fondly suppose. They are imbibed by sympathy from those whom they
like or love, and who are, or have been, their associates. Thus people,
when they arrive at maturity, adhere in the main to the associations, both
in religion and in politics, in which they have been brought up, from the
influence of sympathy with those whom they love. They believe in this or
that doctrine or system, not because they have been convinced by proof,
but chiefly because those whom they love believe in them. On religious
questions the arguments are presented to them, it is true, while they are
young, in catechisms and in other forms of religious instruction, and in
politics by the conversations which they overhear; but it is a mistake to
suppose that arguments thus offered have any material effect as processes
of ratiocination in producing any logical conviction upon their minds. An
English boy is Whig or Tory because his father, and his brothers, and his
uncles are Whigs or Tories. He may, indeed, have many arguments at his
command with which to maintain his opinions, but it is not the force of the
arguments that has convinced him, nor do they have any force as a means of
convincing the other boys to whom he offers them. _They_ are controlled by
their sympathies, as he is by his. But if he is a popular boy, and makes
himself a favorite among his companions, the very fact that he is of this
or that party will have more effect upon the other boys than the most
logical and conclusive trains of reasoning that can be conceived.

So it is with the religious and political differences in this and in every
other country. Every one's opinions - or rather the opinion of people in
general, for of course there are many individual exceptions - are formed
from sympathy with those with whom in mind and heart they have been in
friendly communication during their years of childhood and youth. And even
in those cases where persons change their religious opinions in adult age,
the explanation of the mystery is generally to be found, not in seeking for
the _argument that convinced them_, but for the _person that led them_,
in the accomplishment of the change. For such changes can very often, and
perhaps generally, be traced to some person or persons whose influence over
them, if carefully scrutinized, would be found to consist really not in the
force of the arguments they offered, but in the magic power of a silent and
perhaps unconscious sympathy. The way, therefore, to convert people to our
ideas and opinions is to make them like us or love us, and then to avoid
arguing with them, but simply let them perceive what our ideas and opinions

The well-known proverb, "Example is better than precept," is only another
form of expressing the predominating power of sympathy; for example can
have little influence except so far as a sympathetic feeling in the
observer leads him to imitate it. So that, example is better than precept
means only that sympathy has more influence in the human heart than

_The Power of Sympathy in Childhood_.

This principle, so powerful at every period of life, is at its maximum
in childhood. It is the origin, in a very great degree, of the spirit of
imitation which forms so remarkable a characteristic of the first years
of life. The child's thoughts and feelings being spontaneously drawn into
harmony with the thoughts and feelings of those around him whom he loves,
leads, of course, to a reproduction of their actions, and the prevalence
and universality of the effect shows how constant and how powerful is the
cause. So the great secret of success for a mother, in the formation of the
character of her children, is to make her children respect and love her,
and then simply to _be_ herself what she wishes them to be.

And to make them respect and love her, is to control them by a firm
government where control is required, and to indulge them almost without
limit where indulgence will do no harm.

_Special Application of the Principle_.

But besides this general effect of the principle of sympathy in aiding
parents in forming the minds and hearts of their children, there are a
great many cases in which a father or mother who understands the secret of
its wonderful and almost magic power can avail themselves of it to produce
special effects. One or two examples will show more clearly what I mean.

William's aunt Maria came to pay his mother a visit in the village where
William's mother lived. On the same day she went to take a walk with
William - who is about nine years old - to see the village. As they went
along together upon the sidewalk, they came to two small boys who were
trying to fly a kite. One of the boys was standing upon the sidewalk,
embarrassed a little by some entanglement of the string.

"Here, you fellow!" said William, as he and his aunt approached the spot,
"get out of the way with your kite, and let us go by."

The boy hurried out of the way, and, in so doing, got his kite-string more
entangled still in the branches of a tree which grew at the margin of the

Now William's aunt might have taken the occasion, as she and her nephew
walked along, to give him some kind and friendly instruction or counsel
about the duty of being kind to every body in any difficulty, trouble, or
perplexity, whether they are young or old; showing him how we increase the
general sum of happiness in so doing, and how we feel happier ourselves
when we have done good to any one, than when we have increased in any way,
or even slighted or disregarded, their troubles. How William would receive
such a lecture would depend a great deal upon his disposition and state of
mind. But in most cases such counsels, given at such a time, involving, as
they would, some covert though very gentle censure, would cause the heart
of the boy to close itself in a greater or less degree against them, like
the leaves of a sensitive-plant shrinking from the touch. The reply would
very probably be, "Well, he had no business to be on the sidewalk, right in
our way."

William and his aunt walked on a few steps. His aunt then stopped,
hesitatingly, and said,

"How would it do to go back and help that boy disentangle his kite-string?
He's a little fellow, and does not know so much about kites and
kite-strings as you do."

