Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Child's World



By The Pleasant Times' Etiquette Lady. 

The Whole Duty Of Children

"A child should always say what's true
And speak when he is spoken to,
And behave mannerly at table;
At least as far as he is able."

-Robert Louis Stevenson

"Children should be seen and not heard" is a phrase we are all familiar with, though by the time most of us were born the advice was considered out-dated and no longer in practice. It has its place, however, in all modern children's lives, and I will add to it by saying that there are times a child should not be seen, either.


There are certain situations when children should participate, or at least there is no harm in them doing so, and then there are situations when children need not be present. I know that a lot of people feel that in order for a child to learn and mature, they must socialize  with adults, be included in every activity, and listen in on everything that is being said, not just once in a while, but constantly. The child is put on the same level as an adult. On the other extreme are the adults who constantly push away children, depriving them of all understanding of real life. The ideal, I believe, is in a balanced approached.
Madame Monet and Her Son
Madame Monet and Her Son
Claude Monet
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"None of your Beeswax."


Parents have their own world. There are a lot of things that are either none of the children's business (or "none of your beeswax" as we children used to remark to each other) to concern themselves with, or plainly inappropriate for children. If parents want life-long respect from their children, they need to protect their world and not let youngsters take it over. One day the child will be a parent, and then it will be their world. Until then, they should be under the authority of their parents and not equals with their parents.


Children, too, have their own world. A child should have a happy and care-free childhood to look back upon with fond delight. A child should be child-like, not childish, and as that child grows, develop a natural maturity aided by wise guidance from the parents. A child's life should revolve around the family, of course, but for as long as possible it should be one of innocence and freedom from the dark and heavy burdens of life. 


"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." 


As children grow, and mature, then they may be more ready to shoulder the burden of information of how difficult the world is, but as children, they should be told enough to make them sober but not enough to make them despair.


Let me give you an example: A child that has no sense of how much things cost, and who is careless with the possessions of other people, and plays heedlessly, needs to be taught some idea of the value of money and the sacrifice that has been made to provide them with toys and clothing, etc. On the other hand, a child need not know how much money her parents make, what they do with every penny, exactly how much debt is crushing them or learn to bite her nails over the nervous anxiety of imagining life if her parents cannot pay the water or electric bill, or the rent or house payment. Just enough general knowledge of respect for money, trust in her parents and an instillation by training of habits of conservation verses wastefulness should suffice for many years of a child's life. A child who knows her parent's financial situation intimately will become a little judgmental, micro-managing critic whenever mother takes her shopping. She'll be utterly worried over every expenditure, and thus a quite disapproving attitude will be developed over the way she thinks her parents are handling money. Some money talk will inevitably be overheard by children when their parents talk, but heavier discussions of it should not enter the child's world.


A child who knows how rich her parents are, on the other hand, will be a demanding little spoiled princess whenever her mother takes her shopping. As I say, a training of the mind regarding finances, in a judicious manner, will be undertaken by any wise parent. A child taught to understand their own meagre finances (i.e. piggy bank and how to save, spend, how much things cost, etc.) will be better occupied than being allowed to mentally manage their parent's finances.


Children should not be concerned with things that an adult is responsible for. They should not be following their parents around with a critical eye. Children are anxious to catch their parents in a hypocrisy, and that attitude comes from getting out of their world and into their parent's world.


I agreed with the chapter in the book, The Simplicity Primer,  where the author talked about not worrying the children over impending doom-- such as the world burning up from an environmental disaster- in such a way as to render the child a nervous wreck despairing of even life itself! Explain things in a balanced way to children, in a way intended to have a practical application, too, so the child can learn a lesson or good habit from it, but do not frighten them.



Dewey vs. Truman




Dewey vs. Truman

Norman Rockwell
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A child may be taught at a young age about the danger of fire, for example, in such a way as is very dramatic and scary. The child may be so traumatized (especially if they have an active imagination!) that they will go around unplugging every appliance in the house. Perhaps instead of frightening the child, fire safety could have been emphasized, with useful application: loose papers all over their messy room are highly flammable; or that having a messy, toy-strewn floor makes it hazardous for the firemen who are coming in to rescue them! This gives the child something to do about the danger, every day, instead of being hyper and  worried.



