Parents and Children Volume 2 Chapter 16



A Serious Study for Parents

          Discipline is not Punishment.—‘What part does Discipline play in your system of education?’ We should hail the query as manifesting a cheering degree of interest if we were not quite sure that our interlocutor uses discipline as a euphuism for punishment. That conviction puts one’s mind into the attitude of protest. In the first place, we have no system of education. We hold that great things, such as nature, life, education, are ‘cabined, cribbed, confined,’ in proportion as they are systematised. We have a method of education, it is true, but method is no more than a way to an end, and is free, yielding, adaptive as Nature herself. Method has a few comprehensive laws according to which details shape themselves, as one naturally shapes one’s behaviour to the acknowledged law that fire burns. System, on the contrary, has an infinity of rules and instructions as to what you are to do and how you are to do it. Method in education follows Nature humble; stands aside and gives her fair play.

          A Method is not a System.—System leads Nature: assists, supplements, rushes in to undertake
those very tasks which Nature has made her own since the world was. Does Nature endow every young thing, child or kitten, with a wonderful capacity for inventive play? Nay, but, says System, I can help here: I will invent games for the child and help his plays, and make more use of this power of his than unaided Nature knows how. So Dame System teaches the child to play, and he enjoys it; but, alas, there is no play in him, no initiative, when he is left to himself; and so on, all along the lines. System is fussy and zealous and produces enormous results—in the teacher!

          A Wise Passiveness.—Method pursues a ‘wise passiveness.’ You watch the teacher and are hardly aware that he is doing anything. The children take the initiative, but, somehow, the result here is in these and not in the teacher. They develop, become daily more and more of persons, with
                   ‘The reason firm, the temperate will,
                   Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill.’
Such as these are the golden fruits which ripen under the eyes of the parent, who is wise to discriminate between the rôle of Nature and that of the educator, who follows sympathetically and dutifully the lead of the great mother.
          ‘Oh, then you have no discipline. I thought not. I daresay it would answer very well to leave children to themselves and make them happy. Children are always good when they are happy, are they not?’ Not so fast, dear reader. He who would follow a great leader must needs endeavour himself, Ohne Hast ohne Rast; and the divine lead which we call Nature is infinitely blessed in the following, but the
way is steep to tread and hard to find, and the uphill work is by no means to be confounded with leisurely strolling in ways of our own devising.
          The parent who would educate his children, in any large sense of the word, must lay himself out for high thinking and lowly living; the highest thinking indeed possible to the human mind and the simplest, directest living.
          This thought of discipline, for example, is one of the large comprehensive ideas which must inform and direct the life, rather than be gathered up into a rule, easy to remember and easy to apply, now and then. If Tommy is naughty, whip him and send him to bed—is a ready-reckoner kind of rule, handy to have about one, and is the sort of thing which many people mean by discipline. Now we would not say that punishment is never to be used, very much otherwise. Neither would we say that physic is never to be taken. But punishment, like physic, is a casualty only of occasional occurrence at the worst, and punishment and physic alike are reduced to a minimum in proportion as we secure healthy conditions of body and mind. We are not anxious to lay down canons for punishment. Mr Herbert Spencer has not perhaps said the last word, but he has given us a quite convenient rule to go on with.

          Punishment by Consequences.—A child should be punished by the natural consequences of his offence. To carry this suggestion out au pied de la lettre would often enough mean lasting, even fatal, injury to the child, bodily and mental. You cannot let the indolent child be punished by ignorance, or the wilful and adventurous child break a limb;
but, so far as punishments have been allowed to become necessary, the nature of the offence gives one a clue to a suitable punishment. The child who does not eat his porridge goes without his plum. This is, anyway, a punishment in kind, perhaps the nearest approach to natural consequences which it is advisable to try.

          Children rather Enjoy Punishments.—But parents should face the fact that children rather enjoy punishments. In these they find the opportunities, so frequent in story-books, so rare in real life, for showing a fine pluck. The child who is in punishment is very commonly enjoying himself immensely, because he is respecting himself intensely.

