The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

by G. G. F.
Volume 5, 1894, pg. 30-33

Ever since the expulsion of our first parents from Paradise, punishment has entered into the Divine economy in dealing with all creation, and therefore it must enter into any scheme of education formed for the human family, which is the type and microcosm of the universe. It is a problem which must be faced and solved by every parent, and I think if we studied its nature and theory more, we should be able to reduce its practice.

To begin with, I believe that we ought to realise more fully than some of us do, that (with all reverence be it spoken), we are a God to our children. Our will is absolute, our power apparently infinite, our resources boundless, and, while instead of making us vain or puffed up in our own conceit, this estimate of us in the mind and hearts of our little ones should humble us to the dust with the sense of our own unworthiness; it is a fact which, like all other facts of our relation to them, must be used for their good and God's glory. Therefore, our punishments must be after the model of God's punishments--not revengeful, not useless, not meaningless, but purifying, judicial, appropriate, inevitable.

It would be impossible even if advisable to enter largely into details of punishments in such a paper as this, but I feel as if the principle of punishment ought to enter into a mother's very soul before she dares to practice it. She should realise what she means by it, what it means to her child, what God means it should do for her child and for herself.

For herself it must always be an intensely painful duty, but no more to be shrunk from than any other painful duty, like the giving of nauseous medicine or the applying of a painful remedy; and here let me say that I would never try to conceal from a child the pain it gives me to punish. I distinctly remember the feeling of awe with which I realised the pain it gave to one very dear to me, to inflict on me a richly deserved punishment, and that pain and sorrow impressed upon me the extent of my naughtiness infinitely more than the punishment to myself--whereas an equally deserved punishment inflicted by another person in a fit of temper simply hardened my heart both as to my own offence and as to my executioner. I think also, this sorrow of the parent teaches a child that as he owes obedience and love an loyalty to his mother, so she owes love and loyalty and obedience to a greater parent still, even God the Father Himself, Who is in heaven; and it is one of the few occasions on which children can see the working of that larger, higher law of which their own little code is but a reflection; and the knowledge that their struggles after good are miniatures of the contest, which is always going on in the church militant, with Christ our General and God for our King, must help them to fight their little battle well and bravely. If a child once realises what mother cannot remit a punishment because it would be wrong, the galling sense of unkindness and injustice vanishes, whereas the belief that mother will not do what she is apparently perfectly free to do, naturally embitters the little heart and makes it inclined to rebel next time.

It is impossible to lay down a hard and fast rule for all children or for all parents, and, therefore, I cannot say absolutely that corporal punishment should be entirely abolished at home, but I am very sure that its frequent use is more likely to produce the maximum of evil than the minimum of good, and personally, there is only one offence for which I can even conceive myself inflicting it--that one offence is deliberate cruelty to animals or other children, and that would never be for a first offence, nor without full warning and explanation. Many people advocate corporal punishment for untruthfulness, but as nine out of ten untruths are told from fear, and the tenth is often (in the case of young children) more or less unconscious, I am certain it is worse than useless.

A lady (not a mother, I am glad to say) told me that her little niece was whipped because it "made her ashamed of herself." But surely we don't want to make a child ashamed of herself. Ashamed of her fault, well and good; ashamed of the trouble she gives and the little trouble she takes to overcome that fault, well and good; but God forbid that we should offend one of His little ones so that she is ashamed of the body which she should keep holy and undefiled as the Temple of the Holy Ghost, and which, indeed, she should learn to cherish and adorn with the utmost care.

I believe a consideration of Divine punishment will help us to decide the nature of our own system of penalties, leaning always to the side of mercy whenever it is possible, because many extenuating circumstances may be beyond our ken.

And what is the most terribly despairing state to which God can reduce His children--the hardest punishment to bear? Is it not separation from Himself, a hiding of His face from us, a withdrawal of His guiding hand? So I believe that in the case of very young children, a withdrawing of mother's hand, a turning away of mother's face, ought to be the only necessary penalty of disobedience. I know a little child of two on whom "Mother can't look at her little daughter" has almost instantaneous effect. The little one repeats sorrowfully, "Mother can't look," then makes up her mind to obey, and pulls mother's dress, saying joyfully, "Mother can look now." I remember the case of a much older child on whom separation from her mother for a time was the only punishment which had any effect, and the clinging, speechless delight of the child on meeting her mother after a few hours' banishment was pathetic to see; and there was no repetition of the fault for a long time.

Of course this system can only be worked when the being with mother is the absolute joy and security which it ought to be to the child, and the delight at its submission should be as the joy which is in the presence of the Angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

For older children, the details must vary, and in mentioning even so much of detail as I have done, I only mean to illustrate as simply as possible what seems to me the fundamental principle of punishment.

Another great point should be that punishment should be as rare as possible, and for as few and as definite faults as possible. I was once staying with a large family where the mother had an elaborate code of laws and penalties, which were perpetually landing one or other of the children in disgrace, and I remember one of them being implored by a visitor not to break one of the vexatious and quite unnecessary rules, and her reply was, "I'm quite sure to be punished before the end of the day, so I may as well get all the fun I can." There was no awe or wholesome discipline in those punishments, they only bred a useless irritation and a sort of bravado which rather prided itself upon evading or defying them.

Punishment should last as short a time as possible, especially with tiny children. They often forget the offence and have only a dull frightened--sometimes a despairing sense of naughtiness, which they don't know how to shake off, and in the case of older children a penalty, long drawn out, is apt to make them sullen, and in time callous.

It is, I trust, quite unnecessary to inveigh against the pernicious habit of setting long tasks of learning exquisite poetry, or worse still, Holy Scripture, itself as a punishment, but old habits die hard, and there may be readers of the Parents' Review who still believe in this worse than useless system, so I venture to tell them of a friend of my own, who is just seventy, and who dislikes hymns to this day because of the number she learnt as a punishment. Verily I can imagine no surer method of killing a taste for poetry or a love of the Word of God.

G. G. F.

Typed by happi, July 2018; Proofread by LNL, May 2021