I find that people’s grandest mistakes and most unutterable failures are connected with the training of their children. Thus it has been in all time, and even in the families of holy people. Isaac seems to have had his hands more than full with son Esau; and Jacob found plenty of trouble among his thirteen. David’s sons turned out sadly, some of them. It is no wonder that Ishmael went out of the ways of Abraham so quickly, when Abraham turned him adrift so early; and while Lot’s children seem to have been a desperate set, Mrs. Lot was most likely to blame for that, especially with Lot’s going to live in a wicked place like Sodom just for gain, which no father of a family should have done. It appears to me that when there is failure, we can usually go back and put our finger on some error and say: “Here is where the wrong began.” But then it is always easier to see the beginning from the end, than the end from the beginning. We know well enough roads that we have travelled over! Then when the evil is done, it is often too late to mend it. How circumspectly then we should go over unknown ground, where a false step may be fatal!
I remember Mrs. Winton and I went to see Helen when little Tom was a fortnight old. Helen seemed to have some sense of her responsibility, and she said: “What a charge I shall have when it is time to begin to train and educate this child!”
Mrs. Winton looked up: “Helen, you should have begun to train and to educate a fortnight ago. Education should begin with the first hour of a babe’s life, and it should from that hour have a fixed end.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Helen.
“The end of our education should be to develop the child in every direction, into the very best and highest which it is capable of attaining. We must always remember that the child will live forever in another world than this; that in this world it will be a member of a social system, and will have duties to its race. It is also an individual, with its private and particular nature and emotions, which are to be regarded in its up-bringing. So, Helen, begin at once to train your babe: as an individual, with regard to its rights; and as a member of society, with regard to its duties.”
“But, Mrs. Winton, what can one teach so young a child?”
“Patience is the child’s earliest lesson. It can be taught to wait. Don’t give it what it is crying for while it cries. Calm it tenderly first, and then promptly give the food or the toy; as it grows older, whatever it is proper for it to have: it soon associates receiving with quiet and pleasant asking. So you can teach the child, as a member of society, to cry softly, and not disturb the house with wild shrieks. You can calm and soothe a very young child to mild crying, and get it habituated not to roar and bellow.”
“I always noticed, Mrs. Winton,” I said, “that your children cried quietly, and did not fill the neighborhood with shrieks.”
“I always pitied them when they were hurt, not in the ratio of the noise they made, as many do, but in the ratio of their gentleness about their trouble. Children love sympathy, to be petted and pitied — if shrieking like Comanches is the price of notice, of course they will shriek. I used to say ‘softly, softly, and then I shall feel so sorry for you. Ah! what a good child to be so patient!’ They learned a pride in patience and endurance. I have seen mothers feeding a child with two spoons, nurse and mother feeding together, to keep the child from screaming as soon as its mouth was empty. The thing is a fact, and ruined the child’s temper and digestion. A child should be taught to wait patiently while its food is preparing, and while itself is being made ready to eat it. Naturally, the little one is the centre of its own universe, and believes the world was made when it was, and for it. We must early teach the child, in patience, gentleness and generosity, to know that it has compeers whose rights are as settled as its own.”