Not only from the side of our own convenience, but also from the side of the child's real needs, we must give the young spirit training in obedience. The child that does not get the constant support of a reliable and firm guide misses this support; the child is happier when he is aware of having near-by an unfailing counsellor, one who will decide aright what he is to do and what he is not to do. But when I say that the obedient child is happier than the disobedient one, I do not mean merely that the latter gets into mischief more frequently, or that the former receives more marks of affection from the parents. There is involved something more important than rewards and punishments. The young child would really rather obey than be left to his own decisions. When he has no one to tell him what to do, or to warn him against what he must not do, the child feels his helplessness. And there is valuable tonic for the child's body as well as for his will in the comfortable consciousness of a superior authority upon which he can safely lean.
As the child becomes older he begins to assert his own desires in a more positive fashion, and at about two and a half to three years the problem of obedience takes on a new aspect. For now the child has had experience enough to enable him to have his own purposes, and these often come in conflict with the wishes of the mother. Should obedience be now demanded? And should it be insisted upon? There is more involved in this problem than the convenience of administering the household, or the immediate safety and well-being of the child. There is involved the whole question of the child's future attitude toward life. Shall the child become one who habitually obeys the commands of others, without questioning, without resisting, and so perhaps become a pliant tool in the hands of powerful but unscrupulous men? Or shall he be allowed to go his own way and over-ride the wishes of others, to become, perhaps, a wilful victim of his own whims and moods, presenting a stubborn resistance to overwhelming forces that will in the end crush him?
In the case of the very young child absolute obedience must be required, for the reason that the child is not in a position to assume the responsibility for his conduct. The will of the mother must be followed for the child's own safety and health, for the child has no intelligence or experience,—that is, judgment,—or purpose to guide him. He has only blind impulses that may often be harmless but are never reliable. So the first need is for training in regularity, and this is possible only under the guidance of the mother or nurse, who knows what is to be done, or not done, and whose authority must be absolute. So the child must first of all learn to obey. Later he must learn what and whom to obey.
Recognizing, then, in full the value of obedience, we must be careful not to exaggerate it and consider it a cardinal virtue. Obedience is far from being a fundamental virtue. On the contrary, once established as a ruling principle in the household or anywhere else, it is easily carried far enough to become a source of positive harm. To obey means to act in accordance with another's wishes. To act in this manner does not call upon the exercise of judgment or responsibility, and too many grow up without acquiring the habit of using judgment and without acquiring a sense of responsibility. They are only too willing to leave choice and decision to others. Decision of character and habitual obedience do not go well together. Moreover, it is now coming to be more fully recognized that the progress of society depends not upon closer obedience to the few natural leaders, but upon the exercise of discretion and judgment on the part of an ever larger number of those who are not leaders.
There may be a still greater danger in requiring so-called implicit obedience of every child. We have learned from modern studies of the human mind that doing is the outcome of thinking and feeling. When we constantly force children to do things that have no direct connection with their thoughts and feelings, or when we prevent actions which follow naturally from their thoughts and feelings, we are interfering with the orderly working of the child's mind. We force children to act in ways unrelated to their thoughts and feelings, and as a result we have many men and women of fine sentiment and lofty thought who never let their ideas and sentiments find expression in effective action. In other words, the effect upon the mind of "thoughtless minding" is not a healthy one.
A large amount of disobedience arises from the fact that the child's attention and interest are so different from an adult's. The little girl who is said to have given her name as "Mary Don't" illustrates this. Mary does a great many things in the course of a day, impelled by curiosity and the instinct to handle things. Most of her activities are harmless; but when she touches something that you care about, you command her to let it alone. This is quite proper. Very often, however, she is told to stop doing things that are quite indifferent, and that satisfy her natural craving for activity without being in the least harmful. Being interfered with constantly, she soon comes to consider all orders arbitrary and— disobedience results.
The other side of the problem is seen when a child is told to do something when he is preoccupied with his own affairs. You may tell him a second time; very likely you raise your voice. The third time you fairly shout. This is undignified and it is also unnecessary. For Bobby has heard the order from the first; but he has not attended to your wishes. In such cases there is no primary disobedience; but a frequent repetition of such incidents can easily lead Bobby to become quite indifferent to your orders; then disobedience is habitual. The child that has acquired the habit of ignoring the mother's wishes will not suddenly begin to obey orders when the emergency comes.
From these two cases we may see that it is important to get first the child's habit of attending to what is said to him—by making everything that is said to him count. In the second place, the child must be taught to feel that what he is directed to do is the best thing to do.
For getting the child to obey we must keep constantly in mind the idea that we are working for certain habits. Now, a habit is acquired only through constant repetition of a given act or a given kind of behavior. The first rule for the parent should therefore be to be absolutely consistent in demanding obedience from the child. If you call to the children in the nursery to stop their racket (because father is taking a nap) and fail to insist upon the quietness because father just whispers to you that he is not sleeping, you have given the children practice in disobedience. If they are to be allowed to go on with the noise, this should be because you openly permit them to go on with their noisy fun, and not because they may heedlessly disregard your wishes. Direct disobedience is not to be overlooked under any circumstances. It is true that parents often give orders that had better not be carried out; but the remedy is not in allowing the children to disobey, but in thinking twice or thrice before giving a command, or in agreeing with them upon a course of action without giving commands at all. By giving no orders that are unnecessary or that are arbitrary, the child will come in time to feel that your interferences with his own impulses are intended for his own good.
We frequently tell the children that we want them to obey "for their own good." If this were true, we should have little difficulty in obtaining obedience, for most children instinctively follow orders and suggestions. It is only when we abuse this instinct by too frequent and capricious and thoughtless commands for our own convenience that the children come to revolt at our orders.
There are great differences among children in the readiness with which they adopt suggestions or follow orders. Some children are easily dissuaded from a line of action in which they are engaged. Their attention is not very closely filed, and they are easily distracted, and may be sent from one thing to another without resenting the interruptions. Such children quickly learn to obey, and some seldom offer resistance to suggestion; but they deserve no special praise or credit for their perfect obedience, neither do their parents deserve special credit for having "trained" such children. On the other hand, there are children who set their hearts very firmly upon the objects of their desire, and who cannot easily stop in the middle of a game or in the middle of a sentence just to put some wood in the stove. Such children will appear to be "disobedient," although they are just as affectionate and as loyal and as dutiful as the others. When you see a child that is a model of obedience, you cannot conclude that he has been well trained; nor is frequent disobedience an indication of neglect on the part of the parents. But the majority of children will fall in the class of those whose obedience or disobedience is a matter of habit resulting from the firmness and consistency and considerateness of the parents.
Unless a child has become altogether submissive, he will not obey all orders with equal readiness. Alice, who is not very active, does not display any great virtue if she sits still when you tell her to. On the other hand, sitting still means to Harry a supreme effort as well as a great sacrifice; to demand this of him we should have a very good reason. I know children who are models of obedience in most matters, but who scream with protest and resentment when it comes to taking medicine or even to being examined by a physician. On the other hand, a little boy I know, to whom obedience in general comes very hard, has such respect for the wisdom of physicians and for the helpfulness of medicines that he will undergo a thorough examination and will swallow the bitterest of drugs without even making a wry face.
If you will look about among your acquaintances, I think you will find that those who get really intelligent obedience from their children are the ones who make the least ado about it, and perhaps never use the time-worn phrase, "Now you must mind me." It is the weak person who is constantly forced to make appeals to his authority. It is the weak person who is constantly threatening the child with terrible retributions for his disobedience. Yet none are quicker to detect the weakness, none know better that the threats will not be carried out, than those very children whose obedience we desire thus to obtain.
Many of us get into the habit of placing too many of our wishes in the form of commands or orders to do or not to do, instead of requesting as we would of an equal. Wherever possible we should suggest to the child a line of conduct, so as to make the child feel that he is making a choice. You may say to Johnnie, "Go and get me a pail of water." Or you may say, "Johnnie, please get me a pail of water." Or you may say, "Johnnie, mother needs a pail of water." You will perhaps get just as good service in one case as in another; but the ultimate effect on Johnnie may make the difference between a man who finds work a necessary evil and one who finds work a means of service.
