But we can not blame him much for not having learned this particular wisdom at five years of age, when so many full-grown men and women never learn it at all.
Nor was there any thing blameworthy in him in respect to the false logic involved in his argument, that his being a boy made him necessarily taller than his cousin, a girl of the same age. There was a semblance of proof in that fact—what the logicians term a presumption. But the reasoning powers are very slowly developed in childhood. They are very seldom aided by any instruction really adapted to the improvement of them; and we ought not to expect that such children can at all clearly distinguish a semblance from a reality in ideas so extremely abstruse as those relating to the logical connection between the premises and the conclusion in a process of ratiocination.
In this case as in the other we expect them to understand at once, without instruction, what we find it extremely difficult to learn ourselves; for a large portion of mankind prove themselves utterly unable ever to discriminate between sound arguments and those which are utterly inconsequent and absurd.
In a word, what Johnny requires in such a case as this is, not ridicule to shame him out of his false reasoning, nor censure or punishment to cure him of his boasting, but simply instruction.
And this instruction it is much better to give not in direct connection with the occurrence which indicated the want of it. If you attempt to explain to your boy the folly of boasting in immediate connection with some act of boasting of his own, he feels that you are really finding fault with him; his mind instinctively puts itself into a position of defense, and the truth which you wish to impart to it finds a much less easy admission.
If, for example, in this case Johnny’s mother attempts on the spot to explain to him the folly of boasting, and to show how much wiser it is for us to let our good qualities, if we have any, speak for themselves, without any direct agency of ours in claiming the merit of them, he listens reluctantly and nervously as to a scolding in disguise. If he is a boy well managed, he waits, perhaps, to hear what his mother has to say, but it makes no impression. If he is badly trained, he will probably interrupt his mother in the midst of what she is saying, or break away from her to go on with his play.
A right Mode of Treatment.
If now, instead of this, the mother waits until the dispute and the transaction of measuring have passed by and been forgotten, and then takes some favorable opportunity to give the required instruction, the result will be far more favorable. At some time, when tired of his play, he comes to stand by her to observe her at her work, or perhaps to ask her for a story; or, after she has put him to bed and is about to leave him for the night, she says to him as follows: