Habits and Habit Training

Between 7 or 8 and 12 is the most barbarian period of childhood. The boy or girl grows in-creasingly more self-assertive, more inde-pendent, more restless, more physically active, more exploratory, more quarrelsome. It will be easy to see then that there is likely to be a great falling-off in the standard and regularity of domestic and personal habits in which he has been carefully trained. This is quite natural, but most distressing to parents who do not anticipate it.

We may suggest the following reasons for this apparent retrogression: (I) The child is becoming fascinated by outside interests, and less interested in himself. In his eagerness to get to his game, washing his hands is forgotten or – (ii) He begins to query the need for such strict observance. Formerly he has washed his hands, cleaned his teeth or folded up his pyjamas unthinkingly, because he has been trained to do so. Now he begins to say: Oh, its just mothers fussiness. (iii) He hasnt time. This excuse, which is perpetually on the lips of the 10- or 11-year-old scolded for omitting habits of cleanliness or tidiness, is perfectly genuine. If a habit is to be continued punctiliously, its performance must have in the childs mind a value equal to that of other pastimes. (iv) He resents being made to do things, and he realizes that the habits to which he has been trained form a sort of compulsion. He will show his independence by throwing them off.

These reasons are inherent in the childs nature. Very often parents sum up the childs apparently unsatisfactory conduct at this age by saying Ho wants a firm hand. This is perfectly true, but only too often the firm hand means only a perpetual conflict in which the child always offends and the parent always punishes.

The firm hand needed is rather on the routine of the childs day. The child, it is to be remembered, is now quite old enough (by nine at any rate) to listen to reason, and a plain straightforward explanation of the reason why he has been trained to certain habits will help enormously, provided he has also set apart for him a specific time in which to perform each duty.

A talk on teeth, for example, just when the permanent teeth are coming down in full force, will have great effect, but for faithful performance of good dental habits it is necessary to say when, where, how and why the teeth should be cleaned. A vague admonition, such as So you should always clean your teeth regularly, results in teeth being cleaned when other interests do not press. We adults have a precise understanding of the meaning of the word regularly in connection with teeth-cleaning; the child has not.

The child, in fact, has now often to re-learn his personal habits, to make them reasoned habits instead of instinctive ones. With some children, of course, the strength of the inculcated habit carries it triumphantly past the desire to be careless; but such is not usually the case.

Interests. A very profound change comes over the interests of children during the earlier years of this period. In a word, children pass from the world of romanco and make-believe into the world of reality; from being absorbed by the imaginings of their own minds they pass to an absorption with hard facts and real things.

They become intensely practical; they are filled with the desire to make things, to do jobs, to get to know facts, to collect anything and everything. But it must all be real. They lose interest in fairy tales, and want instead true stories; they will no longer accept vague, unsatisfactory answers to questions – they begin to criticize answers and to be sceptical if any appear to them to be incredible or untrue.

Girls cease to play with dolls, and want real infante to look after; the boy casts aside his bricks and blocks to start work with a hammer and saw. As they grow older, greater restlessness of body and of mind exhibits itself; they wander far and wide, they explore, they collect, they create.

We may say that four powerful instincts dominate children during these years, and have got to be satisfied somehow or other. These four are curiosity, constructiveness, love of ownership, and self-assertion (or its opposite, self-submission). It will be seen that these instincts are very closely allied te each other – curiosity, in order to be satisfied, demands self-assertion, and im- plies love of possession or ownership, and so on.

We have dealt elsewhere with the self-assertion of later childhood as shown in their play. Their curiosity may be seen in their reading, in their desire to examine everything that comos under their hands (and if possible to take it to pieces), and to understand it. Many a ten-year-old boy knows far more about the wireless sot, and can handle it with more confidence, than his father.

– which children make now. The hours they will spend poring over them, and the way they will boast about them – often quite unjustifiably – to their friends; and in the longing to keep animal pets – from rabbits to white mice. But the one urge which dominates all others is the urge to make things.

Love of constructiveness, the desire to make things, springs largely from two causes. The child now finds his fingers and hands able to control small tools, and they itch instinctively to do so. A pocket-knife, a hammer and nails, a saw, chisel or plane, a lawn-mower, a garden hose, a vacuum cleaner, a knitting-needle, a needle and thread, scissors, paste and a brush – all these have an irresistible fascination now for boys, especially the tools that cut, i.e.. those which produco quick and obvious results.