Here the suggestion of giving help to perplexity and distress came
associated with a compliment instead of what implied censure, and the
leaves of the sensitive-plant expanded at once, and widely, to the genial

"Yes," said William; "let's go."

So his aunt turned and went back a step or two, and then said, "You can go
and do it without me. I'll wait here till you come back. I don't suppose
you want any help from me. If you do, I'll come."

"No," aid William, "I can do it alone."

So William ran on with great alacrity to help the boys clear the string,
and then came back with a beaming face to his aunt, and they walked on.

William's aunt made no further allusion to the affair until the end of
the walk, and then, on entering the gate, she said, "We have had a very
pleasant walk, and you have taken very good care of me. And I am glad we
helped those boys out of their trouble with the kite."

"So am I," said William.

_Analysis of the Incident_.

Now it is possible that some one may say that William was wrong in his
harsh treatment of the boys, or at least in his want of consideration for
their perplexity; and that his aunt, by her mode of treating the case,
covered up the wrong, when it ought to have been brought distinctly to view
and openly amended. But when we come to analyze the case, we shall find
that it is not at all certain that there was any thing wrong on William's
part in the transaction, so far as the state of his heart, in a moral point
of view, is concerned. All such incidents are very complicated in their
nature, and in their bearings and relations. They present many aspects
which vary according to the point of view from which they are regarded.
Even grown people do not always see all the different aspects of an affair
in respect to which they are called upon to act or to form an opinion, and
children, perhaps, never; and in judging their conduct, we must always
consider the aspect in which the action is presented to their minds. In
this case, William was thinking only of his aunt. He wished to make her
walk convenient and agreeable to her. The boy disentangling his string on
the sidewalk was to him, at that time, simply an obstacle in his aunt's
way, and he dealt with it as such, sending the boy off as an act of
kindness and attention to his aunt solely. The idea of a sentient being
suffering distress which he might either increase by harshness or relieve
by help was not present in his mind at all. We may say that he ought
to have thought of this. But a youthful mind, still imperfect in its
development, can not be expected to take cognizance at once of all the
aspects of a transaction which tends in different directions to different
results. It is true, that he ought to have thought of the distress of the
boys, if we mean that he ought to be taught or trained to think of such
distress when he witnessed it; and that was exactly what his aunt was
endeavoring to do. We ourselves have learned, by long experience of life,
to perceive at once the many different aspects which an affair may present,
and the many different results which may flow in various directions from
the same action; and we often inconsiderately blame children, simply
because their minds are yet so imperfectly developed that they can not take
simultaneous cognizance of more than one or two of them. This is the true
philosophy of most of what is called heedlessness in children, and for
which, poor things, they receive so many harsh reprimands and so much

A little girl, for example, undertakes to water her sister's plants. In her
praiseworthy desire to do her work well and thoroughly, she fills the mug
too full, and spills the water upon some books that are lying upon the
table. The explanation of the misfortune is simply that her mind was
filled, completely filled, with the thoughts of helping her sister. The
thought of the possibility of spilling the water did not come into it at
all. There was no room for it while the other thought, so engrossing, was
there; and to say that she _ought_ to have thought of both the results
which might follow her action, is only to say that she ought to be older.

_Sympathy as the Origin of childish Fears_.

The power of sympathy in the mind of a child - that is, its tendency
to imbibe the opinions or sentiments manifested by others in their
presence - may be made very effectual, not only in inculcating principles of
right and wrong, but in relation to every other idea or emotion. Children
are afraid of thunder and lightning, or of robbers at night, or of ghosts,
because they perceive that their parents, or older brothers or sisters, are
afraid of them. Where the parents do not believe in ghosts, the children
are not afraid of them; unless, indeed, there are domestics in the house,
or playmates at school, or other companions from whom they take the
contagion. So, what they see that their parents value they prize
themselves. They imbibe from their playmates at school a very large
proportion of their tastes, their opinions, and their ideas, not through
arguments or reasoning, but from sympathy; and most of the wrong or foolish
notions of any kind that they have acquired have not been established in
their minds by false reasoning, but have been taken by sympathy, as a
disease is communicated by infection; and the remedy is in most cases, not
reasoning, but a countervailing sympathy.

_Afraid of a Kitten_.

Little Jane was very much afraid of a kitten which her brother brought
home - the first that she had known. She had, however, seen a picture of a
tiger or some other feline animal devouring a man in a forest, and had
been frightened by it; and she had heard too, perhaps, of children being
scratched by cats or kittens. So, when the kitten was brought in and put
down on the floor, she ran to her sister in great terror, and began to cry.

