Thursday, July 26, 2018

This "funny business" of dreams, 1934 - and more. Three letters: dreams, going on holiday leaving the children at home and advice to a mother worried about her sensitive son.

June 27, 1934 in Nursery World

This funny business

is what a little boy with a wise nurse calls his dreams and mind pictures at night

The first letter I am quoting this week will be helpful to those of my correspondent who have had little children waking up and crying in the night. Not every child would be able to say what his bad dreams were, but it is a method always worth trying and would bring relief to a great many children, because it helps the child to feel that he is not alone in his frightening phantasies. He finds comfort in the fact that other people “see things” as well as himself. 
Peter’s Nanny” writes, “It was most interesting to read in last week’s issue of Nursery World ‘The Hempie’s’ problem in your page, as I had a very similar case, and I wondered if my experience would be of any use to her. I have three charges, all very healthy and fit but Peter, the second one, is inclined to be a little excitable and nervous, and he had the same habit as ‘Hempie’s’ little boy, that of waking up and calling. I used to find him out on the landing and calling for me and when I asked him what he was calling for he would not answer. Talking, coaxing, etc., were of no avail. He would also sob for fully three-quarters of an hour, which was most trying, as he always awakened baby, as well as exhausting himself. I tried lots of your methods, which I have found very helpful, such as leaving a night light on all the time – one of those friendly little cottage ones with the windows and door showing the light. I left the door open and told him I was just in the room next to him and he would be all right, but it didn’t seem to improve at all, until one night in desperation I wondered if he was worrying over something. I asked him if he had been dreaming, but he said ‘no, he didn’t dream, but when he opened his eyes and put his head under the covers he saw lots of funny pictures.’ I then explained to him that it was called imagination, and that his brain was still busy doing some work, ‘Is it only my brain doing work at night nanny?” he asked, I told him, “No. many people’s do, including mine, and then told him some of the things I had imagined I had seen. When he found out that someone besides himself knew about ‘this funny business’ as he called it, he was quite interested and talked about it a lot. Now we have no more night walks, but a very cheerful little boy who, announces every morning. “Nanny, do you know who I saw at the pictures last night?’” 

My second letter, too, is one that will be helpful to other correspondents, since it shows that the question of the mother leaving a child for a time can be handled in such a way as to prevent its being a shock to her.

            “R. M.” writes: “A little while ago several mothers wrote to you asking your advice about leaving their children behind, while they and their husbands were on holiday, and I wondered if our experience would help them. Our little girl is two-and-a-half years old and my husband and I left her, recently, for five days and had no upset whatever. We took her and our maid, of whom she is very fond, down to her Granny’s, and we were all there over the weekend. We didn’t mention the fact that we were leaving her until we said goodbye and then, instead of saying, as we usually do, ‘We shall be back for tea,’ we just said, ‘We are going on the train, we shan’t be back tonight, but will come back on Saturday; take care of Granny and Grandpa for us won’t you?’ (she knows the names of the days but not, of course, their order). She came and waved goodbye to us, as we went off in the car to the station, perfectly happy and understanding that we would be back one day soon. My mother never had a tear, not did the child ask for us once. When we came back she was very glad to see us, of course, but there were no fears when bedtime came that we should disappear again. In fact, so little was she upset that she came and waved goodbye to us a day or two later when we all went out in the car and had to leave her behind, without the slightest unhappiness. 
            “I am sure that one important thing is for the parents to be quite sure themselves that the child will be quite happy, and not have an atmosphere of doubt and fear about them. Also, to tell the child they will not be back for a few days, so that she is not left wondering why they are not there and if they will ever come back. One other point which I’m sure helped S. was that she slept with my maid from the beginning of the visit, so she didn’t miss us in her room.”