In addition, this making of things satisfies supremely the love of ownership and self-assertion – the boy can create and make soinething new, something that is all his very own. How good the workmanship is does not really matter yet, though it soon will; it is the great and glorious fact of creation which matters. The quicker a thing can be dona the better; there is nothing yet of the artist or the craftsman in the child.

He wants to make a boat, so he hurriedly nails together two or three bits of wood, cuts one end roughly to a point, bores a hole in the middle, puts in this a stick, nails another stick to the bows, cuts his handkerchief into two pieces, nails these on the sticks, and lo! A boat. Whether the boat will sail, what mother will say about the handkerchief, are questions which do not occur to him. All he knows is that he must make a boat.

The interest in making things manifests .. itself over a wide variety of activities. Anything that can be made with scissors and paste pot, plastic materials, carpentering tools, needles and thread; cookery, sometimes laundry, drawing and painting, singing, acting, dancing, music (children will plague parents now to let them learn the piano or the violin), reciting, puzzles of all sorts. It will be seen that practically all these activities are or can be made definitely useful.

The following quotation from an un-impeachably reliable source will give adequate reason for the fullest possible encouragement of the childs hobbies:

Unless these emerging instincts and interests find opportunities for exercise at the time of their normal appearance and so become trained and fixed, they often atrophy from disuse and disappear. In some instances they emerge again violently at a later stage and may cause considerable trouble.

Mention has been made elsewhere (5ee CHARACTERISTICS) of the increasing interest in outdoor life of all kinds, particularly games, which shows itself at nine or ten. One other keen interest which, sympathetically and skilfully handled by parents, may be of lifelong value to the child, is the love of colour.

Both boys and girls love bright, attractive colours, colour patterns and designs, colours in dress, in flowers, in houses. It makes all the difference in the world now to a child to be living in a bright, tastefully-decorated house in which every design gladdens the eye.

Reading. The ordinary child should have almost completely learned to read by about the age of seven. Now he can begin to learn and to draw interest and understanding from what he reads.

Numerous attempts have been and still are being made to discover exactly what children like to read at various ages. Once, however, children begin to read for themselves, the choice of books is so enormous, and what a child actually reads so largely determined by his home, that it is impossible to give more than very general indications.

It must be borne in mind also that the revolutionary changes in modern life which have been effected by the introduction of the motor-car (still not much more than 30 years old), wireless and, to a lesser degree, the cinema and the aeroplane, have had a very profound influence upon the type of reading favoured by quite young children. The World War, too, has blotted out many old interests. To many a child of ten to-day a horse is quite a rare animal.

Generally speaking, fairy tales have suffered badly from this mechanization of our life, and no longer interest much after about seven or eight. With some girls the liking persists a little longer. Children now love tales about animals – boys about wild animals, girls domestic animals; they love as much, and in many instances probably more, tales about mechanical animals – engines, motor-cars, aeroplanes, ships, submarines.

Some children of nine or ten become absorbed in classical and Germanic myths and legends; well-written English summaries of the tales of the siege of Troy, of Ulysses, of Maeaa, of Siegfried, and of King Arthur will appeal to these. But universal among boys now is the demand for adventure stories, as crude as you like, but quick-moving, packed with incident, and having a striking hero.

The penny dreadful of course supplies all these necessary ingredients, and despite the scorn that has been poured upon it by adults of all generations, it is nearer to the boys mind at this ago than anything that ha3 ever been written. There is no pretence at fine writing, which the boy does not want; the penny dreadful gets off the mark in the first sentence (if it did not it would not sell), and from start to finish is packed with thrills, with a perfectly wonderful here coming out on top in the end – which is exactly what the boy does want.

Penny dreadfuls are quite normal and healthy for bosS at this age. There is unfortunately not so good a supply of reading material for girls, who want more sentiment, more domestic interest, and romantic stories rather than adventurous. Girls, however, like folk-lore, myths and legends, and read poetry much more than boys.

Another type of reading of quite different sort appeals very strongly to both boys and girls, especially to brighter children, from ten or so onwards. This is the Knowledge literature; books of general knowledge, encyclopajdias, dictionaries, biographies of heroes, true travel tales and descriptions, simple instructive manuals in science, history, and athletics. This reading naturally goes hand in hand with constructional activities, and is quite well provided for.

