The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
A Nurse's Notes

Volume 13, 1902, pg. 956-960

It seems to me that the chief thing to remember in training a child from its earliest infancy is straightforwardness in its widest sense: it means punctuality, order, and simplicity. A well brought up infant of three months has his food, sleep, &c., at regular times. Supposing nurse is late or early, the law is broken, and though baby cheerfully and willingly takes his food at nurse's new time, I am quite sure that an odd, dissatisfied feeling is started in baby's mind, and that if he could speak he might with reason tell nurse that if she chooses her time, he surely may choose his. Though he does not say so, this is what actually happens. If nurse does not keep a fixed time, baby will not, and nurse will complain that "baby is as self-willed as his father used to be," and say "It runs in the family," forgetting or perhaps not knowing that the cause of the wilfulness is the slackness that "runs in the nurse." There are no "ifs" or "buts" or "wheels within wheels" in a small child's mind; what is today is tomorrow, and for always and everybody. One baby of four months old I had charge of, I used to carry round the nursery just before his bed time, and put everything into its place. After a few weeks, I sat down with him, leaving some things undone, a drawer open, a toy out of its cupboard, and it amused me to see baby fidget and point, until I chose to understand him. I know now the unnecessary strain I put on the child's nerves, for if nurse does something for several times and then suddenly seems to think it does not matter, what a feeling of unrest is started. I feel very strongly on the question of habit in tiny children, for the want of it is, I think, at the bottom of many a high temperature and nervous disorder. Something that has become an every-day habit is one day neglected, and it is as fatal to nurse as to baby if this first time is used as a precedent for other times, e.g., nurse has been in the habit of playing with baby for ten minutes before the goes to bed; a day comes when nurse thinks she cannot spare those minutes, and baby is popped into bed without his play, and it is more than likely that he will fidget and perhaps cry. He may not be conscious of what is wrong, but let this happen two or three more times and he has discovered that there is no law relating to bed time, and in consequence, if he does not want to go to bed, not only nurse but the whole household know about it, and "nuss" (a less superior person than nurse) will shake her head and say, "Ah, just like Johnny was at his age." Habit means law to a child. There either is such and such a law or there is not. A broken law an ordinarily honest child's mind could not conceive. Tom, aged three, has formed the habit of never wearing his hat in the house, and it is interesting what that habit means to him, -- he voluntarily takes off his hat when he goes into a shop or a railway station. One morning his father ran upstairs to the nursery wearing his hat and coat; he had come to say good-bye before starting out. Tom immediately said, "I can't 'peak to you with your hat on , I can't look at you." The father took off his hat with an apology. This sort of thing seems priggish in a child, but with their awful honesty, they think that what is right for them is right for everyone. Habits of courtesy are difficult or impossible to instil into a child unless nurse herself practises them. In fact, if everyone is habitually courteous to a child, there is no teaching to be done. Let a child feel the pleasantness of being "kind to all the people," and there will be few or no so-called manners to teach. Nurse accidentally knocks a child and says, "I am sorry, dear." She may have said it on several occasions before the child turns round and says, "What for you say I'se solly, nurse?" "Because I knocked you and did not mean to do it." It is more than likely you will the next minute receive a deliberate knock with "I'se solly" after it. Now is the time to finish the lesson. You quietly acknowledge the apology by a word or a smile, but certainly not by a hug or a kiss, for why should courtesies that we take for granted in the grown-up be treated as a sign of genius in the child? Never let us say, "It is manners to stand up when grandmamma comes in," or, "It is proper to open the door for mother," but if it is needful to say it at all, it should be, "It is kind to, &c." But if nurse always stands up when grandmamma comes in, and opens the door for mother, and remembers which chair father likes, &c., it is the child's pride and pleasure to do the same.

I was severely brought to book once by a child 2 1/2 years old. He had his shoes and stockings off, and was consequently not allowed to run across the floor; the house boy came in with a scuttle of coals, and when he went out I failed to open the door for him, and this small boy said in a shocked voice: "Nur' is not kind to all the people, no open the door, poor Willum, beg pargont, I'se solly, 'poligize." "Willum" was recalled and treated with due courtesy. Another kind of so-called manners is refined personal habits. Children have no desire to do untidy, dirty, or awkward things; they don't deliberately think out every act, they just do what is easiest, and the easiest things to do is the things they have done before or seen someone else do, or have had it done for them.