From men who have been successful in managing industries and from women who have managed large households with the least amount of friction we can learn that there is a way of obtaining obedience without imposing upon the minds of those under our authority. Whenever you wish to depart from the usual routine, there is a good reason for the change, and in most cases the reason can be stated with the request. When this is done the order loses the appearance of arbitrariness. If you say to Mary, "I wish you would go out without me this afternoon, as I have some important sewing to finish," you will most likely meet with ready acquiescence. If, however, you say, "You must go alone this afternoon, I can't go with you," and if when Mary dares ask "Why?" you say, "Because I tell you to," you will certainly sow the seeds of rebellion. No self-respecting child will accept such a reason. If at least you make an appeal to your superior judgment, and say, "Mother knows best," there would be something gained. For now you are shifting the basis of the child's conduct from your position of power over her to the highest authority within our reach, namely, good judgment. The child is thus learning to obey not a person, but a principle.
Expressing your wishes in the form of a request, modified wherever possible by a reason, does not mean that you are to give the child a reason for everything he is asked to do; for if the child has respect for you and feels your sympathy with him, he will do many things that are requested without understanding any reason, but confident, when he does think of the matter, that you have a good reason. In other words, where there have been close sympathy and habitual obedience the parent becomes, in the child's mind, the embodiment of those ideals or principles toward which he feels loyal.
In the same way men and women who give arbitrary commands may get from their assistants formal obedience, but they never get hearty and intelligent cooperation. Indeed, it is no doubt because we still cling to the traditions of earlier times, when personal loyalty and military types of virtue were so prominent in the minds of men, that we are so slow to learn the need for cooperation in modern times. The need to-day is for leaders who will inspire their fellows with enthusiasm for cooperation, who will wisely guide their fellows in effective service; and of the corresponding virtues in the followers obedience is not the first.
And yet we must recognize all the time that there are occasions when a person must do what he is told to just because he is told; and it were well for one who has to take orders to be able to do so without fret and bitterness. The child should, however, come sooner or later to distinguish between those commands that arise out of real necessities and those that arise from the passion or caprice of other persons. To the former he must learn to submit with the best possible grace, with an effort at understanding, or even with a desire to assimilate to himself. To the latter he should submit, when forced to, only under protest, and with the resolve to make himself free.
That confidence is a strong factor in obtaining obedience is well illustrated by many boys in every village and town. These boys are notoriously disobedient at home and at school, but on the baseball field they will follow the orders of the captain without question. They feet that his commands are not arbitrary or thoughtless, that they are not petty and personal, but really for the greatest advantage to those concerned. If we can inspire in our children such confidence in our motives, we shall have little worry about the problem of obedience.
In the training of the child we often forget that the child will some time outgrow his childishness. We must consider not only what is the best kind of behavior for a child, but what kinds of habits it is best for a child to develop in view of his some day becoming an adult human being. We want men and women to develop into free agents, that is, people who act in accordance with the dictates of their own conscience and their best judgment. With this aim in view, how much emphasis should then be placed on the matter of obedience?
Since the infant has no will, he must be guided by others for his own safety and for the development of his judgment. But we do not wish him to retain his habits of obedience to others long enough to deprive him of his independence of thought and action. The growing child must learn to repress his own many and conflicting impulses, and to select those that he learns to be best. But if he obeys always, he cannot acquire judgment and responsibility. He learns through obedience to value various kinds of authority, and eventually to choose his authorities; his final authority being his conscience or principle, not impulse or whim. He learns also by questioning the principle of obedience to persons, and comes to guide his conduct by principle or conscience, and not by custom or convention.
We do not wish to train our children for submission, but for judgment and discernment. We must, therefore, respect the child's individuality. We are, however, not obliged to choose between blind, unquestioning obedience and the undignified situations which arise from habitual disobedience. Obedience to persons as a settled habit is bad. The ability to obey promptly and intelligently when the commander's authority is recognized,—to respond to suggestion and guidance,—is desirable. Obedience is a tool the parent may use with wisdom and discretion. It is not an end in discipline or in life.
We should educate through obedience,—that is, cultivate the habit of intelligent response,—but we must not educate for obedience,—that is, the habit of submitting to the will of others.
THE TRAINING OF THE WILL
After all, what is there about a person that really counts? All experience and all philosophy agree that it is the character; and the central fact in character is the will. Yet the will is not something in the soul that exists by itself, as a "faculty" of the mind. The will is a product of all the other processes that go on in the mind, and can not be trained by itself. Neither can the will of the child be expected to come to its own through neglect. Indeed, although the will can not be trained by itself, its training is even more important than the training of the intellect. The great defect in our moral training has been that we have generally attempted to train our children too exclusively through precepts and mottoes and rules, and too little through activities that lead to the formation of habits. The will depends upon the intellect, but it cannot be trained through learning alone, though learning can be made to help. There are, as we all know, only too many learned men and women with weak wills, and there are many men and women of strong character who have had but little book learning. The will expresses itself through action, and must be trained through action. But action is impelled by feelings, so the will must be trained also through the feelings. All right education is education of the will. The will is formed while the child is learning to think, to feel, and to do.
We judge of character by the behavior. But our behavior is not made up entirely of acts of the will. Hundreds of situations occur that do not require individual decision, but are adequately met by acts arising from habit, or even from instinct. The experience of the race has given us many customs and manners which are for the most part satisfactory, and which the child should learn as a matter of course. It is thus important that the child should acquire certain habits as early in life as possible. These habits will not only result in saving of energy, but will also give assurance that in certain situations the child will act in the right way. If it is worth while to have a person knock on a door before entering an occupied room, or if it is worth while to have people look to the left and to the right before crossing a thoroughfare, the child can acquire the habit of doing these things always and everywhere without stopping to make a decision on each occasion.
But we must remember that in guiding the child to the formation of these habits, example and practice are far more important than precepts and rules. Example is more important because the child is very imitative; one rude act on the part of some older member of the household will counteract the benefit of many verbal lessons in politeness. Practice is important because it is through constant repetition of an act that it at last becomes automatic, and is performed without thought or attention. In fact, this is the only way in which a habit can be formed. Having acquired habits about the common relations of life that do not call for new adjustment every time they are met, the mind is left free to apply itself to problems that really need special consideration. Imagine how wasteful it would be if we had to attend to every movement in dressing ourselves! You can easily see that there are a great many acts that bring us in relation to others and that should be as mechanical and automatic as dressing and undressing.
It is when we pass from the routine acts which are repeated every day that we come to the field in which the will holds sway. There is nothing more helpful in the training of the will than the frequent performance of tasks requiring application, self control, and the making of decisions. The routine of fixed duties in a large and complex household furnished to our grandparents, during their youth, just the opportunity for the formation of habits in attending to what needed to be done, without regard to the momentary impulse or mood. Many of our modern homes are so devoid of such opportunities that there is great danger that our children will have altogether too much practice in following their whims and caprices—or in doing nothing.
It is just because the modern home is so devoid of the opportunities for carrying on these character-building activities that provision must be made in that other great educational institution, the school. All the newer activities of the school, the shop work and the school garden, the domestic science and the sewing, the recreation centres, the art and the music—all these so-called "fads and frills" against which the taxpayer raises his voice in protest— these prove to be even more important in the making of men and women out of children than the respectable and acceptable subjects of the old-fashioned school; for these activities are but organized and planned substitutes for the incidental doings of the childhood of other days. They are the formal substitutes for the activities by means of which a past generation of men and women acquired that will-training and that insight into relations which distinguished their characters.
All systematic and sustained effort, whether in organizing a game or carrying a garden through from the sowing to the harvest, whether in making a dress or a chest of drawers, has its moral value as training in application, self-control, and decision, quite distinct from its contribution to knowledge or skill.
Two or three generations ago no thought whatever was given to the child's point of view; the authority of parents was absolute, and there were many unhappy childhoods. To-day we wish to avoid these errors, and by studying the child we hope to adjust our treatment to his nature and his needs.
But we must be on our guard against the danger of going to the extreme of attributing to the child ideas and instincts which he does not possess. In former times it was considered one of the mother's chief duties to "break the child's will"; to-day, realizing the importance of a strong will, we are in danger of assuming that a child's stubbornness or wilfulness is a manifestation of a strong will, and we hesitate to interfere with it.
This is an entirely false assumption. In the first place, a child up to the age of about three years has no will; he can only have strong desires or impulses, or pet aversions. During this period the mother's will must be his will, and there can be no clash of wills. But, to be his will, the mother must guide the child in accordance with his needs, his instincts,—that is, in accordance with his nature, and not in accordance with her convenience or caprice. She must bear constantly in mind that the child is not merely a miniature man or woman, but that each stage in his development represents a distinct combination of instincts, impulses and capacities. If, for example, your little girl is digging in the dirt—a very natural and healthful activity—and you stop her for no better reason than that she will soil her hands or clothes, you are unduly interfering with her, and if you continue in that way, you will either make a defiant, disagreeable youngster or a servile, cringing slave to arbitrary authority. On the other hand, if Johnny should wish to play with a knife or a box of matches, it manifestly devolves upon you to take these objects away from him, no matter how strong his desire to have them may be. But it also devolves upon you to see that such harmful objects are not very easy for him to obtain and to see to it that plenty of other harmless things are provided for him.
