Punishment - Value of Moral Suasion
" you make children happy now, you will make them happy twenty years hence by the memory of it". - Sydney Smith Da rents will require a good deal of education before they can be made to see that in nine cases out of ten ill-health accounts for persistent bad behaviour on the part of the child.
When judiciously managed, the healthy child should be happy and well behaved. Fits of temper, like so-called stupidity, have very often a medical explanation. In many nurseries a system of punishments is enforced which is absolutely unfair to the child. Writing lines after school hours, or depriving a child of his tea or supper, are foolish punishments.
All children require punishment in the sense of discipline occasionally, but the better the management the less need there is for anything of the sort. Then parents should try to understand that all healthy children possess energy or animal spirits that must have an outlet.
The too quiet, self-contained child is mentally or physically not up to the normal standard of health. The noisy, romping, blustering schoolboy should have an opportunity of getting rid of his healthy animal energy, and not be constantly reproved for making a noise.
When a child is what a parent imagines persistently naughty, he should be carefully studied. If you are the mother of such a child, ask yourself if you are feeding him properly.
A small boy of three years made a household miserable for months with his uncontrollable temper, his fits of crying, and his unattractive ways. Fortunately the mother had to consult the doctor about something connected with his health, and her surprise was genuine when he told her that her whole difficulty was due to improper diet.
" The boy is having far too much starch, and at the same time an excess of butcher's meat," said the doctor, "so you are poisoning him in two senses. You might compare him to a middle-aged man with gout, whose tempers and tantrums are almost beyond his control."
After two or three weeks of suitable diet the child's blood regained its normal condition, and the cross, ill-tempered, difficult child was entirely changed. Milk was made to take the place of butcher's meat, white bread and rich dishes; and the small, over-fed morsel of humanity became a happy and an amiable child.
In the old days before doctors and parents were alive to the importance of attending to a child's eyesight, a great many nervy, neurotic, unhappy and irritable boys and girls were punished, when they ought to have been taken to an oculist and supplied with proper glasses. A child with defective eyesight is constantly on tension, and this wears out the nervous system more than anything else.
Then there are the " stupid " children, who answer slowly when spoken to, and who sometimes get a smack from the nurse because they do not reply at all ; the children who are apt to be teased by the others, or left out in the cold because they do not bring a reflected credit on their vain parents. Sometimes they are saved by the family doctor, if he is observant when he happens to go into the nursery to vaccinate the baby, or give information on a nursery rash.
It may be that the mother, more observant than one might expect from the untrained mind of the average woman, mentions the fact that the boy does not seem to be very well. In nine cases out of ten these children have adenoids; and an operation will deal effectively with the stupidity, laziness, and other forms of " ill-behaviour " evinced by the child.
The nervy child, too, is often good or bad according to the wisdom of his mother. I know one small schoolgirl whose dislike of her mother is only equalled by the intolerance that the maternal parent feels in connection with every action and speech of the child. The neurotic strain comes through the mother, who cannot be made to see that there is a hereditary explanation of the child's " wickedness," and that the best chance of her developing into a happy and self-control led woman is that she should be brought up by strangers.
Many a tragedy in the nursery is provided by the neurotic child, misunderstood or badly managed by the mother or nurse. Punishment after punishment fails to make any impression, and often spoils the nature of the child, which could have developed into a very fine type by judicious management.
Should Punishment be Abolished?
In one sense punishment is a distinct evil, but that is only because it is so frequently misused as a factor in disciplining the child. The ideal is to teach a child to govern himself, to do right from high motives, and not because he fears to be punished if he does wrong. Punishment may or may not be a deterrent. It depends upon the child. Then it is apt to engender deceit and other faults, whilst sulkiness and rebellion will be the only results in many cases. Punishment sometimes hurts a child's pride, and causes needless suffering, which affects the health for the worse.
Does it not seem better to encourage a child to do good and to behave well by praising him for effort ? Does it not seem wiser to instil habits of obedience, self-restraint, and self-control than to inflict pain and punishment when a child fails to come up to our standard, which is only a questionably right one ?
From the medical point of view a child should be trained by seven years into good habit Before that time any punishment should consist in the old-fashioned smacking, rather than depriving a child of fresh air, food, or in perpetual nagging and scolding. Severe flogging of boys or girls must necessarily be condemned. A smart whipping is a more merciful punishment, when punishment is unavoidable, than such practices as putting a child to bed in the dark, or starving it of necessary food. Constant threats of imaginary bears, sweeps, or black men who are to take wicked boys and girls away from home are positive cruelty. No child was ever made "good " by such methods, and untold harm may be done to the nervous child for life.
Whilst condemning punishment carelessly inflicted, anything in the shape of slackness of upbringing is cruel to the child. When a child is lazy, self-indulgent, disobedient, in spite of all other methods, then a brief experience of physical pain may bring home to him the error of his ways.
Whilst parents should do all they can to uphold the discipline of school life, careful investigation should be made when a child is repeatedly punished, or shows any fear or dislike of going to school. The right sort of teacher will make her scholars obey her and like their work, and when this does not prevail it is the duty of the parents to find out the reason why. When punishment entails excess of home lessons, the health of the child will certainly suffer, and there must be some cause for the child requiring incessant punishment, which could be dealt with and removed.
Remember that bad behaviour may be an evidence of ill-health; that it may be due to over-pressure at school, as when a child is placed in a class beyond his mental capacity.
Parents should be understanding and wise in dealing with the faults inherited from themselves.
To teach a boy or girl self-control and good habits is the way to instil good behaviour. Punishment may only succeed in further marring the child's nature.