Children, from One to Three Years of Age” (1861), from Arthur’s Home Magazine, is full of advice on rearing a child who isn’t intellectually “precocious”—a fate worse than any a 19th-century child could endure. This piece also contains a startling list of the ills that could befall a 19th-century toddler.


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“Children, From One To Three Years of Age” (from Arthur’s Home Magazine, December 1861; p. 315)

(From a series of “Letters to Mothers,” in Field Notes, published at Columbus, Ohio, we take the following sensible remarks.)

Your dear one is now a year old. Is it like most mothers’ children—“about the cutest young one that ever did live!" Beware! don’t try to cram that young brain now; you have kept it very nicely the first three months, made it so still and good that Nurse Spoilchild whispered it round among all the neighbors that she did believe your baby was a born fool, she never saw a child that could be put off that way.

Then from three to six months it did not pine or die with teething or summer complaint; nor from six to nine creep off the steps, or down the cellar stairs, or into the well, or get scalded in a pot of hot water left on the kitchen floor exactly in its way, or tip over the lamp, or set its clothes on fire, or meet with any of the mishaps that uncontrolled children are so apt to encounter.

The next three months, from nine to twelve, though full of joyful child-life, have not wasted all your patience, nor made you feel that a baby is a perfect pest, or wonder how your own mother or any other woman ever did live to raise a family.

But your child is smart, healthy, bright, inquisitive, imitative and resolute; have a care, do not let it be taught too much, don’t try too hard to make it talk, or if it talks of itself, astonishing you with its precocity, let it be its own schoolmaster; talk to it a little, sing it pretty simple ditties, the simpler the better, speak distinct words that mean what you wish to express; but in pity spare it and the world the infliction of such rhapsodies as—“Eety tweety darlin, mamma’s ’osey posey, ’ooks dust ’zactly like its own papa any day of its eety tweety life, so it might!" which is an exact copy of a speech to a baby which I once heard.

From one year to two, let me repeat, teach a child nothing that can be avoided. I candidly believe that more children suffer from overstraining the mind, than by any physical want that poverty may impose.

From two or three years, let the same caution be observed. What they learn because they can’t help it let them have, put it in order for them, and as new images fall upon the prepared page of mind, see to it that they do not become incongruous and distorted, and such as will disturb or distress and leave false impressions.

With all your care and caution you will find that in spite of you it will get too much, and startle you with questions you will not be able to answer it. If it is not proper that the question should be answered truthfully, do not attempt to answer, say at once, “you are not old enough to understand.” If you do not know how adroitly to answer, turn one query into another and divert for the time being the curiosity. But such answers as “hold your tongue,” “shut your mouth,” “stop your noise,” are, though very common, very terrible expedients.

Remember with each passing hour, that you are now laying the foundation of a life. Be gentle and kind, but firm and true, playful and loving, but unwavering where you feel that indulgence will injure.

Never deceive—never tell a falsehood with an idea that a child will not know it. Some mothers that would not tell a real lie for any consideration, tell their children false tales with every hour in the day; promise but never perform; threaten but never execute; say one thing now, another ten minutes hence. Not an hour since, as I passed a neighbor’s door, I stopped to speak—two little ones, one two years the other one, made for her basket of beans which she left upon a chair, and commenced throwing them out; how happy they were to see the white globes fly along the boards! and shouts of merriment proclaimed the mischief. “You little brats!" exclaimed the mother, “I’ll kill you both dead as nits, I will so!" and assuming a fearful ferocity, she slapped each one, just hard enough to make a cry. I left in haste.

But you, young mother, who have done well thus far, will not be guilty of any such outrage upon your child. Go on in steady, patient well-doing; you can be as merry, as loving, as familiar, as motherly with this discipline as without it; live simply, give your leisure and pains to amuse and make happy in all suitable ways this precious treasure, and this good foundation laid, will insure comfortable labor in the progress of your work.

Copyright 1999-2017, Pat Pflieger
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