Autosuggestion And The Child
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IN treating children it should be remembered that autosuggestion is primarily not a remedy but a means of insuring healthy growth. It should not be reserved for times when the child is sick, but provided daily, with the same regularity as meals.
Children grow up weakly not from lack of energy, but because of a waste and misapplication of it. The inner conflict, necessitated by the continual process of adaptation which we call growth, is often of quite unnecessary violence, not only making a great temporary demand on the child's vital energy, but even locking it up in the Unconscious in the form of " complexes," so that its future life is deprived of a portion of its due vitality. A wise use of autosuggestion will preclude these disasters. Growth will be ordered and controlled. The necessary conflicts will be brought to a successful issue, the unnecessary ones avoided.
Autosuggestion may very well begin before the child is born. It is a matter of common knowledge that a mother must be shielded during pregnancy from any experience involving shock or fright, since these exert a harmful effect on the developing embryo, and may in extreme cases result in abortion, or in physical deformity or mental weakness in the child. Instances of this ill-effect are comparatively common, and the link between cause and effect is often unmistakable. There is no need to point out that these cases are nothing more than spontaneous autosuggestions operating in the maternal Unconscious; since during pregnancy the mother moulds her little one not only by the food she eats but also by the thoughts she thinks. The heightened emotionality characteristic of this state bespeaks an increased tendency to outcropping, and so an in-creased suggestibility. Thus spontaneous autosuggestions are far more potent than in the normal course of life. But, happily, induced autosuggestions are aided by the same conditions, so that the mother awake to her powers and duties can do as much good as the ignorant may do harm.
Without going into debatable questions, such as the possibility of predetermining the sex of the child to be born, one can find many helpful ways of aiding and benefiting the growing life by autosuggestive means. The mother should avoid with more than ordinary care all subjects, whether in reading or conversation, which bear on evil in any form, and she should seek whatever uplifts the mind and furnishes it with beautiful and joyous thought. But the technical methods of autosuggestion can also be brought into action.
The mother should suggest to herself that her organism is furnishing the growing life with all it needs, and that the child will be strong and healthy in mind, in body, and in character.
These suggestions should be in general terms bearing 'on qualities of undoubted good, for obviously it is not desirable to define an independent life too narrowly. They need consist only of a few sentences, and should be formulated night and morning immediately before or after the general formula. Furthermore, when the mother's thoughts during the day stray to the subject of her child, she can take this oppor tunity to repeat the whole or some part of the particular suggestion she has chosen. These few simple measures will amply suffice. Any undue tendency of the mind to dwell on the thought of the child, even in the form of good suggestions, should not be encouraged. A normal mental life is in itself the best of conditions for the welfare of both mother and child. For her own sake however the mother might well suggest that the delivery will be painless and easy.
The only direct means of autosuggestion applicable to the child for some months after birth is that of the caress, though it must be remembered that the mental states of mother and nurse are already stamping themselves on the little mind, forming it inevitably for better or worse. Should any specific trouble arise, the method of Mlle. Kauffmant should be applied by the mother. Taking the child on her knee she should gently caress the affected part, thinking the while of its reinstatement in perfect health. It seems generally advisable to express these thoughts in words. Obviously, the words themselves will mean nothing to an infant of two or three months, but they will hold the mother's thought in the right channel, and this thought, by the tone of her voice, the touch of her hand, will be communicated to the child. Whether telepathy plays any part in this process we need not inquire, but the baby is psychically as well as physically so dependent on the mother that her mental states are communicated by means quite ineffective with adults. Love in itself exerts a suggestive power of the highest order.
When the child shows signs of understanding what is said to it, before it begins itself to speak, the following method should be applied. After the little one has fallen asleep at night the mother enters the room, taking care not to awaken it, and stands about a yard from the head of the cot. She proceeds then to formulate in a whisper such suggestions as seem necessary. If the child is ailing the suggestion might take the form of the phrase " You are getting better " repeated twenty times. If it is in health the general formula will suffice. Particular suggestions may also be or mulated bearing on the child's health, character, intellectual development, etc. These of course should be in accordance with the instructions given in the chapter devoted to particular suggestions. On withdrawing, the mother should again be careful not to awaken the little one. Should it show signs of waking, the whispered command " sleep," repeated several times, will lull it again to rest. Baudouin recommends that during these suggestions the mother should lay her hand on the child's forehead. The above, however, is the method preferred by Coué.
