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Jacob Abbott
Gentle Measures in the Management and Training of the Young / Or, the Principles on Which a Firm Parental Authority May Be Established and Maintained, Without Violence or Anger, and the Right Development of the Moral and Mental Capacities Be Promoted by Methods in Harmony with the Structure and the Characteristics of the Juvenile Mind


It is not impossible that in the minds of some persons the idea of employing gentle measures in the management and training of children may seem to imply the abandonment of the principle of authority, as the basis of the parental government, and the substitution of some weak and inefficient system of artifice and manoeuvring in its place. To suppose that the object of this work is to aid in effecting such a substitution as that, is entirely to mistake its nature and design. The only government of the parent over the child that is worthy of the name is one of authority—complete, absolute, unquestioned authority. The object of this work is, accordingly, not to show how the gentle methods which will be brought to view can be employed as a substitute for such authority, but how they can be made to aid in establishing and maintaining it.

Three Methods

There are three different modes of management customarily employed by parents as means of inducing their children to comply with their requirements. They are,

1. Government by Manoeuvring and Artifice.

2. By Reason and Affection.

3. By Authority.

Manoeuvring and Artifice

1. Many mothers manage their children by means of tricks and contrivances, more or less adroit, designed to avoid direct issues with them, and to beguile them, as it were, into compliance with their wishes. As, for example, where a mother, recovering from sickness, is going out to take the air with her husband for the first time, and—as she is still feeble—wishes for a very quiet drive, and so concludes not to take little Mary with her, as she usually does on such occasions; but knowing that if Mary sees the chaise at the door, and discovers that her father and mother are going in it, she will be very eager to go too, she adopts a system of manoeuvres to conceal her design. She brings down her bonnet and shawl by stealth, and before the chaise comes to the door she sends Mary out into the garden with her sister, under pretense of showing her a bird's nest which is not there, trusting to her sister's skill in diverting the child's mind, and amusing her with something else in the garden, until the chaise has gone. And if, either from hearing the sound of the wheels, or from any other cause, Mary's suspicions are awakened—and children habitually managed on these principles soon learn to be extremely distrustful and suspicious—and she insists on going into the house, and thus discovers the stratagem, then, perhaps, her mother tells her that they are only going to the doctor's, and that if Mary goes with them, the doctor will give her some dreadful medicine, and compel her to take it, thinking thus to deter her from insisting on going with them to ride.

As the chaise drives away, Mary stands bewildered and perplexed on the door-step, her mind in a tumult of excitement, in which hatred of the doctor, distrust and suspicion of her mother, disappointment, vexation, and ill humor, surge and swell among those delicate organizations on which the structure and development of the soul so closely depend—doing perhaps an irreparable injury. The mother, as soon as the chaise is so far turned that Mary can no longer watch the expression of her countenance, goes away from the door with a smile of complacency and satisfaction upon her face at the ingenuity and success of her little artifice.

In respect to her statement that she was going to the doctor's, it may, or may not, have been true. Most likely not; for mothers who manage their children on this system find the line of demarkation between deceit and falsehood so vague and ill defined that they soon fall into the habit of disregarding it altogether, and of saying, without hesitation, any thing which will serve the purpose in view.

Governing by Reason and Affection

2. The theory of many mothers is that they must govern their children by the influence of reason and affection. Their method may be exemplified by supposing that, under circumstances similar to those described under the preceding head, the mother calls Mary to her side, and, smoothing her hair caressingly with her hand while she speaks, says to her,

"Mary, your father and I are going out to ride this afternoon, and I am going to explain it all to you why you can not go too. You see, I have been sick, and am getting well, and I am going out to ride, so that I may get well faster. You love mamma, I am sure, and wish to have her get well soon. So you will be a good girl, I know, and not make any trouble, but will stay at home contentedly—won't you? Then I shall love you, and your papa will love you, and after I get well we will take you to ride with us some day."

The mother, in managing the case in this way, relies partly on convincing the reason of the child, and partly on an appeal to her affection.

Governing by Authority

3. By the third method the mother secures the compliance of the child by a direct exercise of authority. She says to her—the circumstances of the case being still supposed to be the same—

"Mary, your father and I are going out to ride this afternoon, and I am sorry, for your sake, that we can not take you with us."

"Why can't you take me?" asks Mary.

"I can not tell you why, now," replies the mother, "but perhaps I will explain it to you after I come home. I think there is a good reason, and, at any rate, I have decided that you are not to go. If you are a good girl, and do not make any difficulty, you can have your little chair out upon the front door-step, and can see the chaise come to the door, and see your father and me get in and drive away; and you can wave your handkerchief to us for a good-bye."

