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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Hints by the Way

Volume 7, 1896, pgs. 581-591


(cont'd from page 369)

DIFFICULT CASES

I. The unloving child. "I can't think how it is," says an affectionate mother sometimes, "that my children are so cold and unloving. They have no pretty little clinging ways; never come and throw their arms around me as some children will; in fact, they don't even care for being caressed."

Without professing to lay down the law on a difficult subject, a few suggestions may be offered. (1) Do not make too much of manner, either for good or ill. There may be outside stolidity and undemonstrativeness, while there is sterling worth and real affection within; on the other hand a fondling manner sometimes cloaks a selfish and shallow nature. (2) Do not try to force marks of affection, either by constantly demanding them, which with some natures will only stop them altogether, or by invidious comparisons. To ask, "Now, why don't you come and give mother a good hug sometimes, like that nice affectionate little girl we saw yesterday?" is the way not to gain your end. (3) Where children do not care for endearments, let them never or rarely be bestowed, and they will very likely come to value them; even the undemonstrative appreciate a little "gush" from others sometimes, though they do not often indulge in it themselves. (4) By assuming that the love is there, though unexpressed, and above all, by showing no surprise if some rare impulse prompts a caress, we may shame a child into cultivating a more affectionate spirit. (5) Though too much holding up of other children as examples is to be deprecated, a good deal may be done by bringing the delinquents into contact with those who are dutiful and affectionate, also by giving them to read, or telling them tales about such children. If the latter are home-made, great care must be taken not to make the resemblance too obvious, or the youngsters will see through the design and be repelled instead of benefited.

II. The child without home affections. "My child has plenty of love to bestow, but not on her own flesh and blood," sighs another parent. "We in the home circle are nothing to her, but she is for ever taking violent fancies to people of whom she knows scarcely anything, and who trouble themselves very little about her. And yet we make a great deal of her at home when she is good!" Perhaps some reader of the Parents' Review can bring personal experience to bear on this problem; in the meantime it is consolatory to reflect that these infatuations generally die down as quickly and causelessly as they spring up, and will burn themselves out all the sooner if they are encouraged rather than repressed by the home authorities. Children should never be made to feel that their caring very much for anything is a grievance to their parents, and thus learn to conceal their deepest feelings. Nor should we be in too much haste to prove to them that their idols are made of clay (as by running them down in the presence of their devotees, and ostentatiously repeating everything that we hear to their discredit), though it may be well sometimes for them to discover in a natural way that the hero-worship so lavishly bestowed is neither deserved nor appreciated. These passing fancies ebb and flow, and generally leave behind a solid residuum of affection for those who are nearest and ought to be dearest.

III. The child with a grievance. "My Ada is a terrible grief to me," laments a third mother--perhaps to an intimate friend, perhaps in the silence of her own breast. "Although we lavish the utmost tenderness upon her, and allow her every reasonable indulgence, she is in a constant state of rebellion against us, and resents all necessary discipline. She cannot bear to be controlled or restrained in the least, and she even complains to outsiders of our harsh treatment. What are we to do with her?"

While inviting suggestions from others, three alternatives may be indicated. (a) Impress upon her very seriously the heinousness of her conduct, and make her understand that it will entail upon her the aversion of all right-thinking people, who, if they knew of it, would never allow their children to associate with her; letting her feel, too, that while she persists in it she can expect no marks of affection from her so gravely offended parents. (b) Win the rebel by love; show her extra kindness and affection, and then point out to her what pain she has given to the dear ones who love her so tenderly. (c) Treat her revolt as mere childish folly and senselessness,--perhaps this may be the best plan, for if you can make her feel small in her own eyes you have won the battle. And it might be a good thing if she had your sanction to confide her (supposed) wrongs to some kind and wise friend outside the family circle. Many parents I know would shrink from the intermeddling of a stranger in any differences between themselves and their offspring, but if they could for the child's sake overcome this feeling, such a consultation might do more to bring the rebel to a right state of mind than hours of home lecturing. Of course the choice must fall on one who has sympathy with young people, and who will give an unbiased judgment without thinking it her duty to uphold the parents on every point. (I have assumed the confidant to be of the female sex, because women have naturally sharper insight, and more capacity for entering into difficulties of this sort than men, who are apt to judge off-hand and without discrimination--also because such cases are far more common with girls than with boys.) Hitherto the rebel has only heard the opposition argument from your point of view, which she naturally feels to be an interested one, and it will be beneficial to her to learn that even an unprejudiced opinion would not be all on her side, and that the grievances which seem so intolerable to her, might appear quite trifling to others. (I remember once hearing a lady complain loudly of certain restrictions to which a young protégée in an orphanage was subjected, but who was quite satisfied when others present assured her that they were the rule in all similar institutions.) Of course the permission to a consultation of this sort should be given in a kindly and sympathetic spirit--not in the tone of "Just go and talk to Miss A. like this and see what she'll think of you!" which will certainly do away with the effect of any good advice the friend may give--but rather, "I should like you to talk this over with Miss A., dear; she may help you to understand it better than I seem able to do."

