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The Rights of Children

It is no little thing, when a fresh soul
And a fresh heart, with their unmeasured scope
For good, not gravitating earthward yet,
But circling in diviner periods,
Are sent into the world.
"Children are God's apostles, day by day
Sent forth to preach of love, and hope, and peace.
—James Russell Lowell
All heaven, in every baby born.
All absolute of earthly leaven,
Reveals itself, tho' man may scorn
All heaven.
"Yet man might feel all sin forgiven,
All grief appeased, all pain outworn.
By this one revelation given.
"Soul, now forget thy burdens borne;
Heart, be thy joys now seven times seven;
Love shows in light more bright than morn
All heaven.
—Swinburne
Give him liberty, and keep his confidence. Let him choose his course; but be so good and close a friend that he will not think of making an important choice without asking your advice. Spend much time with him; talk much with him: but talk about his little interests, not your grand ideas. Never evade an honest question, or put off a legitimate curiosity. Make sure that his first intimations of the significance of sex are suffused with an atmosphere of reverence for its sacredness. Never weary of the interminable prattle about his exploits in play, the characteristics of playmates, the hardships of school, the mechanism of locomotives, the aspirations to become an engineer, a stage-driver, or a soldier. Undoubtedly this union of perfect liberty with, perfect confidence is rather an expensive process in the time, patience, and sympathy of the parents, but the reward is great and to be had with certainty on no cheaper terms. It is the one way to insure in the child a character which is at the same time strong and good.
—William DeWitt Hyde

Many volumes have been written concerning the duties of children to their parents, but very little has been said of the duties of parents to their children. A careful and thoughtful analysis of the whole question would show that parents are debtors to their children for more than has generally been supposed. Let parents once realize how much more there is in life because of their children, how child-life tends to call out the better side of their natures, how much happiness comes to them through their children, and how much the example of a child's life means, and they will know for a very truth that the trouble of rearing children is more than offset by the blessings which they bring. The trustfulness and faith of the child-nature, the optimism which enjoys the present, forgetful of the past, careless of the future, is a necessary example for parents, who have lost sight of some of the vital conditions of well-being. Truly, the kingdom of God lies all about within and without the life of a child. A valuable lesson may be learned in the natural way in which children think and act, as well as in their true democracy, where race, creed, color, or previous conditions play no part. Whether the" lesson be heeded or not, the influence of children for good is of untold value.

Prenatal conditions must be taken into consideration when we approach the subject of the rights of children. A thoroughly harmonious marriage, in which there is freedom of thought and action on the part of both father and mother, is the first requisite for the true recognition of child-rights, and the only firm foundation on which to establish the rights of children. The ancient Greeks, understanding the value of prenatal influence far more than the people of the present, surrounded their wives with the most harmonious and beautiful conditions. Many lessons might be learned from their customs tending to raise the standard of moral and physical well-being.

Marriage and the bringing of a child into the world are the two most sacred mysteries of life, and are fraught with greater importance than all other events, and if thought and care are necessary in any phase of life, surely they are demanded here.

Parents need not expect harmonious children if they are inharmonious themselves; neither need they expect strong, healthy children if their minds are discordant; because their mental discord acting upon the life of the child, will produce mental and physical disturbances. Up to a certain stage in the development of the child, the minds of the parents act upon him in such a way that he reflects their varying thoughts and emotions, and is in no way responsible in his own little life for any mental discord or physical disturbances. As yet most parents do not realize the truth of this, but when they do they will understand that they are responsible to the very fullest degree for their children's health.

There is a new life coming for mankind— one wherein the vital questions will be thought out and worked out as they never have been before; one wherein a knowledge of the inner life and its laws will give to us the key to the gate which leads to health and happiness. The old order of things is passing away, and a new order has come, or is near at hand, wherein man will realize that he has dominion and power, not alone in the external world, but dominion and power over his own thoughts, his own actions, and the power to control and direct the full force of his own life.

