Child's Will

( Originally Published 1907 )

"WE are all born to be educators, to be parents, as we are not born to be engineers, or sculptors, or musicians, or painters. Native capacity for teaching is therefore more common than native capacity for any other calling. . . . But in most people this native sympathy is either dormant or blind or irregular in its action; it needs to be awakened, to be cultivated, and above all to be intelligently directed. . . . The very fact that this instinct is so very strong, and all but universal, and that the happiness of the individual and of the race so largely depends upon its development and intelligent guidance, gives greater force to the demand that its growth may be fostered by favorable conditions; and that it may be made certain and reasonable in its action, instead of being left blind and faltering, as it surely will be without rational cultivation."— Principal James A. McClellan.

The thought of the present chapter is not juvenile education, but the culture of the child's Will.

In this, the aim is suggestion rather than exhaustive discussion.

In its actual life the young child is little more than an animal.

It is endowed with a Will because it is an animal.

It is endowed with reason because it is a moral animal.

The Will of the human animal finds sole explanation in its moral intelligence.

Without moral nature, reason has no purpose. Without reason, or instinct, the Will has no significance. Without the Will, reason is impossible.

Man is justified in his moral nature, and the moral nature becomes possible in the self-disposing Will.

The first, middle and last idea in all Will-training of the child, therefore, is the permanent welfare of a moral being.

At the outset, then, certain basal requirements are to be noted :

That the parent or teacher understand at least some-what of child-nature in general.

That the parent or teacher understand as far as possible the particular child in hand.

That the parent or teacher possess a right Will. That correct methods be employed in culturing the child's Will.

It is, moreover, to be remembered that treatment of the child's Will cannot be reduced to prescribed and specific rules. This for two reasons :

Child-nature and child-Will are individual.

Specific rules would obscure rather than settle the problems involved.

At this point appear some


First Error: That the child's Will should be conformed to a certain standard set up by parent or teacher. This implies a making over of original nature. Original nature can be cultivated and improved, but it always determines the final results.

The true question is this : What is the peculiar Will-character of this particular child? Or how can this particular Will be improved? The child's individual Will is its personal motive-power. It is not like a boiler in a factory, connected with a good or bad set of machinery, and to be replaced by a better, or re-modeled, if not satisfactory. It is a living thing, and is indissolubly related to its mental mechanism; it is the mind's power this mind's power to determine, and therefore cannot be conformed to any standard not indicated by itself.

Second Error: That the child's Will should be broken. " Breaking the Will " is a heresy against the nature of things and a crime against man. The future adult's success depends upon his own kind of Will, and upon some power of that Will as a human function. To "break the Will " is to destroy the soul's power of self-direction; that is, to wreck at the start the child's chances of success. If the Will is properly understood, no one will wish to " break " it.

Teaching the child obedience does not demand an assault upon its Will, either with the calm resistlessness of an iceberg or the fierce clash of arms in battle. The sole intrinsic value of obedience is found in the child's Will; it does not reside in obedience itself, nor in the results of obedience disconnected from Will. The one justifiable goal of enforced obedience is the Will in the child taught to will the right thing. A Will that is merely coerced is not with you, and, so long as coercion lasts, cannot be with you. In other words, enforced obedience does not in itself strengthen Will, except in the spirit of resistance. Enforced obedience may lead to reflection and discovery of the rightfulness of commands, and thus strengthen the Will in-directly. If it does not, or may not, lead to such discovery, it is worse than useless ; it is then a positive injury to the child. The child should be taught the nature of law, but a greater lesson is the nature and value of reason.

Here may be given


Force, physical or other, sparing; reason, abundant, patient and kind.

The application of this maxim must always depend upon the nature of the individual child. The more difficult the case, nevertheless, the more urgent the maxim, and the greater the demand that grows out of its application, to wit :

The parent or teacher must possess reason be reasonable and be able and willing to show the same with self-control and confidence in reason's power.

Do not, then, attempt to conform the child's Will; patiently train it.

Do not try to break the child's Will ; seek its intelligent development.

Do not leave the child's Will-action to its own impulses; culture it to symmetrical conditions.

