How to raise children

We need to pay more attention to the neglect of children. They are not being neglected nearly enough, and the consequence is that they grow up neurotic, and with asthmatic tendencies. … Also, foolish. … And I’d mention narcissistic, but everyone does.

A model mother of my recent acquaintance boasts of the success of her own neo-mediaeval parenting style. For example, she would not help her children with homework, and left them to the consequences if it was not done. She would not drive them to more than one extra-curricular activity. She was more or less never at their beck and call.

“I was not their best friend or their chauffeur or their social secretary.”

She did teach them to read and write, since the schools don’t do that any more; and was able to inculcate clear thinking in that way. She did take them to church, and made sure that their Catholic faith was exact and articulate, since the priests no longer teach anything. She was reasonably careful to set an example of backwardness, and perfect indifference to passing fads. And she put wine in them from an early age, so they would not grow up to become alcoholics. For total neglect would be excessive.

The children turned out well, and judging from the blog the eldest is keeping (she has three children of her own now), they are proper reactionaries. In the olden time, most children turned out reasonably well — only a few juvenile delinquents, as compared with the overwhelming majority today. And while perhaps not all lived to adulthood, the demographics balanced out, for hardly any were aborted.

In dealing with my own pair of lads, I tried to imitate my father. He was a busy man. When I came to him with an interesting question, he gave all his attention. If I came with a dull one, he could not hear. He never came to me. He had no interest in sports, whatever. (I adored my father.)

My mother needed help in the kitchen, but otherwise I was left to read and roam. If I have a criticism, she was a bit of a soft touch: she could have worked me much harder. (I adored her anyway.)

Of course, I am so old that I was not subjected in childhood to many of the evil temptations of today. There were no computers, only books and periodicals. Pornography was not easily accessible, so I had to make do with D.H. Lawrence. I was not forced to join a club, or play soccer, or any other silly and demeaning games. I was allowed to collect stamps, at my own expense. Today, a child could become addicted to any number of low hobbies. But won’t if you resolutely refuse to buy him anything.

When I decided that I was bored with school, both parents would be happy to write notes. They were quite truthful, along the lines of: “The boy had something better to do last week, and so was absent from classes.” True, I would tell them if I was going out of town (defined as involving a bus journey). But usually I was just hiking within ten miles or so.

Children are naturally curious about their parents, and this is the basis of moral education. They want to know if you are proud or ashamed of their behaviour. Let them know by fairly subtle indications. (Always: make them reach.) And you may not even need to beat them. Help them thus to develop a profound sense of guilt, and low self-esteem.

God made each child the way he is, however, and it is unwise to tamper overmuch. Some, indeed, may benefit from beatings — God having designed them for beating into shape. One must take them case by case. But I can’t imagine how any can benefit from being crowded by their parents.

It is best to have so many children that there is not enough time to coddle, anyway. Children almost invariably turn out better in the larger batches.

One should begin to ignore their whimpering when they are in the crib. I am appalled by what I see all around me: an only child, or sometimes two “only children,” who get their parents’ attention the moment they begin to whine. And if they don’t get what they want, promptly, they sit there pouting, feeling sorry for themselves. When my children whined, I ignored them. If they kept it up, I mocked them, mercilessly. You can’t start early enough, undermining their nasty little egos.

While I am not opposed to corporal punishment, I think psychic punishment is more effective. Humiliate; teach them how to feel shame. Manners need not be taught, for those will be acquired by emulation. Well, a few hints might be dropped at the dinner table.

Do your kids come when dinner is called? They will if they are hungry enough. (It is amazing what children can do, once they discover they have no options.)

Do they go to bed at a reasonable hour? They will if they are sufficiently tired.

For having fed them, you can put them to work. Children are a useful part of any labour force — they are small and can get into the corners adults are too big for. Lots of energy, too. Minimum instruction, maximum responsibility: that’s how children learn to do things. Wait until they’re begging for advice, to advise. And never hesitate to disparage failure — for again, it is important to make them feel badly. Hitting just makes them feel aggrieved.

How proud I was when my elder lad read some newspaper story about an irritating boy in Alberta, who was leading some UN-sponsored campaign against the exploitation of children in the Third World. My boy said that for a school project, he might start a counter-campaign, promoting child labour.

I left him to it.

We learn by doing, and part of childhood should be learning to work. Especially, how to do unpaid work, since all the best work is unpaid.