Friday, October 19, 2018

Problems with Boys, 1933 - Ursula Wise disregards this child's over-exuberance as a psychological problem and advises and how to facilitate it

June, 1933 in The Nursery World

Problems with Boys

How can I help with my boy’s over-exuberance?” asks a Mother this week

"Gyp" writes: 
“My husband and I are against corporal punishment and have never applied it. I would very much like to know how you would deal with such ‘pranks’ as drawing on the walls, doors, etc. The boy, who is five and a-quarter, seems to get hold of pencils in a remarkable way and we never catch him actually scribbling. He has plenty of blocks and paper to write on. we had one nursery repapered last September, but it is already spoilt. He is terribly full of life – quite wild. He is perfectly good with me, but as soon as his daddy goes in to say good night to him he leaps out of bed and starts playing the fool, takes his pyjamas off, strips his bed and nurse’s, throws everything about and one night actually picked the jug of water up and poured the contents all over the armchair and floor. All this he thinks is huge fun and is still more amused when we do not seem to like it. If my husband says he will not say good night to him and leaves the room, the boy just rushes out all over the flat and it is impossible to keep him in is room. The only punishment we can give him is not to allow him in the sitting room with us the next day – this he minds very much. He has plenty of little friends to play with and takes a lot of exercise and is out from 9.30 a.m. till noon and 2 p.m. till 6 p.m., has riding lessons and rhythmic dancing twice a week and is in bed by 7 p.m. he is very intelligent and forward for his age and very easy to reason with except during his wild moments – I do hope you can advise me how to cope with his over-exuberance without crushing spirits.”

From the practical point of view you certainly have something of a problem with your little son. I do not, however, think you have a psychological problem. That is not to say, there is nothing in this behaviour of your boy that augurs ill for his future development. He is obviously full of energy and fun, and all that is needed, from the point of view of his future character, is the gradual deflection of this vigour and horse-play into more useful social channels. But as compared with the children who are always whining and unhappy, or merely indifferent and inhibited, your boy is well off in his psychological make-up. From the practical point of view his scribbling and his over-excitement when his daddy goes into his room must be something of a nuisance. But I think a good deal of the practical inconvenience could be obviated, and it seems to me likely also that if you based your remonstrances about his behaviour simply on the practical grounds of inconvenience, that would be more likely to have an effect in subduing his excitement to a more reasonable level than any scolding. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Open–Air Play, 1930 – Ursula Wise privileges the value of being outside and active over formal lessons

February 5, 1930 in The Nursery World

Open-Air Play 

“C.W.” writes: “ I should be so much obliged for advice about my small daughter, aged four. I am anxious to know whether or not it would be advisable to send her to a kindergarten next term. I have found one near home, but it takes children from nine to twelve every morning, and is not keen on shorter times. G. has always been a difficult child, sleeps badly and wakens crying in the night. She is better since we moved into the country here. She is a self-conscious child, and gets very tired at the dancing class. I can’t make up my mind whether this kind of child is better doing more with other children, or whether another six months in the country  - we live on a farm, with hens and dogs and rabbits and cats, etc. – would be better. There are two other little girls on the farm, exactly her age, to play with. Should I give her lessons myself? She has a strong tendency to say in the hour supposed to be given to ‘work,’ ‘Oh, I’m tired; I would rather look at books’; and I feel this may be due to the lack of the right thing to do. The youngest child at the kindergarten is, I think, five years.”

Before deciding whether you send her to the kindergarten or not, I should, if I were you, find out two things. First, just how big the difference in age is between your little girl and the nest youngest child there. If it is not more than a few months, and the other child is not of a large, very vigorous or domineering type, it would not matter very much. But if the difference is, say, a year, and the other child is very well-advanced or a strong personality, then it would not be very good.  Secondly, how much active open-air play does the school allow? If the children there are mostly sitting still indoors, then the farm life and free play with the two other girls at home would certainly be better. If she had not other children to play with, the kindergarten would be better for her. But if you can arrange for her to spend her mornings regularly with the other two, watching animals, running, and jumping and climbing, exploring the fields and the farm, that should be a very good life for her. I would not, however, advise anything in the nature of set ‘lessons’ at her age and with her liability to nervous fatigue. You can help her best by giving her the right sort of conditions for play and things to play with, and by sharing her fun in her games and interests.  I shall be glad to hear again about your little girl. 