Always regard the child's Will as an unspeakably holy thing.

Do not relegate the child's Will to chance methods; give it a thoughtful and deliberate education the education of a Prince Royal of the Blood. Such an education involves ;


First, the training process ; Second, the developing process ; Third, the process of symmetry.


This branch of Will-culture has reference to the power of Will as now possessed. It is not an abstract problem ; it is concrete.

Such problem involves two basic principles, Reason and Interest.

The first basic principle is Reason, or Judgment.

The child's Will requires for its perfect training an atmosphere of reason, so that its own judgments may be saturated with the feeling of reasonableness and may impel corresponding volitions.

This principle of reasonableness attaching to Will-acts comes, on analysis, to be broken up into certain questions, which should be kept constantly before the child's mind, but in a way to encourage rather than to harass it : —

1. Is this act correct? Is this the correct way to do the thing in hand? Example— handling a saw or a needle.

2. Is this act complete? Have you left nothing undone? Example making a toy or stitching an apron.

3. Is this act your best? Example — your best recitation, or your best manner.

4. Is this act wise? Is it likely to be followed by satisfactory consequences to yourself? - Example — the desired picnic, or tardiness at school.

5. Is this act understood? Example -- the lesson, or the way of doing a particular thing.

It is primary that arousing the child's understanding enlists its Will. The average child is an animated and creative ganglion of interrogations. Here is a huge opportunity. It may be seized by means of a few familiar questions — Why, How, Where, When, What, Whose — all sharp openers to the young intellect, because perfectly in harmony with its own activities.

Example: A command has been given; the child's mind proceeds to enquire —" Why must I do this?" " Why must I do this in a particular manner?" " Why must I do this at a prescribed time?" " Why must I do this at some particular place?"

Similarly in a different series, as the following : "How must I do this?" "Where must I do this?" "When must I do this?" "What must I do?" "At Whose desire or for whose interest must I do this ? " "What will be the consequences of this act?" "What will be the consequences of omitting this act?" "What experience have I had in similar cases?"

This general suggestion may also be employed by the teacher. It will astonish you to discover how the child's intellect can be electrified by the touch of the interrogative. It will unearth ignorance thus seen to be unnecessary both in the child and in the parent or teacher. Try the following questions as to any common object:

What is this thing?

How is this thing?

Where is this thing?

When is this thing?

Whose is this thing?

Why is this thing?

The fact is, the child is too largely compelled to discover for itself the necessity for such questions, is left to its own impulses for their asking and their answers. This is the rough-and-tumble education of life.

The amount of unintelligent teaching with which the child has to contend, at home and at school, is enormous. Adults do not understand or think; why should the child understand and think? The teacher does not draw all the water out of the well; why should the child be expected to do so, or to know what is at the bottom?

I asked a child how she would ascertain the number of square feet in a certain wall. She repeated the rule. Then I asked, " Why do you multiply the number of feet on one side by the number of feet on the other or longer side?" She did not know. It had never occurred to the teacher to go beyond the rule with the child.

I asked another child why summer is warmer than winter, notwithstanding the greater distance of the sun. She answered, " Because in summer the sun's rays are direct." " But why does that fact make the weather warmer?" She did not know. It had never occurred to the teacher to ask that question.

"A friend of mine," says Professor James, "visiting a school, was asked to examine a young class in geography. Glancing at the book, he said : ` Suppose you should dig a hole in the ground, hundreds of feet deep, how should you find it at the bottom warmer or colder than at the top?' None of the class replying, the teacher said : 'I'm sure they know, but I think you don't ask the question quite rightly. Let me try.' So, taking the book, she asked : ` In what condition is the interior of the globe?' and received the immediate answer from half the class at once: 'The interior of the globe is in a condition of igneous fusion..' "

In this case the prime fault lay with the writer of the geography —or the school committee. But a teacher or a parent ought to break into pieces the usual forms of instruction that come the child's way. No marvel that tasks set to the child's Will train it only imperfectly.

Make doubly sure that the child understands the nature of things as taught and their main purpose. Understanding involves action of the reason, and thus, without direct effort, trains the Will.