          Heroism in Bearing Penalties.—There is a bit of heroism in the bearing of a penalty which is very apt to do away with any sense of contrition for the offence; and the plucky little fellow, who takes his punishment with an air is by no means a bad and hardened young offender; but is an economist of opportunities, making the best of what comes to hand for his own real education. His mother’s distress, his father’s disapproval, these are quite different matters, and carry no compensating sense of hardihood. Reflections like these lead one to spare the rod, not at all out of over-sensibility to the child’s physical suffering, for we must have him endure hardness if we mean to make a man of him, but purely because it is not easy to find a punishment that does not defeat its own ends.

          Wrongdoing followed by its own Penalties.—The light smart slap with which the mother visits the little child when he is naughty, is often both effective and educative. It changes the current of baby’s
thoughts, and he no longer wishes to pull his sister’s hair. But should not the slap be a last resort when no other way is left of changing his thoughts? With the older child a theory of punishment rests less upon the necessity to change the culprit’s thoughts than upon the hope of forming a new association of ideas, that is, of certain pains and penalties inevitably attached to certain forms of wrongdoing. This, we know too well, is a teaching of life, and is not to be overlooked in education. The experience of each of us goes to prove that every breach of law, in thought, or deed, is attended by its own penalties, immediate or remote, and the child who is not brought up to know that ‘due follows deed, in course,’ is sent out to his first campaign undrilled and untrained, a raw recruit.
          Our contention is twofold: (a), that the need for punishment is mostly preventable; and (b), that the fear of punishment is hardly ever so strong a motive as the delight of the particular wrongdoing in view.

          Punishment is not Reformative.—If punishment were necessarily reformative, and able to cure us all of those ‘sins we have a mind to,’ why, the world would be a very good world; for no manner of sin escapes its present punishment. The fact is, not that punishment is unnecessary or that it is useless, but that it is inadequate and barely touches our aim; which is, not visitation for the offence, but the correction of that fault of character of which the offence is the outcome. Jemmy tells lies and we punish him; and by so doing we mark our sense of the offence; but, probably, no punishment could be invented drastic enough to cure Jemmy of telling lies in the future; and this is the thing to be aimed at. No, we must
look deeper; we must find out what weak place in character, what false habit of thinking, leads Jemmy to tell lies, and we must deal with this false habit in the only possible way, by forming the contrary habit of true thinking, which will make Jemmy grow up a true man. ‘I think I have never told a lie since,’ said a lady, describing the single conversation in which her father cured her, when she was a child, of lying by setting up and altogether new train of thought.

          Good Habits the best Schoolmasters.—Not more spurts of occasional punishment, but the incessant watchfulness and endeavour which go to the forming and preserving of the habits of the good life, is what we mean by discipline; and, from this point of view, never were there such disciplinarians as the parents who labour on the lines we would indicate. Every habit of courtesy, consideration, order, neatness, punctuality, truthfulness, is itself a schoolmaster, and orders life with the most unfailing diligence.
          A habit is so easily formed, so strong to compel. There are few parents who would not labour diligently if for every month’s labour they were able to endow one of their children with a large sum of money. But, in a month, a parent many begin to form a habit in his child of such value that money is a bagatelle by comparison. We have often urged that the great discovery which modern science has brought to the aid of the educator is, that every habit of the life sets up, as it were, a material record in the brain tissues. We all know that we think as we are used to think and act as we are used to act. Ever since man began to notice the ways of his own mind, this law of habit has been matter of common knowledge, and has been more or less acted upon by parents and
and other trainers of children. The well-brought-up child has always been a child carefully trained in good habits. But it is only within our own day that it has been possible to lay down definite laws for the formation of habits. Until now, the mother who wished to train her children in such and such a good habit has found herself hindered by a certain sense of casualty.

