The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Food and Clothing of Children Beyond Infancy

by Helen M. Wilson, M.B.
Volume 4, 1893/94, pgs. 913-919

[Miss Helen Mary Wilson, 1864-1951, received her Bachelor of Medicine at the London School of Medicine and became House Physician at London's Temperance Hospital in 1891, then worked in private practice in Scheffield from 1893-1906. There's a photo of her at NPG.]

(Continued from page 838.)

I do not want to go into details about the various meals. For strong healthy children over four years old three meals a day are usually sufficient,--breakfast, dinner and supper (or tea if you like to call it so, only it must not be tea.) This last meal ought not to be taken immediately before bed-time, but there must be an interval of an hour or so. If the arrangement is that there is an early tea, at about four o'clock, there must then be a light supper before bed-time, but in this case it should consist only of bread and milk, and especially should not include sweet things. Jam last thing at night is a frequent cause of disturbed sleep and restlessness.

But whatever the hours, they should be adhered to, and children should not get into the habit of taking anything between times, either food or drink,--except in special circumstances. The stomach needs periodic rest as much as any other part of the body. Delicate children, and others when in the hungry air of the sea-side, may need a little lunch, but this also should be at a regular time. A very important point is that meals should not be bolted: children must be taught to use their teeth, and bite their food properly, or all sorts of digestive troubles will result. After this habit has been acquired, they must still be obliged to eat slowly, and should not be allowed to leave the table till all have finished. The longing to get back to work or play will often make a child bolt its food.

Lastly, do take care that all the meals are right,--not only those taken in the house. The luncheon, for instance, that is taken to school, should not be left to the scholar's fancy, or it will too often consist chiefly of pastry and rich cake. The lunch should be bread and butter and hard-boiled eggs, or potted meat sandwiches, or plain cake, and should be made appetizing by the way it is put up,-- in a clean doyley perhaps, instead of paper.


In order to deal rationally with the subject of dress, it is necessary first to remind ourselves of what are the objects to be aimed at in arranging clothing. The first and main object in our climate is warmth, and we must bear in mind the vital importance of this for young children. From the food and the air, the body manufactures its own heat, and what the clothing has to do is to keep this in, to prevent too rapid a loss of heat to the cold outside air. Liebig expressed it thus:--"Our clothing is, in reference to the temperature of the body, merely an equivalent for a certain amount of food." This is to say, clothing, by preventing loss of heat from the body, reduces the amount of food needed to keep up the body heat, so sets free more of the food to supply nervous energy, and to build up the tissues.

Hence I think you will see the importance of covering all parts of the body. A strong child dressed in the antiquated way with bare neck and arms, may feel quite warm on even a cold day, and the mother concludes that no harm is being done. But the warm skin is giving off heat to the cold air; heat is thus being wasted, and energy and power of growth are by so much lessened. The mischief does not show now, but it is real, nevertheless, and will appear later in stunted growth, or weakened organs. Again, if the bare arms do not keep warm but get chilled, more immediate harm may be done; the blood chilled here may cause congestion and inflammation of internal organs. We must remember that sneezing and cough are not the only signs of "catching cold." Derangements of the digestive system are very often due to this cause.

I sometimes wonder how the extraordinary idea arose that children need so much less clothing than those who are older and stronger. I suppose no member of the Parents' Union would think of leaving a child's neck and arms quite bare (unless in the hottest days of summer), but I should like to insist that in cold weather there should be long undersleeves as well. And then as to the legs: of course drawers should always be worn, and flannel ones in winter. But why that bare piece of skin below, from the knee half way to the ankle? You have only to think how very uncomfortable an adult would be going about the house with bare calves, and you will wonder how anyone can inflict it on a child. Just think, which is the coldest and draughtiest part of a room? is it not the floor? Well, that is where a child sits, plays, creeps, and runs for hours together. Surely that is a reason for warmly clothing a little frame, and especially the legs. Long stockings should be worn throughout the year. Socks may seem prettier,--but have we not Ruskin's authority for stating that nothing can be really beautiful which is not adapted to its purpose?