In such cases parents might do worse than take counsel with themselves and each other as to whether some of the restraints which arouse most irritation might not with safety be relaxed--taking note of what has been the result in other families where the line has been less tightly drawn--things which seem very unadvisable in theory often work well in practice and vice versa. It may be that some of the ordinances which have been so tenaciously kept up have been handed down from a time when circumstances that no longer exist rendered them advisable. I know a lady who makes it a hard and fast rule that her children shall never go out to tea on two succeeding evenings. It was her mother's rule, and no doubt a salutary one in the days when this form of enjoyment meant a whole evening spent away from home, beginning with a hearty "sit-down" tea, and ending with a substantial supper, but scarcely necessary now, when it only means an hour or two spent in a friend's house, where the only refreshment is a light tea, at which there is no opportunity to gormandise.

And here the question comes in: Are we bound to enforce upon children that all good boys and girls think that whatever father and mother do is right, and are grateful even for punishment, knowing it is inflicted for their good? Are we to hold up to them as an example the boy who declared, "If mother says it, it is so, even if it isn't so?" No doubt the nearer they attain to this counsel of perfection the happier and more contented they will be, and it may be well sometimes to point this out to them, but we must remember that there are natures who can see nothing but unkindness in decisions which come between them and their wills and pleasures, nor feel anything under chastisement but what Whittier has powerfully described as "a child's blind sense of wrong and pain." Let us not then set them down as hopelessly naughty, nor claim for ourselves, even in the thoughts of the children, an infallibility that belongs to Almighty love and wisdom alone--remembering that the best intentioned parents sometimes turn out to be woefully mistaken in their decisions. We are more likely to win--or at least, soften--the malcontents by telling them "Father and mother want to do what is best for their children, and they ask God to help them to do it, but they are not perfect, it is only the Heavenly Father who never makes mistakes. But you are not yet old enough to judge whether they are right or wrong; all you have to do at present is to obey."

Or in a case of severe though well-merited correction a child might be told, "I know you think me very unkind for doing this, but when you are older and have more sense you will be grateful for it."

Notes and Queries. There is one mystery of child-life which has often puzzled me. How is it that children whose home discipline is of the strictest are sometimes extremely ill-behaved when away on a visit--both unmannerly and unmanageable; while other children who get Benjamin's messes of their own way from their parents, prove models of decorum and submission when under the care of strangers?

CHILDREN AND SERVANTS

In nothing is a wise middle course more necessary than in regulating the relations between servants and children. In some homes the children are permitted to show any amount of insolence to the servants, while faultless politeness is expected from the latter to the former; in others the little ones are completely at the mercy of their attendants and are punished for the smallest discourtesy to them, while tales brought against them by the domestics always find credence with their parents. It is hard to say which system is the worst. One might remind the first class, if higher considerations have no weight with them, that servants are far more likely to be attached to children and interested in their welfare if treated by them with kindness and consideration. Those of the second class generally belong to that rigidly conscientious and high-minded order of persons who always decide against their own, out of sheer dread of being partial; such are apt to think others as singe-eyed as themselves--a mistake common to true and noble natures, but often fruitful of much unhappiness and injustice. Few modern children, indeed, have such Spartan mothers as DeQuincey's, who, if her offspring "were taxed by interested persons with some impropriety of conduct, were at once found guilty on the bare word of the accuser"; still, a few over-scrupulous ones may be inclined to err in that direction, forgetting that tale-bearing, which would be a painful duty to them, is a real pleasure to some natures, with whom it should be checked rather than encouraged. Complaints of children by servants should always be carefully sifted, and when they relate to rudeness or insubordination, due allowance should be made for the amount of provocation received. We must never forget that servants, especially nurses, have an immense deal in their power, as has been remarked before in the Parents Review, and that, putting aside cases of downright cruelty, which it is to be hoped are rare, many unfortunate little ones have suffered grievously from the petty tyranny of a nurse. [This is well pointed out in that excellent book for servants (and for mistresses), "Patience Hart," by Mrs. Sewell.] We must bear in mind too that not only is what is conventionally called "a thoroughly good servant" often lacking both in kindness and high principle, but even one who is really conscientious and attached to her employer may have very little sympathy or forbearance with the young.