This nightly practice is the most effective means of conveying autosuggestions to the child-mind. It should be made a regular habit which nothing is allowed to interrupt. If for any reason the mother is unable to perform it, her place may be taken by the father, the nurse, or some relative. But for obvious reasons the duty belongs by right to the mother, and, when a few weeks' practice has revealed its beneficent power, few mothers will be willing to delegate it to a less suitable agent.
This practice, as stated above, may well begin before the child has actually learned to speak, for its Unconscious will already be forming a scheme more or less distinct of the significance of the sounds that reach it, and will not fail to gather the general tenor of the words spoken. The date at which it should be discontinued is less easy to specify. Growth, to be healthy, must carry with it a gradual increase in independence and self-sufficiency. There seems to be some slight danger that the practice of nightly suggestions, if continued too long, might prolong unduly the state of dependence upon parental support. Reliable indications on this point are furnished, however, by the child itself. As soon as it is able to face its daily problems for itself, when it no longer runs to the parent for help and advice in every little difficulty, the time will have arrived for the parental suggestions to cease.
As soon as a child is able to speak it should be taught to repeat the general formula night and morning in the same way as an adult. Thus when the time comes to discontinue the parent's suggestions their effect will be carried on by those the child formulates itself. There is one thing more to add : in the case of boys it would seem better at the age of seven or eight for the father to replace the mother in the rôle of suggester, while the mother, of course, performs the office throughout for her girls. Should any signs appear that the period of puberty is bringing with it undue difficulties or perils, the nightly practice might be resumed in the form of particular suggestions bearing on the specific difficulties. It must be remembered, however, that the child's sexual problem is essentially different from that of the adult, and the suggestions must therefore be in the most general terms. Here as elsewhere the end alone should be suggested, the Unconscious being left free to choose its own means.
As soon as the child has learnt to speak it should not be allowed to suffer pain. The best method to adopt is that practised by Coué in his consultations.
Let the child close its eyes and repeat with the parent, " It's going, going gone ! " while the latter gently strokes the affected part. But as soon as possible the child should be encouraged to overcome smaller difficulties for itself, until the parent's help is eventually almost dispensed with. This is a powerful means of developing self-reliance and fostering the sense of superiority to difficulties which will be invaluable in later life.
That children readily take to the practice is shown by these examples, which are again quoted from letters received by Coué.
" your youngest disciple is our little David. The poor little chap had an accident to-day. Going up in the lift with his father, when quite four feet up, he fell out on his head and on to a hard stone floor. He was badly bruised and shocked, and when put to bed lay still and kept saying : ` ça passe, ça passe,' over and over again, and then looked up and said, ` no, not gone away.' To-night he said again ` ça passe' and then added, ` nearly gone.' So he is better."
B. K. (London). 8 January, 1922.
Another lady writes :
" Our cook's little niece, aged .23 months-the one we cured of bronchitis—gave herself a horrid blow on the head yesterday. Instead of crying she began to smile, passed her hand over the place and said sweetly, `ça passe.' Hasn't she been well brought up?"
All these methods are extremely simple and involve little expenditure of time and none of money. They have proved their efficacy over and over again in Nancy, and there is no reason why a mother of average intelligence and conscientiousness should not obtain equally good results. Naturally, first attempts will be a little awkward, but there is no need for discouragement on that account. Even supposing that through the introduction of effort some slight harm were done—and the chance is comparatively remote-this need cause no alarm. The right autosuggestion will soon counteract it and produce positive good in its place. But any mother who has practised auto-suggestion for herself will be able correctly to, apply it to her child.
At first glance the procedure may seem revolutionary, but think it over for a moment and you will see that it is as old as the hills. It is merely a systematisation on a scientific basis of the method mothers have intuitively practised since the world began. " Sleep, baby, sleep. Angels are watching o'er thee,"—what is this but a particular suggestion? How does a wise mother proceed when her little one falls and grazes its hand? She says something of this kind: "Let me kiss it and then it will be well." She kisses it, and with her assurance that the pain has gone the child runs happily back to its play. This is only a charming variation of the method of the caress.