Friday, October 5, 2018

The Shy Child, March 1937: Ursula Wise talks about building confidence and overcoming fear in the shy child.

March 3, 1937 in The Nursery World 

The Shy Child 

Ira” writes: “My little girl is three years old this month. She is, I think, shy in a strange way. The problem is dancing classes. She is very keen to dance – dances nearly all day, especially when music is within her hearing. So I started her at a small dancing class for tiny tots. V. was thrilled for several weeks, then someone shut the door of the room rather sharply and V. burst into tears. I had to be sent for, she quietened but no more dancing that day. The nest week I went along with her and stopped there all the time, but V. would not dance – just sat beside me. This has now gone on for several weeks, both of us watching the other children, but V. makes no attempt to join them, although her little body is keeping time to the dancing and music, and she seems as if she is longing to join in but just can’t bring herself to do it. Occasionally she gets down, stands in front and does a few steps, then seems to remember something and comes back on the chair. I want to know whether to continue to take her along just to look on – or to stop going for a time. As soon as we return home she is full of dancing and says she will dance next week, which she never does. The dancing mistress thinks she will get over it if allowed to watch but not asked to take part. I might add she never likes doors closed – why I don’t know – as to my knowledge she has never been frightened by a door or shut in a room. Strangely she will have her bedroom door closed – crying out if it is left open. She is quite a healthy child and very active – sleeps well. V. has a brother six years, whom she adores but cannot bear to share him with other children. She herself does not care to play with other children, and will not stay in the room with strangers but cries for me.” 

            Such sudden fears are very common in children of your little girl’s age, but they usually grow out of them gradually, with normal development. I would feel inclined to continue to take your little girl to look on at the dancing classes, if she is happy to do so, but not to press her or even to suggest that she joins in the dancing for the present. I think the dancing teacher is right in that matter. If you kept her away, the child might think that there was really something to be afraid of. But if you take her to watch the other children dancing for a period, she will gradually gain confidence, and her wish to dance will overcome her fear. I would try to guard against the event of the door slamming again, and ask the dancing teacher to co-operate in this. Let the child dance as much as she likes at home, and provide music for her to dance to, and you could join in the dancing with her yourself. You say that the child does not care to play with other children, and if you continue to take her to watch the dancing classes this will give her experience of other children, and when she gains more confidence, she may join in with them more happily. With regard to the fear of closed doors, she is likely to grow out of this too as she gets older. I would be careful to make sure that she does not get shut up in a room accidentally, and it may help her if you let her open and close doors herself. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Stubborn Child, 1934 – Ursula Wise clarifies the fine distinction between ‘ignoring’ a child and ‘taking no notice’ of specific behaviour

June 13,1934 in The Nursery World

The Stubborn Child

An unusually stubborn little boy of three years old is the subject of one of this week’s letters

"Kidderwrites: “I wonder if you could help me re the management of my little charge, aged three years. I really am quite at a loss to know how to deal with him. He has the most violent temper and is terribly stubborn; simply will not do anything he doesn’t want to do. I coax him, change the subject and try all manner of means to get him to do things, but all to no purpose. He will sit at the meal table, continually repeating ‘I’m hungry: but I won’t eat!’ until I am heartily sick of hearing him speak. I have tried just ignoring him but if I do that he just yells, ‘Nanny I want you to take some notice of me,’ until I am forced to do so. I have appealed to him, treated him as a big boy, let him do things for himself, thinking that might help; but in no way can I break down his terrible stubbornness. Every day in everything he wants to go in opposition, and I really find it very tiring. I might add that he has a brother, aged four, who is very sweet and good. Timothy often bites, kicks, and pushes him down for no reason at all. I have honestly never lost my patience with him, but I do feel I can’t go on forever especially as we are expecting a third baby in October, and I shall need all my energy to cope with the three single-handed.”

