Moral training depends upon the force of example rather than of precept. Parents must be scrupulously just and truthful to the child, for his quick perception will detect the slightest deceit, and the evil impression made on his mind may be lasting. They must confidently expect conduct from him of a high moral standard, and be careful at this early age to avoid the common fault of giving a dog a bad name. If it is said on all sides that a child has an uncontrollable temper, is an inveterate grumbler, is lacking in all power of concentration, or has a tendency to deceit, it is likely that the child will act up to his reputation. He comes in time to regard this failing of his as part of himself just as much as is the colour of his hair or the length of his legs. It may be said of a schoolboy that he shows no aptitude for his work. Term by term the same report is brought home from school, and each serves only to confirm the boy in his belief that this failing is part of his nature, and that no effort of his own can correct it. If one subject only has escaped the condemnation of his master, then it may be to that study alone that he returns with zest and enjoyment. Spendthrift sons are manufactured by those fathers who many times a day proclaim that the boy has no notion of the value of money.
And so with children! Parents must take it for granted that they will display all the virtues they desire in them. They must trust to their honour always to speak the truth, and always to do their best in work or play whether they are with them or not. Again and again the children will fail and their patience will be tried to the utmost. They must explain how serious is the fault, and for the time being their trust may have to be removed; but with the promise of amendment it must again be fully restored and the lapse completely forgotten. If the child feels he is not trusted he ceases to make any effort, and lapse will succeed lapse with increasing frequency.
In efforts at moral training there is often too great an emphasis laid upon negative virtues. It is wrong to do this: to do that is forbidden. Children cannot progress by merely avoiding faults any more than a man may claim to be an agreeable companion at table because he does not eat peas with a knife or drink with his mouth full. There must be a constant effort to achieve some positive good, to acquire knowledge, to do service, to take thought for others, to discipline self, and the parent will get the best result who is comparatively blind to failure but quick to encourage effort and to appreciate success. When the child knows well that he is doing wrong, exhortation and expostulation are usually of little avail if repeated too often, and serious talks should only take place at long intervals.