A boy, for instance, comes home from school in a state of great distress, and perhaps of indignation and resentment, on account of having been punished. Mothers sometimes say at once, in such a case, “I don’t pity you at all. I have no doubt you deserved it.” This only increases the tumult of commotion in the boy’s mind, without at all tending to help him to feel a sense of his guilt. His mind, still imperfectly developed, can not take cognizance simultaneously of all the parts and all the aspects of a complicated transaction. The sense of his wrong-doing, which forms in his teacher’s and in his mother’s mind so essential a part of the transaction, is not present in his conceptions at all. There is no room for it, so totally engrossed are all his faculties with the stinging recollections of suffering, the tumultuous emotions of anger and resentment, and now with the additional thought that even his mother has taken part against him. The mother’s conception of the transaction is equally limited and imperfect, though in a different way. She thinks only that if she were to treat the child with kindness and sympathy, she would be taking the part of a bad boy against his teacher; whereas, in reality, she might do it in such a way as only to be taking the part of a suffering boy against his pain.
It would seem that the true and proper course for a mother to take with a child in such a case would be to soothe and calm his agitation, and to listen, if need be, to his account of the affair, without questioning or controverting it at all, however plainly she may see that, under the blinding and distorting influence of his excitement, he is misrepresenting the facts. Let him tell his story. Listen to it patiently to the end. It is not necessary to express or even to form an opinion on the merits of it. The ready and willing hearing of one side of a case does not commit the tribunal to a decision in favor of that side. On the other hand, it is the only way to give weight and a sense of impartiality to a decision against it.
Thus the mother may sympathize with her boy in his troubles, appreciate fully the force of the circumstances which led him into the wrong, and help to soothe and calm his agitation, and thus take his part, and place herself closely to him in respect to his suffering, without committing herself at all in regard to the original cause of it; and then, at a subsequent time, when the tumult of his soul has subsided, she can, if she thinks best, far more easily and effectually lead him to see wherein he was wrong.
COMMENDATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT.
We are very apt to imagine that the disposition to do right is, or ought to be, the natural and normal condition of childhood, and that doing wrong is something unnatural and exceptional with children. As a consequence, when they do right we think there is nothing to be said. That is, or ought to be, a matter of course. It is only when they do wrong that we notice their conduct, and then, of course, with censure and reproaches. Thus our discipline consists mainly, not in gently leading and encouraging them in the right way, but in deterring them, by fault-finding and punishment, from going wrong.