Child-Training, Old School

“I understand more than the ancients,

because I keep thy precepts.”

That’s the theme of this blog, but there’s no denying the fact that our parents, grandparents, and their parents and grandparents had valuable wisdom that we desperately need today.

I recently discovered the antique book, “Hints on Child Training,” written in 1891 by Henry Clay Trumbull – who was, interestingly, the father of Elisabeth Elliot’s grandfather. In case you don’t know who Elisabeth Elliot was, you really should look up her story. You can learn about her love story in this amazing Singaporean musical.

Anyway, this old book is one of those books that makes me feel like I need to devour it all now and reread it again in a week to make sure I got it all. It is profound, and so much of it is lost to our generation.

Since this book is now in the public domain and is no longer under copyright, I am now going to share it with you – only a little bit at a time.

Without further ado, here is Chapter Seven of Hints on Child Training by Henry Clay Trumbull, published in 1891,


One of the hardest and one of the most
important things in the training of a loved
child is to deny him that which he longs for,
and which we could give to him, but which
he would better not have. It is very pleas-
ant to gratify a child. There is real enjoy-
ment in giving to him what he asks for, when
we can do it prudently. But wise withhold-
ing is quite as important as generous giving
in the proper care of a child.

Next to denying a child necessary food
and raiment, for the sustenance of very life,
the unkindest treatment of a child is to give
him everything that he asks for. Every
parent recognizes this truth within certain
limits, and therefore refuses an unsheathed
knife, or a percussion cartridge, or a cup of
poison, to a child who cries for it. But the

breadth and the full significance of the prin-
ciple involved are not so generally accepted
as they should be.

A child ought to be denied, by his parents,
many things which in themselves are harm-
less. It is an injury to any child to have
always at the table the dishes which he likes
best; to have uniformly the cut or the portion
which he prefers; to have every plaything
which his parents can afford to give him ;
to dress — even within their means — just as he
wants to; and to go, with them, where and
when he pleases. That child who has never
a legitimate desire ungratified is poorly fitted
for the duties and the trials of every-day life
in the world. He does not, indeed, enjoy
himself now as he might hope to through a
different training. It is sadly to a parent’s
discredit when a child can truly say, ” My
father, or my mother, never denied me any
pleasure which it was fairly in his, or her,
power to bestow.”

It is because of the evil results of not
wisely denying the little ones, that an only

child is in so many instances spoken of as a
spoiled child. There is but one to give to in
that household. He can have just so much
more, than if there were half a dozen children
to share it; and, as a rule, he gets it all. Par-
ents give to him freely; so do grandparents,
and so do uncles and aunts. He hardly
knows what self-denial or want is. His very
fulness palls upon him. It is not easy to sur-
prise him with an unexpected pleasure. He
not only is liable to grow selfish and exact-
ing, but at the best he lacks all the enjoyment
which comes of the occasional gratification of
a desire which has been long felt without the
expectation of its being speedily met.

But it is by no means necessary that an only
child should be spoiled in training. Some of
the best trained children in the world have
been only children. Many a parent is more
faithful and discreet in securing to his or her
only child the benefits of self-denial than is
many another with half a dozen children to
care for. But whether there be one child
or more in the family, the lesson of wise de-

nial is alike important to the young, and the
responsibility of its teaching should be recog-
nized by the parent.

Few grown persons can have everything
they want, everything that love can give,
everything that money can buy. Most of
them have many reasonable wishes ungrati-
fied, many moderate desires unfilled. They
have to get along without a great many
things which others have, and which they
would like. It is probable that their chil-
dren will be called to similar experiences
when they must finally shift for themselves.
Their children ought, therefore, to be in
training for this experience now. It is largely
the early education which gives one proper
control over himself and his desires. If in
childhood one is taught to deny himself, to
yield gracefully much that he longs for, to
enjoy the little that he can have in spite of
the lack of a great deal which he would like
to have, his lot will be an easier and a hap-
pier one, when he comes to the realities of
maturer life, than would be possible to him

if, as a child, he had only to express a rea-
sonable wish, to have it promptly gratified.

