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Child must be Interpreted To the





THEN we talk of the mental hygiene of childhood we must of necessity address those who have the care and control, direction and education of the child in hand. We can hardly address ourselves to the child so we must speak to the adults who have his interests at heart. If, therefore, we are forced, by the necessity of the situation, to address the adults our first task must be to interpret the child to them. This might seem a strange statement at first but if we look back over the years and see with what cruelty children have been treated, murdered, sold into prostitution and slavery, deliberately deformed to use as beggars and mountebanks, abandoned, beaten and starved, we may realize to some extent the abyss which, in the past, has separated child and adult and we may safely assume, I think, that this abyss was created and maintained, partly at least, if not largely, as a result of Ignorance ignorance. In proof of this contention is the growing the Enemy of Childhood realization that children are the greatest asset of which any society can boast, for does not its further possibilities all depend upon the possibilities of their future? And therefore is not a nation's fate dependent upon what its children are and become?

Child thinks Differently from Adult

The main fact to bear in mind in order to bridge this abyss between the adult and the child and to come to some understanding of the child mind is to realize that the child thinks differently from the adult. Thinking is a highly complicated process and has developed in us

from the simplest beginnings. We have come a long way on the road of development from the child who reaches out its hand and thinks it can grasp the moon.

Children are not just small adults. To be sure they are adults in the making but they are at a stage of development which so far removes them from adulthood that child and adult are, for the most part, strangers to one another. It is essential therefore that the adult should realize this and at least make an effort to understand the child by realizing the fundamental fact that the child's ways of thinking and feeling are just as understandable as ours if only we know on what they are based. The child who is afraid of all doctors because once he was hurt by a doctor has simply not yet learned to differentiate different persons and different sets of circumstances as we have and its fear is a perfectly natural outcome of this inability and confusion.

Children not
just small

Child Exceedingly Alert to all

Child not
Isolated but
Part of Sur-

Again the adult constantly makes the mistake of supposing that what the child cannot understand will not be attended to and so will create no impression. As Impressions a matter of fact the child is exquisitely alert to all that goes on about it and if it does not understand in the adult sense that does not prevent it from coming to its own conclusions as to what is meant, and that is just what it does. Then again the child is not an isolated being. It is linked to the past by heredity; it is actively and constantly engaged in trying to relate itself in a satisfactory roundings manner with the present in the form of its immediate surroundings and to that end is exceedingly alive to all aspects of its environment; and depending upon the nature of its inherited tendencies and upon its success with the present is its promise for the future. The child is not something that is formed and stationary; it is living, growing, developing and in the process it is plastic and there is considerable leeway as to the form and character it will ultimately assume.


the Golden
Period for

Hereditary Possibilities Cloud Chapter at Birth

It is because the child is plastic, capable within limits of being moulded by circumstances, that childhood is the most important period of life and the golden period for mental hygiene. It depends upon how the developmental period of the first few years is negotiated what the future has to offer. Success or failure at this time means health and the possibility of happiness or illness and suffering.

What the child brings with it into the world in the way of hereditary characteristics is the material which cannot be changed and is the stuff with which we and the child must work in the future. We may profitably think of the child as starting with a certain equipment, and life, in the processes of education and development, as presenting the possibilities and opportunities to this raw material for its unfoldment. This is a very different conception from that, now only beginning to be extensively given up, namely, that the child should be pressed, beaten if necessary, into the form that its elders think it should assume. It is a concept which concedes much more to the individual while not forgetting, however, the claims of society for a reasonable degree of conformity. The whole developmental period of childhood has these two aims, the maximum unfoldment of the individual are Unfold- possibilities consistent with the necessary degree of conformity to social standards.


and Development

ing Process

Authority and Reality

Into this two-way stream is projected the child who must learn to adapt itself on the one hand to the world of reality about it, consisting of the persons and things in its environment, particularly the parents and those who stand in similar relation to it, and the background of authority represented by these elders. These are what Miller1 aptly refers to as the barrier of reality and the barrier of authority at which life demands a certain practical adjustment as the means of progress. I shall suggest briefly certain difficulties which ensue when these barriers can not be surmounted.

The New Psychology and the Teacher.

Many parents act as if they owned their children instead of being, as is implied in what has already been said, the trustees of their childhood for future generations. They but hold their children's lives in trust for the future and more and more the parent is being held accountable for how that life turns out. It is being appreciated as fundamental that juvenile delinquency in a very large number of instances is traceable to home influences, more particularly those of the parents. The past abuses of children, already referred to, were based upon the theory of parental ownership. If a parent needed money he sold or bound out his child to service in order to obtain it. The theory of ownership was obvious.

The barrier of reality may be impregnable. Juvenile delinquents come from situations where reality is overwhelming, where circumstances are destructive and unconquerable, and so the child tries every means to escape, including the anti-social.

If authority is too powerful and arbitrary it may crush out all initiative and capacity for individual development in the child. On the other hand, if the child cannot be so easily subdued, it may make of him a rebel, an iconoclast, a sceptic, incapable of conforming to any authority. The object of education as regards this aspect of authority is well put by Miller1: "It must be our aim, therefore, to bring up children so that they respect all racial experience, and at the same time learn, in due course, to challenge all authority. Authority must not be regarded as ultimately binding, nor must it be disregarded without respectful consideration."

Parent does not Own

the Child

Reality may be Overwhelming

When AuToo Strong thority is


Now, on the other hand if reality is overwhelming, Reality the short cut is by the pathway of phantasy, day-dream-whelming ing, creating an imaginary world in which wishes come true to replace the real world in which they do not.

If on the other hand authority is too weak, if the parent, the representation of the racial traditions and of

1Op. cit.

When Authority is too Weak and


made Easy

Relation of

Parent to

conformity, is too weak then the instinctive forces of the child are not sufficiently restrained; they run wild and lead to serious results. More of this later. If reality is made too easy, by inherited wealth for example, or by wealthy and indulgent parents, the same results may follow. The instinctive tendencies are not brought gradually under control and direction in the course of growth and development. Strength of character, just like muscular strength, is developed by overcoming difficulties, not by following the path of least resistance.

All of these considerations spell certain conclusions as to what should be the relation of the parent to the child. The parent, as the responsible trustee of the child's possibilities, needs to set the stage, so far as in him the power lies, in such a way as will insure the maximum opportunities for the unfoldment of the child's personality along the necessary lines of social conformity. Two things are necessary. The first, and least important, is the ordering of the environment in such manner as will insure a reasonable amount of success to the child's efforts and thus provide stimuli for further endeavor. Nothing discourages more or is better calculated to destroy all initiative than an impossible task. Secondly, the parent needs to be a good example, a good model for the child to copy and try to emulate. This is, of course, especially true of the parent of the same sex as the child. The relation of the parent to the child is such that quite instinctively the child desires to be like the parent. The parent is the first model and it is very important that it should not fail. When neither parent is a worthy model and the two parents are at war with one another the child has nothing to hitch to and often becomes hopelessly confused, helpless, and impotent when he undertakes life as an adult. He has never had any training in one direction. He has lacked a model and cannot develop one on the instant.

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