There are some things in this wicked world that should not crash in on a child's world. I was blessed to have an innocent childhood myself; the perverse lifestyles, jail birds, drugs, and moral failings existed when I was little, but I was blissfully ignorant of them. People were people to me: old, young, some like my family and some different. This was an ideal childhood, and freed my mind to concern itself with learning other life-long lessons, such as how to brush my teeth and why we go to church. 




Be Seen and Not Heard. 


The Picture Book






The Picture Book

H.e. Jones
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In company, children should be seen and not heard. As long as the conversation is general, children will learn a lot from listening to adults talk,
if they will not interrupt or partake in the conversation unless they are spoken to. And when they are spoken to (as in, asked a question or called upon to relate something) they are to be quiet until spoken to again. I'm sure everyone has had the annoying experience of a child who thought they were on the level with adults, and took over the conversation. Such a child may think they are showing how intelligent they are, but in reality they are creating a dislike in the adult for themselves. Adults like to be treated with respect (yes, and a little awe) by children, not as if the child thought himself to be on the same level as his elders.

An example that many of us will be familiar with is Thanksgiving Dinner. There is usually a children's table at this feast, and all the cousins are seated there to talk as grown-up as possible about their child-world.  At the other table are seated the adult relatives. Many a time a child has turned to listen to the adults speak, and as long as the conversation is fit for company, there is no harm in this. A quiet child will find amusement in watching adults converse, watching their usually-serious father or grandfather crack up over some joke or long-forgotten story, and observe with curiosity smile lines only seen during belly laughs. A child might hear old wrinkled up Aunt Edna tell stories; old feeble Aunt Edna, who looks as if she has lived through three centuries-- the one with purple hair who and few teeth, -- a child may be surprised to learn that she was once young and beautiful, and married. They may hear about the time when cousin Sue was newly married and driving the car to town backwards because she didn't know how to drive, and once she had it in reverse couldn't figure out how to get the gears into any other position! Or, a child may observe sobriety and a few tears when a past generation is remembered, and about people who were vibrantly alive when the adults were children around the thanksgiving table. It does not hurt the child to hear these things, if they will sit quietly and observe and not interrupt!

Some things may need  explanation in a situation like this, and a child may want to know what a word means, or what era is being spoken of, what an outhouse is or why great-grandma had to beat off the old black rooster with a cane every time she went outdoors. Even still, a  child should not interrupt. They should be taught to keep a mental note of things they want to ask about, and ask mother or daddy on the way home, or at some other convenient time. A lot of times, things will be self-explanatory, if one listens to the whole story without interrupting. And, it is a good exercise for the child's mind to connect the dots and see if he came up with the right answer, and ask his mother or father later on. Some things, indeed, can be filed away until further notice; there are many things that I have heard about, and years later an "aha" moment came when I finally found the missing piece to the puzzle via a book.

I recall the many times that I sat on my father's lap when I was a wee thing, while a visiting minister and my father were talking about missions and churches. Most of it went over my head, but it was a privilege to be allowed to stay there quietly and listen in.

These are examples of the times when a child may be seen, and not heard.




Not Seen and Not Heard.


Goodnight



Goodnight

Arthur John...
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Then there are times when a child should not be seen, either. Examples of these times are: when you are counseling a friend over a very important or private matter, whether in person or on the phone; when you are composing letters or emails, whether or not there is something in them that is personal; when parents need to discuss something serious; when parents need to discuss something parenting-related, whether or not it directly involves the child (they can be told later when conclusions are reached); and when there is something going on that is gender-specific.



Though there are many lessons to be learned as a child, and parents want to be able to point out real-life examples and promote life-long learning, a parent need not drop everything to teach the lesson right then and there. Maybe a friend's life is falling apart, and she has come to cry on your shoulder. A child should not be present at times like this, and if he is, this is NOT the time to "seize the moment" and derive a moral lesson from it for the child. Perhaps the child need not know a thing about it, or a lesson can be given later to him on the subject, speaking in general terms.

To Seize or Not To Seize
The Orange Gatherers



The Orange Gatherers

John William...
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Well then, what about those "teachable moments?" There will be times to seize the teachable moment, and times when it is
not the moment.

