What kind of man do you want your son to become? Consider a man Owen Wister called simply “The Virginian” in his novel by that name. (1902)
Re-published from my hubpages. Note that the subject of confidence in children is addressed in story in Gideon’s River.
Recently I witnessed a pleasant scene in a waiting room. A mother and toddler were making their way out, the little girl chattering about pushing the stroller and giving the task her best effort. When they had gone the receptionist said to me, “I love ‘em at that age—but in a couple years the parents will have ruined her!” I knew what she meant.
I had been a home visiting social worker. Sitting at the kitchen table I listened to complaints. As we know, people do not always treat one another well. They get angry and tearful. They forget why they are together and pull at each other for the love they need—rarely able to love as they hope to be loved. They are suspicious of each other’s behavior and motives, sometimes with good reason, since they betray trust. (They stay out all night without calling a mother or a mate. They promise to bring home money and instead spend it on beer. And when they do come home, they are insufferable. Or they sit watching soaps on TV, eating mac and cheese and taking no responsibility for food sources and choices or for physical health, just getting fat and unlovely.)
Bleak picture? Common situation? Into the midst of this a child is born—handsome, alert, and confident, until ruined with yelling and mean handling, made to feel a bother and a loser. The cycle begins again, the process by which a child loses confidence in himself and becomes difficult. By then his parents have split up and there is a new “daddy” in the house, one who does not value the kid as his first father might have done. Possibly the child lives part time in two homes with different ways, each home a criticism of the other parent even if these criticisms are not stated, which they often are. (“Your dad is a no good loser.” “Your mom is a fat slut.”)
It doesn’t take an extreme of mistreatment to make a kid question her worth. You can end up worried about yourself in a “typical” home where the parents use duress to control you (if they loved me they wouldn’t hurt me) or where they leave you too much on your own (if they loved me they wouldn’t let me hurt myself).
The kid comes to the conclusion that she is intrinsically, within herself worthless. From then on she will worry about herself and make every effort to hide her true self. She will construct a façade. She will yell and cry and act out and run with the fast crowd or sit home and gain weight within which to hide. All because she lacks confidence! There is no mistake we make, any of us, that does not stem from lack of confidence. With confidence we are calm, unlikely to react badly even when others are not calm, not much in need of reassurance, interested in other people, and pleasant to be around.
Ironically, the confident person gets the appreciation from others that he can manage well without, while the worried-about-self person gets rejection that intensifies the worry. The confident one creates friendliness and basks in friendliness. The worried one creates unfriendliness and suffers hostility.
It starts early. Babies and toddlers are often bright and endearing, naturally confident, like the little girl in the waiting room. Yet, by the time they are two or three they have been brought low by caretakers who cannot bear such exuberance because they themselves were robbed early of spirit. And what is spirit but our very selves!
It seems that parents today have a triple assignment. First, the simple loving most parents begin with, so easy when the child is an infant. Second, overcoming any lack of confidence in ourselves so we can keep it out of the way of guiding our children. And third, overcoming any bad behavior in the child by understanding how to restore confidence with love, acceptance, and guidance that neither forces not neglects the child. To such parents I take off my hat.
1) Simply love the child.
2) Keep your own self-worries out of the way.
3) When the child shows evidence of self-worry, guide, accept, and love.
For you and the child are both amazing beings!
Lucretia Mott, a Quaker and a pacifist, worked actively before and after the American Civil War for human rights, women’s rights, and the right not to be a slave. She also believed that punishment served no useful purpose, including punishment of children. When in 1839 it was suggested that the principle of non-resistance be applied to family life, some objected that “some physical restraint might be necessary for infants incapable of reason.” Lucretia responded:
My conviction is that penalty is ineffectual, and that there is a readier and better way of securing a willing obedience than by resorting to it…. One of our little girls when told to go to bed felt disinclined to obey, and some time after she was discovered hid under the table, thinking it a good piece of fun. No notice was taken of it, and she took her own time. We had forgotten the affair, when she came running downstairs with her little bare feet, saying “do mother forgive me!”
Lucretia’s attitude on punishment is refreshing enough, but even more uplifting is the astuteness with which she saw through faulty arguments. When another “suggested that in some cases punishment might be necessary,” Lucretia said,
The extreme cases which may be brought to demand corporal punishment are like the extreme cases brought to nullify so many other arguments. The reason why such extreme cases occur is, I believe, because parents are not prepared. They overlook the fact that a child, like all human beings, has inalienable rights. It is the master that is not prepared for emancipation, and it is the parent that is not prepared to give up punishment.
