Articles

FRUSTRATION IS GOOD FOR KIDS

Childhood inhibitions get little sympathy in Dr. W. E. Blatz’ unique school for infants. Its founder believes children can be happy but civilized without benefit of spankings, bawlings-out or even Freud

JUNE CALLWOOD June 15 1950
Articles

FRUSTRATION IS GOOD FOR KIDS

Childhood inhibitions get little sympathy in Dr. W. E. Blatz’ unique school for infants. Its founder believes children can be happy but civilized without benefit of spankings, bawlings-out or even Freud

JUNE CALLWOOD June 15 1950

FRUSTRATION IS GOOD FOR KIDS

Articles

JUNE CALLWOOD

Childhood inhibitions get little sympathy in Dr. W. E. Blatz’ unique school for infants. Its founder believes children can be happy but civilized without benefit of spankings, bawlings-out or even Freud

DR. WILLIAM E. BLATZ, rated by some people as the world’s best psychologist and by a few as the world’s worst, is what they call a disturber. He tells mothers that mother-love is easily overdone; he tells dentists that a normal amount of thumb-sucking won’t damage a child’s teeth; he tells educationists that our educational system produces intellectual snobs and bores; he tells sweet-faced grandmothers that protecting a child against all frustration is neither possible nor desirable; and he tells Dr. Brock Chisholm that there is a Santa Claus. By implication he tells Freud, idol of his profession, to go climb a tree.

While apoplectic dissenters gather themselves for the rebuttal Blatz stifles a yawn. He admits he doesn’t know everything that goes on within the distant recesses of the infant mind. But he suspects he knows his share.

This confidence is not altogether without foundation. In 1925 Blatz was hired to organize one of the world’s first laboratories for the study of childhood mentality. For 25 years he has been director of this project, now known as the University of Toronto Institute of Child Study, and from it has sprung many of the accepted techniques and philosophies of the modern nursery school. Most

nursery schools in the world have pondered— favorably or unfavorably—his doctrines.

In addition Blatz has been psychological adviser to Toronto’s juvenile and family courts and he has maintained a private practice helping parents rear their young of practically all ages.

Blatz, who is 55 this month, has some grey hair around his bald pate and a liking for polka-dot bow ties. He delivers most of his blockbusters with a negligent smile and half-closed eyelids, so it is impossible to tell if he has his tongue in his cheek.

To those who contend that his ego exceeds his humility he retorts: “I’d be a self-complacent fool if I thought I knew it all.” But he adds airily “Just remember, though, Freud never studied children.”

After a quarter century of studying children Blatz has a good deal to say about the care and cultivation of small people. He says love isn’t necessary (“What is love anyway? Just a relationship. Coddling a child will never cure its crying.”) Consistency is the important quality, he holds.

“The child needs a refuge, something absolutely stable and consistent,”

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Frustration Is Good For Kids

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he insists. Blatz says juvenile delinquents are not caused by broken homes but by wrong discipline. In his book there isn’t too much or too little discipline, only rotten and good.

Blatz’ idea of discipline, as practiced in his nursery school and taught to university graduates, teachers, nurses, occupational therapists and social workers, is one based on natural consequences. If a child doesn’t eat he is given a reasonable time to finish and then his plate is removed and he is sent on to the next activity. If he fights when he is playing with other children then he is removed from the play area. If the baby persists in touching ornaments in the living room, he is removed to the nursery. All of these enforcements of natural consequences take I the onus for discipline off the parent.

Mother is not the executioner; the I child brings the axe down on his neck himself.

This, his theory runs, is incomparable preparation for becoming an adult. Adults can drive 80 miles an hour if they wish, but they’re likely to have to pay a fine; adults can steal if they are I so inclined, but it’s probable they’ll go to jail; adults can be quarrelsome, but they won’t be popular.

In this sort of discipline there is no place for spankings, or even an irate tongue-lashing. This is the part that hasanguished practicing parents. Sometimes, they moan, it seems as if Junior is begging for a whipping—he goes from one piece of mischief to another.

I Nonsense, says the Blatz system. The 1 naughty child needs his parents more I than the behaved child; he’s probably been ignored and is trying to get some I attention the only way he’s found to be successful.

“Spanking will get your job done for you,” agrees a loyal Blatz disciple, Dorothy Millichamp, assistant director of the institute, “but do you really want to control your child through fear? You’re teaching him to be good not because it will make things more pleasant for himself but to avoid being hurt. Therefore he’ll lie and sneak to escape punishment.”

Any parent who thinks that a spanking is something no well-ordered home can be without—and please don’t all shout at once—should visit the Institute for Child Study. For people who have survived living with twoto fiveyear-olds, but just barely, it’s apt to be a remarkable experience.