6. Is this act right ? Is it right because I have suggested it, or because of a higher law? Example — the use of certain words, or of exaggeration.

It is imperative that Will-training be conducted on the lines of morality. The absence of ethical quality in Will-culture, on the part of the parent or teacher, and of the child, destroys confidence, undermines the foundation of commands, leaves the child without a sense of authority other than that of force, and con-fuses the whole question of any right use of the Will.

If, now, the basis of Will-training in the child is reason or understanding, certain attitudes common at home and in the school require condemnation.

Never dominate the child with that inexcusable tyranny —" Do as I tell you." " Because I say so."

If the command has no better support, it is a species of bullying.

If you have better reasons, but will not kindly declare them, your command is a sure bidder for future anarchy. The child's reason is an acute questioner and judge. It obeys, but inwardly rebels because its master is arbitrary, and its Will is thus demoralized by nursed and secret resistance. Its power has become hostile both to yourself and to the child's welfare.

Never put off an answer to the child's questioning for the reasons connected with a command. The child ought never to be compelled to act or Will blindly. Your reasonableness will develop its faith, always a prime factor of the right Will.

Seldom draw on the child's Will in the form of a command. In the long run, if other things are equal, expressed desire will be doubly efficient. Even when the direct command seems necessary, the reasons which make it your desire can be urged upon the child's attention, and will ultimately win the thing you ought to wish — a willed obedience.

Throughout all engagements of the child's reason, the element of interest plays an important part. In the main it is inevitable, for an awakened mind is an interested mind. The child, may, however, perceive the correctness of an act, its ideal, its present possibility as an ideal, its wisdom and its moral rightness, yet be altogether lacking in the Will attitude which expends itself in Will culture. Such Will attitude must either be forced, or won. If it is forced, nothing is directly gained for the Will. If it is won, it is by so much strengthened and trained. To win the child's Will, its interest must be excited. This requires in-finite trouble and patience, but the method is sure to justify in a better power and quality of Will-action. A Will trained through interest becomes finally a Will that can plod at the goading of necessity or dreary duty, and hold to purpose after all interest save that of duty has waned.

The Child's. Will

The second basic principle, then, is Interest.

The child's interest, now, responds to certain appeals:

To the feeling of curiosity.

To the desire to imitate.

To the desire to emulate.

To the desire to know.

To the desire to benefit itself.

To the desire to please others.

To the desire for independence.

These feelings and desires are incessantly active in every normal child. They may be turned hither and thither, always causing the child to will with that Will it possesses.

It is curious and wills to discover.

It wishes to imitate -- and wills thought, action, speech.

It wishes to emulate and wills to equal others.

It wishes to know, to possess serious knowledge --and wills the exercise of its faculties.

It wishes to benefit itself —and wills the discovery and use of means appropriate.

It wishes to please others and wills its conduct into line.

It wishes to be independent and wills judgment and freedom.

The lessons for parent and teacher are evident:

1. Keep the child's curiosity vigorously alert.

2. Train the imitative desires wisely, in the matter of selection, avoidance, discrimination and manner of imitating. Is it merely aping? Repress. Is it imitating poorly? Improve. Is it imitating unwisely? Re-press. Is it imitating in a beneficial manner? Encourage. See that it has the best possible examples, and incite interest to do its own best.

3. Imitation may lead to emulation. All the suggestions in regard to imitation apply here. But imitation may be spontaneous, and if right, should be made voluntary. Emulation always involves the Will. The difference between imitation and emulation may be illustrated. John repeats the language used by his father, as a parrot might do, without any act of the Will beyond that required for the proper control of his vocal organs. This is imitation. But John may be taught to admire his father's ways, principles, purposes ; to think about them, and to desire that they may appear in himself. His imitation has now become emulation.

Is the child emulating a bad example? Turn the capacity in another direction. Is it emulating a good example incompletely? Improve. Is it emulating for an inferior purpose? Direct its attention to a higher. Bring to its mind matters and persons worthy of emulation, and invest the idea of emulation with every possible interest. You are seeking to train the child's Will; noble emulation is one of nature's great provisions.