“A.H.” writes: “I should be so glad if you would give me some help with regard to my only child, “John,’ of two years eight months, who seems to have developed a nervous terror of other children. he has several little playmates now – all older than himself – with whom he often plays very happily without the slightest trouble. But there is one little boy – a year older than himself – whom he visits sometimes in the afternoons and on those occasions, he does nothing but weep at the slightest thing. He is rather inclined to give way to tears when anything upsets him, but as a rule he is a very happy child, always ready for a joke and very healthy; but on these afternoons he is a misery. I know this little pal teases him (he is a fearless little boy – altogether in advance of my John) and I am wondering if his nerves just ‘give way’ to make him howl so. He is nervous as a sudden, sharp reprimand will often make him weep. And yet, I want him to grow up manly and he must learn to ‘mix’ with others and put up with ragging one day, so what is the best course to adopt? Another mother tells me that she herself remembers sufferings agonies as a child through constant teasing. 
“I have tried being severe and I have ignored his outbursts, but both treatments seem to make him worse. Daddy calls him a ‘baby,’ and so do a good many other people, but I don’t think he likes this taunt, for it has the effect of doubling his howls. I cannot understand it as he used to play quite happily with this particular little boy in the winter. He has also shown is fear of other children sometimes – for instance, yesterday a small toddler went up to him in the street and he immediately howled. Later I walked home with a friend and her son of three and a half. John cried off and on the whole way home and immediately after leaving them, was shouting and laughing. He once saw this boy smacked by his mother and then wept bitterly and I am wondering if he was afraid of the same thing happening.  
“The whole thing is most perplexing, and everyone loses patience with him, for myself. I feel a nervous wreck at the end of one of his ‘special’ afternoons! Otherwise, he is friendly with everybody – frequently says ‘Hallo’ to anyone who takes his fancy in the street, and will readily enter into conversation with them on trains or buses, etc. I am afraid both my husband and I are sensitive; and I, myself, am sometimes nervous with other people for no reason whatever; also, a little sympathy from others helps me, where a cold, hard manner would fail to make me pull myself together. Is John like me? Please help me to help him – he won’t get sympathy from ‘the world”. 

I quite agree that one doesn’t want to make a child altogether dependent upon getting sympathy and friendliness from other people, but to try to force hardiness upon a sensitive child so young as your boy does not as a rule really help him. You cannot force things with the child emotionally any more than you can in the matter of his diet. It is just as useless to try to compel a tiny child to behave as sensibly and independently as an older one, as it would be to try to compel him to eat solid food before he cut any teeth. If a child of two years and eight months has been seriously teased by a vigorous boy a year older than himself, it is not surprising that he is nervous and scared of meeting such a child. I should try to avoid his meeting this particular child very often and let him have more time with other playmates who do not tease him. He will learn to put up with “ragging” later on and all the better if he does not have too much of it when he is too young to understand it. What is more likely to happen if he learns to bear it now is that he will soon be doing it himself to children younger than himself! I should try and find him playmates with whom he can have a happier relation during the next year or two. Most sensitive children of under four develop quite hardily by the time they are eight or ten, provided their experiences have not been too severe in the early years; and since your boy has such feelings of friendliness in the ordinary way there is no need to fear that he will get excessively shy and nervous. It is really very unwise to have all the grown-ups taunting a little child as young as this for not being able to stand teasing from one who is a year older. It really willturn him into a “baby,” if you allow it to go on in that way; whereas a matter-of-fact defence of the child, not giving him fussy sympathy but simply avoiding the situation, would help him to get a little tougher.   

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

About Boys, 1933 – Ursula Wise is aggrieved at the brutal treatment of this child and says that it is not easy to give any specific advice as the whole attitude of the grown-ups needs to be changed, from the bottom upwards.

April 26, 1933 in Nursery World

About Boys

M. S.” writes: “I am writing to ask your help in a point concerning one of my little boys. I must first let you know as much as I can about the little family. I have been married for nine years and have five little ones, four of whom are boys and one little girl. The little girl is the next to the youngest. We have a small modern house and garden. I keep a trained nurse and general maid. My second little boy, since he was quite small, has been regarded by my husband as the black sheep – he was very cross and troublesome as a baby, and seemed more so perhaps than he really was, as his older brother was a model child. Aljon now is six years old, and all along from one birthday to the next seems to be in hot water. He is for ever doing the most mischievous things and tells the truth about nothing. He absolutely tells lies from morning til night, and seems quite pleased with himself if left with the maid or nurse for a punishment. His Daddy has thrashed him really hard with a cane several times, so hard that I have had to go into another room, shut the door and put my hands to my ears. I dread hearing him cry so much. He speaks rather badly, I mean pronounces his words too quickly, and I think it is nervousness, but his Daddy says he will not take the trouble and it is laziness. He goes with his older brother to a large public school, and the teacher says he is not inclined to learn and fidgets constantly. 
            “I am the eldest of a large family, and my father spoilt my brothers and always showed a preference for the boys on all occasions. One turned out quite a black sheep, and my husband constantly reminds me Aljon is going to be like him and that I am going to have great trouble with him when he breaks up. He is a dear little chap in other ways, and ever so sweet with the boy and girl younger than himself, but seems to be in awe of his older brother as something he could never arrive at.”