This suggests a common mistake parents and loving friends often make in meeting the uncomfortable assertions of the child's will. When the child cries for the moon, you try to get him interested in a jack-in-the-box; and when he wants a fragile piece of bric-a-brac— you try to substitute for it a tin whistle. With a very young child, that is about all you can do. But a time comes when the child is old enough to know the difference between that upon which he has set his heart and that which you have substituted for it in his hand. At this time you must stop offering substitutes. The child is now old enough to understand that some things are not to be had, and that crying for them will not bring them. To offer him a substitute is now not only an insult to his intelligence, but it is demoralizing to his will; it makes for a loose hold upon the object of his desire—and it is the firmness of this hold that is the beginning of a strong will. It does not take the child long to learn that he is not to have a knife or a lighted lamp; nor does it take him long to get into the way of scattering his desires, so that he has no will at all.
In the second place, the assumption that stubbornness is a sign of strength is false, even for older children. Stubbornness is, in fact, a sign of weakness. It indicates that the child is either incapable of adjusting himself to the appeal that is made to his judgment or feelings, or that his weakness will make it impossible for him in the presence of his immediate desire to recognize the superior judgment and authority of his elders, at home or in school. It takes much more will power to give in than to carry one's point. But we must always make sure that we are not the obstinate and wilful ones. If you have a very good reason for not wanting Helen to go to the dance—even if she is too young to understand that reason—you are perfectly justified in carrying your point. If your reason is a wise one, she will come to see it in time and will honor and respect you all the more for not having given in to her impetuous and immature desire. If she gives in gracefully, because she can understand the reasons, or just out of respect for your wishes, having found your guidance wise before, hers as well as yours is the triumph. The only thing of which we must make sure is that we are right to the best of our understanding, and that we do not insist upon having our way just because,—oh, well, just because we have a right to have our way, being in authority. As G. Stanley Hall, the father of child study in this country, has so well said: "Our will should be a rock, not a wave; our requirements should be uniform, with no whim, no mood or periodicity about them." Having made sure of ourselves, we need not fear that training our wilful children will weaken their will.
We must not neglect to consider the very close relation that exists between the health of the body and the health of the spirit. A strong will, showing itself in ability to concentrate its efforts on a chosen purpose, is not to be expected in a child whose muscles are flabby and whose nerves quickly tire. Since the will expresses itself in action, it can be best cultivated in a body capable of vigorous action.
The young child is not only a bundle of bones and muscles; it is also a bundle of impulses. And some of these impulses lead to actions that are quite desirable, while others lead to actions that are indifferent, and still others to actions that are decidedly undesirable. But, so far as the child is concerned, he has no means of discriminating between one kind of impulse and another. He would just as soon carry poison to his mouth as good food; he would rather grasp at a flame than at a harmless rattle. One of the essentials then becomes suitable knowledge. As the child grows older he should gradually learn that knowledge is necessary to wise choice. It is not so much the knowledge of what is commonly called "good" or "evil" as the knowledge of relations and needs that will enable him to choose ends, and to choose effective means toward those ends. Yet we cannot begin too early to have such considerations as "It is right," or "It is best," rather than "I want it," influence the conduct of our children. But, in order to do the right, we have to know the right, and the children who get these moral lessons in their homes are fortunate indeed. It is here the child should acquire his feeling of loyalty to duty, for such lessons learned in the home are the most impressive and the most enduring. We must also make certain that children all through their lives at home are given opportunity for choice and decision.
In this matter of making decisions there is a great deal of individual variation, and even distinct types of persons have been described, according to the way they reach decisions. At one extreme is the child—or the grown person—who apparently without any effort balances the reasons that may be given on the opposite sides of a problem, and makes his choice solely on the strength of the reasoned argument. Herbert Spencer tells in his Autobiography how, when a young man, he wrote down, as in a ledger, all the advantages and all the disadvantages he could think of in regard to the married state. After checking off the items on the two sides of the account, he found a balance in favor of remaining single. Later in life he had his doubts as to whether the decision was a wise one, but it was the best he could make under the circumstances, for he made use of all the knowledge at his command and stood by his reasoned decision.
At the opposite extreme is the person who resolves to do what is right (although he may have no systematic means of discovering what is right), and carries out his resolution at the cost of frequently painful effort. To such persons there is a kind of association between what is easy and what is wrong on the one hand, and between what is difficult and what is right on the other. Our early Puritans were men of this type, and there is much to admire in the sturdiness with which they crushed their impulses in the resolve to carry out their ideals of the right.
Almost complete lack of will is shown by those who reach their decisions—by not reaching them. That is, there are those doubting, hesitating souls who postpone making a decision until action is forced upon them by some accidental event. These let other persons or the course of events make their decisions for them. There is such a delicate balancing of the desires—usually because all desires are equally weak—that none stands out to dominate the choice of a line of action. George wanted to go to the circus, and had saved enough from his weekly allowance; but he was saving up to buy a rifle, and he was undecided now as to whether he would go to the circus or add to his savings and get the rifle so much the sooner. The sight of some other boys on the way to the circus made the decision for him. This decision was not a reasoned one, but an accidental one.
Similar in its weakness is the will that reaches no decisions except as the balance is upset by later impulses from within. The girl or boy who allows a slight headache or a tired feeling to make important decisions cannot be said to have much strength of character. On Saturday Mabel was to have gone on a steamboat excursion—or on a visit to a friend, to stay over night. When she went to sleep Friday night she had not yet made up her mind; but she finally went to visit her friend because she had over-slept and was too late to join the excursion party.
Children that have not acquired habits of making definite decisions will find themselves badly adrift when they reach the adolescent period, with its rapid changes of mood and the masses of frequently conflicting impulses. To be able to restrain each impulse to action as it arises, and to hold it in abeyance until all the alternatives have been canvassed, is a power that comes only after years of thought and practice.
However, it is not enough to be able to refrain from doing what one is impelled to do. Many mothers think that they are training the child's will when they prohibit the taking or handling of various things about the house. It is true that the child should learn when quite young to avoid certain objects. But if the prohibitions are too general the child will be frequently tempted to break the rules, and then he will fall in his own esteem; or he will observe the rule and have too little outlet for his activity and initiative. The will does not thrive on what the child is prevented from doing, but on what the child actually does do.
The child's need is for practice in doing and in choosing what he will do. When activities or games are suggested to a younger child, it is best to give him a choice of two or three. When the children are older they can be consulted about the purchase of their clothes, and they ought gradually to assume their share—a small one at first—of the responsibility of the household. As early as possible they should have their own money to spend, as in no other way can they learn the use of judgment and decision in the spending of money. In the households wherein children do not have such opportunities, but in which the parents rule everything with a high hand, the children grow up very inefficient in managing their time and their money; they have become accustomed to being ruled and flounder helplessly when called upon to decide for themselves.
The will, which is at the heart of moral conduct and which is so much in need of training, cannot, as we have seen, be trained as a thing by itself. All training and all education must contribute to the training of the will. Still, there are some definite points that we can profitably keep in mind when we are concerned with the child's will:
First of all comes sound bodily health.
Then there must be sound habits for most of the everyday activities, that the will may not be dissipated upon trivial matters, and that the common duties and virtues may be assured.
There must be constant practice in sustained effort and concentration upon useful tasks, in order to fix the habit of holding the attention upon the chosen purpose.
We must not confuse wilfulness with strength of will; and, finally,
There must be constant opportunity for making decisions that the child may feel responsibility in making of decisions as the highest type of conduct.
HOW CHILDREN REASON
"Those children will not listen to reason," said a friend whom I discovered in an agitated state of mind one afternoon, when I came to make a call; and she was by no means the first to make this observation. Indeed, it is one of the characteristics of children that they will not listen to reason,—that is, our reason. Which is not, however, saying anything against the children's good sense, for people with much more experience have refused to listen to reason—the children's reason.
Margaret told me her troubles. Her sister had rented a farm near the city for the summer and had offered to let Walter spend his vacation with her in exchange for such bits of help as he was able to render. But Walter had made up his mind to go to work in an office that summer, and, although he loved the country and had always wanted to drive a horse and go fishing, his mother's attempts to convince him of the wisdom of her choice were without avail. He would not listen to her reasons. She pointed to the health argument, to the opportunities for play, the free time, the driving, the fishing, and the fruit without limit. Knowing Walter as I did, I could not understand why it was so hard to convince him.
