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.”
What such a child needs is a belief on the part of the other people around him that he can, and will, do things and accept responsibility. That has to be shown in detailed ways of opportunity for responsibility – neither scolding nor indulging will help such a boy. It is very likely that, from an early age, he has been as you suggest, weighed down by the sense that he can never be as clever or as good as his older brother, and that the only way in which he can be himself and gain any power over the world is by being mischievous and difficult and a black sheep.
            I do not feel that it is easy to give you any specific advice now, since it is really the whole attitude of the grown-ups to the child that needs to be changed, from the bottom upwards. One thing I should be inclined to do is to send him to a different school to his older brother; perhaps a smaller school, where he would receive more individual understanding - but certainly a different one, so that he could develop his ow level and his own circle of friends, and the tension of rivalry between him and his model brother would thus be lessened. If you have it in mind to send him away to a school where there is a special understanding of difficult children, I should be very pleased to suggest one or two appropriate schools where the boy wold have more chance. 

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