I am grieved to hear that Aljon’s father has thrashed him in this way. It seems a clear demonstration, doesn’t it, that this sort of treatment of the boy has no educational value, since it has made no difference to the boy’s behaviour. It is really of no more value to the child than the spoiling that your own brothers received. What such a vigorous, mischievous child needs is, first of all, a positive, constructive line of education, in which he is given real responsibility and real activity. I wonder whether it is not possible that, from the very beginning, you have given him too little responsibility and gone too much on the lines of making him obedient and quiet, instead of training him to do things for himself and become really independent? When a child cannot learn, and is fidgety and speaking badly, it really means nothing at all to say that is “laziness.” Laziness is not a simple, innate quality, uncaused and unchangeable. It is in itself a mode of reaction to the world, which issues from psychological conflict. It is a very excellent means of defence against a world that thrashes one and shows that it believes that one is nothing better than a “black sheep”; “give a dog a bad name and hang him.”

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Young Musician, 1935 - Ursula Wise highlights the importance of not dulling a child’s interest

 March 27, 1935 in Nursery World

The Young Musician 

A little boy who is quite exceptionally gifted musically is the subject of one of this week’s letters

“Michael’s Mummy” writes: “We have been much interested in your articles for years now, at last, I am writing myself. This is not exactly a problem, but I should be very glad to have your advice and perhaps to know if this is a usual thing in children. My little boy of just six is always at the piano. He has never been taught anything, and does not even know the names of the notes, yet he can pick out and play really well any tune he knows of hears on the wireless. He just gets the tune in the right hand, then works at the left until he has got perfect chords. He always plays in absolute correct time, and can transpose a tune into any key, putting in sharps and flats. He also plays a lovely ‘Amen’ when finishing any tune, with chord in both hands. He has himself composed two little tunes which I have written down, they are in perfect 4/4 and 2/4 time. I should be so interested to know if this is usual or quite natural. I do not want him to learn music yet as he is very intelligent, and I think has enough brain work at school in the mornings. The piano playing is simply a game at present. I should be very much pleased if you would tell me what you think and whether he should be taught anything yet? I may add that he sings quite sweetly in perfect tune and time.”

Michael is certainly gifted beyond the ordinary in music. A great many children of twice his age could barely succeed in doing what he can do, and since he has accomplished all tis spontaneous development, it is clear that music is with him a very special gift. I certainly think it would be good to let him have some musical training, but it would be extremely important with such a child to get a really good teacher. It would be a tragedy if he got into the hands of anyone who would dull his interest and lose the opportunity which the child’s gifts offer. The teaching should be simply a way of enriching the boy’s experience and his means of delight. But it would be a pity not to develop such a gift to the fullest extent. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mountains out of Molehills, 1939 – Susan Isaacs advocates for the child stating that her difficulty needs to be handled with a sense of proportion.

July 1939, in Home and School "Readers' Questions’"

        “N." writes, "May I tell you about a pupil of mine, aged 9, about whom her mother and `I are worried.
            When she was seven she had scarlet fever. Before this she was very fond of a lady, living with her mother, a widow. This friend was devoted to the child. While the latter was in hospital, the mother and friend visited her, and the child suddenly said to the lady, “Go away, I hate you, I hope I shall never see you again.” … On return home, she was very rude to her behind her mother’s back. Her brother reported this to the mother, who stopped the rudeness. Then she refused to speak, and left the room as soon as the friend came in.
            They meet in the holidays, and nothing, neither pleadings, arguments nor scoldings, alters her attitude in the slightest, and it makes for unhappiness in the home.
            At school, she is, on the whole, normal. When she first came, for a week or two, she refused to do work for one mistress, but her form mistress spoke to her, and since she has done quite good work. She has ability, and works quite easily with girls of 10 and 11 years, with no strain.
            After the attack of scarlet fever she began to stammer. This worries me, though I find that it is the result of self-consciousness. In general, with the children she does not stammer, but if she comes into my study, or if, at home visitors question her, it becomes pronounced. I cannot help feeling that this may be due, in part, to the state of things between the friend and herself.
            She says she still likes her, but persists in not speaking and it makes unhappiness in the home.
            At school she is happy and longs to come back after the holidays. Is it possible for scarlet fever (not a very serious attack) to cause a kink? There seems to be no reason for the sudden change of feeling during the attack. 
            If you can help the mother and myself with your advice, or with any explanation, we shall be grateful.

