Development And Discipline - Breaking His Will
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
TRAINING the child's will is training its power to make right choices. Truly is it said, "The deliberate `I Will' is the basis of a man's character, and the `I will' of the crises in life is being made by the `I will' of each day." In other words, the cumulative effect of will habits is tremendous. The training of this ruling power should begin, however, before a child is old enough to deliberate, while it is still the creature of sensation and impulse. It is, indeed, surprising how early a child exhibits choice, and defends its right to choice. The wise mother tries not to come in sharp conflict with her baby's will-she soothes and wins rather than coerces; she insensibly guides it into obedience, which is the submission of its will to a will better instructed than its own. Be it said here that the old term, "breaking a child's will" is now generally considered a relic of barbarism. If, however, any conflict unwittingly arises between mother and child, the mother must be quietly firm. Any other course would be disastrous to the little one. ... It is difficult to draw the line where impulse decides, or reasoning over choices begins. Children differ, and probably the change is imperceptible because gradual. It may be safely taken for granted that the reason begins to work at an early period of life, and a mother need not hesitate to appeal to it in simple ways. A child is soon taught that by willing it cannot always follow the path of its own desires. Two courses of action are constantly confronting the young mind. He wishes to do one thing, and something tells him that he ought to do the other. Indeed, it has seemed to me that the proper exercise of will might be defined by the one word "ought." And the course which is governed by "ought" is the best course in the long run. This is a lesson to be repeated over and over again. The mother has the privilege of constantly presenting right standards of life to her children. Doing this, it is wise for her to throw the responsibility of minor decisions upon them, and if they make mistakes, explain to them why a different decision would have been better. A little friend of mine had received some education of this sort. She was less than ten years old when she was sent alone about thirty miles by train. She had a little money of her own, a few cents to use exactly as she pleased, but her parents were not rich and she knew what it was to be careful. When the candy boy went through the car, she wanted to buy some-how she did want to do it!-but here were two courses presented. Telling the incident later, in her childlike way, she said, "I just looked out of the window every time the boy came along." Now that was a distinct effort of a reasoning will. A trifle? By no means. She will become a stronger woman by reason of that experience.
Every mother ought to rejoice in a strong-willed child. Difficult to train ? Yes, possibly; but, well trained, what a man he will make! It follows that trifling with will-power is a perilous business. Using a familiar proverb, "Be sure you are right, then go ahead." To this trifling belong the many good resolutions which are not kept. Better not to make than to break, for each break is a loss of power. Here is an authoritative description of a weak-willed man: "His interests vary with each suggestion that comes to him through perception or bodily feeling; he is never certain of his intentions, never constant in his attitude toward things, never thoroughly self-possessed." An eminent physician recently spoke of this shilly-shallying state as an American disease. A person decides one way, and the next hour decides another way, then he harks back to the first decision, and never rests in anything. It is a state pitiable for himself and annoying to his friends. Proper education of the will may protect a person from such an unfortunate condition."