The bad effects of this can be better appreciated by reference to one important principle of the mind. It is found to be universally true that, when any object of desire is put entirely beyond the reach of hope or expectation, the mind very soon ceases to long for it, and turns to other objects of pursuit. But so long as the mind is hoping for some good, and making efforts to obtain it, any opposition excites irritable feelings. Let the object be put entirely beyond all hope, and this irritation soon ceases.
In consequence of this principle, those children who are under the care of persons of steady and decided government know that, whenever a thing is forbidden or denied, it is out of the reach of hope; the desire, therefore, soon ceases, and they turn to other objects. But the children of undecided, or of over-indulgent parents, never enjoy this preserving aid. When a thing is denied, they never know but either coaxing may win it, or disobedience secure it without any penalty, and so they are kept in that state of hope and anxiety which produces irritation and tempts to insubordination. The children of very indulgent parents, and of those who are undecided and unsteady in government, are very apt to become fretful, irritable, and fractious.
Another class of persons, in shunning this evil, go to the other extreme, and are very strict and pertinacious in regard to every requisition. With them, fault-finding and penalties abound, until the children are either hardened into indifference of feeling and obtuseness of conscience, or else become excessively irritable or misanthropic.
It demands great wisdom, patience, and self-control, to escape these two extremes. In aiming at this, there are parents who have found the following maxims of very great value:
First: Avoid, as much as possible, the multiplication of rules and absolute commands. Instead of this, take the attitude of advisers. "My child, this is improper, I wish you would remember not to do it." This mode of address answers for all the little acts of heedlessness, awkwardness, or ill-manners so frequently occurring with children. There are cases when direct and distinct commands are needful, and in such cases a penalty for disobedience should be as steady and sure as the laws of nature. A barrel in the nursery, with a seat in it for the child, serves for a gentle and yet very effective solitary imprisonment, and is a most salutary penalty. Where such steadiness and certainty of penalty attend disobedience, children no more think of disobeying than they do of putting their fingers into a burning candle.
The next maxim is Govern by rewards more than by penalties. Such faults as willful disobedience, lying, dishonesty, and indecent or profane language, should be punished with severe penalties, after a child has been fully instructed in the evil of such practices. But all the constantly recurring faults of the nursery, such as ill-humor, quarreling, carelessness, and ill-manners, may, in a great many cases, be regulated by gentle and kind remonstrances, and by the offer of some reward for persevering efforts to form a good habit. It is very injurious and degrading to any mind to be kept under the constant fear of penalties. Love and hope are the principles that should be mainly relied on in forming the habits of childhood.
Another maxim, and perhaps the most difficult, is, Do not govern by the aid of severe and angry tones. A single example will be given to illustrate this maxim. A child is disposed to talk and amuse itself at table. The mother requests it to be silent, except when needing to ask for food, or when spoken to by its older friends. It constantly forgets. The mother, instead of rebuking in an impatient tone, says, "My child, you must remember not to talk. I will remind you of it four times more, and after that, whenever you forget, you must leave the table and wait till we are done." If the mother is steady in her government, it is not probable that she will have to apply this slight penalty more than once or twice. This method is far more effectual than the use of sharp and severe tones, to secure attention and recollection, and often answers the purpose as well as offering some reward.
The writer has been in some families where the most efficient and steady government has been sustained without the use of a cross or angry tone; and in others, where a far less efficient discipline was kept up, by frequent severe rebukes and angry remonstrances. In the first case, the children followed the example set them, and seldom used severe tones to each other; in the latter, the method employed by the parents was imitated by the children, and cross words and angry tones resounded from morning till night in every portion of the household.
Another important maxim is, Try to keep children in a happy state of mind. Every one knows, by experience, that it is easier to do right and submit to rule when cheerful and happy, than when irritated. This is peculiarly true of children; and a wise mother, when she finds her child fretful and impatient, and thus constantly doing wrong, will often remedy the whole difficulty by telling some amusing story, or by getting the child engaged in some amusing sport. This strongly shows the importance of learning to govern children without the employment of angry tones, which always produce irritation.
Children of active, heedless temperament, or those who are odd, awkward, or unsuitable in their remarks and deportment, are often essentially injured by a want of patience and self-control in those who govern them. Such children often possess a morbid sensibility which they strive to conceal, or a desire of love and approbation, which preys like a famine on the soul. And yet they become objects of ridicule and rebuke to almost every member of the family, until their sensibilities are tortured into obtuseness or misanthropy. Such children, above all others, need tenderness and sympathy. A thousand instances of mistake or forgetfulness should be passed over in silence, while opportunities for commendation and encouragement should be diligently sought.