Leading The Child
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
CHILDREN know those who understand them and those who do not; for example, a child had been left for a day or two in the care of his aunt, and most unfortunately for little Charles, as she did not like children and never knew how to meet them. Charley had had a very hard time each day, for whenever he tried to do this or that, it was hindered by "don't Charley," until the little one was very weary of it. There was no suggestion telling him what to do and thus to render the time pleasant and happy during his dear mother's absence. When his Aunt Carrie went with him to bed, and in a cool, matter of fact .way, said, "Now Charley kneel down and say your prayer," he could hardly approach her knee, the loved place to say the prayer with his mother; but he looked at her most appealingly and said, "Won't you leave me alone with God?" She had to leave him but listened outside the door. After the usual one he added "Dear God, Aunt Carrie says I have been naughty. I suppose I have. Say God ! will you forgive me?"
When his mother returned, he threw his arms about her neck, and said that he had another name, "Don't Charley."
The child comes to us endowed with all its innate powers in-folded and we have the privilege and great responsibility of assisting in its unfoldment; but we have no right to interfere with his individuality, his all round development. We would never think of disturbing the rosebud in its growth; yet how often the heart and soul of the child is most ruthlessly torn asunder.
Let him remain for a time ignorant of himself, let him live naturally, and drink in his wisdom and his religion from the influences which God makes play around him. In order to rightly lead the child, we must psychologically understand him, take time to study him, to know something of his thoughts, somewhat of the ground we are stepping upon, for it is sacred, and we would not willingly offend one of these little ones, or hinder its full unfoldment. There is no more interesting and absorbing study than that of the human being, especially the very active, unconscious child. We wish to keep him unconscious but lead him to the control of this activity, using it in just the rightful way for his best good towards the development of his self-activity. Froebel desires that we should lead the child to choose to be his best self, to free self-determination.
The great question among mothers, teachers, and those who have the daily care of Raising Children, is, "How can this be done?" We must not force him; but lead him to see the force of his own actions, and by realizing this, he becomes aware of the fact that he harms himself more than anyone else. The outcome of it all being that we lead the child to self-control, and when he is self-controlled then he has the inner power of resistance when any temptation comes, and he becomes stronger in not yielding to this temptation, thus being able to master a greater one. "The exceedingly bad boy of the tenement house," in fact when asked his name, gave this. Yes, this boy can be reached, by touching the divine spark within him, by leading him to see that there is the possibility of his being one of the best boys in the great city and the best in the tenement house." When this was said to him who was considered quite hopeless by some, his reply to me was, "No one ever told me that before." By leading him to direct his own activity in the right way, he fully realized the force of his own actions, and having experienced the great pleasure that came to him after doing a kind act, he much preferred to be this kind of a boy. He learned to discriminate between the lawless acting and the self-directed activity for good.
The opposite overindulged child in the luxurious home with every wish gratified and anticipated, should also be led to see the need of his self-control, his free self-determination, which is just the opposite of the self-willed child who is weak and tyrannical. The child's innate yearning is to be his own self. Of course all this is unconscious to him; he is simply his happy, true self. He resents being constantly interfered with, there-fore never having a chance to find himself, and to know him-self, which is the beginning of wisdom. There are many examples of how this true leading of the child is done, and of the grand results which followed in the individual child's life. We must first believe in his really at heart truly desiring to be his best self, therefore if he knows that we expect this from him in thought and deed he will more easily be so, as it is a stimulus to him. Children like to be valued as individual human beings and fully respected according to their age, and their rights regarded just as we expect them to regard our rights. If we expect respect and love from the Raising Children, we must first give both, and prove our theory in our lives, not demanding one thing of the child and utterly neglecting the same rightful demand on the part of the child, on the ground of the right, the good, the true when it comes under our own acts.
We must lead the child to see that he can make himself what he chooses—it lies in his own hands. By asking him "What is the name of the child you take care of?" you throw him upon his own responsibility. At first he thinks that you' mean some one else, his younger brother or sister, but after leading him on with appropriate, pertinent questions he will respond and say "Why, the boy is myself." Now this leading of the child does not rest only upon behavior, but it is basic, and he will be led on to the fuller expression of what has been roused and quickened within him and through his self-expression, either in language, action, or the expression of the face, you will know that he is beginning to realize the power of this inner life, his selfhood. This once realized, the happiness of this self-expression is his reward for the effort it caused him, and the response to that craved by him. Of course, he is unconscious of the depth of this, its great value to him in his life always; but as he grows older he will come more fully into its realization. He simply "feels rightly all through" and this has been said by many of them. He feels this unity in his life. He is being formed and with this development at each stage will not need to be reformed later in life. He is full of happiness, love, full expression of himself.
Leading the child also refers to the matter of fully allowing the powers to grow, or be expressed, to have him unfold, and of finding out his innate powers, when for instance, he is al-lowed to do the certain thing that he will naturally wish to do, then you will be able to better know what he can do and thus is led on to the greater realization of his ability in one way or another, whether later on in music, art, poetry, fairy stories, mechanics, etc., etc. If we do not allow this freedom in the start we may crush out the simple desire which afterwards remains dormant, for the possessor may never know that he had this power until too late.
There is much in the sincere manner in which the child is met, even in the expression of the face, which should be one that will inspire him to right action. This influence does not stop in the child's life, but the great inspiration which helped him over difficulties, for he knew that his father, mother, teacher understood it all, stays with him when older, and he can and will look back to the crisis of his life and say, "What would I have done had it been otherwise°?" The child has a right to his God given powers, his endowment, his birthright, and no one has a right to trespass upon them, to destroy them, and so crush him that he cannot be his best self, and fully express the creative power within him. "Man is a creative being" (Froebel). He must reach the realization of his self-activity in its fullest sense. How grand a work it is for fathers, mothers, teachers to thus lead the child. It is really ideal and ideally real. To truly live every human being must realize this, and thus life becomes so full of meaning, of joy, peace, freedom, according to each stage of development, child, boy, youth and manhood. Froebel says "The child must be his best at each stage or what each stage calls for." His threefold relationship, and threefold development must be secured, neither one to the detriment of the others,—all harmoniously blended. We must have the self-controlled human being, therefore, free determining, obedient to the law of love, truly himself in his all-round unfoldment, the finest manifestation of God.