It is generally accepted that the experiences of the child in his first years largely determine his character and later personality. Every experience teaches the child something and the effects are cumulative. “Upbringing” is normally used to refer to the treatment and training of the child within the home. This is closely related to the treatment and training of the child in school, which is usually distinguished by the term “education”. In a society such as ours, both parents and teachers are responsible for the opportunities provided for the development of the child, so that upbringing and education are interdependent.
The ideals and practices of child rearing vary from culture to culture. In general, the more rural the community, the more uniform are the customs of child upbringing. In more technologically developed societies, the period childhood and adolescence tends to be extended over a long time, resulting in more opportunity for education and greater variety in character development.
Early upbringing in the home is naturally affected both by the cultural pattern of the community and by the parents’ capabilities and their aims and depends not only on upbringing and education but also on the innate abilities of the child. Wild differences of innate intelligence and temperament exist even in children of the same family.
Parents can ascertain what is normal in physical, mental and social development, by referring to some of the many books based on scientific knowledge in these areas, or less reliably, since the sample is smaller, by comparing notes with friends and relatives who have children.
Intelligent parents, however, realize that the particular setting of each family is unique, and there can be no rigid general rules. They use general information only as a guide in making decisions and solving problems. For example, they will need specific suggestions for problems such as speech defects or backwardness in learning to walk or control of bodily functions. In the more general sense, though, problems of upbringing are recognized to be problems of relationships within the individual family, the first necessity being a secure emotional background with parents who are united in their attitude to their children.
All parents have to solve the problems of freedom and discipline. The younger the child, the more readily the mother give in to his demands to avoid disappointing him. She knows that if his energies are not given an outlet, her child’s continuing development may be warped. An example of this is the young child’s need to play with the mud and sand and water. A child must be allowed to enjoy this “messy” but tactile stage of discovery before he is ready to go on to the less physical pleasures of toys and books. Similarly, throughout life, each stage depends on the satisfactory completion of the one before.
Where one stage of child development has been left out, or not sufficiently experienced, the child may have to go back and capture the experience of it. A good home makes this possible-for example by providing the opportunity for the child to play with a clockwork car or toy railway train up to any age if he still needs to do so. This principle, in fact, underlies all psychological treatment of children in difficulties with their development, and is the basis of work in child clinics.
The beginnings of discipline are in the nursery. Even the youngest baby is taught by gradual stages to wait for food, to sleep and to wake at regular intervals and so on. If the child feels the world around him is a warm and friendly one, he slowly accepts its rhythm and accustoms himself to conforming to its demands. Learning to wait for things, particularly for food, is a very important element in upbringing, and is achieved successfully only if too great demands are not made before the child can understand them.
Every parent watches eagerly the child’s acquisition of each new skill-the first spoken words, the first independent steps, or the beginning of reading and writing. It is often tempting to hurry the child beyond his natural learning rate, but this can set up dangerous feelings of failure and states of anxiety in the child. This might happen at any stage. A baby might be forced to us a toilet too early, a young child might be encouraged to learn to read before he knows the meaning of the words he reads. On the other hand, though, if a child is left alone too much, or without any learning opportunities, he loses his natural zest for life and his desire to find out new things for himself.
Learning together is a fruitful source of relationship between children and parents. By playing together, parents learn more about their children and children learn more from their parents. Toys and games which both parents and children can share are an important means of achieving this cooperation. Building block toys and jigsaw puzzles and crosswords are good examples.
Parents vary greatly in their degree of strictness and indulgence towards their children. Some may be especially strict in money matters; others are severe over times of coming home at night, punctuality for meals or personal cleanliness. In general, the controls imposed represent the needs of the parents and the values of the community as much as the child’s own happiness and well-being.
As regards the development of moral standards in the growing child, consistency is very important in parental teaching. To forbid a thing one day and excuse it the next is no foundation for morality. Also, parents should realize that “example is better than precept”. If they are hypocritical and do not practice what they preach, their children may grow confused and emotionally insecure when they grow old enough to think for themselves, and realize they have been to some extent deceived. A sudden awareness of a marked difference between their parents ethics and their morals can be a dangerous disillusion.