A young nursemaid, whether to be under a nurse or to work single-handed, should never be chosen without careful enquiry both as to steadiness and uprightness (and, unfortunately, even among the respectable poor, a sadly low standard of truthfulness prevails), and also as to her conduct towards those younger than herself. Young maidens in their earlier teens, at which age many graduate as little nursemaids, are very apt to play the Jack-in-office and to domineer over their charges in a way sure to arouse a spirit of rebellion in independent natures. This may be verified any day by sitting down in a public park near a group of nursemaids and children, and listening to the succession of "Don't do that!" "Ah! Naughty!" "Mustn't!" addressed to some unfortunate infant who is apparently amusing itself in a perfectly harmless way.

When children are sent out under such immature superintendence there should be a distinct understanding as to what indulgences are allowed or forbidden, and the young attendant admonished that all orders should be given kindly and politely, and never in a harsh dictatorial tone, which little ones who have passed the infantile stage find especially aggravating from a child not much older than themselves, and perhaps no taller; and we should take opportunity to discover whether these injunctions are carried out behind our backs. If we find that they are not, we may win the offender to a better way by admonishing her in a kind tone, assuming that she has acted from thoughtlessness, and would not intentionally annoy or irritate her charges, and reminding her how much she herself would dislike to be bullied by an elder sister or fellow-servant. If this has no effect it is very plain that, whatever valuable qualities she may possess, she is quite unfit to have the care of children.

CHILDRENS' DISPUTES

It is often said that these, if left alone, will settle themselves; and no doubt too much interference from parents and teachers is to be deprecated; still, a certain amount of surveillance is always necessary to prevent petty tyranny. Children should never be allowed to order about those who are younger or meeker than themselves, nor to address them in a bullying tone, like a boy whom I once heard fiercely exclaim, "You idiot!: to a sister guilty of some trifling gaucherie; nor should unlimited teasing, more trying still to some natures, be permitted. In a book containing some good character sketches, "One Year," by F.M. Peard, we have its effects upon a sensitive girl thus described:--

"Anne always had a difficulty in understanding a joke, and banter was a weapon against which she was utterly unable to defend herself. Consequently as Joyce loved nothing better than a little good-natured quizzing, Anne passed moments of torment, at times actually painful, and scarcely to be understood except by those of like temperament. No one but the sufferer knows how a shaft of ridicule, sent very likely not from malice but from thoughtlessness, can wound one who lacks the power of light-hearted repartee."

It may be well for such natures to be braced up and encouraged to "take a joke," and there are some defects, such as conceit and self-sufficiency, that can best be cured in this way, but jokes that are all on one side should be kept strictly within bounds. A child who has boastfully undertaken a performance beyond her powers, with the result of an ignominious fiasco, must expect a certain amount of chaffing from her brothers and sisters, but the same joke should not be kept up against her for months and years, as is sometimes done. We are apt to say, "It is only harmless teasing, "but what inflicts pain can never be harmless; moreover, it is not an offence which can be excused on the plea of provocation. To correct it I would first take the offenders aside and point out to them that making fun of others is the very poorest sort of fun that can be made--as senseless as it is selfish and unkind; explaining to them also that some natures, like some skins, are more sensitive than others, and ending by expressing a decided wish that the teasing should cease for the future. If after this it is persisted in, it becomes disobedience, and a suitable penalty should be inflicted. A good one in some cases would be to have to write down the obnoxious utterance 50 or 100 times, which would give the offender a wholesome distaste for the subject. With other dispositions, a fine might be deducted from the usual allowance of pocket-money, and given to some charity--of course not one in which the culprit is interested--with the remark that what is too great pleasure to be foregone, even out of consideration for a sister's feelings or a parent's wishes, is surely worth paying for!

I do not think there is enough watchfulness in this respect in schools--even in high-class finishing schools grossly offensive acts and speeches are often allowed to pass unnoticed by teachers who would swoop down in a moment upon trivial breaches of etiquette. If it is too much to expect that the pupils shall treat each other with that finished courtesy which Mr Ruskin prescribes to the members of his Guild of St. George, they should at least be required to practice ordinary civility, remembering that, as the dear old "Girls' Own Book" used to tell their mothers, they are "miniature ladies." If a companion--a good girl, perhaps, but dull and lifeless--is unpopular, it should be held a disgrace to let her know it--much more to grumble to her face if, through some arrangement of the authorities, they get more of her company than they want; nor should it ever be permitted to them to reply to a suggestion with a sneering "Thank-you!" or to return a rude "Who cares?" to a piece of information intended to interest them. A governess cannot enforce kind feeling upon her pupils, but she can and ought to insist upon their not outraging the most elementary rules of courtesy. This sometimes fails to be done because there is no one with both sufficient authority and sufficient knowledge of what is going on for the purpose; the head of the school only sees her "young ladies" at meals or in classes, while in their free moments they are under the supervision of a governess who does not care to earn their dislike by making complaints of them or correcting them herself for anything that is not an actual breach of the rules of the school.

