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.