4. Cultivate the desire to know. Ask a thousand questions about the child's affairs. Encourage it to bombard you with questions of its own inventing. This thing has its limit, to be sure, but the limit is large. Questions are the crackling noises of an opening brain.

Never reply to questions, " Oh, because!" "Oh, never mind ! " " Oh, don't bother me ! "

If you are too busy to answer just now, make a future engagement to attend to the matters, and keep the appointment.

If the child cannot now understand, promise to answer its questions when it can, and fulfil that promise.

If you do not know, honestly confess. Then look up that matter as a thing of first importance, and give the child the desired information.

Secure interest in all tasks. The uninteresting is the unwilled. Example : Sewing aprons merely to keep busy will very likely be poor work; sewing on the next party dress is an intensely interesting thing securing good work, and is therefore an education. Or, again: The study of the geography of Spain-ruled Cuba a few years ago was a dull task poorly performed. " What's the use ! " Studying that Cuba where your brother had gone to fight Spain's tyranny and plant the Stars and Stripes was " just fun." The " fun of the thing" awakened the Will and illuminated geography.

5. Cultivate the child's desire to please and benefit itself. This desire is one of nature's strongest motors in man, and should be intelligently developed and regulated. It works injury only when misunderstood or wrongly applied. Analyzed, it divides into two impulses, that of self-interest and that of selfishness. A few characteristics will reveal the difference between these forms of personal motive.

Self-interest seeks the best interest of self ; Selfishness seeks a false benefit which ultimately injures self.

Self-interest is ascertained by a study of law; selfishness is conceived in indifference to law. The one is represented by liberty ; the other by license.

Self-interest respects the consensus of opinion; selfishness ignores the general opinion.

Self-interest is always concerned with the highest welfare of others; for man's life is a community-organism, and his highest interest is realized through law-

Let the Child Prophesy Fair

abiding independence subordinated to service; selfishness isolates itself from the demands of relations to others, and realizes in law-defying independence requiring service for self regardless of others.

Self-interest is an eternal reality; selfishness is eternally a denial of that reality.

Self-interest forever fulfils itself and creates larger capacities and huger worlds of opportunity; selfishness forever defeats itself, destroys capacity for welfare, and ultimates in the world of the infinitely little.

Hence, to cultivate the child's desire for its own benefit and pleasure is to cultivate true ideals of happiness and welfare. This means a reasonable and kind process of education resulting in the elimination of selfishness from life and the substitution therefor of a true self-interest.

How, then, shall the child's desire to please and benefit itself be trained?

By appeal to experience. The child has sought to please itself selfishly; see to it that disagreeable con-sequences are emphasized in its thought and memory. If none are likely to be apparent, bring them about, not necessarily as punishments, but as natural consequences and wholesome lessons.

If the child has subordinated itself, bring out clearly the beneficial results. If none are apparent, manage the matter in such a way as to secure them, even if artificially.

Always must the child's Will be kept in mind. The will to do for a real pleasure or benefit will certainly be stronger after proper experience duly emphasized than the will to do for fancied happiness or welfare shown in experience to lead to unhappiness.

By appeal to the love of reward. Reward is a fruit of the nature of things. It should have a large but regulated place in the child's life. Here is perfect stimulation to right exercise of Will. Hence,— Do not reduce the child's life to the plane of mere duty.

Do not compel it to perform an act simply because you order it. Suggest rewards of some sort — gifts, or pleasure promised, or benefits upheld as certain to come about naturally.

Do not seek to dominate the child's conduct by remote or abstract ideas. Teach the remote through the present, the abstract through the concrete.

By appeal to theory. Theory builds on the practical for the practical. It must be made to appear to the child in a concrete form as a concrete value. If the child does not perceive such value, its interest ceases and the Will flags. If it suspects that theories are mere visions and personal notions, it loses respect for your teaching. It must in some way be made to get hold of principles and their reality, so that it may intuitively apply them to various practical cases. The circles called home, street, school or playground, neighborhood, village or city, are all ramified by certain general principles which guarantee welfare. We may suggest them in the word " respect."

