The Child - Its Physical Development
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE problem of the physical development of the child, before he comes to stage where we speak of him as a boy, is one of the commanding questions of mother care and interest. This is because it is a period of rapid growth and expansion, and the powers of muscular energy as well as organic functioning are extending very quickly in all directions. It follows, of course, that this development must be kept under careful scrutiny because the growth is still under way and the right growth only makes possible the right training afterward.
There used to be a doctrine among parents, a sort of old wives' fable, that when the child was happy it was well enough to let him alone. That merely meant that certain things which did not show themselves at once, like curvature of the spine, which develops slowly but is very difficult to correct once it has developed, were permitted to increase by careless positions and habits of lying and standing and walking. The feet were often malformed, only to involve costly and painful operations later on. The eyes and the nose were neglected, because nothing violent appeared—which afterward showed itself not in apparent physical ailment, but in mental backwardness and often arrested mental development. It is only comparatively recently that we have known that adenoids and similar troubles had a vital effect on the intellectual life, to say nothing of nervous derangement.
Many a child has been called sulky, obstinate, or something equally unpleasing, simply because carelessness in his growth has given him certain handicaps in his physical make-up. These difficulties need never have arisen but were not noticed and soon became serious in their nature and effect. Even young children acquire habits of sleeping which mean malformations later in life. They acquire ways of standing which mean trouble to feet and often to other organs. Misuse of eyes is a common affliction, due to want of oversight and discerning direction.
But even when the question is not one of health, because it is surprising how much misuse the human frame can undergo without utterly incapacitating one for daily duty, it nevertheless mars the beauty and the attractiveness and the symmetry of the human organism and perceptibly lowers its power of endurance and its efficiency. In the world of today the great need is for power—power of endurance, strong nervous reserve, and power of sustained attention, and attention to detail, and especially strong power of resistance to the influence of the mob—that is, the preservation of the individual from being swamped by the mass.
When we find people lost in the mass, that is, without sufficiently distinct characteristics to differentiate them from the mass of human beings around them, it usually means that they have not built up the resistance necessary to keep them from being lost in the crowd. Hence it is a matter of primary concern to watch this physical organism and note its complex and varied interests steadily, seeing where the breaks are coming and building up against them. Forewarned is forearmed in this as in many other matters. If, for example, a child shows any well defined weakness in any direction, attention must be concentrated at that point ; and even then the interest must not be over-concentrated lest one gets over-development there. The thing to do is to keep an all-round view about the entire physical organization, and note the proper working of all the functions. That is the true method, not volcanic emphasis at one point, but steady, constant direction at all points.
What applies to boys and girls, as will be indicated later, applies in lesser measure and with allowances for difference in age and growth, to children who are still under the boy and girl stage. Constant usage of all powers, steady incitement to initiative, but careful observation by the parent over the whole organism are necessary. Care must be taken not to let this grow into a clinical performance; it is not to be taken as a medical matter as though something were wrong and trouble were already in sight. The method is preventive exclusively, until something develops, and then becomes corrective. But the main emphasis must lie in the preventive observation. Don't let things happen, and they will not have to be corrected afterward.
Even a moderately trained and observing mother can readily see when a posture tends to destroy the symmetry of a child's form; and any observing mother who sees her child daily at the bath can see long before it reaches the correctional stage matters that need attention, and by a little effort and experience can modify and rearrange the child's life and habit of existence to meet the exigencies of the case. The main fact is that she shall see the need first, and before something untoward develops. One of the great causes for retardation of children in their school life and mental development is that parents are ignorant or indifferent as to matters which should receive prompt attention. For example, in little children wilfulness and undisciplined impulsiveness often arise from physical causes—tight clothes, careless handling or use of arms and legs and chest, which affect disposition. and develop into peevishness and something worse; I have known the loosening of a belt, which had been needlessly tightened to make a child's costume prettier, to make an amazing difference in the child's amenability to routine obedience. It is often true that the emotions are disordered and the strength and weakness of will likewise turn on this home training, which lies at its base in physical habits. For this reason, tonsils, adenoids, teeth, not later but as they are coming, and as they are developing, should be watched. Any peculiarity of the eyes should be instantly attended to. But nothing, in fact, should be overlooked.
When it is remembered that word-blindness, which means that certain words are not seen though looked at, and tone deafness, which means that certain tones are heard but not recognized, may simply mean that eyes and ears were not properly attended to in childhood, may easily result and form a lifelong handicap, every mother will understand that if she wants a wholesome, completely formed and developed boy or girl, blossoming into a ripe and beautiful womanhood or a strong and graceful manhood, she must watch the springs at their source.