Again, for girls when a little older, from six years upward, I want to put in a plea for knickerbockers. There is not much warmth in petticoats, however thick, which only come to the knee, and let in any amount of cold air underneath. It is better from every point of view to abolish petticoats and substitute loose knickerbockers, drawn in at the knee, and made of the same material as the dress under which they are worn. They give more warmth with less weight, and are much more seemly and comfortable for the merry romping which is natural and healthy at that age.

On the other hand, I should like to protest against undue muffling, especially the throat. To have furs always round the neck for going out, predisposes to delicacy of the throat. I believe the best rule to be, while the child is well, leave the throat almost or quite uncovered. But never neglect even a slight cold: keep the child indoors or in bed at once, so as to get ride of it as soon as possible; and when the cold is cured and the child goes out again, mufflings should not be used except for the first one or two walks.

Turning now to the material of clothing, there is no doubt at all that wool makes the best clothing in summer as well as winter. As a non-conductor of heat, it keeps in the warmth in cold weather; and, on the other hand, in hot weather, or when the body is heated by hard exercise, woolen prevents chilling from the sudden cooling of the perspiration. At all times it is the best preservative against sudden changes of temperature.

Then again, a loose fluffy fabric is always warmer than a closely woven one, besides having the great advantage of lightness. Here the warmth is really due to the air entangled in the meshes of the material. It is on the same principle as the double windows, which are used so much on the continent in winter. Two panes of glass close together would not be much advantage; but when there is a space of 8 or 10 inches between, filled with air, it makes a marvelous difference to the warmth of a room. So, just as birds ruff out their feathers on a cold day, we may secure warmth by having many air spaces in the clothing--loose shapes, provided, of course, that we do not leave places for the cold outside air to get in.

For warmth, silk comes next to wool, and then cotton, and these of course, may be used for summer dresses. But I should like again to emphasize that woolen, thicker or thinner, should be worn next to the skin throughout the year by all children. It does not very much matter whether it is as flannel, or as the woven or knitted garments now sold. It seems to me that by the side of these last, the flannel things, with their thick seems appear clumsy.

I want to dwell very especially on the evils of tight clothing. Constraint anywhere is bad. The child should be as free in its clothes as a bird in its feathers, to allow room for healthy circulation, healthy movement, and healthy growth. Pressure must be unknown, whether of neck-bands, waist-bands, garters, or braces. A sturdy, healthy child takes good care of this for himself, by simply bursting all buttons or seams, which in any way interfere with his comfort or convenience. But all children are not like this; there are a considerable number who, though quite well in other ways, have unduly flexible frames, and some lack of muscular development. They tend naturally to droop and stoop, and never more so than during the wearisome process of being "tried on." Hence, the clothes are made to fit them in their very worst attitude, which is thus perpetuated, for these weak flexible figures have not the force or energy to fight against the bonds in the way a vigorous child unconsciously does. The result is constantly increasing roundness of shoulders, and hollowness of chest, leading on to lung weakness, or spinal curvature. Of course, active play, and suitable gymnastics are to a great extent counteractives of all this; but the clothes are not to be forgotten; they should be such that they make the right position easy, and the wrong one difficult. Neither gymnastics, nor chest expanders, nor lying flat for hours, can remedy the trouble unless the clothes are right.

The present style of loose smocks and sailor suits, admirable as it is, is apt to conceal round shoulders and flat chests. Hence every mother should make a point of seeing her children in their baths occasionally, when she will be able to detect these tendencies. If then, or at other times, any stooping is noticed, the clothes should be systematically examined in this fashion:--Unfasten all, make the child stand with head, back and heels touching the door, and the shoulders well pressed back; then try to fasten the things in succession, but do not fasten any till you have tried all. If the first is a quarter of an inch too small, a very little pull will make that meet; the next may be a quarter-of-an-inch smaller; again, that is hardly perceived, and so on, till the dress or out-of- door coat is often one or two inches too narrow without the wearer being conscious of it. Remember especially to note the neck. Even loose blouses and smocks are not safe, unless you are sure the neck band does not promote "poking."

Remember, too, that if you have a child given to stoop, you must regard dressmakers and tailors as enemies who are to be narrowly watched with the greatest suspicion. They invariably try to make things "fit" by pulling them tight across the chest, and you will have to explain carefully that you do not want them to fit the child as he is, but as he ought to be.

