Bugaboos And Friends
( Originally Published 1916 )
THE obstreperous child will often give you that feeling of helplessness, and you will be tempted to call in the assistance of a stronger power. But it would never do to call in the neighbors or a passing stranger, so you do the next best thing. You threaten to call in the policeman. Of course you never do call in the police-man, but the threat serves your immediate purpose. For the time being, the child is intimidated and you heave a sigh of relief.
But in calling upon the name of the law's minion thus in vain, you have accomplished more than you really had in mind. You have indeed subdued the little rascal ; but you have also converted a powerful and useful friend into a dangerous enemy. When a very young child has been thus brutally scared by the bugaboo, we can understand his going into a fit of hysterics upon the policeman taking him in his arms, the day he got lost in the park. When Charlie was older and got lost on a strange street, he knew enough to ask for guidance to help find his way home; but he was too wise to ask the policeman; he asked a stranger instead. He did not know that the policeman was the safest man to ask; he knew no more that the policeman was his friend than did the baby that went into hysterics.
However, a walk through a city park must impress one with the change that has come about in the relation between the children and the policeman. The attitude of the latter has changed in the course of a generation, largely through the agitation for giving the city child a chance to play; in part also because of the different type of men to be found on the police force. But the greatest and most encouraging change is that in the parents. It is now the most ignorant or the most thoughtless who still resort to the use of this friend as a bugaboo.
Our intelligence has not gone far enough to make us eliminate from our armory all bugaboos. If a child has had a disagreeable quarter of an hour under the dentist's drill, he will remember that he suffered for a long time to come. But it would be stupid indeed to threaten another visit to the dentist as a penalty for any kind of disobedience. One should even be chary about using this threat as a penalty for refusing to brush the teeth. While it is true that neglect of the teeth will necessitate a visit to the dentist, the attitude toward the dentist must be one of complete friendliness, and not that of fear. He is the person to help us when our teeth have gotten into trouble through neglect, or to help us avoid trouble in the future. He is not to be looked upon as the person who gives us pain. We should make an endeavor to help the child associate the pain with the consequences of his own acts or neglects, and not with the ministrations of the dentist.
Even more important is the attitude that the child comes to assume toward the physician. When you do have occasion to call a physician for the child, you are anxious to have him help you. But if you have made the bitter medicine the symbol of unpleasant punishment, you have discredited the physician's tools, and have placed a serious obstacle in his way.
From earliest infancy it should be the mother's aim to develop in the child an attitude of friendliness and confidence toward the family physician, for upon this attitude will largely depend the physician's ability to be of help in curing disease and in maintaining the health of the child. Experience has shown that if such an attitude is cultivated, the word of the physician will come to carry great weight with the child, and can then be used to support you, not only in matters pertaining to health, but in the whole conduct of the child's life. A little boy who had this attitude early developed in him, could be made to refrain from the most tempting foods by the simple assurance that "Dr. Jones-said that this would not be good for you "; and every little boy and every little girl will be tempted to eat and to do what considerations of health would forbid, but what ordinary authority cannot easily prevent.
The ability and the personality of the physician are of course important in securing the child's affection and confidence. But the physician cannot overcome the obstacles put in his way by a wrong attitude on the part of the parents. A certain child suffering from pleurisy could not have his ailment diagnosed because every time the physician appeared, the child was thrown into spasms. While this is no doubt an extreme case, forces of the same kind are at work to counteract the specialist's best efforts where thoughtless parents cultivate bugaboos instead of cultivating friendship.
With the right feeling, with an appreciation of the friendship of the physician, the sick child looks forward to the physician's visit with pleasurable anticipation, which is itself a step toward getting well. While confined by diphtheria, a child who had the greatest affection and gratitude for the physician, complained after several daily visits that the doctor was doing nothing to get him out of bed. He had been so pleased with the relief that the antitoxin afforded him, and he was feeling so well, that he could not understand why this good friend and wonderful helper should be so unable to discharge him from his prison.
If parents could bring their children to look upon those who are placed in positions of authority and power—as the policeman, the teacher, the physician, etc.—as friends and helpers, rather than as mere perfunctory hirelings, or as bugaboos to use as threats, they will do much to increase the efficiency of. these helpers, as well as to promote the children's sense of social interdependence.