For this reason it is that men who were
the children of the rich are so often at a dis-
advantage, in the battle of life, in comparison
with those who have risen from comparative
poverty. Their parents’ wealth, so freely at
their disposal, increased the number of wants
which they now think must be gratified; and
their pampering in childhood so enervated
them for the struggles and endurances which
are, at the best, a necessity in ordinary busi-
ness pursuits, that they are easily distanced
by those who were in youth disciplined
through enforced self-denial, and made strong
by enduring hardness, and by finding con-
tentment with a little. It is a great pity that
the full and free gifts of a loving parent
should prove a hindrance to a child’s happi-
ness, a barrier to his success in life; that the
very abundance of the parent’s giving should
tend to the child’s poverty and unhappiness!
Yet this state of things is in too many in-
stances an undeniable fact.

Children of the present day — especially
children of parents in comfortable worldly
circumstances — are far more likely than were
their fathers and mothers to lack lessons of
self-denial. The standard of living is very
different now from a generation since. There
were few parents in any community in this
country fifty years ago who could buy what-
ever they wanted for their children ; or, in-
deed, for themselves. There was no such
freeness of purchases for children, for the
table, for the house or the household, as is
now common on every side. Children then
did not expect a new suit of clothes every
few months. Often they had old ones made
over for them, from those of their parents or
of their elder brothers and sisters. A pres-
ent from the toy-shop or bookstore was a
rarity in those days. There was not much
choosing by children what they would eat as
they sat down at the family table. There
was still less of planning by them for a sum-
mer journey with their parents to a moun-
tain or seaside resort. Self-denial, or more

or less of personal privation, came as a ne-
cessity to almost every child in the younger
days of many who are now on the stage of
active life. But how different now !

The average child of the present genera-
tion receives more presents and more indul-
gences from his parents in any one year of
his life than the average child of a genera-
tion ago received in all the years of his child-
hood. Because of this new standard, the
child of to-day expects new things, as a
matter of course; he asks for them, in the
belief that he will receive them. In conse-
quence of their abundance, he sets a smaller
value upon them severally. It is not possi-
ble that he should think as highly of any
one new thing, out of a hundred coming to
him in rapid succession, as he would of the
only gift of an entire year.

A boy of nowadays can hardly prize his
new bicycle, or his ” double- ripper ” sled, after
all the other presents he has received, as his
father prized a little wagon made of a raisin-
box, with wheels of ribbon-blocks, which was

his only treasure in the line of locomotion.
A little girl cannot have as profound enjoy-
ment in her third wax doll of the year, with
eyes which open and shut, as her mother
had with her one clumsy doll of stuffed rags
or of painted wood. A new child’s book
was a wonder a generation since ; it is now
hardly more to one of our children than the
evening paper is to the father of the family.
It is now hard work to give a new sensation
— or, at all events, to make a permanent im-
pression — by the bestowal of a gift of any
sort on a child. It would be far easier to
surprise and to impress many a child by re-
fusing to give to him what he asked for and
expected ; and that treatment would in some
cases be greatly to a child’s advantage.

A distinctive feature of the child-training
of the ancient Spartans was the rigid dis-
cipline of constant self-denial, to which the
child was subjected from infancy onward.
And this feature of child-training among that
people had much to do with giving to the
Spartans their distinguishing characteristics

of simplicity of manners, of powers of en-
durance, and of dauntless bravery. The best
primitive peoples everywhere have recog-
nized the pre-eminent importance of this
feature of child-training. Its neglect has
come only with the growth in luxury among
peoples of the highest material civilization.
The question is an important one, whether
it is well to lose all the advantages of this
method of training, simply because it is not
found to be a necessity as a means of sus-
taining physical life, where wealth abounds
so freely.

It is not that a child is to be denied what
he wants, merely for the sake of the denial
itself; but it is that a child ought not to have
what he wants merely because he wants it.
It is not that there is a necessary gain in a
denial to a child; but it is that when a denial
to a child is necessary, there is an added gain
to him through his finding that he must do
without what he longs for. It is every parent’s
duty to deny a child many things which he
wants ; to teach him that he must get along

without a great many things which seem
very desirable; to train him to self-denial and
endurance, at the table, in the play-room ; with
companions, and away from them. What-
ever else he has, a child ought not to lack
this element of a wise training.

So, what’dja think? If you don’t want to miss future chapters, you can type in your email address below, and you’ll automatically receive upcoming posts.

God bless! 🙂

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