Curiosity And Concern Should Be Set At Rest
( Originally Published 1923 )
Curiosity and Concern Should be Set at Rest.—To the young child, curiosity about sex or about the origin of new organisms, like all his other curiosities, is perfectly ingenuous. It should be met without any reserve whatever and without any emotional prejudice or coloring. Whatever he wants to know, it is proper for him to know just as far as he can understand. The child's questions do not imply to him all that the answer may imply to the adult, and we must seek to meet his requirements in his own terms through a sympathetic understanding of both what he wants to know and what he can understand, or what will set at rest his curiosity or concern.
Curiosity concerning sex phenomena in the individual or in society—which for the young child usually means the family—should not be stimulated; but neither should it be discouraged or destroyed. By our avoidance of all secrecy or concealment from the very first, the child gradually becomes familiar with many obvious anatomical facts of sex. Here his acquirement is very largely objective, notwithstanding the fact that it comes from his own person and the persons of those about him. We should realize that to the child his own parts and organs are for a long time objective—he looks upon his toes and his hands in the same way as he looks upon his clothes or his toys. It takes time for the "self" to become aware of the various constituents of which it is composed as being its constituents rather than merely parts of the outside world. So the child's information concerning the structure and habits of the animals, of their relations and reproduction is entirely objective and without any reference to himself—and especially without any emotions such as an adult is likely to associate with these phenomena. The facts of reproduction in plants and animals, from observation and from such supplementary information and elaboration as may be necessary, should anticipate many questions, and answer others, so that the child is never for any long period puzzled or annoyed by curiosity, or by confusion and obscurity which he cannot resolve. At the same time he should have acquired the habit of asking freely and immediately such questions as do occur to him.
A wide and intensive acquaintance with living things furnishes, during the early years, a solid foundation for later instruction and interpretation. Such acquaintance is best obtained through contact with domestic animals, or better still in many cases, through the child's own care of pet animals. The tending and breeding of rabbits, guinea pigs, white mice, or kittens, enable him to become early acquainted with the phenomena of copulation, pregnancy, parturition, suckling, and upon this knowledge the parent can build such suggestions as to our customs and practices with respect to care of young, consideration for motherhood, selection of parents, and protection of the home, as occasion will from time to time require.
Above all we must realize that satisfying information is the best treatment for normal, and the best antidote for prurient, curiosity.