Your Child Can Go Wrong

DR. W. E. BLATZ March 1 1946

Your Child Can Go Wrong

DR. W. E. BLATZ March 1 1946

Your Child Can Go Wrong

"Any child may swear, lie steal, — and any child can be made into a socially adjusted adult by understanding guidance"


Geoffrey Hewelcke

ONCE there wan a family there are plenty like it—in which the mother couldn’t stand the strain of spanking her little hoy when he was naughty. So it was decided the father should take over the department of spanking.

Then one day .Johnny used a cuss word that horrified his mother.

“You just wait till daddy gets home,” she threatened. “You’ll get it for using that had word.”

Presently daddy did come home, and shortly thereafter he was looking for Johnny. He called. No Johnny. He looked in the yard, on the street still no Johnny. Then ho remembered his own childhood hiding place when disaster threatened. He went upstairs to the guest room and looked under the bed.

There was Johnny; a surprised little boy who wriggled over to make more room.

“(Jolly, dad,” he breathed. “Is she after you too?” Every child passes through a stage in its moral development when he or she will lie, steal, snatch, swear and be inconsiderate of others. Every child will run through the whole list of activities which we cull “bad behavior.” And for this reason every child is a problem child.

Yet, though Johnny probably worried his mother terribly, he was no worse than the average child. I can say from 25 years experience as a child psychologist that every child has within him or her the seeds of good and the seeds of bad; that any child can be made a useful member of society under constant parental guidance and discipline. But that if childish faults and mistakes go uncorrected they may make problem adults perhaps even jailbirds.

So-called problem children appearing in the juvenile courts for all manner of lawbreaking originally were no worse in character than the best-behaved child. Their misdeeds are the result of faulty home training.

Training for Society

BECAUSE children are living creatures, they must do things. A baby can coo or it can scream. A child can be “good” or “bad.”

We adults, as parents and teachers, must make the choice of allowable acts. We must make that choice on a basis of what we think useful or good. Furthermore we must provide family behavior which will serve as an example to the child to form good habits of thought and action.

For unless we are willing to chance disaster for our children we must train them to fit into our human society without friction. Their habits should not offend others. We must train them in two codes of behavior—good manners and lawful activity. Breaches

of either code bring public punishment upon the transgressor.

Your Johnny must again and again be given the choice of fitting —or not—into the accepted code of conduct. He must find out for himself that other children will not play with him if he snatches their toys or cheats at games.

One Type of Problem

WALTER was a rather solitary boy whose mother thought it would be nice to throw a big party for his eighth birthday to improve his popularity.

“But I have only one friend—Jimmy, next door,” Walter said doubtfully.

“Oh, you must have more,” his mother gushed. “And, of course, they’ll all bring presents . . .”

Walter considered this, went into conference with “Jimmy next door” and came back with a list of 30 names.

Pleased, though somewhat awe-stricken at this evidence of her boy’s wide circle of friends, the mother made heroic preparations. Formal invitations were sent out. Caterers were called. Ice cream came in buckets.

On the big day a procession of scrubbed youngsters, each with a package under his arm, came up the front steps. Walter functioned beautifully as host, assisted by Jimmy. They greeted each boy. They put away his hat and coat. They collected the parcels.

Finally all the guests had arrived and the party was ready to start. But Walter and Jimmy were missing.

Eventually they were located. They had taken all the birthday gifts to the attic. They had locked the door. They were having a fine party by themselves, playing with all the toys—and they absolutely and positively refused to come down and mingle with the guests.

There’s a moral here. Some childrenup to eight or nine years—are just not interested in being popular. It’s no use forcing them. Also it’s no use expecting them to show good social judgment. Eventually, however, the child wdll learn that there is more satisfaction in fitting into his group than in getting his own mistaken way—which may result eventually in his being avoided or scorned by friends and family. As an adult he will then be well adjusted to others in business and in family life.

The heart of all child training is discipline. I repeat that there is no child who, under constant discipline, cannot be made into an adult acceptable to society.