The Rule of Consequences

In the high-ceilinged, enormous rooms of the converted houses on St. George Street, where the institute is housed, about 37 small children romp and play from about 9.30 a.m. until around 3 p.rn. They climb all over the jungle gym in the back yard, they lie on their small fat tummies on the floor and crayon on pink paper purple horses with long eyelashes, they sit crosslegged in a circle and tap hammers on the floor in rhythm. At lunch time they wash themselves and sit around low tables to eat. After that they file into a sleeping room for their naps. Through it all it’s a rare occasion when a voice is raised or a tear is shed. Adults who have witnessed the spectacle have the sensation of watching an entrancing movie with the sound effects turned off.

The institute has divided the young child’s life into two sections; 1, Things which must be done whether the child wants to do them or not (routine); 2,

Things which the child can do or not as he chooses (play).

Under routine the institute puts dressing and undressing, washing, toilet, eating and sleeping. Using the rule of consequences—“If you don’t wash you can’t go into the dining room.” “If you don’t lie quietly in your bed you’ll have to lie on a cot by yourself in the other room”—the routines are accomplished with a low incidence of balking.

Most spirited children try to duck some part of the routine at least once, but at the institute all attempts are met with Blatzian consistency. One youngster who refused to wash his hands after using the toilet was astonished to find this meant he couldn’t go back into the playroom. He decided on a temper tantrum and the air was shattered with his shrieks. He was picked up, carried into another room away from the children and set gently down. “There you go,” the supervisor said kindly. “You can cry in here and as soon as you’re finished, wash your hands and come and finish your painting.” He was licked and he knew it.

How to Keep Toys Tidy

The play side of the child’s life also», is governed by rules. The difference lies in the fact that if the child doesn’t care to accept the rules he doesn’t have to continue with the game. When cutting out pieces of colored paper to glue together the child must not wave the scissors around carelessly. The supervisor explains that it’s dangerous, warns the child. The next time the scissors are removed and without additional reproof the child is given something

Similarly, the child is required to put one toy away before progressing to the next activity—“We want to be able to find our things tomorrow”—and is asked to refrain from bopping another child who is occupying a desired swing —“If you’re going to be quarrelsome you’ll have to play inside by yourself.”

There is a scientific reason for the relative absence of sound effects. Out of doors, where they play at the beginning of the nursery-school day, the children are permitted to shout if they wish. The uproar is governed by a rule, however; for safety reasons the children are not permitted to become wildly excited and careen around. Therefore the supervisors keep them controlled, and the noise, while gay and childlike, is muted.

Indoors the play periods are arranged so that each successive one is more calming than the last. This is to have the child in a highly relaxed state in time for his dinner and subsequent nap. Activities start off, for example, with play in a doll-sized store (where few plastic toys are ever broken) and subside by degrees to a singing group softly chanting nursery songs with a lullaby lilt.

The rules which result in this peaceful situation are exactly what distinguish Blatz’ nursery school from most others. Many authorities believe that children need to express themselves through free play, need to work out frustrations and inhibitions BO in later years they won’t develop some nasty trait like booting elderly women. Consequently some nursery schools permit youngsters greater abandon in the play period; there is more noise, more confusion, more toys broken. Blatz thinks this attitude is unrealistic.

Adults are bound by rules in everything they do, maintains Blatz, so should be prepared for maturity by being made accustomed to restrictions. He believes you can’t start too young frustrating children; babies shouldn’t be fed when they decide they are hungry, but when the feeding time is

suitable and convenient. He’s going to have to adjust all his life, says Blatz, so let him learn his first lessons young and then it won’t be as difficult.

In another respect the Blatz Institute differs from many nursery schools. The staff does not believe in insisting that children learn to help themselves as soon as possible. “Everyone can tie his shoes and do up buttons by the time he is 16,” Miss Millichamp points out reasonably, “so what does it matter whether they learn when they are 3 or 6?”

The institute thinks it’s a mistake to let children dawdle over any routine task and attributes this infuriating quality of small children to the need for adult assistance. A preschool child isn’t able to keep interested in putting his clothes on long enough to finish the job, they claim. He needs to be helped with the hard things.

Many schools proudly have their three-year-olds zippering themselves into the modern Man from Mars snowsuits, but not the Blatz Institute. “That’s too tough,” his aides insist. “We make the children watch while we help them do it. When they are ready they’ll do it themselves.”

Visitors to the Institute of Child Study rarely are aware that they actually are in a laboratory. The pretty young woman in the blue nylon smock who is reading about Peter Rabbit in the story circle probably has her M.A. degree and a Ph.D. besides. When she’s finished the story and the children have gone off in twos for their next activity she sits down at a nursery table and records that at 11.15 John Jones,aged 4, had an emotional episode. During the story-time he persisted in being talkative. Treatment administered: He was asked to leave the circle and look at a book until the story was over. His behavior during the treatment was antagonistic, after the treatment when children progressed to singing period he was co-operative. The treatment lasted four minutes.

