Character Building - Mischief
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
INFANTS have no sense of the value of things, or that form and structure are necessary to their purpose. A baby will pick a rose to pieces or smash a toy simply for the sake of doing something, following that impulse for muscular activity which is nature's primary education. A year or two later curiosity, still unguided by judgment, leads him to tear open everything he can handle, "to see the wheels go 'round," as the phrase is -that is, to discover how the thing is made and does its work. Such destructiveness should be restrained. It does the child no good to tear books or pound his miniature wagon to fragments. At the same time it is foolish to give the little mischief-maker your watch or anything else of value to play with, for he is slow to learn. Show him, as he grows older, that when he breaks a toy he ends the amusement to be had from it, and gradually he will get the idea and become careful.
Yet some children seem to carry with them for years a carelessness of property, which is most annoying and expensive to everybody concerned, themselves included. This may be a symptom of more than ordinary physical nervousness, but more commonly it is one of the effects of a thoughtlessness, or heedlessness, which needs subjection. A student of this fault tells us that the highly energetic, quick-minded children are especially prone to it, when seized by a fit of passion. "In their anger the very presence of a breakable object acts as a suggestion which they are unable to resist-the impulse is quicker than any prudent reflection." The correction is that for anger, loss of self-control; but at least the culprit should be made to pay for or replace the object broken, or, if it was his own, to suffer from its loss without help from you. His sense of justice will approve of this, and you may relax enough to take an interest in his plans to earn the money, but do not help him too much, and see that he finishes the task. After he has paid a few bills of that kind he will be more careful.
The importance of curbing in the child a tendency to selfish mischief is seen in all later moral education. The want of care for things of use or value easily passes into disregard of personal relations, and thereby natures become hardened, and unconscious cruelties often take the place of the deference and kindness so essential in social relations.
Three poems in Volume I of the Library are on the subject of humorous mischief : "There Was a Little Girl," "The Wind in a Frolic," and "The Frost." The same volume contains the good old fable, "The Boys and the Frogs." In Volume II there are "Baldur," "The Gifts of the Dwarfs," and "The Punishment of Loki." Several of the stories in Volume III show the consequences of heedless acts-see "Dicky Random," "Trial," and "A Plot of Gunpowder." In Volume IV "Rataplan, Rogue" tells the tale of a mischievous elephant. Among our poems in Volume XI nothing could be finer than the classic, "Seein' Things," and it makes a splendid recitation.