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THE INFLUENCE OF THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ATMOSPHERE ON THE ACTIONS AND FUTURE LIFE OF THE CHILD.'
By MAURICE CRAIG, M.A., M.D., F.R.C.P.
Physician for, and Lecturer in, Psychological Medicine, Guy's Hospital;
IN the past attention has been directed largely to the physical side of the development of the child. The mental and nervous side requires equal attention, and if it received due consideration, there would be far less nervous and mental disease in the world.
We must appreciate the fact that a normal child is very open to suggestion. The child has no acquired experience of its own to guide it and is therefore largely dependent for direction on the direct or indirect suggestions supplied by those about it. A child forms habits. early in life which tend to persist throughout life; therefore, it is allimportant that these habits should be to its advantage: they form the mental background and will colour and influence its future actions.
The mental atmosphere pervading the house or the school must leave a mark for good or ill upon the child. Every adult knows the effect exercised by the environment of an unrestful house, and the effect is infinitely greater upon the plastic brain of the child. To mention but a few of the more important influences. There is irritability, fussiness, and worrying; a child exposed to such an atmosphere quickly shows the effect it is having upon it; the child, too, becomes irritable and querulous. It must be borne in mind that all nervous. unrest and similar conditions are reflected upon the physical health of the child, and that they show themselves in errors of digestion, sleeplessness, and various other ills. Just as physical disabilities may retard. and interfere with mental development, so nervous unrest may affect the bodily health.
An atmosphere of fearfulness is exceptionally baneful. Fear and dread are two of the most powerful influences upon the human mind, and when present they cannot be brushed aside by an effort of the will or by obedience to order. We may apparently overcome one fear by a greater fear, but violent correction and consequent repression in the corrected child do not bring peace to the troubled mind. The ignorant
1 Abstract of lecture delivered in connection with the Baby Week Movement.
or superficial observer may believe that he has succeeded in quelling the mental disturbance, whereas in reality he has only aggravated the condition. Much mental disorder in later life results from this heroic but ill-considered treatment. Again, fear is communicable, and a parent may convey by gesture or language his own fears to his child. So it is with doubt and indecision and the constant weighing and reweighing of motives. Religion may be the greatest of all influences for good in the life of the individual, but wrongly imparted it may lead to much mental unrest. Instruction must be wide and broad based; an atmosphere of crabbed details is always harmful when instructing the young, and professional experience has shown that it is doubly harmful when treating such a subject as religion.
Unrest and excitability are quickly imparted to a child. tendency of modern times is to bustle the children about, and some parents' idea of giving them a good time is to take them to hotels and places of entertainment. An atmosphere of excitability means overstimulation; it is not only harmful to the mental development, but it affects the physical health, and commonly leads to sickness. A child requires occupation, not excitement.
Morbid and depressed atmospheres are exceptionally harmful. Gloom is quickly conveyed to others. Most things that a child does have strong feeling-tones attached to them, and if once the normal happiness becomes tinged with gloom, the tendency is for it to grow and colour the whole life. A child is easily made morbid and introspective. An atmosphere of suspicion is equally harmful; the tendency' of a child is to trust and to believe in others, but if it lives with those who are constantly suspecting the motives of others, the child too becomes suspicious, and no greater misfortune can befall it than that such an attribute should be ingrained in its character.
Further, an atmosphere of ambition and spurring a child on to learn and take prizes and to be a success at school may be very injurious in some instances. Broadly speaking, there are two types of children -the slow and backward, and the quick. Now it is the latter who run the greater risk, as they are apt to be encouraged both at home and at school. The strength of the human mind lies in its slow development; rapid development usually means a short life-history. Turn where you will in the vegetable and animal kingdom, you will find this true. If you press for this in the child you are in danger of a similar result. Early brilliance at school often produces a mediocre man, even if you escape more serious contingencies. Cultivate intelligence, but not
learning in the child, instil into it sound principles, and the details will be quickly acquired when the right time comes.
The trend of much modern thought is to emphasize the importance of the mental background in the life of the individual. The foundation of this, so far as acquired characteristics are concerned, is the influence of the nursery, the home, and the early days at school. It is not what we are taught that is the really vital matter, but the atmosphere in which we learn. We form habits in a slow and subtle way, and at first the effect on our conduct is slight, but as time goes on it becomes more and more marked for good or ill until it colours our whole life. Just as it is the duty of every physician never to allow to pass from his mind an appreciation of the influence that his attitude and manner has upon the patient, so it must ever be necessary for parents and teachers constantly to consider the effect of their temperament and its expression upon the children in their care, that they may do nothing to hinder and everything to develop in them that normal and healthy life which consists in the harmonious working of every part; the body should work without discomfort, the mind should be at peace, and the soul should be drawing nearer to God.
87, Harley Street,
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ABSTRACTS AND EXTRACTS.