By discipline I mean the reasonable regulation of the child’s habits and a plan for the child to observe rules that have been laid down. Rules cannot start too early. They involve such things as regular meal and bedtimes— establishment of a routine for babies.

Johnny must eat what is provided or go hungry; must wear the clothes selected for him until he has learned to make a suitable choice; must observe the proprieties of conduct or suffer the consequences— isolation.

Nagging him into doing these things is a mistaKe. Spanking is not nearly as necessary as some parents think. Too often it does harm instead of good, because it is an admission on the part of the parent that he or she is not strong enough to impose the adult will on the child’s. Too often it is an expression of unfair irritation on the part of the parent. It may relieve the feelings of the parent, but may also arouse resentment for unfair punishment. It is often better to send a “naughty” child to his room, away from the other members of the family; to take away his dinner if he merely messes about with the food instead of eating it.

If discipline fails the fault probably lies in having too many or too complicated rules. They should be simplified. A few rules of conduct rigidly observed will do more to build good habits than a lot of rules from which many exceptions are permitted.

If this method is followed, by the time your Johnny

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Your Child Cun Go Wrong

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have built up a pattern of morality and behavior to which he will return after the disturbing years of adolescence. It’s up to the parents whether a child’s patterns are good—or bad.

Fear and anger are the two basic emotions felt by children from an early age. If the child learns to govern them, rather than let these emotions rule him, they can be made to serve

usefully in adult life. If these emotions are uncontrolled they will cripple the adult character as effectively as a shortened leg would cripple the body.

All children have fears which may appear ridiculous to their parents. But even if they are funny it is a mistake to laugh at them or to mock the child.

Two-year-old Betty should be taught that barking dogs don’t always bite, by introducing her to a friendly puppy which will bark when playing with her.

Unchecked, childhood fears can carry over into adulthood—unreasoning fear

of thunderstorms, fear of dogs, fear of taking responsibility in business. Research in many business houses has shown that executives often have less intelligence than some of their subordinates. Yet they are executives and the others are poorly paid clerks. Why? Because they have no fear of accepting responsibility; because they are willing to take the risk of making mistakes, and to take the blame—if there is blame to be taken.

Displays of temper start early in human life—as soon as a child finds itself thwarted in its desires. But even if little Betty’s face goes a rich magenta shade because she holds her breath in anger, her parents should not be too alarmed. Medical history records no cases of self-suffocation by children in this fashion. And if Betty’s parents weaken under the threat of a tantrum, then she has a real weapon—and she’ll use it.

Perhaps the best time to lay the groundwork for controlling the tantrum is when the child is still an infant. If babies are picked up each time they cry the intelligent mites quickly build up an association of “Cry—and you get picked up.” But if the parents wait until the child has stopped crying before they pick it up the association is different. It is “Stop crying—and get picked up.”

If Betty learns that an exhibition of anger will get her what she wants she will form a bad habit which will handicap her in later life. The child who learns, instead, that through persistence of effort there are ways to make toys work, that dolly’s sweater will slip on if dolly’s arms are held properly, is infinitely better off. She learns early in life to use her own reasoning powers and judgment.

Anger tantrums in adults, of course, are ineffective in meeting most situations. They amount actually to throwing up your hands, confessing defeat. We all know people who go to pieces when they get angry—and we don’t think much of them when compared to people who are known to keep their heads in a crisis.

Straight Talk on Sex

Sex as an instinct comes to maturity much later than the other instincts, and because it does so children frequently escape into adolescence without the formation of any good habits regarding its control.

Yet control of the sex instinct is I enormously important to the adult, j Nothing leads to more unhappiness than breach of the society’s rules governing sex.

Babies quite commonly play with their genitals when their diapers are being changed. This may alarm mothers. The cure is simple. Divert its interest—give the baby a toy to hold while changing it.

Children of three or four become I aware of structural differences in their I opposite numbers. Because they are curious—nothing is more curious than a child of that age—they may sometimes be found examining each other. Again there is no cause for alarm. Mere establishment of the fact that there is a structural difference is sufficient to satisfy their curiosity. Their interest then vanishes.

Curiosity about how babies are born appears at five or six, and at this time the wise parent tells the child that babies grow in the mother from a seed planted by the father.