I can’t help wishing my own parents and countless others had heard of Lucretia’s wisdom. What is to become of the good nature, the spirit, of today’s child? Parents need the courage of Lucretia Mott to stop penalties and allow that goodness to grow and bare the fruits of happiness and confidence.
Mott did not, of course, advocate giving children no guidance. One suspects that before the child hid at bedtime and came on her own to ask forgiveness, there had been many a life lesson discussed and gently applied.
In my book Gideon’s River, a mother finds the courage to shift toward non-resistance.
(Quotes taken from The Way We Lived: Essays and Documents in American Social History, Volume I: 1607-1877)
The key to family harmony and peaceful living at all levels of society is individual confidence.
When people argue and mistreat one another, it is out of a worry: What is wrong with me?
There is nothing wrong with us except our worry about what is wrong with us.
The restoration of a child’s confidence is a them in Gideon’s River.
I published this article on my Swamp Walking Woman blog, too, because both books have bullying as a basic theme.
“Bullies can be stopped. All it takes is for the rest of us to be steady, united, and compassionate.
I sometimes think about how the bullying started. If those who write about the ancient goddess cultures are right, there were few bullies in those matriarchal villages and any who attempted to bully others were quickly wrapped in a love that stopped them. In extremes, a bully could be sent into the forest to fend for himself, but that would not be done until all other efforts had failed.
If my history lessons are accurate, domination cultures started about 10,000 years ago in Eurasia and washed from the dry steppes down into the more fertile river valleys. In any case, there came into the peaceful lands, tribes eager to harass and fight and enslave or kill those they found. These same peoples also fought among themselves and established a hierarchy of power based on size and strength and willingness to cause physical hurt or emotional harm.
What is the matter with the bully? He lacks confidence in himself and covers his self-doubt with force and taunts. What is the matter with the rest of us? We’ve been wimping out and folding up, letting bullies harm us. That’s because we, just like the bullies, lack confidence–and we need guidance.
The theme of “the bully and the wimp” is played out in my novel Gideon’s River and in Swamp Walking Woman, a novella size fairy tale in which alligators represent the bullies in the story of our threatened environment. While in the fairy tale, people must literally fight the alligators and take back their world, in the novel a mother and son find their way out of the destructive drama by communicating. It has been said that communication is the great solvent.”
If ever a holiday gift spoke love, this one does. Give it to yourself and all those you cherish.
I know you care about children. Like me, you want to help this generation of kids keep or restore confidence in themselves, in their own good nature. I’m reminded of a poster from the 1980s. Kid looks about seven years old. Caption says, “I know I’m good stuff ’cause God don’t make no junk.”
Sadly, we all know of children who are so sure they are good stuff–even when we are sure.
How can a novel help?
A family novel is a story illustrating certain themes of family living without particular insistence on teaching. As a story, Gideon’s River is a fun read–and some readers will be content simply to have read a good story. At a deeper level the novel explores the options available to families today, whether religious or secular, resources that support family living. No parent or caretaker should feel at a loss for help with the care of a child’s happiness, which is built on self-confidence. And we should all be aware of the ways happiness or confidence can be eroded in early childhood.
Read Gideon’s River for a clearer picture of a family’s struggles and how they work things out.
You can read the first twenty percent of Gideon’s River on your e-reader for free. Just click on the title in this section. It will take you to smashwords.
Holiday shopping can be this easy–and give you more time for the children in your family and community. Love, Trish
Many of you have asked whether Gideon’s River will be available in time for holiday gift giving. The novel is ready for you now on amazon.com as a soft cover paperback:
and as an eBook easy to download to any e-reader such as kindle.
Gideon’s River is a literary novel in the tradition of Oliver Twist and Harry Potter, stories about boys in trouble through a fault in the social scene. All three boys are spunky and inventive about seeking solutions. Gideon works out his salvation without the prior pedigree of a rich grandfather or an inheritance of magic abilities. He’s an American boy in modern times.
This book is for anyone who enjoys a good story and especially for people who care about children. Every child has a right to confidence in himself, in his own good nature. Find out how Gideon and his mother Rosalie, who engage in the age-old drama of “the bully and the wimp,” work things out. An Earth Day/green living community story, Gideon’s River was written for the love of children and the sweet tough work of building confidence in children.
You can read the first two chapters in another November 2010 post or by clicking the arrow above.
For the Love of Children,