An excerpt from Tilt’s Elements of Health reprinted in The Mother’s Journal and Family Visitant, “Physical Education of Children” advises parents on proper food and sleep patterns, and informs readers that wine and beer may not be especially good for children.
“Physical Education of Children,” excerpted from Tilt’s Elements of Health (from The Mothers’ Journal and Family Visitant, 1853; pp. 190-191)

PHYSICAL EDUCATION.—FOOD.—When we last left the infant, he had already begun to take animal as well as vegetable food, or, in other words, the food of “children of a larger growth.” In England, nursery diet is so excellent that this point will not detail us long. The classic mutton-chop, or the slice of plain boiled or roasted meat, should constitute the child’s principal meal, with bread, vegetables, and plain pudding. Bread and butter, with milk or milk and water, should form the other meals. No tea or coffee, no drink more stimulating than toast and water. We are prepared for the murmurings with which this may be received. What harm will a little tea or a little coffee do? says one. Surely a little beer or a drop of wine cannot hurt a child! says another. We first reply by asking if children want these stimulants? Are they troubled with flagging energies, or have they experienced as yet wear and tear of mind? With superabundant spirits, and a stomach capable of digesting their own shoes long before they could wear them out in the usual way, what stimulants can children possibly want? It is not, however, only a question whether such stimulants are wanted, but whether they can with impunity be given to children? To this we must reply, certainly not; and their frequent use is in our opinion one cause of the prevailing fatality of diseases of the brain, which cannot at this early period be safely watered with diluted spirit. The chief stimulant which is useful to children is salt; and if they have any tendency to worms, their food may be slightly flavoured with pepper, nutmeg, or cinnamon.

In connexion with children’s food, we must notice the importance of their being early taught to take it quietly, with cleanliness and without hurry. To insure this, it will be necessary for the mother always to be present at their meals. In this the poor, and women of moderate fortunes, are more blessed than those they sometimes envy; for they see their children at all times, and can fashion them as they like, while the rich have many other occupations deemed more important; though we think that all might manage to preside over their children’s early dinner.

EXERCISE.—In childhood there is generated an enormous amount of nervous power, or animal spirits, as it is generally called. Exercise carries off this redundant nervous energy; it is the great safety-valve for the nervous system, so that to place a little child on a form, or in a corner, for any length of time, is actual barbarity; and to make a habit of such a practice, would necessarily entail disease. Moreover, the constant exercise of children seems useful to enhance the activity of the nutritive functions, which proceed with such intense activity, that, while the muscles by their exercise withdraw the blood from the central organs, their very contractions increase the energy and amount of its flow; so that the gambols of all young animals, and the games and sports of childhood, are as essential to their health as food and raiment, and the first seven years of human life should be one great holiday.

SLEEP.—The restless activity of childhood is a strong opiate, and soon steeps the child in oblivious sleep, which should be indulged in according to his age. Thus until three or four years of age the second sleep is advisable, and when that is relinquished the child should be allowed to sleep the whole 12 hours, or from 7 at night to the same hour in the morning. Every child should sleep in a separate bed, for it has been stated by Sanctorius that “so very large are the steams which arise from persons in sleep, that not only the distempered communicate bad qualities to those whoa re well, but even the healthful, in lying together, affect one another.” As this may be detrimental to the weakest child, it is well to let them sleep separately; and as much as possible not to let little girls sleep with grown-up persons. We have often heard Dupuytren ascribe to this cause the habitual state of ill health of some of the little girls for whom he was consulted; and he used to relate that their health often improved merely by adopting the separate bed system. There should be no fire in the bedroom, except in case of sickness. The benefit of breathing pure cool air during the long hours of the night should not be thrown away; for heat naturally causes the atmosphere to be impregnated with the effluvia of dirty clothes, and of the bed-clothes. If very cold, then there may be made, in the daytime, a fire, to be let out several hours before the time for sleep.—Tilt’s Elements of Health.

Copyright 1999-2024, Pat Pflieger
To “Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read
Some of the children | Some of their books | Some of their magazines
To “Voices from 19th-Century America
Some works for adults, 1800-1872
To Titles at this site | Authors at this site | Subjects at this site | Works by date | Map of the site

Talk to me.