Except in the case of such children as I am speaking of, it is not in the making of clothes that there is the trouble about tightness. It arises from two unfortunate circumstances, first that the woolen garments I have been advocating have a constant tendency to shrink; and second, that the children have a constant tendency to grow. Therefore all clothes should be made large enough to allow for some growth, and also, if possible, with some provision for further letting out if necessary. And mothers at the periodic examination of clothes should bear in mind that it is very false economy to think that garments that are tight, especially across the chest, will do a little longer.

Even in these days of "Higher Education" it may be well to suggest that some children, girls especially, are not always to be trusted to say whether their things are comfortable. Vanity springs up early, and the desire for small feet or a small waist, or affection for some favorite dress, may impart a colour to the statements of a usually truthful child.

I must say a few words about particular garments. To begin with, boys' starched collars need great care and watchfulness to see that they do not pull the head down. Then, I never see why boys' jackets and overcoats are so made, that when on a cold day they are buttoned up, they are so very tight across the chest: there is really no advantage in pinching the chest even in the coldest weather. Braces again may sometimes exert a good deal of pull and pressure when once the stooping tendency has begun. Some form of brace that distributes the weight evenly should be used.

For girls, my first protest is about stays. Until the figure begins to develop, there is no need for anything stiff any more than boys, and the quilted jean bodice that is usually worn is quite unnecessary. A much lighter and softer bodice of swansdown or flannelette, strengthened by tapes sewn on the inside, is sufficient to hold up the knickerbockers and stocking suspenders. When stays are necessary, nothing is better than the Jaeger knitted woolen ones, which, being perfectly elastic, cannot possibly exert too much pressure, while at the same time the bones give enough stiffness to keep the dress neat.

The abolition of stays involves the abolition of waistbands, but that is not to be regretted. Nothing ought to be hung from the waist. It is bad enough for women, and for girls with narrow hips it must mean injurious compression if a band is worn tight enough to support any weight. But it is also a mistake to suppose that all clothes ought to hang from the shoulders. There ought, as I have said, to be as little weight as possible, and what there is should be evenly distributed. The best plan is to have garments in one piece-- combination or Princess shape.

Garters are still a vexed question, but there is no doubt that for children, at any rate, suspenders are much better. But they should not be so tight as many children love to pull them, or they will exert an injurious drag on the shoulders.

Boots and shoes should always be low heeled, broad toed, and amply large. It is grievous to see how a baby's straight shapely foot becomes distorted before many years have passed. The inner side of the shoe should be quite straight, and plenty of room allowed for the toes. The foot elongates in walking, so there should always be an extra half inch beyond the toe.

Some people think that stockings have as much to do with deforming the feet and shoes. Certainly when shrunk by washing and careless darning they exert injurious pressure. Stockings should be of wool--and for winter wear, knitted ones are best.

Since about half of a young child's life is spent in bed, the subject of night clothing is an important one, and needs more attention than it usually gets. First of all, the night-gown is a very unsuitable garment especially for restless children. You know what a habit it has of working up, and when the bed clothes are kicked off in sleep, small wonder that colds are caught. Again, it is not a suitable garment for the games and running about that so often take place early in the morning before the elders are awake. Very much better would be sleeping suits like pyjamas or bathing dresses, and I believe these would save many colds.

But whatever the shape, the night-wear should be woolen, to ward off the sudden changes of temperature that come even more in the night than in the day.

Before leaving this subject, I must insist on the importance of changing all the clothes at night. The perspiration absorbed during the day makes the garments unpleasant as well as unhealthy, unless they can be exposed to the purifying influence of the air during the night. They should not be neatly folded when taken off, but hung up. So also in the morning the night clothes should be allowed to air before being folded away.

In conclusion, I cannot do better than quote the receipt for bringing up healthy children, given by [Dr.] John Hunter more than a hundred years ago. "Give them," he said, "plenty of milk, plenty of sleep, and plenty of flannel." To that I would venture to add, in this crowded age, plenty of room--room to breathe, to exercise, and to grow.

Proofread by LNL, May 2021