But every story has at least two sides to it, and of this story I had heard only one. The mother was so concerned with giving her son her good reasons for going to the country that she never even thought of finding out his equally good reasons for going to the office. Presently, however, Walter came in, and my first leading question brought out the true secret of the disagreement.
"What is there about working in an office," I asked the boy, "that you care so much about?"
"Oh, it isn't working in an office that I care about; I just want to earn some money. I never did make any money myself, and now I have a good chance and mother won't let me."
This was really too simple; here two sane persons had spent several days on the problem without coming to any solution. By placing Walter's services on the farm on a financial basis and making him pay for his board he managed to spend his vacation, healthfully and happily and profitably in every sense; and everybody was satisfied.
Over and over again we are impressed with the fact that most disagreements between people—whether between adults or between children, or between children and adults—are due to misunderstandings. As soon as parents resolve not to treat their children arbitrarily,— that is, on the basis of their superior strength and authority,—they adopt a plan of "reasoning" with them. This plan might work very well, if the parents only understood the children's way of reasoning, if they but realized that the child does not reason as do adults, that he reasons differently in each stage of his development.
Our manner of reasoning depends very closely upon our language. But every significant word that we use has a distinct meaning in the mind of the individual, depending altogether upon his experience. As the experience of the child is very meagre, compared to that of the grown-up person, it is no wonder that our everyday remarks are constant sources of misunderstanding to children.
The little girl who had been frequently reproved for not using her right hand came to have a positive dislike for her other hand, which she naturally understood to be wrong hand, and she did not wish to have anything wrong about her person. A boy was trying to tell his sister the meaning of "homesick." "You know how it feels to be seasick, don't you? Well, it's the same way, only it's at home."
Children are apt to attach to a word the first meaning that they learn in connection with it. Only with the increase of experience can a word come to have more than one meaning. Moreover, the child will apply what he hears with fatal exactness and literalness.
Two little girls were at a party and the older one found occasion to slap her sister's hand. The hostess reproved her for this, whereupon the little girl asked, "Isn't she my own sister?" The hostess had to admit that she was. "Well, I heard papa say that he can do what he likes with his own."
Doing what we like with our own meant to the child exactly what the words said, without those qualifications which we naturally put in because of our greater experience.
Children learn with wonder that mother was once a baby, and that father was once a baby, and so on. Dr. Sully tells of the little girl who asked her mother, "When everybody was a baby, then who could be the nurse if they were all babies?" Thus shows real reasoning power; it was not the child's fault that she had no historical perspective, and so could not see the babyhoods of different people in their proper relations in time.
A little boy who was beginning to read deciphered a sign in a grocery store, "Families supplied." He asked his mother whether they could not get a new baby there.
When Herbert was passing through the scissors stage he cut a hole in his father's coat. The father scolded him for spoiling his suit; Herbert calmly replied, "I did not cut your suit; I only cut the coat." He resented this accusation, which in his mind was not merely an exaggeration, but entirely false, since a suit is a suit and a coat is a coat.
A little girl, while out with her nurse and brother, got lost by separating herself from the nurse's side. When she was at last found she was reprimanded for running away from the nurse. She felt that she was being unjustly treated, for she said, "I did not run away; I only stood away," meaning, she had stepped around the corner to look in a window. If she had been scolded for getting out of sight of the nurse, she would have felt justly reproved; but, accused of doing something she never did and never thought of doing,—that is, running away,—she naturally resented this.
Those who have to deal with children in an intimate way cannot be too scrupulous about how they use their words.
The logic of children often appears to us all wrong until we take the trouble to see how they come to their queer conclusions.
The story is told of a boy who was sent to the circus in the neighboring town by his uncle, who gave him an additional quarter "so you can ride back in case it rains." Well, it did rain, and Howard came back riding on the top seat, next to the driver, wet to the skin. Now, any grown-up person knows why he was to ride back "in case it rains"; but to Howard the association of ideas was directly between raining and riding, and not between riding and coming home dry.
This illustrates a very common difference between the reasoning of children and that of adults. We select ideas from a situation and combine them and come to conclusions. The child combines ideas, but he does not make any selection, and the simple explanation for this lies in the fact that the child has not enough experience to enable him to select what is significant. Thus a little girl, who had been too boisterous in her play, was called in by her mother and made to sit quietly in a chair for about ten minutes. At the end of this time her mother asked her whether she would "be good now." The child promised that she would, and was told that she might then go out to play again. As she arose she affectionately turned to the chair and said, "Thank you, dear chair, for making me so good." Having been declared "good" after sitting in the chair, she attributed the beneficent change in her behavior to the chair; and, being a polite little girl, she thanked the chair.
Very often these simple types of reasoning have their humorous aspects and we do not take them seriously. One winter a little boy who had always gone to bed regularly (he was four and a half years old then) began to call for some one to come to him after he was supposed to be asleep. He wanted to sit up and play, he wanted to get dressed, and he wanted something more to eat. This continued for several evenings, and it seemed impossible to get him back into his good habits. At last he was asked, "Why do you want to get up now?" and he answered at once, "Because it is winter now."
"Yes, it is winter now, but it is time for you to be asleep," he was told.
"But it says in the book that I must get up," he insisted.
"I will show you," and he took from his shelf a copy of Stevenson's "Garden of Verses," and turned to the picture opposite the poem that begins:
In winter I get up at night And dress by yellow candle light.
To him this meant that in winter, after going to bed, at night, one must get up and dress. It is very likely many children who have had this delightful poem read to them have interpreted it in the same way, but probably very few parents have taken the pains to trace their children's unaccountable "misbehavior" at bedtime to such a source.
This same poem produced in another child quite a different train of reasoning, for "Why did the little girl get up at night and sleep in the daytime?" he asked, "Was she a trained nurse?" It then became necessary to recall that an aunt of the child's, who was a trained nurse, often slept at home during the day, after having worked with some patient at night.
There is no doubt that many of the crotchets and "perversities" of a child have their origin in chains of reasoning that are perfectly legitimate, in view of the past experiences of the young mind, although not in harmony with the reasoning of more mature minds. The parent spends much time and energy, and much heartburning, sometimes, to overcome these whims. What is needed is a patient and sympathetic attempt to discover how the child has come to his queer ideas and desires.
The annoyance that children cause us with their questionings is due very largely to the fact that we cannot answer their questions, since the reasoning that prompts them is too searching. A little boy shocked and vexed his grandmother, who was trying to teach him the elements of theology, by asking "Who made God?" It is very likely that every normal child has asked the same question in one form or another. This attempt to reach back to the very beginning of causes resembles in many ways the speculations of the mediaeval metaphysicians, and should certainly not be discouraged. We need not, on the other hand, make the effort to answer every question a child may ask, for at a certain stage in his development he will get the habit of asking questions without really caring for the answers. But the questions are worth hearing, in most cases, just to help us understand how the child does reason. Some of the questions indicate a great deal of reasoning of a very valuable kind. When the little boy asks, "Why don't I see two things with my two eyes?" or when the little girl looks up from her dolls and asks, "Am I real, or just pretend, like my doll?" they show that they have been thinking. When a child has passed through the metaphysical stage of reasoning, he will be more interested in animals and other objects of Nature; and his questions will have to do more with the operation of processes—how he grows, and how fishes breathe in the water, and how birds fly. Later, he wants to know how things work, what makes the locomotive go, how the noise goes through the telephone, how the incubator makes chickens come out of eggs. The reasoning of the child may lead to weird conclusions, but it is real reasoning, and can be improved not by being ridiculed, nor by being suppressed, but by being sympathetically understood and encouraged.
Perhaps the most serious phase of the peculiarities of children's reasoning appears with older children when it comes to reasoning about right and wrong conduct. Professor Swift, of Washington University, has made a careful study of this subject, from replies given by many men to questions about their ideas as boys. It seems that men who are irreproachable in their moral standards pass through a stage in which they consider it legitimate fun to rob orchards or to commit petty thefts.
Children draw fine distinctions between wrong acts and acts that are not very wrong, though they may not be quite right. One man says, "I distinguished between taking money, real stealing, and taking fruit." Another says of fruit taking, "I only partly regarded it as stealing." One man writes, "When a close-fisted employer refused to let me have my clothes at cost, I pocketed enough of his change to bring my clothes down to the cost mark." Few regarded taking money from their parents as "very bad," and distinguished between such stealing and taking money from strangers.
