But it has not been so readily discerned that the same method is needful in order to form a habit of self-denial in doing good to others. It has been supposed that while children must be forced, by authority, to be self-denying and prudent in regard to their own happiness, it may properly be left to their own discretion whether they will practice any self-denial in doing good to others. But the more difficult a duty is, the greater is the need of parental authority in forming a habit which will make that duty easy.
In order to secure this, some parents turn their earliest efforts to this object. They require the young child always to offer to others a part of every thing which it receives; always to comply with all reasonable requests of others for service; and often to practice little acts of self-denial, in order to secure some enjoyment for others. If one child receives a present of some nicety, he is required to share it with all his brothers and sisters. If one asks his brother to help him in some study or sport, and is met with a denial, the parent requires the unwilling child to act benevolently, and give up some of his time to increase his brother's enjoyment. Of course, in such an effort as this discretion must be used as to the frequency and extent of the exercise of authority, to induce a habit of benevolence. But where parents deliberately aim at such an object, and wisely conduct their instructions and discipline to secure it, very much will be accomplished.
In regard to forming habits of obedience, there have been two extremes, both of which need to be shunned. One is, a stern and unsympathizing maintenance of parental authority, demanding perfect and constant obedience, without any attempt to convince a child of the propriety and benevolence of the requisitions, and without any manifestation, of sympathy and tenderness for the pain and difficulties which are to be met. Under such discipline, children grow up to fear their parents, rather than to love and trust them; while some of the most valuable principles of character are chilled, or forever blasted.
In shunning this danger, other parents pass to the opposite extreme. They put themselves too much on the footing of equals with their children, as if little were due to superiority of relation, age, and experience. Nothing is exacted, without the implied concession that the child is to be a judge of the propriety of the requisition; and reason and persuasion are employed, where simple command and obedience would be far better. This system produces a most pernicious influence. Children soon perceive the position thus allowed them, and take every advantage of it. They soon learn to dispute parental requirements, acquire habits of forwardness and conceit, assume disrespectful manners and address, maintain their views with pertinacity, and yield to authority with ill-humor and resentment, as if their rights were infringed upon.
The medium course is for the parent to take the attitude of a superior in age, knowledge, and relation, who has a perfect right to control every action of the child, and that, too, without giving any reason for the requisitions. "Obey because your parent commands" is always a proper and sufficient reason: though not always the best to give.
But care should be taken to convince the child that the parent is conducting a course of discipline designed to make him happy; and in forming habits of implicit obedience, self-denial, and benevolence, the child should have the reasons for most requisitions kindly stated; never, however, on the demand of it from the child, as a right, but as an act of kindness from the parent.
It is impossible to govern, children properly, especially those of strong and sensitive feelings, without a constant effort to appreciate the value which they attach to their enjoyments and pursuits. A lady of great strength of mind and sensibility once told the writer that one of the most acute periods of suffering in her whole life was occasioned by the burning up of some milkweed-silk by her mother. The child had found, for the first time, some of this shining and beautiful substance; was filled with delight at her discovery; was arranging it in parcels; planning its future use, and her pleasure in showing it to her companions - when her mother, finding it strewed over the carpet, hastily swept it into the fire, and that, too, with so indifferent an air, that the child fled away, almost distracted with grief and disappointment. The mother little realized the pain she had inflicted, but the child felt the unkindness so severely that for several days her mother was an object almost of aversion. While, therefore, the parent needs to carry on a steady course, which will oblige the child always to give up its will, whenever its own good or the greater claims of others require it, this should be constantly connected with the expression of a tender sympathy for the trials and disappointments thus inflicted.
Those, again, who will join with children and help them in their sports, will learn by this mode to understand the feelings and interests of childhood; while, at the same time, they secure a degree of confidence and affection which can not be gained so easily in any other way. And it is to be regretted that parents so often relinquish this most powerful mode of influence to domestics and playmates, who often use it in the most pernicious manner. In joining in such sports, older persons should never yield entirely the attitude of superiors, or allow disrespectful manners or address. And respectful deportment is never more cheerfully accorded, than in seasons when young hearts are pleased and made grateful by having their tastes and enjoyments so efficiently promoted.
Next to the want of all government, the two most fruitful sources of evil to children are, unsteadiness in government and over-government. Most of the cases in which the children of sensible and conscientious parents turn out badly, result from one or the other of these causes. In cases of unsteady government, either one parent is very strict, severe, and unbending, and the other excessively indulgent, or else the parents are sometimes very strict and decided, and at other times allow disobedience to go unpunished. In such cases, children, never knowing exactly when they can escape with impunity, are constantly tempted to make the trial.