In early infancy activity is entirely purposeless and unwilled, merely the instinctive movement of every part of the body. Gradually, however, through the contact with different objects brought about by his restlessness, the baby learns to reach out for what he wants, and purpose in the activity begins to appear. Later, play affords an outlet for the constant flow of this pent-up power, and the child lives over again those activities of the busy life around which appeal to him.
From the previous discussion of activity, we know that the child is bringing about far-reaching results, all unconscious to himself, through this never ceasing restlessness of every waking moment. He is growing, through the kneading process of constant movement; he is developing freer use of his muscles; he is building new experiences into character, and he is forming habits of life. How then may this great force be nurtured so that greatest results shall follow?
The law of activity must first be understood. It has been very succinctly stated, “Activity must act, explode or cease to generate.”
If it cease to generate entirely it means death, for every organ of the body is using it. If it lessen in amount, it means lowered vitality, and indicates illness or abnormal conditions in some way. The over-strained mother who says to a little one of this age, “I wish you could keep still for five minutes,” does not realize what she is expressing. It has been demonstrated in scientific tests, that the perfectly normal child under six can keep absolutely still but few consecutive seconds, therefore the desire could only be fulfilled through some disturbed physical condition which would lessen the amount of life itself. Any diminution is everywhere felt, for the same activity which impels hands and feet, impels also the hungry senses, the eager curiosity and every part of a growing mental life. Fortunately for the child, God’s finger is on the dynamo of his life, and as long as He wills the activity can not cease to generate.
There are but two alternatives left, an action or an explosion, for activity can no more be confined than steam in an engine. If the explosion has occurred, it has resulted from successful repression. The stopper, “Don’t,” has been inserted in the last opening through which the nervous force could expend itself, and after a moment of dangerous calm, the inevitable occurs, and the happiness and peace of the entire home is for the time destroyed. The result is just as sure as that of confining an expanding gas, while its disaster is wrought in the mental and moral as well as the physical realms. Fortunately again for the well-being of the child, it is difficult to secure the last outlet, so fertile is his busy brain.
But without the explosion, the results that come to a child from a policy of repression are very serious. Briefly stated, they are first, irritability and nervousness. The refinement of cruelty is dealt to a little child, compelled by superior force to act contrary to God’s law for him and “Keep quiet.” Activity which should normally be expended, when confined, reacts upon the cells of the body so that soon there are physical reasons beyond the child’s control for his nervousness and crossness.