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The Situation Of The Young Child

( Originally Published 1923 )

The Situation of the Young Child: Generally speaking, the very young child has no need for information regarding sex or reproduction, and only in exceptional cases does he need special help in the formation of wholesome habits related to sex. His daily life, that is to say, has no direct concern with sexual matters of a kind in which special knowledge would be of help. Nevertheless, there are two considerations which make it highly desirable that the child should be early and wisely introduced to the elementary facts and ideas by those with whom he is most intimate at home.

In the first place, the knowledge regarding sex and reproduction which the child eventually receives will be permanently colored in his mind by the manner and the circumstances of his first impressions. It is there-fore desirable that his first impressions be associated with the love of parents, with having his curiosity satisfied in a sympathetic atmosphere, and with coming to understand his body and its functions as perfectly normal parts of the world of life. He should be introduced to the subject while it can be approached without secrecy, without suspicion, without prejudice. The finding out about reproduction, like the finding out about other facts of life, should be a continuous process of adding little by little and making it his own. The early instruction is necessary as part of this continuous process, laying the foundations for and giving promise of what is to come later.

In the second place, we are in a sense quite without choice in the matter. Unless a child is completely isolated from contact with other persons, or unless a child is decidedly subnormal in his mental powers, sex information and suggestion are sure to come to him from a variety of sources. It is impossible to keep him altogether ignorant. We can hope, at the best, to anticipate information and suggestions from unwholesome sources by establishing early an attitude of confidence in the information he receives at home, and in the parents as sources of further knowledge when he should want it.

Aside from these considerations, one positive and the other negative, there are further reasons why it is desirable for the parents to assume early the guidance of the child in matters pertaining to sex. There is the fact that the young child is much more easily taught than the older child, and that the child who has not had good instruction early is very difficult to reach later. He has no prejudices to stand in the way of accepting what is told him in good faith. He has no preconceptions to oppose to the teaching, and his views have not yet been colored. Indeed, it is precisely because the child is so open to new impressions that neglect here usuaIIy means the establishment of ideas and attitudes that need later to be eradicated, and that in many cases bias the whole mental and moral development of the child, to his detriment.

There is the further fact that there gradually arises out of his normal experiences a certain entirely justified curiosity regarding the origin of babies, and regarding the more obvious differences between the sexes. And this curiosity must be satisfied in one way or another. If it is adequately met by the parents, it will be dismissed, to reappear later when new observations and experiences call for an expansion or elaboration of the elementary knowledge. If it is not satisfied, or if the child receives one set of answers from his parents and a conflicting set from other sources, the curiosity will continue to annoy the child. And in many cases this conflict will result in a growing estrangement betweenparent and child that makes increasingly difficult any further help that the parent may be disposed to render. Indeed, this estrangement may arise from such a conflict even where the parents are altogether frank and truthful. The fantastic tales of his playmates may be more interesting than the matter-of-fact stories of the parents, and it may take the child some time to learn that the parents are in every way more trustworthy than the others.

In order to take advantage of the fact that instruction is easiest during the earlier years, in order to furnish the child the satisfactions of a legitimate curiosity which cannot be safely ignored, and in order to keep open the channel of confidence and communication between the parents and child, guidance should begin with the earliest years.

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