Stories of the stork, of the doctor bringing the baby in a black bag, of the mother buying the baby in a hospital, may satisfy the child for the moment, but there is psychologically a bad effect

when the child learns that its parents have been lying.

In general the child finds this out much sooner than parents think. Usually those parents who do take it upon themselves to tell “the facts of life” to their children do so when the children are about 12 years old and just entering adolescence. Research has proven that this is much too late. Most children pick up the information from older playmates when they are about seven years old. And then they are apt to pick it up in garbled form.

If the only explanation given them before has dealt with storks and gooseberry bushes they are ridiculed by their older informants. Furthermore they have caught their parents, in a lie and are apt to attach more than ordinary importance to the “revelation”—just because their parents told them falsehoods about it.

Unfortunately, public prudery being what it is, many parents would rouse the indignation of their neighbors if their six-year-olds gossiped about the “facts of life” with other young playmates. Hence it is just as well to impress upon the youngsters that this is something intimate, for by that age children should be aware of the fact that some human activities require privacy.

Adolescence and the physical changes accompanying the approach of sexual maturity bring about definite character changes too.

From 9 to 10 years many children, no matter how well trained, lose their table manners. They lose interest in cleanliness. At about 12 they reach the peak of disinterest in these things— and in the opposite sex They don’t regain them until the “puppy love” stage, when they are about 15 years old. Then they are apt to more than make up for their previous lack of interest

Our Johnny may then correct his younger brothers and sisters in table manners. He may even correct his parents Betty—or Johnny—may stay in the bathroom two hours at a time, and use all the perfumed soaps and powders available. There is nothing alarming about any of these manifestations They are normal stages of behavior.

It is foolish to tease them about these changes. Children are enormously self-conscious and emotional at these times A word of praise can lift the adolescent to heights of happiness. A sneer can depress him to an equal extent.

Cut Rules to a Minimum

It is at this time too that adolescents show progressively greater rebellion against parental authority. Again there is nothing to be done about it except to cut rules to the minimum.

After all, by this time Betty and Johnny should have formed their basic good habits They should be able to use

reason and judgment in most of their problems. Wise parents should do their utmost to develop these qualities in their children; to give them responsibilities. Adolescents are well on the way to being adults. Their efforts to assert themselves as individuals are like those of the young bird which flutters its wings before flight from the nest.

Babying an adolescent, sheltering a boy or girl from the necessity of making decisions, or from accepting responsibility for the consequences of these, will never make)mature adults.

Children are much more aware of atmospheres of strain of marital unhappiness than people suspect. If their parents are unhappy, if there are quarrels and recriminations, the child will cower in fear. The adolescent will be deeply unhappy. A broken home is often a greater tragedy to a child than to parents.

Juvenile courts again and again report that children have run away from home because their parents bicker and fight.

Similarly children are unhappy when their parents constantly nag at them for real or imagined faults. It is definitely a necessity for the proper development of adult character that the child or adolescent should develop selfconfidence. “Inferiority complexes” result otherwise.

No child can live in an atmosphere of constant criticism without developing some protection or compensation. No adult could either.

Boys who cannot achieve success and approval in any other way may seek to gain the admiration of their group by stealing cars. Girls whose success in other fields is thwarted may seek the doubtful distinction of being a “hot number” on a date.

Faults of this kind are almost always an indication that the adolescent is not properly understood at home, else these “compensations” would not have developed. Understanding parents can divert their children’s natural urge for distinction or success into legitimate outlets.

Now and again we hear the phrase, “There are no delinquent children— only delinquent parents.”

I do not entirely subscribe to this. My feeling is that the business of being a good parent is something that has to be studied, like any other occupation —and it isn’t always done. But there is no instinct in man or woman which tells them exactly how a child should be brought up. Success takes thought, time and trouble.

Nor do I agree with people who say that the young generation is going to the dogs. Oldsters of all ages have always said that, if they didn’t understand the young.

It’s one of the blessings of the times that more and more parents are aware of their limitations and. are making a real effort to learn how to be good parents.