This is the second article in the series. To read from the beginning go to part 1.
When the will is rightly trained, disobedience is a fault that rarely appears, because, of course, where obedience is seldom required, it is seldom refused. The child needs to obey—that is true; but so does his mother need to obey, and all other persons about him. They all need to obey God, to obey the laws of nature, the impulses of kindness, and to follow after the ways of wisdom. Where such obedience is a settled habit of the entire household, it easily, and, as it were, unconsciously, becomes the habit of the child. Where such obedience is not the habit of the household, it is only with great difficulty that it can become the habit of the child. His will must set itself against its instinct of imitativeness, and his small house, not yet quite built, must be divided against itself. Probably no cold even rendered entire obedience to any adult who did not himself hold his own wishes in subjection. As Emerson says:
“In dealing with my child, my Latin and my Greek, my accomplishments and my money, stead me nothing, but as much soul as I have avails. If I a willful, he sets his will against mine, one for one, and leaves me, if I please, the degradation of beating him by my superiority of strength. But, if I renounce my will and act for the soul, setting that up as an umpire between us two, out of his young eyes looks the same soul; he reveres and loves with me.”
Suppose the child to be brought to such a stage that he is willing to do anything his father or mother says; suppose, even, that they never tell him to do anything that he does not afterwards discover to be reasonable and just; still, what has he gained? For twenty years he has not had the responsibility for a single action, for a single decision, right or wrong. What is permitted is right to him; what is forbidden is wrong. When he goes out into the world without his parents, what will happen? At the best he will not lie, or steal, or commit murder. That is, he will do none of these things in their bald and simple form.
But in their beginnings these are hidden under a mask of virtue and he has never been trained to look beneath that mask; as happened to Richard Feveril, sin may spring upon him unaware. Someone else, all his life, has labeled things for him; he is not in the habit of judging for himself. He is blind, deaf, and helpless—a plaything of circumstances. It is a chance whether he falls into sin or remains blameless.
Disobedience, then, in a true sense, does not mean failure to do as he is told to do. It means failure to do the things that he knows to be right. He must be taught to listen and obey the voice of his own conscience; and if that voice should ever speak, as it sometimes does, differently from the voice of the conscience of his parents or teachers, its dictates must still be respected by these older and wiser persons, and he must be permitted to do this thing which in itself may be foolish, but which is not foolish, to him.
And, on the other hand, the child who will have his own way even when he knows it to be wrong should be allowed to have it within reasonable limits. Richter says, leave to him the sorry victory, only exercising sufficient ingenuity to make sure that it is a sorry one. What he must be taught is that it is not at all a pleasure to have his own way, unless his own way happens to be right; and this he can only be taught by having his own way when the results are plainly disastrous. Every time that a willful child does what he wants to do, and suffers sharply for it, he learns a lesson that nothing but this experience can teach him.
But his suffering must be plainly seen to be the result of his deed, and not the result of his mother’s anger. For example, a very young child who is determined to play with fire may be allowed to touch the hot lamp or a stove, whenever affairs can be so arranged that he is not likely to burn himself too severely. One such lesson is worth all the hand-spankings and cries of “No, no!” ever resorted to by anxious parents. If he pulls down the blocks that you have built up for him, they should stay down, while you get out of the room, if possible, in order to evade all responsibility for that unpleasant result.
Prohibitions are almost useless. In order to convince yourself of this, get someone to command you not to move your right arm or to wink your eye. You will find it almost impossible to obey for even a few moments. The desire to move your arm, which was not at all conscious before, will become overpowering. The prohibition acts like a suggestion, and is an implication that you would do the negative act unless you were commanded not to. Miss Alcott, in “Little Men,” well illustrates this fact in the story of the children who were told not to put beans up their noses and who straightway filled their noses with beans.
Article by Aadel Bussinger
Aadel has been married to her career Army man for 13 years and they have 2 daughters and a freshly made son. She is a homeschooling mom, volunteer, and online college student. Her hobbies include cooking, organic gardening, sewing, and crocheting. She blogs about their military, unschooling life at These Temporary Tents.
Aadel has written 86 awesome articles for Natural Family Today.