            It is certainly not easy to surmise from your account of this little girl’s problem what the cause of her hatred of the mother’s friend may be. It is obviously a very complicated relationship with so many different strands of feeling. To begin with, isn’t it likely that when she was ill and away in hospital the child became suddenly jealous of the friend in her home and living with her mother, when she could not be there? There may have been occasions of jealousy before, and the stress of illness and being separated from her mother brought it to the surface. Perhaps if the child’s rudeness had been handled with a little more sense of proportion and not so much had been made of it would not have developed and become so serious.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Sensitive to Failure, 1935 – Ursula Wise talks about the importance of appreciating what a child can be successful in and not focus only on the technical side of learning

June 12, 1935 in Nursery World

Sensitive to Failure

A reader writing from Kenya asks advice this week about her eight year old charge

Kenya Colony” writes, “I always read your pages with great interest, and I am hoping that you will be able to help me with my problem. The eldest of my three charges who is very nearly eight years old has been doing lessons with me for the last eighteen months; she is quite quick and intelligent, can read easily and with expression, and enjoys composition. The trouble is that over such things as tables, sums and dictation, there are often tears. She is miserable if she gets a fault in her sums or her dictation and it very often ends I storms of tears. The same thing happens sometimes with games and races, if she does not win she is inclined to make a fuss and sometimes cry. She has plenty of companionship here during holiday time, but during the term time she only has smaller children to play with. There is no school here to which she can go, and no child with whom she can share lessons. There are one or two boarding schools, but they are all a long way from here, and she is very young to be away from home. We go home in a year’s time, but until then she will be doing lessons with me, and I do feel that there must be some way in which I can conquer this hatred of being at fault or not being able to do a thing perfectly at once. I would be most grateful if you could give me any hints as to how to deal with the situation. She is very neat with her fingers and is really clever at making all her own dolls’ clothes and knitting. She also enjoys painting and loves gardening.”

            I do not think you need to feel too distressed about the sensitivity of your charge to failure. This is a very common attitude at her age. Six and seven years is a period of special sensitivity with many children, and after eight they often change a great deal, becoming far more settled and stable and confident in themselves. The child has so many ways in which she is skilful; for example, her sewing, knitting, painting and gardening, that she will gradually gain more confidence in herself from these and not mind quite so much if she is not skilful all round. School and friendship with other children in school will help her over this difficulty, especially if she goes to one that is reasonable and understanding and where the standards of intellectual achievement are not too high. It is not surprising that a child who has so little companionship with other children of her own age in work should feel very sensitive about failing. When she does make a mistake, if you take up the attitude that failures and errors happen to all of us, and that whilst we want to make as few as possible, we need not feel we have to be perfect or equally good in everything, and if you show how much you appreciate the things she can do, I am sure she will gradually grow out of the special sense of shame with regard to failure in arithmetic and dictation. I should, by the way, not give her too much dictation, but let her have plenty of opportunity of expressing her own ideas in discussions with you as well as in writing. Let her feel that you do appreciate what she herself can contribute quite as much as any success she has with the purely technical side of learning to write as measured in dictation. 

Making friends (undated) – Ursula Wise responds to a concern about a lonely child - a letter that is a sign of the times when socialising was far more tricky to organise

Undated – loose typed manuscript

Making friends 

 “PERPLEXED” writes: “I am faced with the problem of an only child, and would like to ask your advice concerning companionship for my little girl of three and a half years. My doctor tells me I must not have ay more children, which is a great disappointment, as I am passionately fond of them. I am anxious to adopt a child or to have a little companion, as I feel very strongly that my child is badly in need of a playmate. Unfortunately, my husband and I do not agree on this point. He is devoted to the child – in fact, spoils her and indulges her every whim – but cannot see that she is lonely. I was a lonely child myself, and just dread that my own little one should ever feel the same as I did. We have the means, a happy home, nurse, in fact everything to provide for another child and it does seem to me that one ought not to deny the child the happy companionship of children, especially as she is beginning to be self-centred. There is no nursery school in this town to which I could send her, and though she has little friends occasionally to tea, I feel it is not enough. When with other children she acts like a stranger. It is really pathetic, as she seems to have no idea of how to play and romp with them, always being with the grown-ups, I suppose. I should be so grateful to have advice in this matter, as I know my husband would do anything which he considered would be for the child’s good. “