Then, if she observes any expression of discontent or insubmission in Mary's countenance, the mother would add,

"If you should not be a good girl, but should show signs of making us any trouble, I shall have to send you out somewhere to the back part of the house until we are gone."

But this last supposition is almost always unnecessary; for if Mary has been habitually managed on this principle she will not make any trouble. She will perceive at once that the question is settled—settled irrevocably—and especially that it is entirely beyond the power of any demonstrations of insubmission or rebellion that she can make to change it. She will acquiesce at once.1 She may be sorry that she can not go, but she will make no resistance. Those children only attempt to carry their points by noisy and violent demonstrations who find, by experience, that such measures are usually successful. A child, even, who has become once accustomed to them, will soon drop them if she finds, owing to a change in the system of management, that they now never succeed. And a child who never, from the beginning, finds any efficiency in them, never learns to employ them at all.


Of the three methods of managing children exemplified in this chapter, the last is the only one which can be followed either with comfort to the parent or safety to the child; and to show how this method can be brought effectually into operation by gentle measures is the object of this book. It is, indeed, true that the importance of tact and skill in the training of the young, and of cultivating their reason, and securing their affection, can not be overrated. But the influences secured by these means form, at the best, but a sandy foundation for filial obedience to rest upon. The child is not to be made to comply with the requirements of his parents by being artfully inveigled into compliance, nor is his obedience to rest on his love for father and mother, and his unwillingness to displease them, nor on his conviction of the rightfulness and reasonableness of their commands, but on simple submission to authority—that absolute and almost unlimited authority which all parents are commissioned by God and nature to exercise over their offspring during the period while the offspring remain dependent upon their care.


It being thus distinctly understood that the gentle measures in the training of children herein recommended are not to be resorted to as a substitute for parental authority, but as the easiest and most effectual means of establishing and maintaining that authority in its most absolute form, we have now to consider what the nature of these gentle measures is, and by what characteristics they are distinguished, in their action and influence, from such as may be considered more or less violent and harsh.

Gentle measures are those which tend to exert a calming, quieting, and soothing influence on the mind, or to produce only such excitements as are pleasurable in their character, as means of repressing wrong and encouraging right action. Ungentle measures are those which tend to inflame and irritate the mind, or to agitate it with painful excitements.

Three Degrees of Violence

There seem to be three grades or forms of violence to which a mother may resort in controlling her children, or, perhaps, rather three classes of measures which are more or less violent in their effects. To illustrate these we will take an example.

Case supposed

One day Louisa, four years old, asked her mother for an apple. "Have you had any already?" asked her mother.

"Only one," replied Louisa. "Then Bridget may give you another," said the mother.

What Louisa said was not true. She had already eaten two apples. Bridget heard the falsehood, but she did not consider it her duty to betray the child, so she said nothing. The mother, however, afterwards, in the course of the day, accidentally ascertained the truth.

Now, as we have said, there are three grades in the kind and character of the measures which may be considered violent that a mother may resort to in a case like this.

Bodily Punishment

1. First, there is the infliction of bodily pain. The child may be whipped, or tied to the bed-post, and kept in a constrained and uncomfortable position for a long time, or shut up in solitude and darkness, or punished by the infliction of bodily suffering in other ways.

And there is no doubt that there is a tendency in such treatment to correct or cure the fault. But measures like these, whether successful or not, are certainly violent measures. They shock the whole nervous system, sometimes with the excitement of pain and terror, and always, probably, with that of resentment and anger. In some cases this excitement is extreme. The excessively delicate organization of the brain, through which such agitations reach the sensorium, and which, in children of an early age, is in its most tender and sensitive state of development, is subjected to a most intense and violent agitation.

Evil Effects of Violence in this Form

The evil effects of this excessive cerebral action may perhaps entirely pass away in a few hours, and leave no trace of injury behind; but then, on the other hand, there is certainly reason to fear that such commotions, especially if often repeated, tend to impede the regular and healthful development of the organs, and that they may become the origin of derangements, or of actual disorganizations, resulting very seriously in future years. It is impossible, perhaps, to know with certainty whether permanent ill effects follow in such cases or not. At any rate, such a remedy is a violent one.

The Frightening System


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На этой странице вы можете прочитать онлайн книгу «Gentle Measures in the Management and Training of the Young», автора Jacob Abbott. Данная книга относится к жанрам: «Воспитание детей», «Зарубежная образовательная литература».. Книга «Gentle Measures in the Management and Training of the Young» была издана в 2018 году. Приятного чтения!