A shock may come to those who are dwelling continually on the wisdom and justice of God's plan when they think of little children having to suffer for the wrong-doing of their parents. They may question such wisdom and such justice, but after all this condition only goes to prove that humanity is one, that we are parts one of another, that if one part suffers all suffer to some degree. It goes still further to show that if humanity is one body, happiness, health, and strength are not only for every part, but for the whole; that there is no real salvation for the whole if any part of the whole is excepted. The law that saves the part is the law that saves the whole.

There is one thing that parents cannot be too careful concerning, and that is filling the receptive mind of a child with false or unreal ideas of life. There are so many ways of doing this that one needs to be on his guard pretty much all the time when in the presence of children. As an illustration, almost anyone can go back in mind to the time of his childhood and remember some disagreeable story or tale told by some one that filled the little mind with fear and made it unhappy for weeks afterward. The habit that some parents have formed of talking about sickness, disease and pain when children are listening is harmful in the extreme, as it fills their little minds with morbid unreal thoughts. If a child has a vivid imagination he may often become really sick because of such conversation on the part of his parents. Let me impress on the minds of parents and all the necessity of always being as bright and as happy as circumstances will admit. And also to keep the conversation thoroughly wholesome and uplifting. If the state of fear is once established in the mind of a child, that in turn begets cowardice and lack of self-reliance and to a degree may affect all of his afterlife. While the boy or girl who is taught the real truth concerning life grows in knowledge and becomes self-reliant and courageous.

In the care and bringing up of children, in the present, the greater responsibility rests with the mother; but there is neither right nor justice in this. If perfect equality existed between husband and wife the responsibility would be shared equally. As it is, the greater burden of the care of children is placed on the mother, while the advantages necessary to the intelligent bringing up of children are denied her. The superficial mind may say that it rests with the mother to rear the child, and with the father to provide for the material wants; and when they do this that they are fulfilling the natural requirements of life. But if the mother is going to rear the child in the way he should go, then the more highly she is developed spiritually, intellectually, and physically, the more efficient she becomes in the care of both the minds and bodies of her children. It is not enough that the father should provide for the physical sustenance of the child. Some fathers excuse themselves by saying that having worked hard all day, when evening comes, they need rest.

Max O'Rell once related the following incident: "Some years ago I was spending Sunday afternoon in the house of a young married man in Chicago, who, I was told, possest twenty millions. The poor fellow! It was the twenty millions which possest him. He had a most beautiful and interesting wife, and the loveliest little girl of three or four years of age that I ever set my eyes on. That lovely little girl was kind enough to take to me at once—there's no accounting for taste. We had a little flirtation in the distance at first. By and by she came toward me, nearer and nearer, then she stopped in front of me, and looked at me, hesitating, with her finger in her pretty little mouth. I knew what she wanted, and I said to her: 'That's all right, come on.' She jumped on my knees, settled herself comfortably and asked me to tell her stories. I started at once. Now you understand I was not allowed to stop; but I took breath, and I said to her: 'Does not your papa tell you long stories on Sundays?' That lovely little round face grew sad and quite long. 'Oh, no!' she said, 'papa is too tired on Sundays.'

If parents only knew it they could get far greater rest and more valuable knowledge from entering into child-life than in almost any other way. It is not sitting or lying down that rests one, but the power to change thought from one thing to something entirely different, and entering into the child-life would give both rest and recreation. It would tend to renew youth and in every way prove beneficial to father and child. It would be of untold assistance to the mother, who has been engaged throughout the day with the care of the children. It would introduce a new element into the life of the child, and children require change of thought quite as much as do older people. The monotony experienced by older people is also experienced by children.

A few words on the question of the temperament of parents will be timely. It may be said that temperament is a matter of heredity, but being born into this world with a certain temperament, the power is given to change it. A morbid, gloomy temperament may be made bright and hopeful, and the anxious, worrying temperament may become the peaceful, restful one. No matter what mental condition is brought into the world, it can be changed, modified, or eradicated. Children will thrive best where there is a spirit of hopefulness, where the mental sunshine of fearlessness, brightness, and gladness is diffused about them.