A boy of fifteen was reproved for holding his ear to the keyhole of a room in which his mother and sisters were having an animated discussion. The appellation "eavesdropper" did not disconcert him in the least. On the contrary, he undertook to justify his conduct on the ground that he was being discussed, and as he had no "dictagraph" he was obliged to do the listening in person. The fact that the dictagraph had been so frequently used for getting information that was later used in court was to him a sufficient justification of his conduct.
It is well known that all children pass through the stage illustrated by these cases, in which they have the savage's conception of right and wrong. For most children the difference between going to the reformatory or jail and turning out decent men and women is one of wholesome and sympathetic environment. Undue severity, no less than bad example, confirms many a youth in these habits—which should represent but a passing stage in his development.
Adults should not read their own ideas of morality into the acts of their children and then catalogue them as right or wrong. Most children's acts are neither right nor wrong: they are merely expressions of feelings and ideas peculiar to the stage of development. With young children ideas of right and wrong divide themselves into acts which are permitted and those which are forbidden. They have no conception of right and wrong beyond that.
Many an act that a boy commits, which we consider wrong, is but the expression of the instincts of his age. Our duty consists in helping him to pass through that stage without making permanent habits of these temporary impulses. This help must not be given through branding the acts as wicked or criminal, nor is moralizing itself generally effective. Help must come through providing adequate opportunities for play and games and work that will use up surplus energy both of mind and body. Above all, help must come through the healthy examples and the constant manifestation of high ideals in the home.
Every normal child will in time respond to these influences. There are, unfortunately, some children that will not develop beyond this stage of primitive, savage instincts; but such abnormal children are rare and we cannot deal with them here.
With the problem of reasoning, then, as with all other aspects of child training, it is a question of understanding, of being in close relations with one's children, and being able to fathom the workings of their minds.
WORK AND PLAY
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And it is this same lack of play that produces so many dull men and women; for the spirit of play is the spirit of youth and spontaneity and joy. Yet work and play have so much in common that it seems unfortunate indeed that all of us have not learned to retain our youth when work becomes necessary.
I trust that there are few to-day who still believe that play is wicked. If we desire our children to grow up into healthy and joyful and moral men and women, then must we consider play a necessity of life. For play is more than merely a pleasant means for passing the time; it is a school of life, it is a means for physical, mental, and moral education.
The young child, before he is old enough to play horse, or to imitate other activities he sees going on around him, gets his play from handling a rattle or a ball, from random movements of his legs and arms, or from playing with his fingers and his toes. He derives satisfaction from the sensations of touch and sight and sound, as well as from the feeling of freedom and the sensation of his active muscles. But this infantile play is not only satisfying to the child; it is a means for learning the use of his little hands and arms and legs. When the baby learns to crawl, and later to walk, he derives pleasure from the exercise of his newly-acquired arts, and at the same time attains perfection in the use of his limbs and in the correlation of his muscles. He is also gaining strength with his growth, for these muscles will not gain in strength unless they are exercised. Of course, the child does not know about these advantages of play; but the mother should know and give the growing child every opportunity to exercise himself in every possible way; for thus alone can he gain in strength, in endurance, and in confidence.
When the child is a little older his play takes on new forms, for he is now deliberately making things: the chairs become wagons and animals, the corner of the room may be made into a lake, a pencil or a button-hook is quite long enough for a fishing pole, and a handful of beans may be converted into all kinds of merchandise, coins for barter, a flock of birds, or seaside pebbles. That is, as the child's experience broadens, he finds more to imitate, he exercises his imagination more, and combines into more complex plays the materials he finds about him. But all the time the child is working, as much so as an artisan at his task; and all the time the child is learning, more rapidly probably than if he were at school; and all the time the child is playing, that is, enjoying the outlet of his impulses.
Play has been called the ideal type of exercise, because it is the kind of exercise that occupies the whole child, his mental as well as his physical side—and later, also, the moral side. In play the exercise is regulated by the interests, so that, while there may be extreme exertion, there is not the same danger of overstrain as is possible with work that he is forced to do. In play the exercise is carried on with freedom of the spirit, so that the flow of blood and the feeling of exhilaration make for health.
When children begin to play at work their activities are not entirely imitative, although the kind of work they choose will be determined by the kinds of activities that go on about them. The child has real interests in work; and these should be encouraged and cultivated. The chief interest is, perhaps, the growing sense of mastery over the materials which the child uses. He can make blocks take on any form he pleases; although the first houses he tries to build are apt to be just a random piling of his material, there follows a growing deliberation and planning, so that he comes at last to make what he has intended to make, and not merely produce an accidental result.
The earlier plays of the child are not at all in the nature of games; there is not at first the need for a companion. There is no special order in which the various acts of his play have to be carried out. When he plays horse on a stick, or is a parade all by himself, or plays house in the corner, a few simple movements are repeated until the child is tired of them, or until something occurs to shift his interest. Nor is there in these early plays a special point that marks the end of the interest. In games, however, these three factors are always present: it takes two or more to play a game; there is a definite order or succession of events, and there is a definite finish or climax. And as we watch the children at their games we can see their whole mental and moral development unfold before us, for nothing is more characteristic of a child's stage of development than the games in which he is interested.
While we are content to let the younger children play as much as they like—because very often the more they play, the less they annoy us—we are all inclined to expect of the older children an increasing share of work and a declining interest in play. Some of us are even inclined to discourage the play instinct as the children grow older, because we have come to think of play as something not only frivolous and useless, but even a harmful waste of time. Now, the educational value of play keeps pace with the development of the child. That is to say, the child outgrows interest in games about as fast as these lose their educational value. The new games that the child takes up year after year always have something new to teach him.
The plays of the early period develop his sense perceptions, they give practice in seeing and hearing and touching with quick discernment. Then for four or five years play gives increased mastery of the child's own body, and over the objects and materials with which he plays. Running and jumping are for skill and for speed; the competitive instincts drive each to do the best he can for himself. Later the games give exercise in the adjustment of the child not only to his material surroundings, but also to other children; in other words, he learns to take his place among other human beings. From the games in which the children take their turns at some activity the timid child learns that he has equal rights with others, and acquires self-confidence; whereas the child disposed to be overbearing learns the equally necessary lesson that others have rights which he must respect. Every child learns from these games how to be a good loser as well as how to be a good winner. Just those qualities that make an adult an agreeable associate in business or in social dealings are brought out by these games as they can be by no ordinary form of work which the children have a chance to do.
It is only in very recent times that we have begun to notice that the work required of the children in the schools is of a kind that either ignores the development of the social instincts or actually hinders them, so that the moral or social effect of successful school work is frequently very undesirable. When a child is set to do some work by himself, even if the work is not too difficult for him, there is no exercise for the social instinct, and the work must be very interesting indeed to hold his continued attention. As the child grows older there is increasing need for social stimulation of the cooperative kind and less of the emulative kind. Where the experiment has been tried of having the children approach their school work as they approach a game, with the feeling of getting at an interesting goal, with opportunities for each to do his best for the whole group and to help the others, the work becomes as interesting as a game, and acquires the same educational value as a good game well played. In the home we might often get the necessary work done with more expedition and with better spirit if we recognized the child's need of constant outlet for his emotions, and if we recognized the depressing effect of routine and solitude and monotony. One of the chief reasons why working girls prefer to go to shops and factories, as against domestic service, lies just in this natural instinct for society. The work of the household has much more variety than the work of a factory; but most of it has to be done in solitude, without the stimulation that comes from the companionship of others doing the same thing, or at least working within reach of the voice.
The truly wonderful transformations in character that have been worked in girls and in boys by means of well-organized play have taught us the moral value of team-work for the older children. In these games, which come at a period when the child has already acquired considerable skill and strength, the chief interest is in doing the best for the team, so that the individual learns the importance of subordinating himself to a common purpose. He learns the joy of contributing his best to his "side" without considering his individual glory or gains. In this way he acquires that negative but very important side of self-control which consists in the ability to avoid doing what the impulse would drive him to. He learns also the importance of dreary drudgery, in his practice work, for acquiring special skill, and a boy will spend hours in such dull practice, animated by the desire not to excel some other individual, but by the desire to help his team win. He learns not only to take his place in the game, but to judge his companions by their special ability and by their value to the group, rather than by clothes or personal feelings or other outward and incidental facts. All these things the team game teaches as no mere instruction, whether in school or home, can teach.