“The Best Job in the World"

Records kept of each child are incredibly detailed. An attendant makes a note of whether the child was co-operative or not when the nurse made her regular morning examination, the exact time the child uses the toilet and if his attitude is co-operative, indifferent, playful, antagonistic or talkative during the washroom procedure. If the supervisor has to help the child comb his hair that fact is recorded. During the nap time records are kept of when the child put his thumb in his mouth and how long it was there. If the child has to be urged to eat his dinner a symbol indicating this appears on the record sheet. There are 18 different symbols used to describe the child’s attitude during the nap period.

The institute is divided into three sections under Dr. Blatz, the director, and Miss Millichamp and K. S. Bernhardt, assistant directors. One is the research division, which endeavors to establish a pattern of behavior and treatment from the wealth of records kept, another is the nursery school division, under brilliant, greying Margaret Fletcher, who says in a warm, hearty voice, “This is the best job in the world, next to being a parent.” The third section is the parent education division and its importance almost overshadows the nursery school.

To understand his specimens better Blatz needed to know what they did at home and what sort of discipline their parents used. To get this information he held that parent discussion groups would have to be a necessary part of the institute. The enthusiasm of the parents for this suggestion and the oppor-

tunity it gave him for explaining the importance of consistent discipline based on natural consequences established its place at once.

The institute offers a diploma course in child study to university graduates, who are then able to choose whether to specialize in parent education work or actual nursery school supervision. An introductory course in psychology is compulsory for the institute course. Other courses are offered occupational therapists, nursery - school teachers, nurses and medical students, kindergarten and primary teachers, house-

hold economics students, student nurses at Sick Children’s Hospital, and staff of children’s convalescent hospitals and cerebral palsy clinics.

The institute plans to publish a report on its quarter century of progress next spring and part of this document will deal with the people now grown who have been children in the institute. Although these followup investigations are still not completed the institute says the preliminary results indicate that Blatz’ plan of discipline is justified. In relation to their school progress and their adjust-

ment to adult life institute graduates rate high, its officials say.

One girl who was a toddler in one of the early groups was stricken with infantile paralysis when she was 6 and confined to a wheel chair. The institute doesn’t claim that her early training is responsible, but it is true that the girl accepted her misfortune with magnificent courage. A boy who lost an eye just when he was beginning to enjoy sports also made a remarkable adjustment to a quieter life.

In adducing evidence that its methods are at least partly responsible

for such achievements the institute points to a long list of victories over balky moppets. A little girl who refused to go to the bathroom without her mother was taken off all toilet routine, was never coaxed or disciplined when she had an accident. In a few weeks she was scampering to the toilet by herself when her turn came. Another two-year-old ate nothing at all away from home. She was given tiny, attractive helpings at dinnertime and, except for missing dessert, nothing happened when she failed to touch her plate. She conquered her shyness, ate three helpings of everything the day she decided to eat.

A little boy who was in terror of singing by himself was put into a singing group where the children were all told to stand. One by one during the singing they were told to stop singing and sit down. The child left at the end, singing with gusto by himself, was the reluctant soprano.

Another boy who wouldn’t sing at all, even with a group, came to school one morning full of enthusiasm about a train he had seen. “That’s wonderful, Bobby,” exclaimed the teacher. “Let’s all sing the train song and Bobby will make a noise like the train he saw today.” Bobby joined in the chorus himself.

According to the Blatz theory of parent-child relations childhood crises like these are not the mere skirmishes of life; they’re the Alameins and Stalingrads, the historic turning points. They mean that a barrier has been crossed, not through force or bribing, but because the child chose to cross it himself.

The institute never orders a child. They say, “Your hands are dirty, Betfy,” and let Betty figure out what to do about it. They say, “It’s time to eat, Peter,” but Peter won’t be bullied into finishing his spinach

What! “Guinea Pigs?”

Despite the fact that many people still call its methods “newfangled” the institute is approaching the end of its first quarter century. In l!)2.r>, Dr. C. M. Hincks, director of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene in Canada, conferred with the bright young men who were distributing $100 millions under the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund. These men observed that all study of the mind had been conducted backward, by putting a maladjusted adult on a couehand probing to learn of his earliest years, his relationship wit h his parents, his emotional development. Why not, the Rockefeller people reasoned, start at the beginning with small children and keep records of their development until maturity? 11 seemed logical, but the problem was to gather small children together in numbers sufficient to make the study worth while. There was little precedent. In England institutions cared for small children whose parents were working and Detroit had a study group of little people who were watched while they played.

Dr. Blatz, then in his late 20s, bad just completed an impressive thesis for his J’h.D. in psychology at the IJniver sity of Chicago. He dealt with fear in humans and conducted experiments to support his firm conviction that people are more afraid of the unknown than of the known.

