Declaration of Children's Independence
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Declaration of Children's Independence
By Bolton Hall
When you see a furious man beating his horse, you do not inquire whether the horse was naughty or not; you say, “That is brutal,” and threaten to report him for cruelty to animals. Your children, however, are beaten at home by angry parents, and it is not reported. No; you and I tell the children, whose angels are always beholding the face of their Father which is in heaven,” that they are wicked and that God will punish them; then, lest God should make some mistake, we punish them ourselves.
The “divine right” of parents to rule is as ridiculous as the “divine right” of kings, and much nre injurious; the Declaration of our Independence says that “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Have your children con- seated that you should be their policeman, judge, and jailer every time you get into a bad temper? Truly.” neglect and contempt of human rights” are responsible for as much of the miseries of childhood as of society.
“But it is necessary to punish children,” you say. Necessary, but not right!—that is equivalent to saying, either that there is no God, or that his law will not work. You are not God yourself, and to punish is to assume more than divine wisdom, for there are no punishments in God’s order of nature, only inevitable consequences. Remember that scarcely Omniscience could measure out punishment suited exactly to the offense. Harmony, Consequence, Law: that is the message of the Infinite; and when you secrete the candy-box, lest the child should over-indulge, you deprive him of his birthright of opportunity for self-restraint. I daily see a child who will play with candy all day long and never touch a bit, except under her mother’s advice. She says, “It would not be good for me.” She has learned that faith that is justified by its works.
The Nature of Things is a school in which one learns to rule his own spirit, to control himself. Then are we to counteract the discipline of the schoolmasters of God?
Of course, it takes more thee and trouble to teach children than it does to whack them; but have you anything better worth the time and trouble—except to go to afternoon teas?
Love, Patience, Experience; these, and not slippers, are the divine means of teaching; for bruising can teach a child nothing but that you are a bruiser, which he would soon enough learn without your pains. But your bruising does lead a child to think that if you are not there to punish wrong-doing, it will go unpunished, and that whatsoever the child soweth, that shall he not also reap, but something else—the only real infidelity.
But, my lazy, dear friend, the world is so made that it really pays to do right. “Godliness is profitable for all things:” such is the goodness and the severity of God; and you will be surprised to find how even the young barbarian whom you have brought forth and developed will respond to kindness. He is not really worse than the boys at the Elmira Reformatory or than Dr. Arnold’s Rugby boys; if the appeal to reason and righteousness succeeds with them, it might with your little child; and if you must treat him as a mere animal, it is because you have brought him up as a mere brute and not as a reasonable soul. Experience is a severe teacher, but there is no other for him or for us; the most we can do is to repeat, explain, and illustrate her lessons. To constantly stand in her way is the only “sparing of the rod” that can really spoil the child.
My baby sat next me at table as soon as it was able to sit up, and was consumed with a desire to reach the silver kettle of hot metal. I carefully explained by signs that it would burn. Nevertheless, baby sensibly concluded to try for itself. All right. It did burn. Papa was wiser than baby thought, and could safely be trusted again; also baby could be trusted near the kettle. If the child had trusted without trying, it would have been a little fool; and if I had forced it to, I would have been a big one.
If the child has eaten enough, make him understand that; and if he will then eat more, let him have indigestion, and let him under-stand the cause and the consequent discomfort. “But most of the discomfort and care will fall upon me,” you say; true, thank God for that. We can somewhat bear one another’s burdens. Besides, thereby you may get some of the education yourself.
Your little boy sees you take out a knife, curious, shining, and cut a stick in two. He feels the faculty in himself also to work such miracles as that, if he only had the knife. But you tell him not to touch it. Being wiser than you, he does touch it: if no evil happens, you are convicted of error; if he cuts his fingers, does not that hurt? then why do you box his ears? It only makes him think you are stupid or revengeful (he is only a child). Better far to let him try, explain to him its dangers, protect him in the trial, and, as soon as he has learned them, let him have a knife.
Thereby you have fulfilled the highest mission of man. What is the good of you and of me except to show the right and warn against the wrong? To the extent that we do those things, we are the Prophets of the Lord.
A child whose education has been by experience will not, like nearly all young girls, run out in the wet with thin shoes, merely because Mamma is not there to say no; nor will she clandestinely marry a good-looking “Count.”
Let your children know the truth, and they will trust to it and you. Appeal always to the divinity in little men, and not to the little beast. If something necessarily disagreeable must be done (there are few such things), explain the reasons, if there be any; let the little one know just how much pain it may have to undergo, and accustom it to “do what is wise.” If it sometimes refuses to do it, the mischief is less than to run the risk of “breaking its will;” I had as soon break a child’s back as its will Where deadly peril threatens, do for your child what you ought to do for your neighbor; you have no right to do more or less. If you see a man ignorantly run in front of the cars, you pull him back; if he but goes out in the rain, you only warn him. So you may do with your child.
You may advise with your superior intelligence; you must not substitute your mind for his. You may guide by your greater knowledge; but you cannot alter his nature with a club. Above all things, do not condemn him: “judge not, that ye be not judged”—for your judgment will probably be wrong.
- Bolton Hall, “Declaration of Children’s Independence,” The Outlook 59, no. 7 (June 18, 1898): 431.