Respect for the feelings of others.

Respect for the rights of others.

Respect for the opinions of others.

Respect for the customs of others.

Respect for the beliefs of others.

Respect for the opportunities of others.

Respect for the liberty of others.

Respect for the destiny of others.

Such principles may be thrown into ideals or maxims and made incessantly prominent in all the child's relations to the various circles of life.

6. Cultivate the child's desire for the happiness and welfare of others. The preceding suggestions inevitably make for these ends. But life ought at times to forget even self interest. Encourage, therefore, action for others which does not think of self. A thousand opportunities are afforded for this effort. Certain simple rules may be indicated :

Request the child; do not order it.

On compliance, express your thankfulness.

For unusual obedience, manifest appreciation.

For voluntary service, exhibit a lively gratification. Occasionally provide some unexpected pleasure. For exceptional thoughtfulness, indicate corresponding approbation.

7. Cultivate the child's desire for independence. With all safeguards thrown around it, the child must, in countless ways, think, determine, act for itself. The more frequently and fully it does so, under wise super-vision, the more surely will its Will-power be trained, and its future be mortgaged for the largest success. A right spirit of independence may be cultivated,

By appeal to the love of ownership. The child ought to own many things in " fee simple," as it were. Its ownership should be thoroughly respected, and seldom overshadowed by any superior claim. In addition to possession in the ordinary run of life, it should also be made owner of special things with responsibilities or unusual opportunities connected therewith, as a piece of land, an animal, a boat, a set of tools, some kind of mechanism for making various articles, materials to be worked over, etc.

By the appeal of the practical in society. Under proper restrictions, stores, shops, factories, farms, public buildings, and the like, afford fine opportunities to acquire familiarity with common objects and common ways of doing things which inevitably minister to the child's sense and power of independence in times of special need.

By throwing the child upon its own resources and judgment, as far as may, in any given case, be wise. This requires that it be given as large a measure of liberty as is compatible with a long-headed view of its best welfare. Sooner or later it must depend upon itself. The present question is, shall its future freedom be that of liberty or that of license? The man's liberty must grow out of the child's law-governed independence.

Do not smother independence, therefore, but regulate it.

Do not tie the child to your tether of personal notion. Cut the apron-string, or get a long rope. This increases your care, but it builds the child's Will.

If the child gets hurt in its freedom experience is a good teacher. If it falls into error there is your opportunity to preach an illustrated sermon like a story-teller, with all points suggested above for divisions, and self-regulated independence as the main lesson.

Never say " No " to a child merely to relieve yourself of trouble.

Never say No " to a child without stopping to think.

Do your first thinking silently. If favorable, repeat the process to the child. If unfavorable, and you wish to give the child a lesson in experience, repeat the process aloud and say, " Yes." If you are found to have been mistaken, reason the matter out to the preservation of the child's respect for you, notwithstanding. If you were right, abstain from gloating, but impress the lesson handsomely. If your judgment is unfavorable to the child's desires, and you do not wish to chance the lesson of experience, repeat the process of thought and say " No."

Always make the " No " as easy as possible.

Never say a reasonable " No " and change to a thoughtless " Yes."

Never say " No " when " Yes " would be exactly as

wise. Avoid the habit of senseless objection.

Never say " Yes " and change to a thoughtless " No." Never say, " Oh, I don't care ! " This shows that you rule or permit without thought.

If the problem will not resolve itself to your thought, state the case fairly, and win the child's assent to your doubt. Cultivate independence, again,

By inducing the child to launch out, now and then, in some heroic venture, always forefended and watched over.

By encouraging heroic endurance of consequences. By encouraging frank and heroic assumption of blame for mistakes of its own.

By encouraging modest appropriation of legitimate praise and satisfaction for favorable outcomes of independent decisions, conduct and ventures.

These suggestions will readily recall to mind various illustrations as to means and methods, and need not be further elaborated.