          ‘Always Telling.’—‘I’m sure I am always telling her’—to keep her drawers neat, or to hold up her head and speak nicely, or to be quick and careful about an errand, says the poor mother, with tears in her eyes; and indeed this, of ‘always telling’ him or her is a weary process for the mother; dull, because hopeless. She goes on ‘telling’ to deliver her own soul, for she has long since ceased to expect any result: and we know how dreary is work without hope. But, perhaps, even his mother does not know how unutterably dreary is this ‘always telling,’ which produces nothing, to the child. At first he is fretful and impatient under the patter of idle words; then he puts up with the inevitable; and comes at last hardly to be aware that the thing is being said. As for any impression on his character, any habit really formed, all this labour is without result; the child does the thing when he cannot help it, and evades as often as he can. And the poor disappointed mother says, ‘I’m sure I’ve tried as much as any mother to train my children in good habits, but I have failed.’ She is not altogether dispirited, however. The children have not the habits she wished to train them in; but they grow up warm-hearted, good-natured, bright young people, by no means children to be ashamed of. All the same, the mother’s sense of failure is a monition to be trusted.
Our failures in life are, perhaps, due, for the most part to the defects of our qualities; and, therefore, it is not enough to send children into the world with just the inheritance of character they get from their parents.

          Some Practical Counsels.—Let me offer a few definite practical counsels to a parent who wishes to deal seriously with a bad habit. First.—Let us remember that this bad habit has made its record in the brain. Second.—There is only one way of obliterating such record; the absolute cessation of the habit for a considerable space of time, say some six or eight weeks. Third.—During this interval new growth, now cell connections, are somehow or other taking place, and the physical seat of the evil is undergoing a natural healing. Fourth.—But the only way to secure this pause is to introduce some new habit as attractive to the child as is the wrong habit you set yourself to cure. Fifth.—As the bad habit usually arises from the defect of some quality in the child it should not be difficult for the parent who knows his child’s character to introduce the contrary good habit. Sixth.—Take a moment of happy confidence between parent and child; introduce, by tale or example, the stimulating idea; get the child’s will with you. Seventh.—Do not tell him to do the new thing, but quietly and cheerfully see that he does it on all possible occasions, for weeks if need be, all the time stimulating the new idea, until it takes great hold of the child’s imagination. Eighth.—Watch most carefully against any recurrence of the bad habit. Ninth.—Should the old fault recur, do not condone it. Let the punishment, chiefly the sense of your estrangement, be acutely felt. Let the
child feel the shame not only of having done wrong, but of having done wrong when it was perfectly easy to avoid the wrong and do the right. Above all, ‘watch unto prayer’ and teach your child dependence upon divine aid in this warfare of the spirit; but, also, the absolute necessity for his own efforts.

          An Inquisitive Child.—Susie is an inquisitive little girl. Her mother is surprised and not always delighted to find that the little maid is constantly on voyages of discovery, of which the servants speak to each other as prying and poking. Is her mother engaged in talk with a visitor or the nurse—behold, Susie is at her side, sprung from nobody knows where. Is a confidential letter being read aloud—Susie is within earshot. Does the mother think she has put away a certain book where the children cannot find it—Susie volunteers to produce it. Does she tell her husband that cook has asked for two days’ leave of absence—up jumps Susie, with all the ins and outs of the case. ‘I really don’t know what to do with the child. It is difficult to put down one’s foot and say you ought not to know this or that or the other. Each thing in itself is harmless enough; but it is a little distressing to have a child who is always peering about for gossipy information.’ Yes it is tiresome, but is not a case for despair, nor for thinking hard things of Susie, certainly not for accepting the inevitable.

          The Defect of her Quality.—Regarding this tiresome curiosity as the defect of its quality, the mother casts about for the quality, and, behold, Susie is reinstated. What ails the child is an inordinate desire for knowledge, run to seed, and allowed to spend itself on unworthy objects. When the right moment comes,
introduce Susie to some delightful study, of Nature, for example, which will employ all her prying proclivities. Once the new idea has taken possession of the little girl, a little talk should follow about the unworthiness of filling one’s thoughts with trifling matters so that nothing really interesting can get in. For weeks together see that Susie’s mind is too full of large matters to entertain the small ones; and, once the inquisitive habit has been checked, encourage the child’s active mind to definite progressive work on things worth while. Susie’s unworthy curiosity will soon cease to be a trial to her parents.