This section is from the "The Young Mother. Management of Children in Regard to Health" book, by William A. Alcott. Also available from Amazon: The Young Mother
All children naturally early risers. Evils of sitting up late at night. Excitements in the evening. The morning, by its beauties, invites us abroad. Example of parents. Forbidding children to rise early. Keeping them out of the way. How many are burnt up by parental neglect. "Lecturing" them. What is an early hour?
Some writer—I do not recollect who—has said that all children are naturally early risers. And I cannot help coming to the same conclusion. That they are not so, is no more proved from the fact that as things now are they are generally found addicted to the contrary habit, than the very general neglect of milk among the higher classes of our citizens, proves that they have not a natural relish for it—when every one knows that at our first setting out in life, milk is, almost without exception, the sole article of human sustenance.
One of the great difficulties in the way of early rising, as I have already had occasion to say, is late sitting up. If children are not accustomed to retire till nine or ten o'clock, nor then until they have been subjected to all the excitements pertaining to fashionable life—company, heated and impure air, stimulating drink, fruits, high-seasoned food, and perhaps music—and are become actually feverish, no one but an ignorant person or a brute ought to expect them to rise early. Indeed, whatever may have been the cause, and whether it have operated on high or low life, late retiring will inevitably result in late rising. The current may be turned out of its course a little while, it is true, but not always. It will ere long return to its accustomed channel; perhaps to renew its course with increased pertinacity.
Everything, in the morning, naturally invites to early rising. The pleasant light, the music, at certain seasons, of some of the animated tribes, and the joy which we feel in activity, and in the society of those whom we love, all conspire to rouse us. If we have retired late, however, and especially in a feverish condition, so that when we wake we feel wretched, and, as sometimes happens, more fatigued than when we lay down, other collateral motives may be needed.
I have said that everything invites us, in the morning, to rise early; but it was upon the presumption that our parents, and brothers, and sisters set us a good example. If parents and other friends lie in bed late themselves, can anything else be, expected of children? Admitting, even, that they rise early themselves, if they never speak of early rising as a pleasure, and connect along with it, in their children's minds, pleasant associations, they would be unreasonable to expect otherwise than that their children should cling to the morning couch, till they are fairly compelled to rise as a relief from pain and uneasiness.
But when parents go farther than this, and actually discourage their children from rising early, and use every means in their power short of actual punishment—and sometimes even that—to make them lie still till breakfast, in order that they may be out of the way, what shall we say? And what is to be expected as the result?
There is hope, however, under the last circumstances. People sometimes carry things to an extreme that defeats their very purposes. Thus it occasionally is, in the case before us. This forbidding children to rise early, and threatening them if they do, sometimes excites their curiosity, and leads them to the forbidden course of conduct, simply because it is forbidden. Not a few persons among us possess the disposition to be governed by what has sometimes been called the "rule of contrary."
I might stop here to show that there is nothing so well calculated to develope and improve the mind and heart, even of parents themselves, as the society of those whom God gives them to train for Him and their country. I might show that not a few of those traits of character which render the company of many old persons rather irksome, especially to the young, have their origin in their neglect of the young, and of keeping up, as long as circumstances will possibly admit, juvenile feelings, actions, and habits.
And yet what do we too often witness in life? Is not every effort made to induce the young to lie in bed late that they may be out of the way? Are they not placed, as soon as possible after they are up, with the servants—if unfortunately there are any in the family—that they may be out of the way? Are they not required to breakfast, and dine, and sup elsewhere, if possible, that they may be out of the way? Do we not send them to school, even the Sabbath school, to get them out of the way? Do not some mothers even dose their infants with stupifying medicines to lull them to sleep, in order to have them out of the way? And to crown all, though they are quite too often permitted to sit up late in the evening, to enjoy that society which they are denied so great a part of the day-time, are they not occasionally put to bed early that they may be out of the way, and that the parents may attend late parties, to indulge in immoral or unhealthy habits?
In the last instance, they are indeed sometimes put out of the way, in the result—and with a vengeance. Many a child, nay, many thousands of children, are burnt up yearly, while their parents are gone abroad in the evening in quest of that enjoyment which ought to be found in the bosom of their families. "In Westminster, a part of London, containing less than two hundred thousand inhabitants, one hundred children were thus destroyed, during a single year." And the moral results which occasionally happen are a thousand times worse than burning. But enough of this.
The common practice of lecturing the young on the importance of early rising, may have a good effect on a few; but in general, it is believed to produce the contrary result. It is, in short, to sum up the whole matter, the influence of parental example, and the speaking often of the happiness which early rising affords, with perhaps the occasional indulgence of the child in a pleasant morning walk, which, if he retires early enough, are almost certain to produce in him the valuable habit of early rising.
But what is an early hour? Some call it early, when the sun is one hour high; some at sunrise; others, when they hear of an early riser, suppose he must be one who rises at least by daybreak.
Midnight is, of course, as near the middle of the night as any hour; and he who goes to bed four or five hours before midnight, will never complain of those who insist that he is not an early riser who is not up by four or five o'clock. In summer, no adult ought to lie in bed after four o'clock, and no child, except the mere infant, after five.
Much is said by a few writers, especially Macnish, of the danger of rising before the sun has attained a sufficient height above the horizon to chase away the vapors, and remove the dampness. But I must insist upon earlier rising than this, though we should not choose to venture abroad. Invigorated and restored as we are by sleep, I cannot think that the dampness of the morning air is more injurious than the foul air of some of our sleeping rooms.