School. Towards the end of this period, many parents are faced with the difficult problem of deciding whether a boy or a girl is to continue education at the elementary school or be transferred to a secondary school. The problem may be presented in one of two ways. The child has won a scholarship or free place: is it to be taken up? Or, the child has not won a scholarship; is it worth while to pay for entry to a secondary school?

Admission to a secondary school carries with it the obligation to keep the child at school until at least the ago of sixteen, exceptional circumstances apart: continuance at the elementary schools means that the child may leave at fourteen. The secondary school involves, therefore, maintenance of the child for two years longer: though maintenance grants (usually about five shillings per week) can be obtained after 14 by parents in poor financial circumstances.

For all university education, and for professions and occupations demanding an entrance examination or continued education during apprenticeship (e.g. banking, a solicitors or accountants office, architecture, surveying, auctioneering, land agency, pharmaceutical or analytical chemistry, electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering – except the humblest careers – scientific careers of all sorts school teaching and minister of religion) a secondary school education is nowaday a necessity, as the matriculation certificate obtained through the first school exami-nation, or an examination of like stiffness, is the preliminary qualification for entry to these occupations.

For many trades in which the appren-ticeship system holds (e.g. printing, grocery, drapery) this qualification is not required, and the question then becomes one of the age of entry into apprenticeship, and the best age for starting work. This principle applies also to the vast number of trades and workshop or factory occupations in which indentured apprenticeship is no longer demanded.

The point is, the time to study these questions is now, not when the boy or girl is approaching fourteen, and has already been committed for two or three years to one type of education. Any head teacher is ready to advise, while many local education authorities issue advisory pamphlets. The Minister of Labour issues a series of pamphlets on careers for boys and girls, which may be obtained from the local Director or Secretary for Education. The secretaries of the local trade unions are also helpful about technical details, trade prospects, wages, etc.

The advantages of the secondary school are a longer school course, a wider variety of subjects, smaller classes, specialist teachers (though these are now becoming common in senior elementary schools), better equipment and ampler accommodation, the entry to professions and higher education. The advantages of the elementary school are the earlier leaving age, concentration upon a limited number of useful subjects, greater attention to handwork and to personal hygiene and discipline.

Generally speaking, a child who has won 0 scholarship to a secondary school should be allowed to proceed there, unless his health or domestic reasons make it extremely unlikely that he can profit from the four years course. If the child has not won a scholarship, then, unless the head teacher of his present school recommends it, it is probably unwise to send him to a secondary school. His type of ability is along more practical lines, and will be better developed elsewhere.

During these years school and school-fellows play an overwhelming part in the life of children. Home is often quite neglected, except as a restaurant and a dormitory. The mother especially feels this neglect, as she has been so necessary and dominating an influence in her childrens lives thus far. It is distressing but quite natural.

Children now think far more of the society of boys and girls of their own age than of their parents, love to spend the whole day with them, to quote their opinions, imitate their manners, and admire their doings. We have spoken elsewhere of the part fathers can now play in their boys fives . Girls offer no such opportunities to their mothers, but seem less interested in them and more interested in companions of their own sex than at any other ago.

Apart from watching carefully for sign3 of really bad companionship, that is, companionship the influence of which is leading to stealing, dishonesty, deliberate lying, and so on, the wise thing ia to accept this normal formation of outside friendships, which is necessary to full development. A mother can do a very great deal to assist her child by making the childs friends welcome at all hours in her house and by offering them facilities for their enjoyment.

Scouting. At the age of eight a boy can join the Wolf Cubs and a girl the Brownies. These are the junior departments of the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides respectively, and in these they remain until eleven years of age. The popularity and value of Scouting and

Guiding require little comment. When he founded the Wolf Cub branch in 1914 the Chief Scout wrote, It will open a number of elementary schools to Scouting: it will give a groundwork of Scout knowledge to boys before becoming Scouts . . . it will bring boys under Scout discipline at an earlier and more receptive age.

The Wolf Cub has a Law and a Promise. The Law is:

I. The Cub gives in to the Old Wolf.

II. The Cub does not give in to himself.

And the Promise:

I promise to do my best to be loyal and to do my duty to God and the King, and to keep the Law of the Wolf Cub Pack. And to do a good turn to somebody every day. His motto is Do your Best, and his practices and games are based on Rudyard Kiplings famous Jungle books . He can gain badges for proficiency in signalling, collecting, observing, weaving, art, woodwork, first aid, house-orderly duties, guiding, swimming, team-playing and athletics. The Brownies are organized on similar lines.