Character Building - Self Direction
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
WHILE the mother should insist upon obedience to her commands, she should, nevertheless, be careful not to give commands in matters where the child will come to no harm in making his own decision. For instance, when the baby wishes to take a toy to bed with him, show him several playthings suited to this purpose, and let him make his own selection. If there are a soft, woolly sheep and an ugly rag doll, and the little one prefers the doll, do not urge the sheep upon him. He has his own reasons for the choice, and you should respect these. Also if, as he gets older, there is a certain cup from which he likes to take his milk, let him have that cup. If he has a frock that he especially likes, put it on him as often as consistent with utility and suitability. A child with no will-power, with no self-direction, would develop into a sorry character. Moreover if the little one learns that when it is possible for you to do so you will grant him the right of selection, he will respect your wisdom when the times occur in which you must make his decision for him. Children are clear-sighted and have a keen sense of justice, and your reminder that "Mother knows best" will satisfy your little one, for he will be sure that you do know best, or you would allow him to choose for himself.
When the child is old enough to walk out with you, and it makes no difference to you where you and he take your promenade, say to him, "Which way would you like to go to-day?" But, when he has once decided on the direction which he prefers, insist on going in that direction, not allowing him to change his mind or to waver from his decision. To permit this would be to encourage vacillation and feebleness of purpose.
So, when you are buying for your child of five or six years of age small articles the colors of which make little difference -such as mittens, or cheap neckties-consult his taste. If you find that he longs for red mittens when you had thought of getting gray ones, let him have the red. Not only will they please him, but he will have an opportunity to live with the color long enough to learn whether he really prefers it to any other. It is only by trying certain innocent things that one discovers one's feelings concerning them.
Half-grown boys and girls have a great habit of asking when an invitation comes, " Shall I go?" Unless there is some good reason why the invitation should be accepted or declined, the parent should insist that the choice be made by the child. And when the matter is once settled, the child must be held to his decision. One lad said to his mother:
" John Blank's mother invited me to her house for supper to-night. I did not like to refuse, so I said I would come. Now I don't want to go. What shall I do about it?"
"You must go, of course," said the mother.
"But there's something else I want to do," pleaded the lad. "Can't you think of an excuse for me?"
"You said you would go, and you must do so," was the firm reply. "The time to think is before you promise to do a thing, not afterward."
Young people find it easy to make promises and sometimes hard to live up to those promises. But even if the child thinks the "living up" to his word is difficult, he must do it.
For example, if your daughter decides that she wants to do a certain piece of fancy work, or sewing, tell her to think the matter over calmly before making up her mind, and, when she has done that, supply her with the requisite materials and insist that she do the work she has laid out for herself. If she gets so tired of it that she detests it, never mind. She has chosen the employment, and, though she finds it disagree-able, it will assist her in the acquirement of the habit of thoughtful decision. By it she will also have learned much of the lesson which cannot be learned too early, that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
"Eyes and No Eyes," "The Purple Jar," and "Busy Idleness," in Volume III, are especially suitable for the youngest readers. In Volume VI some of the explorers, like Columbus and Marco Polo, exemplify this quality. "Printing, Past and Present," in Volume VIII, contains good examples in self-direction. Most valuable are the following essays in Volume IX: "Theodore Roosevelt," "Elihu Burritt," "How Intellectual Power is Acquired," and "Men of Pluck." In Volume X read "How Shall We Learn to Observe?" And no advice in poetical form could be better than the "Address to the Indolent" and "Polonius to Laertes" in Volume XI.