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Children - Encouragement And Neglect

( Originally Published 1916 )

A NEW baby is always interesting, and usually receives attention out of all proportion to his needs, and also out of all proportion to his special merits. Still, he may escape without receiving any real injury from the eyes and hands of doting friends and relatives. But when the child gets to the " cunning " age, it is different, especially if he happens to be one of the " irresistible " kind. For then the child must receive all kinds of sense stimulations, and opportunity to exercise his limbs, thus to acquire control of his muscles. But there is no special need for him to become conscious of his own charms. Indeed, the greatest charm of childhood, its utter unconsciousness, too quickly loses its bloom just because we find the cunning tricks and the awkward speech so. irresistible.

A mother of three children was comparing notes with a mother of four. The former observed that her youngest had reached the point where she would call mother and nurse and the older children to witness everything she was doing. At first this was looked upon as just a cunning little trick; then it became a nuisance. Finally the mother began to have misgivings. Perhaps, she had thought, the child is getting too much notice? What had happened was that the child, having derived much satisfaction from the approving smiles and admiring remarks of the elders, had acquired the habit of depending upon these manifestations of affectionate regard for her own comfort and happiness. The mother feared that perhaps the child was becoming too conceited. The other mother had had a similar experience; but she thought that it was only the youngest child who passed through this stage. The youngest receives attention from the adults, as did the older children; but he gets the same kind of attention from the older sisters and brothers.

If the youngest child in the family is " spoiled " more frequently than any of the others, it is probably because of the over-stimulation of his self-regard no less than because of the various indulgences showered upon him by the other members of the household. He suffers for the want of an opportunity to work out some of his own problems in his own way.

When the child gets to be in the neighborhood of nine or ten years, when all the cunningness of child-hood has worn off, and before the new interests of adolescence have made their appearance, he is likely to be least attractive. It is now that he reflects most completely the manners of the elders, and it has been observed that these reflections are not always of a most agreeable kind. One can therefore understand that people are apt to overlook the girl and boy at this period. If they are the older children in the family, the younger ones take all of our attention. And if at this age they are the youngest, the parents are likely to have grown somewhat weary; and the novelty has worn off.

Thus it happens that at the very time when the young child can find enough to keep him busy exploring the qualities of the objects and materials he finds about him, we intrude upon his mind with irrelevant praise of his awkward performances, in a manner that draws his attention from the outside world to his own feelings, his own likes and dislikes, his own moods. And thus it happens that later in life, when the child comes- to be concerned with questions of mine and thine, when he is wondering about relations between man and the outside world, when he longs for the power to give expression to his uneasy stirrings, we leave him to his own resources, we let him flounder about as best he can, we allow him to take his disillusionments from the hands of unkind strangers and unkind chance. When sympathy and encouragement are most needed, the supply is apparently exhausted.

The demand that the youngest makes upon the other children must be considered chiefly from its effect upon the youngest. Bessie happened to be " sensible " and accommodating as a child, so that there was no difficulty whatever in getting her to make concessions to the younger Jeanie. Tearing Bessie's book was readily for-given because Jeanie was so young and did not under-stand. Bessie would take a dose of bitter medicine just to encourage Jeanie. Bessie stayed home from the picnic or the party because Jeanie would cry to be left behind. Bessie divided her apple and her cake, because Jeanie wanted more after consuming her own. If Bessie suffered from this excess of sacrifice and " considerateness " it was probably in the direction of becoming more and more indifferent to the things that a normal child should care about. But the injury to Jeanie was the cultivation of the attitude that took for granted the satisfaction of every desire and every whim. To have allowed Jeanie to cry after Bessie went to her party, to have reprimanded her for injuring Bessie's property, to have left her without more cake after her own was eaten, would have helped her more than the indulgences she received.

A household consisting of adults and children of various ages is a complex establishment to manage; and it takes thought and tact and insight to allot to each what is his due. And in considering what is due to children, we must not overlook their share of education—the education which comes through neglect and disappointment, as well as that which comes from sympathy and encouragement.

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