Now her sister might have attempted to reason with her by explaining the
difference between the kitten and the wild animals of the same class in the
woods, and by assuring her that thousands of children have kittens to play
with and are never scratched by them so long as they treat them kindly - and
all without producing any sensible effect. But, instead of this, she
adopted a different plan. She took the child up into her lap, and after
quieting her fears, began to talk to the kitten.

"Poor little pussy," said she, "I am glad you have come. You never scratch
any body, I am sure, if they are kind to you. Jennie will give you some
milk some day, and she and I will like to see you lap it up with your
pretty little tongue. And we will give you a ball to play with some day
upon the carpet. See, Jennie, see! She is going to lie down upon the rug.
She is glad that she has come to such a nice home. Now she is putting her
head down, but she has not any pillow to lay it upon. Wouldn't you like a
pillow, kitty? Jennie will make you a pillow some day, I am sure, if you
would like one. Jennie is beginning to learn to sew, and she could make you
a nice pillow, and stuff it with cotton wool. Then we can see you lying
down upon the rug, with the pillow under your head that Jennie will have
made for you - all comfortable."

Such a talk as this, though it could not be expected entirely and at once
to dispel Jennie's unfounded fears, would be far more effectual towards
beginning the desired change than any arguments or reasoning could possibly

Any mother who will reflect upon the principle here explained will at once
recall to mind many examples and illustrations of its power over the hearts
and minds of children which her own experience has afforded. And if she
begins practically and systematically to appeal to it, she will find
herself in possession of a new element of power - new, at least, to her
realization - the exercise of which will be as easy and agreeable to herself
as it will be effective in its influence over her children.



I think there can be no doubt that the most effectual way of securing the
confidence and love of children, and of acquiring an ascendency over them,
is by sympathizing with them in their child-like hopes and fears, and joys
and sorrows - in their ideas, their fancies, and even in their caprices, in
all cases where duty is not concerned. Indeed, the more child-like, that
is, the more peculiar to the children themselves, the feelings are that we
enter into with them, the closer is the bond of kindness and affection that
is formed.

_An Example_.

If a gentleman coming to reside in a new town concludes that it is
desirable that he should be on good terms with the boys in the streets,
there are various ways by which he can seek to accomplish the end.
Fortunately for him, the simplest and easiest mode is the most effectual.
On going into the village one day, we will suppose he sees two small boys
playing horse. One boy is horse, and the other driver. As they draw near,
they check the play a little, to be more decorous in passing by the
stranger. He stops to look at them with a pleased expression of
countenance, and then says, addressing the driver, with a face of much
seriousness, "That's a first-rate horse of yours. Would you like to sell
him? He seems to be very spirited." The horse immediately begins to prance
and caper. "You must have paid a high price for him. You must take good
care of him. Give him plenty of oats, and don't drive him hard when it is
hot weather. And if ever you conclude to sell him, I wish you would let me

So saying, the gentleman walks on, and the horse, followed by his driver,
goes galloping forward in high glee.

Now, by simply manifesting thus a fellow-feeling with the boys in their
childish play, the stranger not only gives a fresh impulse to their
enjoyment at the time, but establishes a friendly relationship between them
and him which, without his doing any thing to strengthen or perpetuate it,
will of itself endure for a long time. If he does not speak to the boys
again for months, every time they meet him they will be ready to greet him
with a smile.

The incident will go much farther towards establishing friendly relations
between him and them than any presents that he could make them - except so
far as his presents were of such a kind, and were given in such a way, as
to be expressions of kindly feeling towards them - that is to say, such as
to constitute of themselves a manifestation of sympathy.

The uncle who gives his nephews and nieces presents, let them be ever so
costly or beautiful, and takes no interest in their affairs, never inspires
them with any feeling of personal affection. They like him as they like the
apple-tree which bears them sweet and juicy apples, or the cow that gives
them milk - which is on their part a very different sentiment from that
which they feel for the kitten that plays with them and shares their
joys - or even for their dolls, which are only pictured in their imagination
as sharing them.

_Sophronia and Aurelia_.

Miss Sophronia calls at a house to make a visit. A child of seven or eight
years of age is playing upon the floor. After a little time, at a pause
in the conversation, she calls the child - addressing her as "My little
girl" - to come to her. The child - a shade being cast over her mind by being
thus unnecessarily reminded of her littleness - hesitates to come. The
mother says, "Come and shake hands with the lady, my dear!" The child comes
reluctantly. Miss Sophronia asks what her name is, how old she is, whether
she goes to school, what she studies there, and whether she likes to go to
school, and at length releases her. The child, only too glad to be free
from such a tiresome visitor, goes back to her play, and afterwards the
only ideas she has associated with the person of her visitor are those

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Online LibraryJacob AbbottGentle Measures in the Management and Training of the Young Or, the Principles on Which a Firm Parental Authority May Be Established and Maintained, Without Violence or Anger, and the Right Developmen → online text (page 8 of 22)