We have learned from the results of these play activities with all kinds of children in the city and in the country, of rich and of poor, that the spirit of the game is not only capable of stimulating the growing boy and girl to a tremendous amount of exertion, but also of organizing his or her feelings and ideals into effective moral and social standards. And when the same spirit is applied to work, we can get the same valuable educative results, with the addition of a higher appreciation of work as work than usually comes from an early experience with doing necessary but disagreeable tasks. For example, in one city the shop work of classes of boys was organized on a cooperative basis. The boys worked in teams for the making of desks or cabinets. The results, as measured by finished product or by the quality of the workmanship, were far ahead of what the same instructors could get from the same boys when the attempt was made to stimulate the workers by means of prizes and individual rewards. Children can learn to work together as well as to play together. If you have noticed that two workers very often do half as much work in a given time as one worker, it is because they have not learned to work together—they have been denied the opportunity of learning this, and now take occasion, when they do get together, to do almost everything but work.
There are many opportunities in the ordinary household to teach girls and boys to do useful work in a spirit very similar to that which they put into their games. It may not be possible to make all the necessary work as interesting as games, but the remoter purpose of the work, whether it is to accomplish something whose need is recognized by the child, or the hope of some reward, should make for close attention to the task in hand. For example, after a certain age, sweeping and other household tasks lose their play interest; but if the girl has become skilful enough to do the sweeping without tiring, her recognition of the necessity of the work or her thought of what she wants to do when the task is accomplished should make it possible to get through with this work without a feeling of hardship. Some educators approve of allotting definite tasks to the girls and boys, and compensating them in definite amounts. This gives them not only a measure of the value of their service, but makes them feel the responsibility of each contributing toward the maintenance of the establishment. The main thing is that the children shall not look upon work as a cruel imposition; and to this end we should develop the spirit of helpfulness and cooperation—and to transfer this spirit, already developed in play, to the work that has to be accomplished.
One form of the expression of the play instinct has come lately to arouse a great deal of public interest, and that is the dance. Books have been written about the history of the dance, the esthetics of the dance, the technique of the dance, the symbolism of the dance, and many other aspects. What concerns the parent chiefly is to know that the dance is at once a healthful exercise, an important aid to social adjustment, and a valuable safety-valve for the emotions.
With the rapid growth of our cities we have come suddenly to realize that nearly half of the nation's children have no place in which to play, since the open fields and vacant lots have been invaded by warehouses and factories and tenements. And so the playground movement has gained rapid headway. Playgrounds have been established, and placed in charge of competent and enthusiastic leaders, who are teaching the children something they never should have unlearned. But at the same time we are coming to realize that the children in the country and in small towns, although they have plenty of space, have not really had the opportunity to get the most out of their play activities. It would seem that even the instinct of play can be made to work to better purpose when it is intelligently directed. It is our duty, then, to provide not only play space and play time, but also play material and, where possible, play direction. It is our further duty to keep alive in ourselves, as far as possible, the spirit of play; for there is no one thing that will do so much to keep us young and in sympathy with our children as the ability to play as they play, and to play with them.
Excepting only the infant when playing with his fingers and toes, the child must play with some person or with some thing. The selection of suitable toys becomes a more serious problem than is commonly realized, when we once recognize the great influence of play upon the child.
Stepping into the toy shop, we are confronted by a multitude of objects, the variety and quantity of which are distracting. Everything that the ingenuity of man could devise is here presented to our astonished eyes, and children gaze upon the great spectacle and are delighted. If we go to the store just to be amused or to buy something, a very indefinite something for a child of a certain age, we are quickly satisfied. But if we have in our mind some idea as to what is really good for the child who is to receive the gift, it is just as hard to find the right thing to-day in the immense, up-to-date toy store as in the little general store that "also keeps toys." The manufacture of toys has grown to a tremendous industry, but with no ideal behind it, no guiding educational principle. Toys are made to sell,—having fulfilled that function the manufacturer is not further concerned. Consequently, toys are made to attract the eye; durability, use, and need from the child's point of view are rarely considered.
In selecting toys we must not consider what would amuse or entertain its, but solely the child's need, and this need will differ at the various stages in his development.
For the little child who has no skill, we want to get toys that exercise the large muscles; he should have blocks that are large. It is a common mistake to suppose small toys are suitable for small children; within certain limits just the opposite is true.
Young children can also use toys that merely need to be manipulated without having much significance. Things that can be taken apart and put together are enjoyed and are very instructive.
A child should get from his toys a bare suggestion of the object, and not a lifelike representation that will be of interest to the critical adult. Refinement of finish and realistic representation are entirely wasted on the child. A massive wooden dog or bird is better than a furry or feathery one. It is enough of a dog or bird, so far as the child is concerned, and if it can stand rough handling, so much the better. For the little boy or girl an animal that can stand up or be drawn about by a string is quite satisfactory; but before the age of three years is reached the animal must have movable parts, so that it may be put into various positions, be made "to do things."
At about three years of age the child also comes more and more to see things in relation to each other and no longer as isolated objects. At this time, if he has a cow, he wants also a stable in which to keep her, the doll calls for a carriage and bed, and so on. This is something to keep in mind in planning our purchases.
Children like to reproduce in their plays the processes which they see going on around them or about which they hear. This is in a way their preparation for the activities of adult life. If the little boy or girl wants to play farm, or menagerie, or laundry, or grocery store, it is not necessary to buy the whole outfit at once. The child will probably not be ready for it, and if he gets more than he can comfortably use, he will be overwhelmed and many objects are likely to be neglected.
Let us say, for instance, that your little boy has received a milk-cart and horse for his birthday and he has exhausted the possibilities of play with them. Now here is Christmas, and you can give him or make him a nice, substantial barn and someone else can give him a cow. Immediately the possibilities for play are greatly multiplied. He can take the cow to pasture, bring her into the barn to be milked, take the milk to market and store away hay for the winter, and so on indefinitely. In time he can have a well-equipped barnyard, build pig-sties and chicken-coops with his blocks, and spend many happy and instructive hours. A great advantage in having toys grouped about some central idea is that several children can play at the same time and each particular toy stays in use much longer than it would otherwise.
I have spoken of your little boy as the manager of the toy farm, but in these days, when women are entering every profession, there is no reason to suppose that it is not your little girl who will need those things. Still, although we know that, in spite of traditions, little boys like to play with dolls and little girls like to play with other things, we shall, for the sake of convenience, stick to the traditions and discuss the little girl in connection with dolls.
There is nothing that will give your little daughter greater pleasure and at the same time be more instructive than an opportunity to run a whole doll house. By this I do not mean the elaborate constructions that are sold in the large shops under that name. No, a packing case, painted and divided into four parts, will serve the purpose far better. Gradually the different rooms can be furnished, and in the meantime there is plenty of fun and much development in trying to maintain the family of dolls under pioneer conditions, calling for all sorts of clever makeshifts.
There are numberless things that will go to make up the little girl's doll house, and her activities can be extended over the entire period during which she cares to play with dolls. At first she will be satisfied with handling her baby and putting her to sleep. Later she will want to dress and undress it. Before long she will have a whole family of dolls and will want to prepare their meals for them, sew and wash their clothes, and keep the house in order. These growing needs on her part are just as real as the needs adults feel, and it would be just as unwise to get her a new doll, when she needs most of all a wash-boiler for her kitchen, as it would be to buy for yourself a picture, when you really need a pair of new spectacles.
All the different articles needed for the running of the doll's house can now be bought separately. In buying the different articles, the things to keep in mind are usability, simplicity, and durability. The furniture that you buy or make must be able to serve the ostensible purpose of doll's furniture. It is better to get one chair that is of the right size for the doll, well proportioned and strong enough to stand the handling of the owner, than a whole set of "pretty" and flimsy and useless furniture that you can buy in a gay box for the same price.
Of course, it is understood that the principles of usability, simplicity, and durability apply to the dolls themselves. It is now easy to obtain dolls with indestructible heads and with jointed bodies made of durable material. The little baby will love the doll with a felt head. It can stand being loved hard without losing some of its features. To give a little girl a doll that is so finely dressed and so daintily constructed that she is permitted to come out of her box only on state occasions is a violation of every sound principle of child training and fair dealing.
I have mentioned, as examples of the kind of toys that can be bought singly and grouped about some central idea, the farm and the doll's house, but, of course, there are many other things—railroads with their equipment, dairies, stores of all kinds, etc.
Besides the toys that are related to various lines of activity, each child, as soon as he is old enough, wants the opportunity to work with materials and tools. The youngest children can have beads to string, mosaic blocks with which patterns can be made, etc. For the older children you can get materials for sewing, painting, parquetry work, and the like. There are boxes containing wooden and iron construction strips out of which bridges, houses, airships, and all sorts of exciting things can be made.
