Author of " Confidential Chats with Mothers"
That this generalisation is too comprehensive to afford much practical help in individual cases is fully admitted, but, as it is the keynote of the whole matter, it must be borne in mind by all who are concerned in the upbringing of children.
It is sheer dogmatism to speak of one single form of indulgence, whatever that form may take, as constituting in itself the whole gamut of the process of spoiling.
A Moral Astigmatism To say that the spoilt child is unhealthy, unhappy, unbalanced, and unfitted for life generally is but to state a fact. Health, physical and mental, is the outcome of poise, and happiness is the offspring of health. Any loss of proportion is bound to be followed by a corresponding loss of physical or moral integrity, more likely than not of both.
Now, the spoilt child is one who is always more or less out of proportion. He develops out of proportion, sees out of proportion, thinks out of proportion, and wants out of proportion. That fine adjustment of balance which in the individual constitutes natural vigour and clear sanity is, in his case, blurred; every step advances him in a wrong direction, so that unless the mental vision be readjusted, the proper perspective restored, and the moral astigmatism from which he is suffering radically cured, the spoilt child is certain to grow into the spoilt man or woman, and that which was bad in the green tree is infinitely worse in the dry.
It may be objected by some that I am taking too serious a view of what, after all. they declare is but a phase through which most children pass, to emerge with as little after ill-effect as from the ailments of infancy. To all such criticisms I must reply that I am treating of the spoilt, not the petted, child. The terms are, unfortunately, often used as if they were synonymous, and in this way there has arisen a very regrettable confusion of thought. The much "cosseted" is often taken to be the much spoilt child. Many a fond parent or guardian has had to bear the unmerited reproach of spoiling her young charges when in reality she was but lavishing upon them those outward forms of endearment which mean so much to the childish nature. It cannot be repeated too often or too distinctly - petting is not spoiling.
The spoilt child is not often found in large families. The soil of the crowded homestead is not conducive to the growth of the disease. It is among the solitary - the boy or girl who lives without companions of its own age - that the genus must be sought, and in the "only child" we may nearly always discern visible evidences that the insidious disease has taken deep root. This is a very lamentable fact, but it is none the less a fact, and must be faced.
I have already said that the perspective of the spoilt child is blurred. This is because the self, or ego, looms too largely on its mental horizon, and this aggrandisement of the ego is the result of seeing itself perpetually reflected in the looks, actions, and words of those around it.
Many factors contribute towards making an only or solitary child an object of unremitting attention and observation. To begin with, it is the sole inheritor of a great store of love, which, under different - it might be said, happier - circumstances, others would have shared with it.
Love, they say, is blind; certainly it is frequently injudicious, and when unrestrained and uncontrolled by a clear head and firm will, this very store, or, rather, stream, of affection may go far towards wrecking the frail craft it so fervently desires to float, secure and high, above all peril.
Then pity is akin to love, and pity regards the little one cut off from all familiar intercourse with its kind as having a peculiar claim on its gentle ministrations. The pleasure of giving grows by use, and soon there is hardly a moment of the day in which some little attention, some kindly notice, does not find its way to the beloved and willing recipient.
The dawning mind, therefore, realising unconsciously, imperceptibly, yet all too clearly, its vast importance in its own immediate environment, mistakes that environment for the world at large, and so comes to believe that its personality is more precious, more wonderful, and more admirable than any other personality whatsoever.
Then, again, let us take the case where, owing to the high altruistic qualities of the parent, the child's natural instincts of generosity are either not developed or atrophy for want of use, there being no adequate demand made upon its faculty of giving. The mother, having learnt all too well the hard lesson of self-abnegation, conceives it her pleasant duty to practise the same at all times and in all seasons. She fervently believes example to be more potent then precept, and is convinced that the sacrifices which she so gladly makes for her child to-day will be as readily made for her or for others by it later on. Alas, how many generous hearts have stumbled into the trap of this pitiless logic! How hard it is to realise that unselfishness begets selfishness! Thus, by the irony of fate, the very measure which was to have secured the child's salvation is turned into a weapon of destruction.
Surrounded by friends who guard its every movement, save it from every consequence of its own acts and misdeeds, and anticipate its every want, it is hardly surprising that an only child should grow up intensely selfish, abnormally vain, and pitiably weak - in one word - spoilt. The best cure - indeed, the only cure - is to place such a one amongst others of its own age and station in life who may safely be trusted to carry out the work of reformation with great efficiency, and, it may be added, the very best will in the world.
When this most salutary course is not possible, one must fall back on the admirable advice of the wise woman who, when consulted as to the best way of bringing up a child, replied tersely, "With a little wholesome neglect." It is permissible to add, and with a little commonsense!