Mary was aware that, although the principle of obedience is seldom or never entirely obliterated from the hearts of children—that is, that the impression upon their minds, which, though it may not be absolutely instinctive, is very early acquired, that it is incumbent on them to obey those set in authority over them, is seldom wholly effaced, the sentiment had become extremely feeble in the minds of Adolphus and Lucia; and that it was like a frail and dying plant, which required very delicate and careful nurture to quicken it to life and give it its normal health and vigor. Her management was precisely of this character. It called the weak and feeble principle into gentle exercise, without putting it to any severe test, and thus commenced the formation of a habit of action. Any one will see that a course of training on these principles, patiently and perseveringly continued for the proper time, could not fail of securing the desired end, except in cases of children characterized by unusual and entirely abnormal perversity.
We can not here follow in detail the various modes in which such a manager as Mary would adapt her principle to the changing incidents of each day, and to the different stages of progress made by her pupils in learning to obey, but can only enumerate certain points worthy of the attention of parents who may feel desirous to undertake such a work of training.
Three practical Directions.
1. Relinquish entirely the idea of expecting children to be spontaneously docile and obedient, and the practice of scolding or punishing them vindictively when they are not so. Instead of so doing, understand that docility and obedience on their part is to be the result of wise, careful, and persevering, though gentle training on the part of the parent.
2. If the children have already formed habits of disobedience and insubordination, do not expect that the desirable change can be effected by sudden, spasmodic, and violent efforts, accompanied by denunciations and threats, and declarations that you are going to “turn over a new leaf.” The attempt to change perverted tendencies in children by such means is like trying to straighten a bend in the stem of a growing tree by blows with a hammer.
3. Instead of this, begin without saying at all what you are going to do, or finding any fault with the past, and, with a distinct recognition of the fact that whatever is bad in the native tendencies of your children’s minds is probably inherited from their parents, and, perhaps, specially from yourself, and that whatever is wrong in their habits of action is certainly the result of bad training, proceed cautiously and gently, but perseveringly and firmly, in bringing the bent stem gradually up to the right position. In doing this, there is no amount of ingenuity and skill, however great, that may not be usefully employed; nor is there, on the other hand, except in very rare and exceptional cases, any parent who has an allotment so small as not to be sufficient to accomplish the end, if conscientiously and faithfully employed.