Because of this and his remarkable record at the University of Toronto, where he obtained his master’s degree in physiology and his medical degree -the latter a rarity among psychologists

Blatz was hired to start the research. He began with public-school children at Regal Road Public School in To-

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ronto but it was obvious immediately that these children were too mature to be of much use to science.

Blatz then advertised in the Toronto papers for children of from two to five years of age to attend a school at 47 St. George Street. Eight pupils responded in spite of the horror that the ads aroused. Women’s clubs damned mothers who would be so lazy and cruel as to push babies out of their nests so young and Canon H. J. Cody, later president of the university, was aghast. Was Blatz, he asked, proposing to “experiment with little children the way you do with guinea pigs!”

Children then, as now, were examined by the university’s Department of Pediatrics and had to be in normal mental and physical health before they could be admitted. The school was staffed by a dietitian, the principal and two psychology students. The next year some young women from Toronto’s crèches came to observe and most of them stayed on. One was the invaluable Margaret Fletcher who has contributed a legacy of cheery little songs for the nursery school and kindergartens of the country.

Today only 37 children can be accommodated at the institute and about 200 are on the waiting list. Parents, mainly doctors, university professors and the well-to-do, must place their children’s names on the list at birth to have any hope of success. The fee is $150 for the 10-month term, which scarcely pays for the food consumed at the noon meal. The original grant ran out five years after it was made, but additional grants from various sources have helped to keep the institute operating. Gurrently the University of Toronto picks up the annual deficit.

The Unconscious Is Unlikely

Enormous credit is given Blatz for the nursery-school methods he established. During the Second World War Blatz and key members of his staff were flown to England to set up nursery schools and teach Blatz methods. Miss Millichamp, a quiet, soft-voiced woman with enormous charm, was borrowed by the Ontario Government tosef up day-care nurseries for children of war-working mothers.

Until 10 years ago Blatz reports on his findings in the school earned him a spot in his profession among the hierarchy. He was a spectacular bold figure among psychologists, his theories admired, condemned and argued the world over.

Blatz himself, with full knowledge of what he was doing to his reputation, courted scepticism by his insistence that Freud was wrong. Sigmund Freud, the German doctor who pioneered psychiatry, is as revered as a Pasteur. He originated the theory that all mental activity is caused, nothing happens by chance in the mental lile any more than in the physical life. To get some sense out of the labyrinth of the mind he postulated an uncon-

scious mind, an area deeper and considerably more murky than the darling of the films, the subconscious mind.

As explained by Blatz, the subconscious is the one into which your best friend’s name retreats when you come to introduce him. It’s where your mother’s phone number is after you drop the nickel. You know you know it, but it’s gone for the moment. In Freud’s theory, however, the unconscious mind is something of which you’re entirely unaware. He says it’s there, just as surely as there’s a submerged part of an iceberg. Freud claimed that two thirds of human behavior could be traced to this uncon scious mind and to compel patients to understand this submerged part of themselves, he invented psychoanaly-

Blatz merely says that there is no such thing as an unconscious mind, or an ego, or a super ego. or an id. “From my study of children,” he reported to an astonished profession, “I can find no trace of proof that there is anything but a conscious mind. Children are not born either loving or hating (as Freud claimed) but develop such things later on, and such development isdue entirely to environment.”

This is why Blatz and Brock Chisholm, although friendly otherwise, are something less than pally intellectually. Each man thinks the other is more than slightly misguided. “Why not tell a child there is a Santa Claus,” said Blatz blandly at the height of the excitement about Chisholm’s statement. “Certainly there is a Santa Claus, it’s the very spirit of Christmas.”

To protests that this involved the moral problem of deliberately misinforming children Blatz replied: “There are proper occasions to tell children the truth. The rest of the time it doesn’t matter.” In enlarging on this he explained, “For example when a young child questions us about sex behavior we don’t tell him that children are born in blueberry bushes, but neither do we go into a long involved explanation of the facts. The child is too young for the truth.”

Children are more resilient than most authorities are aware, he claims. “They can take practically anything and it won’t matter in the long run. It’s the one hopeful thing I’ve discovered.”

Some of Blatz’ co-workers suspect that Blatz makes many of his electrifying statements to stir up a reaction, much the same as the naughty child. “Maybe he needs to be psychoanalyzed,” one of them suggested thoughtfully on an occasion when the Blatzian neck was out even farther than usual.

In any case Blatz’ reaction is mostly one of quiet amusement. He's off to address an important gathering of psychiatrists this summer in Europe. He plans to tell them that the conscious mind is more important than the unconsciousif there is an unconscious. The Freudians will raise their eyebrows again. But Bill Blatz has been raising eyebrows his own and other people’s—all his life. ★