The Child's Chance For Spontaneity
( Originally Published 1916 )
IT was at a tea party, and children had not even been mentioned, since the weather was fine and none had been ailing of late. But then the baby of the house was brought home by her attendant, and of course she was immediately taken into the assemblage for exhibition and admiration. The little lady behaved very nicely ; she made the rounds of the company, shook hands, and said "How do? " and courtesied in the approved fashion. Everyone was charmed, and the talk did at last drift to children. One mother was particularly impressed. " Would your child do all that in company? " she asked of her nearest neighbor. But she evidently took it for granted that he or she would not, for she went right on to explain about her own Rosalynd.
"Rosalynd is going on five, and she is so timid. When there is a stranger in the house you can't get her to say a word. I cannot make her greet people properly, she's so shy. I wonder how you make your children less timid."
The nearest neighbor could not tell just how she did make her children less timid.
Did they always speak up as nicely as little Lucille had done?
No, not always though sometimes they did, and you never could tell in advance. But the mother did not insist. Sometimes one person will affect a child so that he is not like his usual self. He becomes frightened, or he is antagonized. And some people make a child self-conscious, more than others.
Well, Rosalynd had a chance to go to a picnic party with a round dozen other children, most of them strangers, and six grown-ups. The mother hesitated about letting her go, she was so sure the child would be nervous and shrinking. She thought it would be well to send the nurse along, to save possible embarrassment. The child, being of the shrinking kind, would be a nuisance among strangers. But the party was a grand success. The strangers, children and adults, never suspected that Rosalynd was one of the shrinking kind. She engaged freely in conversation, and when there was none about for her to engage in, she started some on her own initiative. She made suggestions for improving the luncheon for " next time ", and she asked for what she wanted without any outward sign of hesitation. She helped herself to the toys that had been brought for the children, without ceremony, and ex-pressed preferences and dislikes as to food and games with the composure of an experienced miss of at least six years—and she was only " going on five ". If she had any doubts or misgivings of any kind, she managed to conceal them most artfully. On the whole, she was as self-possessed a young person as one would wish to meet.
Now, why did her mother consider her such a timid child? And why did she at home give the impression of being shy? It is probable that the only thing that troubled the little girl at home was too much care on the part of the mother and the nurse. She had always been closely watched, and helped with every trifle. She had no chance to use her own initiative and resourcefulness, and the advent of strangers usually meant a performance calculated to make the child conscious of herself. Under such circumstances, it is to be expected that she would " shrink " on very slight provocation.
When the child gets among strangers in a new situation, where there is little to remind him of his daily associations, the naturally timid child will feel lost and uncomfortable. He may be " scared " to the point of being unable to do anything at all. On the other hand, a fairly healthy child who is not self-conscious will find in the new surroundings all sorts of stimulation for his activity. His curiosity will be aroused and he will be tempted to explore the nooks and the objects with refreshing simplicity. A city child taken to the country will be tempted to " let himself out " in running and shouting; and if that is very different from his accustomed conduct, it is because his daily life does not give the necessary opportunities for free and spontaneous activity.
The children of the poor, as compared with those of the well-to-do, are not overburdened with the solicitous attentions of anxious parents and nurses. The anxieties there are directed toward other concerns. These children develop more rapidly, because circumstances demand of them quick decisions and the constant exercise of whatever resources they may have. The casual observer frequently notes that the newsboy on the busy corner is such a " bright " lad ; but he does not as frequently notice the handicap that goes with the brightness and opportunities of the newsboy or of the child whose playground is the street. Nor does he note that the temptations of the street are so frequently too strong for the ordinary child to resist.
On the other hand, the children of the more prosperous families are handicapped by too monotonous an environment, which fails to develop self-reliance—which is not the same as self-satisfaction. These children do not so readily show what they have in them ; they are called upon merely to exhibit what the parents or nurses and teachers call for. The routine of the daily visit to Riverside Drive, the conventions of the home and of the summer at a fashionable sea-side resort, do not give the mother a chance to know her child, because these conditions do' not give the child a chance to express himself through a sufficiently wide range of relationships.
The only thing I can say to Rosalynd's mother is, " Give your child at least as good a chance as ordinary folks give their children ; let her show what she can do when she is not coached or prompted."