A child should not delay your normal tasks and daily work with a battery of questions, demanding to know what is this and that, how this or that works, etc. He should learn to be observant, and a parent can "teach as you go" by talking and explaining while she does the work, but the world need not stop for a detailed explanation when dinner needs to be on the table by the time Daddy comes home.

Children should not interrupt important conversations between mother and father, or important and stressful tasks the adults are working on, to whine and fuss and make a general pest of themselves.

Conversations among adults should
never be interrupted for long, drawn out explanations to children. That can wait until later.

 I remember once, in response to a question, I was laughingly told "because the birds fly south for the winter" and I suppose it did not matter that I knew whatever it was right then and there. A phrase any of the
Little House book series readers will remember is "Little pitchers have big ears." That meant there are certain things that should not be talked about in front of a child.

A parent has to keep some personal privacy and dignity, and save some lessons for later. If a child needs to learn to write letters, set a good example and let him see you writing them often, but do not let him lean over your shoulder and see every word you are writing. That is called poking his nose into your business. The time for him to learn is when
you set him down to compose a letter, and there will be the opportunity for you to explain to him how it is done. Moonbeams



Moonbeams

Jessie ...
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Take some time to enjoy your children and converse with them, so that they do not miss out on important subjects and lessons, but let it be the right time, the right place, and not to the annoyance of anyone.




You are not their business, but they are your business.
The Cider Mill, 1880



The Cider Mill, 1880

John George...
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On the other hand, it is the parent's business to poke
their nose into the child's world constantly to make sure their training is "taking" and to watch out for dangers. Be consistently aware of what your child reads, watches, listens to and whom he associates with. Know who your child's friends are, and how they play, and what they say.

I might add here to avoid neighborhood children at all costs; in my experience neighborhood children are rarely raised with the same standards of language, modesty and morality as my family hold. Many parents will not send their children to pu. school as "child missionaries" because they know this may do more harm than good; well, your children are not necessarily neighborhood missionaries, either. Many worldly children enjoy "enlightening ignorance" and introducing and defining certain words  for their more innocent playmates. If you were wondering how that word made it into your child's vocabulary....
Perhaps my view of neighborhood kids is a jaded one, use your own judgement. Just be cautious!

While I am at the business of stepping on everyone's child-raising toes, let me assert here another opinion of mine: that some children are less often in their parents world and more often in their own world or that of their friends; and that some children are too often in their parent's world and less often in their own child-world, and the latter I have observed mostly in home educated children. Both are extreme statements, I find neither of them satisfactory. One perhaps is a  child who has no interest in their family life other than how it benefits them, and who resents it when their parents try to teach them something because their parents are not paid state teachers, or they have no respect for their elders, or they live in video-game land. The other is a child who has been brought so far into the parent's world that they are just plain weird, have no normal childlike desires, and when they are not in video-game land, they are sticking their little upturned noses into their parent's business. Please try to normalize your children as much as possible and spare the world these extremes!

May God grant all parents with the sight they need to see when it is wise to include their children, and when it is not the right time to take them out of their world.



Postscript:






A note about gender-specific situations: Boys should be taught to respect and appreciate loveliness; the pretty lace doily on the coffee table for example (don't fool with it and make a hole in it), a nicely scented candle (don't fool with it and scratch it with your fingernails or pocket knife!), or how nice their mother looks when she puts on her makeup and a pretty dress. They should not, however, be overly-curious about such things, and develop the un-masculine habit of making wimpy sounding remarks of "oh, how cute" or "isn't it adorable?" nor should their presence be allowed in certain situations, such as when the girls are putting on makeup or in the sewing room during a dress fitting. NO BOYS ALLOWED should be posted when the girls of the family need privacy. 

Girls, also, should not be overly into the boy's lives, or imitating a boy's speech or manner, at the risk of losing their femininity. Boys would also like to do things quietly sometimes without the pesky girls asking them thousands of questions ("interferin' women"). 

Just as children need to have a respect for parents, they need to have a respect for siblings as well. Sometimes, that means to be seen and not heard (and not have your cute little foot right on your brother's puzzle) or just plain not be seen (when your sister is reading her Jane Austen novels).


A Mother and her Children by a Stream




A Mother and her Children by a Stream

Hans Anderson...
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