The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Care of Children

by Mrs. Davis
Volume 12, 1901, pgs. 711-714

George Eliot has said "We should never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it," and surely those in charge of children should see to it that their childhood is happy. Believe me, it is not the indulged happy child who is the spoilt child.

The first thing we have to remember in considering the care of children is that they are growing, so that their physiological condition is entirely different to that of adults. This fact is often lost sight of, and children are permitted to do things, harmless enough perhaps for their elders, but excessively injurious to them. For it must be borne in mind that a constitution once ruined, or even injured, cannot be made sound again in after years, so that the children are liable to suffer all their lives for the mistakes or wilful ignorance of their parents.

In a short article it would be impossible, even if I wished, to go into minute details as to the management of children's health; neither can I hope to suggest anything original; all I aim at is to condense into a short space the principles of the care of children, trusting that my readers will follow up the subject for themselves, by getting one or more of the excellent books that have been written of late years on the subject, and, by the exercise of their own common sense realize the great responsibility that has been entrusted to them of rearing happy men and women, to be a credit to themselves and also to their country.

Children, then, require fresh air, light—especially sunlight, cleanliness, exercise, rest, proper food, and abundance of love and patience.

Let the rooms that the children occupy be the sunniest in the house, and let them always be well ventilated. It is best that one window in each room be left open night and day. With a little management draughts can be prevented. The furniture should be of the simplest, so that it can be kept absolutely clean. Fixed carpets, heavy curtains and hangings are out of place, and, in these days of floorcloths and artistic cotton stuffs, not the least necessary even in the most luxurious household. Pictures should be framed so that they can be properly cleaned, and nothing put on the walls or stored in cupboards that can harbour dust. Cupboards require daily ventilation and frequent turning out or they become traps for disease.

Children's skin, hair, nails and teeth should, of course, be kept scrupulously clean. The last, I fear, are often neglected: it is overlooked that the first teeth require to be taken care of, because if they become decayed and drop out too soon, the jaw is apt to contract; consequently, when the permanent teeth come, they are jumbled together, look bad, and more easily decay. It is quite worth-while to take a child to the dentist about every six months to see that all is well, prevention being better than cure,

Children should be evenly clothed; woolen garments next to the skin are usually considered best, but without going into this point, which has been written about over and over again, I would more specially emphasize the even distribution of clothes. So often a child's body is overclothed in places and barely covered in others, witness short sleeves (now happily going out of fashion, but still loved by the working classes), girls' cotton drawers and sometimes short socks. The clothes should fit comfortably and cause no restraint so that all the muscles may develop, and the outside garments should be simple and of washing material. It seems too bad that little children should so often be punished for an accident to clothes, merely because the clothes were expensive; is it not that so many parents dress their children to gratify their own vanity, without at all considering the comfort and happiness of the child? And may I plead that girls, up to twelve years old, should be dressed much like their brothers, with the exception of an outer skirt, so that they could run, climb and jump without constantly being told about pulling down skirts, "little girls must not climb," etc.

With regard to the feeding of children, they require plenty of simple nourishing food—four meals a day given at regular times, when they should eat as much as they like; but they should have nothing between whiles. Milk, eggs, bread and butter, simple puddings, fruit, and vegetables should form their chief diet until seven years old (I am not in this article referring to infants); usually too much meat is given. If children were never allowed to taste rich made-dishes they could not possibly tell if they liked them or not; it is the little taste of this or that, given to quite young children, that first undermines their more natural liking for simple food.

Sugar is wholesome, but should be given with food and not between meals in the form of sweets. Stimulants should never be given except by direct medical advice. Medicine also should be given under doctor's orders. Home dosing should be of the simplest, and, if attention is paid to diet, it will seldom be required. Rubbing the abdomen from right to left in a circular direction at night, and a glass of water given in the morning, will usually cure constipation. Care should also be taken that regular habits are formed early, as so often constipation commences from neglecting Nature's call, and it soon becomes chronic.

Children require plenty of exercise. This they generally contrive to take; but playing in a garden in fine weather, or in a well-ventilated room on rainy days, is much better for them than long walks, which are apt to over-tire them. Children require unlimited sleep. They should be in bed early and sleep as long as they can. If they awake too soon to get up, they can have a picture-book to look at until nurse is ready, and be taught to be quiet for the sake of others; but healthy children who go to bed happy and tired will sleep a long time if undisturbed. I should like to see children's parties go out of fashion. It is positively wicked to keep little children up until nine or ten in an ill-ventilated room. If children's parties must be given, the time should be from four to seven, and the children should come in pinafores for a good game of play, or a Christmas tree, and go home happy at the proper time, having had just a simple meal. As it is, the poor mites are over-dressed, over-excited and over-fed, go home cross and weary, and are often obliged to have the doctor and medicine next day. Does it not seem a pity to spoil the best years of life by making little children ape their elders and learn so young many of the evils of life? The reason so often given is that "the darlings look so sweet"; so here again the children are sacrificed to grown-up selfishness.

Before seven years of age, very little, if anything, should be taught a child by books. The body should have a chance of a good start before the brain is unduly taxed, and there is so much to be learned in those early years without books. George Eliot has said "We should never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it," and surely those in charge of children should see to it that their childhood is happy. Believe me, it is not the indulged happy child who is the spoilt child.

If children are early taught obedience, consideration for others, and to speak the truth, they should have as much liberty as possible; make as few rules as you can, see that they are just, and then insist on their being kept, but do not spoil the children by allowing them to do one day what you strictly forbid them to do the next. Children have a strong sense of justice and resent unfairness; besides, if they do not learn to trust mother and feel sure what she says must be right, are they not being robbed of their birthright?

Children are an immense responsibility and require above all things—

"Love, but more above and harder—Patience with the love."

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, Mar 2009