Parents should always be patient with children, remembering that the understanding of a child is only developed to a limited degree, and through being patient in showing the right course of thought and action, more can be accomplished than by manifesting a spirit of impatience.

Sometimes young dogs and kittens will play with a ball for hours at a time, but with children it is very different. Frequent change is necessary to their well-being. The mind of the child already gives evidence that it is not going to be satisfied with any one phase of life, but must know all there is to be known before it will ever rest content. The mind of the child is really the prophecy of all that is yet to come. Parents should never try to quell anything in the nature of normal activity in the mind of the child. It is only when the child thinks and acts far beyond his years that they should be careful not to in any way increase such activity of mind; because in such cases the head may become abnormally developed to the detriment of the rest of the physical organism.

Children should never be told that there are two ways of doing things; the right way only should be pointed out. Try to teach the child that there is only one way in life and one way to do everything, and it will make the child's mind more harmonious and the life much easier to live than by having a right and a wrong way.

Parents owe it to their children never to do anything that will cause them to be fearful; never to threaten them with punishment for wrong-doing, but in so far as it is possible, keep their little minds filled with courage, brightness, kindness, gentleness, straightforwardness, politeness, and truthfulness. Parents should always think of their children as they would have them be and do. By keeping this uppermost in their minds, they will find that the life of the child will shape itself according to their highest ideal. What they think and see in their own minds concerning their children, if held to in a strong, steadfast way, will sooner or later be beautifully expressed in the life of the child.

Punishment meted out to children for their wrong-doing is seldom or never merited—if punishment ever can be said to be merited.

The child is acting out more the life of those about him than his own. The worry, the anger, or the fretfulness, is occasioned more by conditions thrown about the child than by anything wrought out by the child. If the punishment were meted out according to the true deserts, more often would it go to the parents. Punishment does not make children better, but serves to call out a certain sense of resentment, and when parents punish their children, they, themselves, become instrumental in the introduction of a false element in the life of the child.

Parents should teach their children how to think and reason for themselves. When a child is told to do a thing and asks the father or mother the reason for it, that reason should never be denied. It is not sufficient to say, "I told you to." Such an example, if carried out, will be copied by the child, and in after life will show forth as a disagreeable trait of character. The child has a right to the reason for anything he is asked to do or refrain from.

Parents should be reasonable and consistent in their dealings with their children. Children should not be allowed to do a thing to-day and have the same thing refused them on the morrow with neither rhyme nor reason. In fact, it is better to deal with children in as reasonable and as straightforward a way as one would with adults. Make everything very simple and very clear.

Truthfulness, simplicity and directness once established in the mind of a child are going to be of untold benefit to him in his afterlife. The impressions received in early childhood are the abiding ones. The frank, straightforward, manly man is usually so because of his early training.

Do everything possible to direct the mind of the child into true channels. The child who is brought into the environment of parents who are fault-finding, intolerant, and selfish, who punish the child for misdemeanors which are often the direct result of their own thought and action, not only has a hard time in childhood, but will find it difficult in after life to overcome the wrong tendencies which were implanted in childhood. It is neither right nor just for parents to expect their children to express more than they themselves are expressing. The mental atmosphere surrounding the child will have a marked effect upon the harmony of the child's mind and the well-being of his body.

Respect the rights of children, and when grown up they will respect the rights of others. Children are influenced, to a marked degree, by the example presented to them by their elders. Give them the very best of examples. Make it easy for them to be obedient and truthful; make it easy for them to be loving and kind, by being all these yourself. What you are in a thoroughly consistent way, that also they will become.

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Charles Brodie Patterson

  • Canadian New Thought author
  • Born in Nova Scotia in 1854 and died on June, 22nd 1917
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