For the growing boy nothing is more appropriate than some carpentry tools of his own. Here again we must remember that it is better to buy a few good tools and gradually build up an equipment than to buy a set that looks well enough in the store, but goes to pieces under real usage.
A printing-press or well-constructed toy typewriter, a camera or scroll saw, will afford hours of helpful amusement and instruction.
Musical instruments are always acceptable. The metalophone is one of the simplest from which you can get real music. The cheapest is just as usable as the more expensive, although, of course, it does not have so wide a range of notes.
It is impossible to enumerate all the indoor group games that are offered, but in selecting a game you must make sure that it really has some sense in it, and that it does not stimulate the gambling spirit, as do so many of the games with dice or a spinning wheel as a part of the equipment.
All toys that encourage healthy outdoor sports are worth while. A great deal of the progress in toy-making has been along mechanical lines, until we are confronted with the most intricate mechanical contrivances. They are interesting at an exhibition, and most likely the child will be attracted by them and will want them, but only to look at and own. He will tire of them much more quickly than he would of the simple, usable toy. In this respect the children of the rich are to be pitied. They are overloaded with these expensive, mechanical toys which overstimulate them at first and later bore them. The educative value of simple games with sticks and stones, or anything the child may happen to pick up, is far greater and calls for more exercise of imagination and ingenuity and the other qualities we desire to foster than is that of the elaborate mechanical toys.
It would be very desirable if all the skill and enterprise that is devoted to the development of the toy industry were applied to making toys simpler, more durable, and cheaper, instead of making them more elaborate, more realistic, and more flimsy. However, the desirable kinds of toys will not be manufactured in larger quantities until an enlightened parenthood both demands them and refuses to buy the glittering heart-breakers that look so charming in the shop, but go to pieces in the child's hands.
It is far better to have fewer and better toys than more of an inferior quality. The thing to keep in mind is that a toy is neither an artistic model, an aesthetic ornament, nor a mechanical spectacle, but should be a stimulus to call forth self-activity, invention, ingenuity, imagination, and skill.
CHILDREN'S GANGS, CLUBS, AND FRIENDSHIPS
"What a plague boys are!" sighed Mrs. Brown. "That White boy has been getting our Harry into all sorts of mischief, and I can't make Harry give up that gang."
Mrs. Green agreed that boys were a plague. Her Jack went with a lot of boys, too, and they were always up to some sort of tricks which she was quite sure her boy would never do if it were not for those other boys. And Mrs. Green was right. Any boy will do things when he is with the gang that he never would think of doing alone— and that he wouldn't dare to do alone, if he did think of them. Even your boy—and mine, too, I hope. That's the way of boys.
What we mothers will have to do is to stop fretting about the other boys in the gang who spoil our boys, and about the mischief and noise and dirty boots and staying away late for meals, and get down to a practical way of making all the boys in the gang as we find them into a lot of decent young men. We shall have to stop trying to make boys do what it is impossible for them to do; and we shall have to stop trying to keep the boys from doing what it is absolutely necessary that they should do, if they are to develop into the decent young men we have in mind.
The modern way, the efficient way, of treating children is to find out their instincts and then use these almost irresistible forces of nature as a means of directing their development. And that is what we shall have to do with the boy and his gang, and that is what we shall have to do with the girl and her set. The boy is a more serious problem because, under the promptings of his instincts, he soon becomes indifferent to the attractions and amusements of the home and seeks the companionship of boys of his own age, and he seeks activities that cannot, for the most part, be carried on in the home. The girl, on the other hand, remains much longer subject to the will of her mother and to the conventions and standards of the home; she remains for a longer period satisfied with the kinds of activities that can be carried on at home.
We have been told over and over again that the instincts of childhood are all for activity, and a few of us have trained ourselves not to expect the children to be still all the time. Of course, there are times when we simply must have them be still, and, of course, we allow the teachers to insist upon the children being still in school. But we recognize that they must play and romp and run and shout, and we are willing even to spend public funds for playgrounds. This shows that we can learn, and that we can make use of our knowledge. It is necessary only that we extend our knowledge of the instincts of our children just as fast as we can make use of more.
Up to the age of about ten, boys are apparently satisfied to play games by themselves, or to play with others in ways that let each look out pretty much for himself. At this age, however, a change begins to appear. Now the boy tends to associate himself with others of the same age, and before you know it your son "belongs" to some "gang." Every street in a town and every corner in a city has its gang. And if your boy has red blood and hard grit in him, he is a member of one of these gangs. He can't help it. He does not join because it is the fashion, or because he is afraid to keep out, or because he has social ambitions. He joins because it is his instinct to join with others in carrying on the activities to which other instincts drive him. If you stand in the way of the gang, you are fighting against one of the strongest forces in human nature.
Now if you feel the way Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Green felt about the gangs, I do not blame you. But you must not stop there. Let's try to find out first what the gang means to the boys and what it means to the race. When a boy joins a gang, he does not discard his instinct for play or for running and shouting. He simply takes on a new relation to the world about him. As a member of the gang, he still runs and plays and shouts; but now he has become conscious of his place in the world, and that place is with his fellow-members, surrounded by all sorts of enemies and dangers and obstacles to his well-being. In his gang he finds comfort and support for his struggle with the outside world. Here he finds opportunity for satisfying exchange of thought; here he finds sympathy and understanding such as he can get nowhere else.
The gang, without a written code in most cases, without formal rules, without very definite aims, even, nevertheless has a moral scheme of its own that every boy understands and lives up to as earnestly and as devotedly as ever man followed the dictates of conscience. The gang demands of the boy unfailing loyalty, and—what is more—it usually gets it. Of how many other institutions or organizations can as much be said? The gang demands fair play and fidelity among its members, and it usually gets these. The gang demands devotion and self-sacrifice of its members, and the boy who cannot show these qualities becomes more effectually ostracized than any defaulting bank official or corrupt politician. These fine virtues, then—loyalty, honor, devotion—are cultivated by the gang just at the time when the instincts for them are strongest, and at a time when no other agency is prepared to do the work.
For you will realize, when you once think of it, how much we coddle the baby when he is cute, how we shower him with toys far in excess of what he can use or enjoy, how we fuss and fondle him, and how much thought we give to every possible and impossible want; and how, on the other hand, we neglect the boy when he enters upon that most unattractive, but very critical, age in which he finds other boys more interesting than his sister and her dolls, when he cares more for other boys than he does for his mother and her parlor, when he thinks more of the "fellers" than he does of his teacher and her lessons. Just at this time, when the boy is beginning to wonder vaguely and to long just as indefinitely, we abandon him to his own resources and to Mrs. White's Bob, the leader of the gang.
The problem that confronts us is: How can we save and strengthen the fine qualities which this spontaneous association with other boys produces without encouraging the lawlessness and the destructiveness and the secretiveness of the gang? First of all, we mothers must recognize not only that the boy cannot be happy without his associates, but also that the social virtues will never be developed in him at all if we keep him at home away from the others or restricted to one or two play-mates—which we may like to select for him. Then, when this is perfectly clear to us, we will take the next step, which will be to use all the resources of the homes and of the community to change the antisocial gang into a club. The difference between a gang and a club is not a matter of clean clothes and "nice" manners. It is a difference in mental attitude. The gang has rules and it has power. The club has put its rules into form and it knows what it can do and what it wants to do. In other words, the gang is a casual, random group that drifts about in the village or in the city, subject to every passing influence, whereas the club is a deliberate, purposeful organization with definite aims and developments. Both meet the needs of the growing boy for association; both give the social instincts and virtues suitable opportunity for exercise.
This problem of giving the boys a chance to get together and do what their instincts drive them to do is not one merely for the mothers who can provide for their boys little or no supervision, and whose boys play in the streets and vacant lots. The problem is just as great in the case of the well-to-do, who provide constant supervision for their children. Indeed, it is a serious question whether the condition of the children of wealthier families is not in this respect more dangerous than that of the less wealthy. With the boys of the street the problem is how to divert the activities into suitable channels; with the closely-guarded boys of the wealthy the problem is how to develop the spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice and honor, which have been suppressed by the restricted and artificial associations of the solicitous home. Both kinds of boys must be left free to form their own associations, but the groups must be so directed in their club activities (without, however, suspecting that they are being directed) as to connect their interests with lawful amusements, civic needs, and social relations. The great danger is that when adults take a hand in these matters they fix their attention upon the civic and moral virtues and overlook the instincts of activity and sociability which call the gang into being, and the club degenerates into a preachy Sunday- school class.
