To train a child to gain freedom from the various nervous irritants, one must not only be gaining the same freedom one’s self, but must practise meeting the child in the way he is counselled to meet others. One must refuse to be in any way a nervous irritant to the child. In that case quite as much instruction is received as given. A child, too, is doubly sensitive; he not only feels the intrusion on his own individuality, but the irritable or self-willed attitude of another in expressing such intrusion.
Similarly, in keeping a respectful distance, a teacher grows sensitive to the child, and again the help is mutual, with sometimes a balance in favor of the child.
This mistaken, parent-child attitude is often the cause of severe nervous suffering in those whose only relation is that of friendship, when one mind is stronger than the other. Sometimes there is not any real superior strength on the one side; it is simply by the greater gross-ness of the will that the other is overcome. This very grossness blinds one completely to the individuality of a finer strength; the finer individual succumbs because he cannot compete with crowbars, and the parent-child contraction is the disastrous result. To preserve for a child a normal nervous system, one must guide but not limit him. It is a sad sight to see a mother impressing upon a little brain that its owner is a naughty, naughty boy, especially when such impression is increased by the irritability of the mother. One hardly dares to think how many more grooves are made in a child’s brain which simply give him contractions to take into mature life with him; how many trivial happenings are made to assume a monstrous form through being misrepresented. It is worth while to think of such dangers, such warping influences, only long enough to avoid them.
A child’s imagination is so exquisitely alive, his whole little being is so responsive, that the guidance which can be given him through happy brain-impressions is eminently practicable. To test this responsiveness, and feel it more keenly, just tell a child a dramatic story, and watch his face respond; or even recite a Mother-Goose rhyme with all the expression at your command. The little face changes in rapid succession, as one event after another is related, in a way to put a modern actor to shame. If the response is so quick on the outside, it must be at least equally active within.
One might as well try to make a white rose red by rouging its petals as to mould a child according to one’s own idea of what he should be; and as the beauty and delicacy of the rose would be spoiled by the application of the pigment, so is the baby’s nervous system twisted and contracted by the limiting force of a grosser will.
Water the rose, put it in the sun, keep the insect enemies away, and then enjoy it for itself. Give the child everything that is consistent with its best growth, but neither force the growth nor limit it; and stand far enough off to see the individuality, to enjoy it and profit by it. Use the child’s imagination to calm and strengthen it; give it happy channels for its activity; guide it physically to the rhythm of fresh air, nourishment, and rest; then do not interfere.
If the man never turns to thank you for such guidance, because it all came as a matter of course, a wholesome, powerful nervous system will speak thanks daily with more eloquence than any words could ever express.