It is a very unreasonable thing for parents to expect young children to be reasonable. Being reasonable in one’s conduct or wishes implies the taking into account of those bearings and relations of an act which are more remote and less obvious, in contradistinction from being governed exclusively by those which are immediate and near. Now, it is not reasonable to expect children to be influenced by these remote considerations, simply because in them the faculties by which they are brought forward into the mind and invested with the attributes of reality are not yet developed. These faculties are all in a nascent or formative state, and it is as idle to expect them, while thus immature, to fulfill their functions for any practical purpose, as it would be to expect a baby to expend the strength of its little arms in performing any useful labor.
Progress of Mental Development.
The mother sometimes, when she looks upon her infant lying in her arms, and observes the intentness with which he seems to gaze upon objects in the room—upon the bright light of the window or of the lamp, or upon the pictures on the wall—wonders what he is thinking of. The truth probably is that he is not thinking at all; he is simply seeing—that is to say, the light from external objects is entering his eyes and producing images upon his sensorium, and that is all. He sees only. There might have been a similar image of the light in his mind the day before, but the reproduction of the former image which constitutes memory does not probably take place at all in his case if he is very young, so that there is not present to his mind, in connection with the present image, any reproduction of the former one. Still less does he make any mental comparison between the two. The mother, as she sees the light of to-day, may remember the one of yesterday, and mentally compare the two; may have many thoughts awakened in her mind by the sensation and the recollection—such as, this is from a new kind of oil, and gives a brighter light than the other; that she will use this kind of oil in all her lamps, and will recommend it to her friends, and so on indefinitely. But the child has none of these thoughts and can have none; for neither have the faculties been developed within him by which they are conceived, nor has he had the experience of the previous sensations to form the materials for framing them. He is conscious of the present sensations, and that is all.
As he advances, however, in his experience of sensations, and as his mental powers gradually begin to be unfolded, what may be called thoughts arise, consisting at first, probably, of recollections of past sensations entering into his consciousness in connection with the present ones. These combinations, and the mental acts of various kinds which are excited by them, multiply as he advances towards maturity; but the images produced by present realities are infinitely more vivid and have a very much greater power over him than those which memory brings up from the past, or that his fancy can anticipate in the future.