In organizing clubs, or rather in presenting opportunities for the organization of clubs, we must recognize that bodily activity, taking the form of athletics, or of workshop effort, or of camping, hunting, etc., is a fundamental condition of healthy growth for the boys and girls. As every group must have its meeting place, this should be first provided, and it should be of a nature that allows gymnastics and hammering and boxing to go on without any restrictions beyond those required by the nature of the little animals. That is, there is need for sleep and rest and meals—and perhaps certain definite hours for school and church—but beyond such disagreeable though necessary interruptions the meeting place of the club should be a busy place at all decent hours. We are tempted to force literature and debating upon our clubs; these things usually come later, and appeal at best to but relatively few boys. Literature and debating are good, but they can never take the place of parallel bars and boxing gloves and hammer and saw.
We are also tempted to pick out the boys for the clubs that we are interested in. This is a serious mistake. It is this sort of thing that causes the failure of so many well-meaning attempts to redeem the children of the "slums" or of the street. We must let the groups form spontaneously; the boys' instincts are keener in detecting the sneak and the coward and the traitor than yours are, and if the club has the right start, the undesirable citizen will either adopt the morals of the club or be squeezed out. And the right start is chiefly a good meeting place. It is here that the church and the school and the home can cooperate. In the larger cities the settlement has pointed the way by carrying on practically all of the work with children through the medium of clubs.
It is not necessary for every parent to furnish a suitable meeting place; indeed, each club needs only one meeting place. But every home can contribute something. If you have not the suitable garret or barn or shed, you can supply the baseball outfit, or the Indian clubs, or the work-bench, or some of the tools. You can lend your homes for those not very frequent occasions when the boys are quite satisfied to have a quiet evening of table games or theatricals, or imitation camp-fire with chestnuts to roast and songs to sing. You can make up lunch-baskets for fishing or tramping trips, or you can sew tapes on the old pants for "uniforms."
It does not matter so much what you do, so long as you do as much as you can, and, above all, if you show an "interest." The bond of sympathy and intimacy that comes from such an understanding and from the hearty cooperation of the home with these natural instincts of the children is an immense gain to the individual parent, as well as to the individual child. Instead of friction and opposition of forces, there results a cooperation of forces that all make for good.
As for the community, the village or town that can provide meeting places for all of its groups of young people, under the direction of those who understand them and sympathize with them, with suitable equipment for physical activities of all kinds, can make no better investment of the money that such a venture would cost. For it is in such association that the boys and girls learn to be members of a group, and eventually of the larger group that includes us all. The good citizen is the one who has developed the instincts of loyalty and devotion and self-sacrifice and honor, and has directed them toward the community. The bad citizen is the one in whom these virtues were never developed, or one in whom these traits remain in the gang stage.
In the attempts that have been made to direct the instincts of children we have given the boys much more attention than the girls, for the simple reason that the boys have given us more trouble. Still, the girls should not be neglected. They are entitled to all the advantages that can be derived from organized opportunity to associate with one another and to develop the social virtues. They should also have the opportunity for physical exercise and development which the boy gets because he makes violent demand for it, but which the girl needs just as much.
It has been found unwise to have mixed clubs of boys and girls in the early years, and even later, when girls and boys could profitably associate together, they like to have their separate groups for special activities. For the strictly sociable times, however, boys and girls may be brought together at any age.
Apart from the other advantages to be gained from the club, the girl or boy will be saved from his friends. There is a real danger that children who do not get into larger groups will take up with a single chum or intimate. While it is true that many lasting and valued friendships start in these early years, the danger is nevertheless a serious one. Chums or intimates, in their tendency to get away from other people, may do nothing worse than carry on silly conversations; but they may also read pernicious literature and develop bad habits. Activities in a group are more open and less likely to be of a secret nature.
Intimacies at this early age will spring up for all kinds of superficial reasons. In a study made some years ago these were some of the reasons given for the formation of friendships: "We were cousins," "He taught me to swim," "We had the same birthday," "She had a red apron," "Her brown eyes and hair," "Neither of us had a sister." A large proportion of the children who were questioned gave as the only reason for their intimate friendship the fact that they "live near each other." However absurd these reasons may appear to us, we are compelled by what we know of the child's mind to respect these attachments. But if there is any danger in the intimacy—and there often is—the only remedy is encouragement of association in a large group. "There is safety in numbers."
So, whether we are more concerned with the mischief done by the gang, or with the danger of intimate chums, whether we care more for the development of good citizenship in boys and girls, or merely to make the children happy while they are growing up, it is necessary for parents to use all the means at their disposal to organize and encourage the social activities of the young people to the fullest extent.
CHILDREN'S IDEALS AND AMBITIONS
When you take pains to instruct your children in the way they should go, it is because you have in mind certain standards of what a child should do, or of what kind of an adult you wish your child to become. In other words, you look to your ideals to guide you in the training of the child. We all appreciate more or less vaguely the importance of ideals in shaping character, and for this reason we value ideals, although it is considered smart for adults to sneer at ideals and idealism—which are supposed somehow to be opposed to the "practical" affairs of life. But in a way there is nothing more truly practical than a worthy ideal.
Where there is no vision the people perish; and that is just as true of the individual as it is of a nation. Moreover, it is the youth who shall see the visions and draw from them the inspiration for higher and better things. Fortunately, every normal child develops ideals. It is for more experienced people to provide the opportunities for the formation of desirable ideals, to guide the ideals after they are formed into practicable channels, to use the ideals to reinforce the will in carrying out our practical purposes in the training of the child.
You no doubt find it easy enough to recognize and to encourage ideals that are in harmony with your own, or that seem to you worthy and likely to have a favorable influence upon your child's career or character. When five-year-old Freddy says that he wants to become a lawyer or a doctor, you encourage him. You say, "That's fine, my boy," and in your mind's eye you see him climbing to fame and fortune. But when Freddy says that he wants to be a policeman and marry the candy-lady, you laugh at him, and you certainly do not encourage him. But in Freddy's mind doctor and lawyer mean no more than policeman; they involve no more important social service, they mean no more dignity in personal position, they suggest nothing more of anything that is worth while. For whatever it is that Freddy wants to be at any moment is to him the sum of all that is to him worth while—and that is just what an ideal ought to be.
This is not a plea to cruel parents in behalf of smoothing Freddy's path toward the coveted post—or the course of his courtship of the candy-lady's daughter. It is simply an effort to point out how important it is to avoid shattering early in life that precious mirror in which alone visions are to be seen. When you have ridiculed the policeman out of further consideration, you are likely with the same act to have weakened Freddy's faith in ideals—and to this extent you have loosened one of the safest props of his character. We need not be afraid of the crude and short-sighted ideals of the young child. With the growth of his experience his ideals will expand. We should fear rather to infect him with the vulgar disrespect for all ideals.
In a few years Freddy has his heart set on charting the blank spaces on his geography map, and he has never a thought for the girls. It is the same Freddy, but he has in the meanwhile roamed far from the home neighborhood—in imagination—and has discovered new heroes and new types of heroism. The policeman and the candy-lady are still at their old posts, but Freddy ignores them because his ideals have grown with his experience and his information, as well as with his bodily growth and development.
Study of thousands of children in all parts of this country, in England and in Germany, has shown that the young people begin to form ideal images of what they consider desirable, or beautiful, or right rather early in life. They form ideals of virtue as well as ideals of happiness, and these ideals reflect their experiences and their surroundings to a remarkable degree. Thus, there are differences between the ideals formed by country children and those formed by city children, between the ideals of poor children and those of wealthy ones, between the ideals of English children and those of American or German children. But, aside from all these differences, it is found that the ideals vary with the sex of the child, and also with the age, so that each child passes through a series of stages marked by characteristic types of ideals.
As early as the age of nine years children have expressed themselves as looking forward to "doing good" in the world, or to making themselves "good." The age at which this impulse to service or to personal perfection may take form must depend upon many things besides the peculiar characteristics of the individual child. Jessie's ideals concerning "being good" will be shaped by what she hears and sees about her. If you speak frequently about the foreign missions, she may think of being good as something that has to do with the heathen. If the family conversation takes into consideration the sick and the needy, Jessie's ideal may be dressed like a Red Cross nurse. If you never speak of the larger problems of community welfare, or of social needs, or of moral advance in the home, where Robert has a chance to hear you, he can get suggestions toward such ideals only after he has read enough to become acquainted with these problems and the corresponding lines of service for himself.