Your little charge is quite unusually stubborn. As you probably know, a fair amount of obstinacy is quite common and normal at his age, but this boy is remarkably determined to assert his power over you. Now there must be some reason for such a marked attitude of stubbornness. I cannot tell from your letter what that reason may be, but there always is some cause for such a situation. One thing seems extremely probable, namely, that he feels a tremendous sense of rivalry with the brother who is older but so close to him in age, and who has such a formidable temperament. This rivalry must have been there from a very early age with the younger boy, and it must partly be because the elder one is so successfully good that the younger one feels he can only assert himself by being difficult and stubborn. You say that you let him do things for himself, but I wonder very much whether you go far enough in that direction, whether you give him enough independence of choice? It is very important with such a child to avoid situations that give rise to the obstinacy, by never asking the child to do anything that isn’t important enough to insist upon even in spite of his defiance. Wherever you can possibly give the child hid head, I should do so; and do it not merely in form but in reality, not minding what he chooses to do. But where there is something that has to be done, then I should insist upon it in spite of his shouts and storms. For example, with regard to his saying, “I am hungry, but I won’t eat,” I certainly would leave him to be quite hungry. That is quite a different problem from the child who doesn’t feel hungry. I should leave him perfectly free to eat or not and take the food away if he doesn’t. You need not fear that he would starve himself. I would, of course, assume at the next mealtime that he would want to eat, and I would not show any reproach or contempt for his not eating, but be entirely matter-of-fact and good-humoured about it. 
I think his demand that you should take notice of him comes from his feeling that your ‘ignoring’ him is a reproach. There are so many different ways in which one can apparently ‘ignore’ another person. It can be done in a way that implies the utmost contempt and anger! I do not ever believe in ignoring the child, but only in taking no notice of the specific piece of behaviour – which is quite a different matter. I would let him feel that I was still perfectly friendly, and ready to talk about interesting things. If he feels that you are ignoring him in a hostile way, he is sure to get more angry and stubborn. I have the feeling that you might appeal more than you do to his sense and reason, not by way of trying to persuade him to do something that you think is right (except where this is really necessary), but more by way of letting him choose what is reasonable, and letting him carry it out himself. If you could give him opportunities for really free choice, and at other times let him feel that you have not merely a negative patience towards him, but a real friendliness, I think you would find the stubbornness would grow less. It is in any case sure to lessen within the next year. But you could help it along in the ways I have suggested.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Sex education, September 1939. Susan Isaacs talks about the "silliness" of approaching this through a sickly and sentimental account of pollination and germination in flowers. - it is the wrong way to cope with the doubts and anxieties of youth. This is her lengthiest and one of her strongest replies to a correspondent.

September 1939 In Home and School "Readers Questions

Susan Isaacs rejects any notion of this being primarily about anatomy and physiology - it is a sensitive part of growing up and requires wisdom to steer between the rocks of dishonesty and the whirlpool of sentimentality. 

“Mervyn” writes:-

Would you write something about the vexed question of sex education? It’s a thing I’ve thought about for years, and I’ve read all the books about it, and never been able to make up my mind as to what was the best way of dealing with the subject. And a lot of people are saying just now that we ought to teach all the facts about sex education to young people before they get themselves into difficulty and disease. It’s certainly awful to think that out of sheer ignorance anybody’s boy or girl can make a fatal mistake, but it is as simple as all that? Is there really nothing to it but giving information which has been withheld because of silly prejudice? What do the young people themselves feel about it? My own daughter of sixteen years has never (as far as I’ve seen) shown the slightest wish to learn anything about these things. Indeed, whenever I tried to lead the way to it (having in mind all I had read about the desirability of such teaching), she changed the subject. I should say that she definitely does not want to know about the facts of sex - or at any rate does not want me to talk about them. And we are very good friends. I don’t think it is only that she doesn’t want to discuss these matters with me - I have watched her and listened to her talk about life in general, and I should say that she has a genuine and all-round reserve about sex, which goes quite deep. Ought I to try to break that down? Should I get someone else to introduce her to the facts of life deliberately, perhaps by giving her a book on human anatomy and physiology? Is it wrong, or dangerous, to leave her ignorant and shy about such things? I do not want her to make mistakes out of an exaggerated innocence; but is there nothing of any value in her reserve? Is it not natural at her age? Is it not itself a safeguard - a safeguard, not only against bodily harm, but against too early a stirring of the deepest feelings? Isn’t her shyness about sex nature’s way of keeping the tremendous emotions connected with it out of reach until body and mind are more mature and equal to the demands it makes? I’ve pondered so long about these things, and have not been able to make up my mind. So I’ve been going slowly, and trying to watch and learn. I would like to hear what you think about this problem. 