Now, the child's interest is usually spontaneous and natural. But nature constantly indicates that spontaneous interest may be invented. It is the possibility of invented interest that enables Professor James to state the following ;


First law of interest: "Any object not interesting in itself may become interesting through becoming associated with an object in which an interest already exists. The two associated ideas grow, as it were; the interesting portion sheds its quality over the whole; and thus things not interesting in their own right borrow an interest which becomes as real and as strong as that of any natively interesting thing."

This law suggests three practical rules :

1. Associate in the child's life interesting things with uninteresting things ; or, cause the uninteresting things to borrow interest from things that are in any way possessed of interest to the child. As this rule may be divided,

2. " Begin with the line of his native interests, and offer him objects that have some immediate connection with these.

3. " Step by step connect with these first objects and experiences the later objects and ideas which you wish to instil. Associate the new with the old in some natural and telling way, so that the interest, being shed along from point to point, finally suffuses the entire system of objects of thought."

In a few words, get hold of the child's interest in some way, immediate or remote, in the subject or task in hand; then connect its interest, as it exists, by any roundabout way, with the thing or act desired.

Second law of interest: "Voluntary attention can-not be continuously sustained; it comes in beats."

This is true in the adult mind. Voluntary attention in the child's mind is much more fickle ; hence the value of the prescription :

" The subject must be made to show new aspects of itself ; to prompt new questions ; in a word, to change.

" From an unchanging subject the attention inevitably wanders away. You can test this by the simplest possible case of sensorial attention. Try to attend steadfastly to a dot on the paper or on the wall. You presently find that one or the other of two things has happened : either your field, of vision has become blurred, so that you now see nothing distinct at all, or else you have involuntarily ceased to look at the dot in question and are looking at something else. But, if you ask yourself successive questions about the dot — how big it is, how far, of what shape, what shade of color, etc.; in other words, if you turn it over, if you think of it in various ways, and along with various kinds of associations — you can keep your mind upon it for a comparatively long time."

Third law of interest. In the child's life the concrete is always the realest and the most interesting.

All is things. The mind constantly concretes the abstract. It is this fact that gives life an enormous fictitious interest examples : units = apples, dolls, etc. ; freedom = eating all the jam you want ; God = a huge man who is invisible, but, because He is omnipresent, can be caught in an old shoe and tied up — a real case in the family of a religious professor of physics.

Make the child's Will, therefore, a mover of concrete realities.

Always is it to be remembered that the child is pre-eminently a subject of education. And what education is, let Professor James tell us:

It cannot be better described than by calling it the organization of acquired habits of conduct and tendencies to behavior."

At home or school, this process of "organizing acquired habits " involves a great aphorism:

"No reception without reaction, no impression with-out correlative expression."

The preceding basic principles of reason and of interest, with the suggestions noted, simply mean that whatever properly goes into the child's mind should be worked over, by itself, in its concrete life. All such reactions tend to train the Will. Right reaction equals right Will-exercise. Similarly, all right impressions upon the child's mind are to be returned in some kind of expression in action. If you arouse judgment or reason and interest, you inevitably secure reaction and expression in life. The rule is infallible.


Right training of the child's Will must, in the nature of the case, result in more or less increase of its power. But the specific end, a stronger Will in the child, be-comes now the larger goal.

The Will is merely the mind's ability to put forth volitions.

The mind, willing repeatedly in any given direction, acquires greater ability to will in some directions.

The mind, willing readily and strongly in one direction, may be so trained in that direction as to will readily and strongly in other directions. This has been disputed, but it seems obvious. He who acquires facility in performing a certain kind of mental task may thereby acquire power for other tasks. He who successfully resists one temptation prepares himself for successful resistance of another temptation. A will trained in the use of reason and by appeals to a true interest, becomes a better and stronger Will for response to the naked call of duty. It is not necessary to ac-quire power for all different kinds of acts; the soul stores power adequate to untried cases. Any general faculty of the mind may be developed as a general faculty.

Development of Will regards, indirectly its present state, but primarily the increase of power wherein the mind lacks. The mind possesses a certain ability to will at present; it may be educated, unfolded, so as to acquire power to put forth volitions more strongly for any purpose.

For such development of Will-power the basic principle is now practice.

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