            I certainly think you would be very wise to try to get a companion for your little girl. You are quite right in feeling that she must be so lonely, even though she enjoys so much having her parents all to herself. The child of even the best parents does need the companionship of other children. As you wisely feel, your little girl cannot always have you both to herself, and to have you in that way now hardly makes the best preparations for school life or for later experience in the world outside the home. Your little girl’s behaviour with other children shows very clearly how much she needs them, and I think she would be very much better off if she had a constant playmate. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Sleepless Nights, 1935 – Ursula Wise explains in detail how emotional difficulties may express themselves in sleep disturbances, and how to deal with this

July 17, 1935 in Nursery World

Sleepless Nights 

 A.M.W.” writes: “have been helped before with your advice, and should now like further advice on my little daughter, aged three and a half. She has always been a very difficult child as regards going to bed and sleeping the whole night. In fact, since she was a year old we have hardly been able to count on having the while night undisturbed, with the possible exception of a month or two before this last Christmas. We put her in the next bedroom to ours as she slept so badly in our bedroom, then she was disturbed by the people next door, who are very noisy, so I moved her back into the back bedroom, and she was quite good until the middle of January this year. Then she took to waking about 9 o’clock and walking downstairs. We stopped this, and then she started to wander about upstairs in her bare feet, and got a very bad cold. The next development was that she would sleep until between 10.30 and 12.30 and then would not settle for an hour or two, although I sat and held her hand often until 3 in the morning, finally taking her into our bed. 
The trouble this year first started when I received word from the nurse I had engaged for the birth of my baby in May, that she could not come. C. overheard me discussing it with Daddy, and when I interviewed several more nurses she was at home and would be with me. She seemed to get so bewildered seeing so many and hearing their different names, that I think this started the phase. Baby was born a month ago, and I had arranged for C. to go to Grannie’s for a part of the time that I was in bed, on account of her being so much trouble at night. She went the night before baby was born, and the nurse, whom she liked very much, told her that Mr. Stork was probably going to bring her a baby brother that night, and she would be able to see him the next morning. Baby was not born, however, until dinner-time, and Grannie could not let her come when she asked to come after breakfast. She cried bitterly and Daddy, calling on his was home for dinner, found her very upset and had to bring her back with him. From that day she would hardly leave my bedroom, and every night Daddy had to bath her and out her to bed and hold her hand until he fell asleep. Sometimes she was not asleep until 10 p.m., then she would wake up at about one o’clock and beg Daddy to take her into his bed. We gave in, so that she could at least have a few hours sleep, as she was getting very pale and heavy. I asked the doctor for some sleeping tablets for her, but these had little effect as she fought against going to sleep. She is also afraid of cats, which often come into the next garden, their cat being female; also we found a stray cat dying in our garden one morning and it upset her very much. This was just before baby was born and she seemed afraid even to be left in any room downstairs during the day. 
Now that the nurse has gone, she still wakes up and Daddy, who is back again in my room, has had to go back into the other room and take her with him, in order to get her to go to sleep. We tried one or two nights to get her to sleep in her own bed, by leaving her door wide open and the landing light on. But she kept shouting for first one thing and then another, so that finally, after not sleeping a wink, Daddy went back to the other room and took her in with him. 
This is the only way in which we can all manage to get a good night’s rest, and as I am breast-feeding the baby, this is essential for me. The trouble is, how are we to break her of this habit of sleeping with Daddy, as it is not good for her, and it is getting on all our nerves, not knowing whether we are going to be disturbed in the night or not. I still hold her hand when she goes to sleep in the evenings, and she drops off in about ten minutes. I might say that she is very devoted to her baby brother, and she has plenty of attention form Daddy and me, as we do not want her to feel jealous of the baby. She is very good during the day, but is always tired nowadays due to lack of sleep. I do hope that you will be able to help us, as I feel we cannot continue in this way for much longer., especially if we go for a holiday soon.”
Your little girl has evidently from infancy been one of those children whose emotional difficulties express themselves in disturbances of sleep. In other children, the inevitable stresses and strains of adaptation to other people show themselves in day-time tantrums, or in thumb-sucking or feeding difficulties, and so on. When, however, the child’s conflicts are shown in this inability to sleep with or without a variety of day-time difficulties, the situation becomes most trying for everybody concerned. The child herself, and the father and the mother and nurse, all suffer from the lack of sleep, and the exasperation of not understanding what it is all about.