Under this heading are gathered thoughts from literature, both ancient and modern, which seek to provide information likely to be of assistance to students of child life and practical workers for child welfare. It is hoped that our readers will co-operate in making this section both suggestive and serviceable.
of Rome holds in special regard and eternal adoration the Mother of the Christ Child. The Gospel of Christ is full of admonitions to honour and care for the children of the Kingdom of Righteousness. We cannot help but think that much of the lack of co-operation on the part of the clergy and ministers of religion generally in active child welfare work is due rather to ignorance, misunderstanding, suspicion, and professional conservatism than to any spirit or purpose of antagonism. The whole subject is very sympathetically and judiciously dealt with by Miss Margaret F. Malim in an article on "The Religious Aspect of National Baby Week," which appeared in the progressive Anglican journal, The Challenge, for June 28, the editor of which is the Rev. Dr. William Temple. The journal is published every Thursday, at Effingham House, Arundel Street, W.C.2. We venture to make somewhat extensive quotation from this important communication, as we believe it will arouse many clerical and lay members to a recognition of the opportunities and duties of the forces of organized religion in regard to child welfare work: "After allowing for the conservatism and extreme caution characteristic of the majority of religious bodies,
the main reasons for their aloofness fall into two categories: first, the failure to realize what infant mortality implies; this calm acquiescence in the wastage of infant life, and in the social conditions which lie behind it, is a grave indictment of our so-called Christian civilization, and the standard permitted by the conscience of the community. The other motive which restrained many thoughtful and serious people from participating heartily in the movement was a fear that the great problems involved would be dealt with in a superficial manner, and in a spirit of levity ill-befitting a serious cause, and unfortunately the pictorial appeals to the public this year have shown that this fear was not entirely without foundation. The Baby
Week Movement is a challenge to the Church not to hold coldly aloof, but to come into the movement with the passionate love and pity for sinners and the passionate hatred of sin of her Master, Christ; to seek by earnest prayer, thought and deliberation to know what is the true Christian attitude towards these questions, how to avoid the Pharisaism which was so sternly rebuked by Christ and yet to take a firm and unpopular stand against the wave of laxity which is sweeping over the country. Again, the movement is a challenge to the Church to awake from torpor and indifference to the facts of infant mortality and the social conditions which lie behind them. Were our civilization Chinese, such a slaughter of the innocents would raise no comment, but in a Christian country where motherhood and infancy have been for ever hallowed by the blessed fact of the Incarnation it is a scandal that such things should be. It is more dangerous to be a baby in the East End than a soldier in the trenches. . . . The causes of infant mortality can be traced partly to maternal ignorance and partly to environment and industrial conditions. It
was imagined until recently that maternal instinct was a sufficient guide for the management of a baby, and this heresy dies hard. The development of reason inevitably means the decay and atrophy of instinct, and while it is safe to entrust a cat with the entire charge of her kittens, it is essential to train each successive generation of our girls in the science of motherhood, if we are to avoid disaster, and this science includes not only the actual care and nurture of the baby, but housewifery and all the domestic arts which make for the well-being of the entire family. Has the Church been right in thrusting the whole responsibility of the care and nurture of the infant on to the mother, whether she were ill or well-equipped for the task? If the office of sponsorship in Holy Baptism had been regarded seriously, as the share which the corporate body was to take in the physical as well as the spiritual nurture of the child, the whole responsibility would not have fallen on the overburdened shoulders of the labourer's wife, and "Infant Welfare" would have come naturally within the sphere of the great brotherhood and family of God. The time for the realization of that ideal has gone by, and infant welfare as a whole is being organized on State lines; but it is not too late for the individual members of the Church to join in and permeate the movement with the spiritual atmosphere which it needs if it is to be of permanent value in creating a higher ideal of parenthood. Lastly, there cannot be two opinions as to the duty of the Church to lead the crusade against the social conditions which experts consider mainly responsible for infant mortality, and the widespread injury to the health of little children. Bad housing, overcrowding, dark and sunless rooms, neglect of sanitation, a contaminated milk supply, overwork, underfeeding, industrial poisoning, alcoholic excess, venereal diseases, lack of skilled attention at birth-such is the dismal catalogue of the evils which combine to undermine the health of the community as a whole, and especially of the mother, be she a wage-earner in a factory or an overworked domestic worker striving against overwhelming odds, evils which
rob the little children of the conditions essential to full development; for it is not only pure food, fresh air and sunlight that they are crying out for, but the warm and radiant atmosphere that should wrap them round in the peace of happy and healthful homes." We sincerely trust that the religious Churches of the land and all religionists and leaders in ethical movements will loyally co-operate in the great State enterprises and voluntarily supported endeavours which seek the securing of conditions making for child betterment.
The publications issued from the British Museum (Natural History), Cromwell Road, S. W., are well known and justly appreciated by scientific students and many teachers. Medical workers and all interested in the bearing of pathological problems on human affairs will welcome the latest publication: "A Map showing the known distribution in England and Wales of the Anopheline Mosquitoes, with Explanatory Text and Notes," by William Dickson Lang, M.A., Assistant attached to the Department of Entomology (price 2s. 6d. net). Malaria has had considerable influence on the doings of mankind in this and other lands, and it is of service to study historical and geographical questions from the malarial standpoint. Three species of anopheles are indigenous in Britain, two of which, A. maculipennis and A. bifurcatus, are known to be malaria carriers. The map indicates the distribution of the known three species of anopheline mosquitoes in England and Wales. "Such knowledge becomes of very great importance at the present time, owing to the fact that there are now a great many infected soldiers in this country who have been brought in from overseas, and who constitute a source from which malaria may be spread by the agency of the mosquitoes." The rôle of the mosquitoes in the spread of malaria should be explained to Boy Scouts and Girl Guides and other adolescents, and they should be encouraged to participate in the extermination of mosquitoes.