A baby on your knee coughs or sneezes, if you gently turn his head away from you and never fail to do it every time, baby will naturally turn away his own head. Never let a baby get used to being sticky with food, etc.; sticky they must get, it is a discomfort to them, and they may want mouth and hands rubbed up many times during a meal, we should try and not put them off with "don't be fussy," etc., for if they feel the discomfort of being dirty it will be an incentive to them to try and be tidy at their meals. If the child wears a feeder it is not becoming to do the rubbing up on that; how should we like every spill we made at table advertised on our chest? Why do children wear feeders? They begin to wear them long before they are able to feed themselves, so one must conclude that they are put on for nurse's benefit, and surely nurse can put a spoonful of food as easily into a child's mouth as her own.

I own a child requires more rubbing up at meal times than a grownup, but why not tie the rubber round the waist instead of displaying it on the chest where it is unbecoming to the wearer and not appetizing to the beholders. Let everything connected with the food of children be of the cleanest and fittest, and as you would wish to have it in his place, e.g.; his cup of food should be brought to him on a tray with a clean cloth on it, let us never think for a moment, "anything will do for baby, he does not notice yet." We should hear little or nothing of children's untidy table manners or habits, if from infancy they had been accustomed to be served with cleanliness, order, &c.

The following example of respectful kindness to a child is, I think, worth while recording: Harold, aged 2.5, has lunch in the dining room. One day on coming down to lunch I found a clean napkin spread under his plate; I was annoyed, for the child has such refined habits, so I asked the parlourmaid why she had done it, and she said the tablecloth underneath was not quite clean, and she knew Harold would not like to see it. A child's first lesson in feeding himself begins when he is a baby. The first few times a baby has a spoon to play with see that it is given to him as you would wish him to hold it when he feeds himself, after a short time it is uncomfortable to him to hold it any other way. I think it is unwise to be in haste about teaching a child to feed himself, and when the first lesson is given don't let it be at the beginning of a meal when he is in such haste for his food, when he is less hungry his hand will be more steady. Try not to have a single spill; it means a sharp lookout and many a hasty rescue, but you will find it well worth while in the end.

Another difficult, but surely necessary lesson a child has to learn is silence, and this I think applies more particularly to meal times. It is very likely that in the nursery there has been only nurse and one child for meals, and the child has been allowed to talk as much as he liked, and has had one person's sole attention. When he goes down to the dining-room, there are grown-ups and probably other children, and I think it requires very skilful managing to see that everyone has an opportunity to talk. Very often it is the smallest voice that is heard the oftenest. It means hard self-control for a child to be still when he feel he must burst or give his opinion. He must of course be shown that he has your sympathy, and at first he must not be tried too far. I think, though, that the best help one can give him is to him him to understand that others feel exactly as he does. He might be encouraged to think it rather a joke that everyone has so much to say before his turn comes. I have seen a small child gaily wait for ten minutes before he could get his father's attention; every unsuccessful attempt he made to speak he hailed as a joke, quietly chuckled, and tried again until he had fairly earned his turn.

The hardest thing I think we and the babies together have to fight is "stiff back." Our child may have the habit of being happily prompt to answer our small requests, and then a time comes when quite a usual request is made, and you see at once by the child's manner that he is suffering from "stiff back." There is apparently nothing in what you have said to cause it, and probably he does not know himself why he feels unwilling, but the feeling is there, and has to be gently approached. Without speaking about it, let the child know you know how he feels. A "stiff back" attitude shows that he is prepared and expecting a fight; take the wind out of his sails by an extra friendly attitude. I think if a single word is said at the time or after about this "stiff back," it makes the disease too interesting. The child will most likely come and say some time after the incident, "I was not very kind this morning," and one might answer, "Were you not, dear? Then we'll not think or talk about anything so unpleasant." I, of course, suppose the little affair has been happily closed at the time.

The more we are interested in the training of a child, the more we should try to remember that he is a reasonable, intelligent individual, and he is not a problem to be worked out by a given method. And if a child after its earliest years proves "difficult" (a polite word for impolite actions), I think it proves that the child has had about him a grownup who was too difficult a problem for him, and in trying to realize on Monday a = a, and on Tuesday a = b, and so on through the week, his reasonableness has been thrown off the balance, and it means years of discomfort to himself and friends.

Typed by Monica Cooper February 2022