Many unpleasantnesses might be averted by a little judicious interference, and arrangements which children are likely to quarrel over should never be left to themselves, but taken out of their hands altogether. In "Floss Silverthorne," a charming story by Agnes Giberne, a painful scene is described which a little forethought might easily have prevented. The orphan child heroine finds herself obliged to share her home with a strange family whose property it has been discovered to be, and suffers much at the hands of a rude and unfeeling set of children, though the parents and governess are kind and considerate. Floss, though for the most part gentle and patient, feels terribly aggrieved when told to divide with the others the shelves which have long been hers exclusively, and a sad outburst of temper follows. How much better, one cannot help thinking, for the governess to have had the shelves cleared while her pupils were out of the way and then apportioned to each her own section. And where the number of pupils is uneven, so that there must always be an "odd one" in the walks and dances, the unpopular girl will invariably have to fill this invidious position, unless a rule is made that it shall be taken by turns.

REMINISCENCES OF CHILD-LIFE

I have been surprised to notice how few of those who write on the subject of children's needs and feelings draw upon their own early memories--they seem to judge entirely by external observation. Surely "the one I knew the best of all" ought to furnish us with the most reliable data for our deductions. Here are a few reminiscences handed me by a mature friend who was once known as "an old-fashioned child." I need hardly add that she was an only one.

"I never cared for playing with dolls or toys when by myself, though ready to join in it when I had the rare treat of a little visitor. I was considered wanting in imagination because it was not in me to enact small domestic dramas with my dolls, but the fact was that that sort of thing was too tame for me; what I sighed for was some companions of the type of the intelligent juveniles described in Miss Yonge's books, who would have collaborated with me in a grand historical play. I found pure pleasure in hoop-driving, racing, swinging, sliding, climbing, and all sorts of romping games, but in a general way was sluggish and inert in my movements, and I suppose no child ever was less given to 'running about.' Round games like 'happy families,' where one had to wait one's turn, were rather a bore to me; I wanted to play all the time--but I could always amuse myself with 'solitaire' or 'patience.'

"Needlework I had no taste for; my favourite occupation was reading, which I acquired at four years old, and nothing in the shape of a story came amiss, but I always skipped the moral reflections and descriptive passages, unless there was something in the latter about bright colours, which always had a wonderful attraction for me. Exodus xxviii.8, and Esther i. 6, were portions of scripture which I always perused with vivid enjoyment, and my eyes reveled in the bright hues which were the fashion for female wear in those days--the scarlet and blood-red cloaks on the young girls, and the soft shawls and scarfs in every imaginable tint which were almost universal on grown-up ladies. How I used to satiate my gaze with those broad expanses of crude colour, which would now be thought so inartistic--those varied tones of emerald green, and sky-blue, and pink, and mauve, and maize! In personal beauty my taste was equally barbaric. Any little girl with golden curls and rosy cheeks and blue eyes was lovely to me, no matter what her features were like. In nature I acknowledged the charm of shady lanes and mossy woods, babbling streams and rainbow-hued mowing-grass, but scenery on a large scale was rather beyond my powers of appreciation.

"Poetry was one of my great hobbies, and during my first decade I was a worshipper at the shrine of Mrs. Hemans, but forsook her later for Mrs. Browning.

"Many things puzzled me at eight years old, of which I can now recall but two. One was the monstrous injustice of paying teachers to worry unfortunate children with lessons, instead of paying the children for the trouble of learning and repeating them, and for the sacrifice of their play-time (yet when I came to attend school myself, I thoroughly enjoyed it). The other was, why one of our commonest games should be sometimes called 'Ice-pie.' Why anyone should take the trouble to make a pie of ice; how it could be baked without the ice melting; who would want to eat it when made (I had never heard of ice-pudding in those days); and above all, what connection it could possibly have with a game of hide-and-seek, constituted a deep and manifold enigma. Even when the solution dawned upon me, the question still remained, why should such an archaic expression as 'I spy' be put into the mouths of modern children?" [This seems worth noting, because it shows the misconceptions children may be led into in the case of words capable of a double entendre.]