            This is indeed a vexed and difficult problem. Certainly not “as simple as all that”. It is true that human beings are animals - and that all our lives are bound up with that fact. We are subject to the laws of biology, like any other animal. But we are very complex animals. Our feelings and imaginings, out personal history and our social relationships, are as “real”, as determining in our lives, as organic processes or infectious diseases. Not more real, or more important; but as real and as important - for human survival and human happiness. And far more difficult to deal with. That is why so many people with their eyes on the biological goal try to ride roughshod over feelings and purely personal considerations - they do present such knotty problems, which are not readily solved by experiment, do not easily lend themselves to the control of the scientist.
            “Sex education” is so much more than the giving of sound knowledge about the facts of mating and reproducing, about venereal diseases and their prevention.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Imaginative expression is vital for the young child and must not be overlooked, October 1938 - Susan Isaacs replies to a parent's concerns out her dawdling child by emphasising the need for expressiveness and imagination, especially if the curriculum is too formal and narrow .

October 1938 in Home and School "Readers' Questions"

Dawdling and dreaminess can by thought about by considering at the bigger question of the child's imaginative expression.

“A.S.H.”writes: -
“In a recent “HOME AND SCHOOL” there was an article on “Dawdling Children”. My elder daughter is of this type. Briefly, I understand the mother is advised not to wear herself out by hustling the child but leave the child to exert herself. I have tried this. The result is that the child (aged six) – of Celtic temperament – still dawdles, is completely lost in a world of make-believe, and is quite unperturbed by the fact that she will be late for school – or anything else. It is absolutely essential that she be ready to leave in the morning at the correct time, as her father takes her to school and by car, and he cannot be delayed. Therefore, I have to hustle! and sympathise with the hypothetical “Harold’s “mother! She has a long day – living some miles from the school- and she must have her breakfast and she must be properly dressed. I could write articles on children - but how is a busy mother to deal with them? I shall be most grateful for practical help. The child is not selfish, is above average intelligence (this is a report from school and not a maternal delusion) but has a dreamy, thoughtful nature, which simply will not hurry. She is completely uninterested in food and sweets, is not particularly interested in games; she is insatiable for stories – like all children – but loathes anything unkind or ugly. Her greatest punishment would be to stop her playing the piano. I threatened this: she replied, “Well I can sing”. She is sensitive to scolding, but this becomes “nagging”. Please how am I to stop her dawdling?”

It is very difficult for the busy mother when a child seems unable to co-operate in getting through routine at a necessary speed. It seems so perverse and irrational, and it is natural to feel that the child won’t hurry, won’t give up her dreaming and attend to what has to be done.
It is natural to see things in this way, and hence equally natural to urge and remind and plead and scold and to wonder what punishment would make the child sensible. But doesn’t your own experience show that this short cut, of urging and scolding and threatening, is in fact a very long way round? It doesn’t get the result you want, does it? I have never known a dreamy child made more practical and cooperative by hustling and scolding. It usuallyseems to have the opposite effect, to make her even more exasperatingly slow and unresponsive. Urging and scolding relieves mother’s feelings, but does nothing to change the source of the annoyance.
So, the apparently longer way round, of taking time to consider what the dreaminess and dawdling might mean, may in fact be the shortest way home. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Cooking, or reading, writing and sums? June 1938 - Susan Isaacs says if she had her way could let children cook when they wanted to - it is invaluable.

June 1938 in Home and School "Readers' Questions"

Should they be cooking rather than doing school things? 

Enquirer” writes: “ I have a little daughter of six years who goes to the infant school just nearby. She came home the other day and told me that they had been doing some cooking in their class and had made cakes, with real flour and milk and butter, etc. I was surprised that such little children should be doing this sort of thing, because they certainly can’t do it properly. And he has not learnt to read and write and do her sums yet. Don’t you think it better to keep this sort of thing until they have learnt to read and write, and until they can do it properly in cookery classes when they are older. if she wants to play with cooking she can help me at home. I don’t see that it is what school is for.”

Quite a number of infant schools are nowadays beginning to allow children of five and a half and six to try to make real things, and surely this is a very good plan. Children of this age adore cooking. Both boys and girls seem to take an immense amount of pleasure in it. 
If I had my way I would let every child cook, make cakes and pies and bread, sweets, etc., not merely at this age but when they wanted to do it. It is not only a very useful art, but from it they can learn so many other things.