Charlotte Mason pointed out to us that Christ gave us a code of education. It is summed up in three commandments, and all three have a negative character, as if the chief thing required of grown-up people is that they should do no sort of injury to the children:
Take heed that ye OFFEND not–DESPISE not– HINDER not–one of these little ones.
God has granted within the child a desire to please, a desire to learn, a desire to be praised, a desire to imitate, a longing for love and affection, therefore, if we are careful to not offend, despise, or hinder him, his achievement of a good character should be readily grasped.
Offending We offend our children when we do to them what we shouldn’t and when we don’t do what we should. An offense is literally a stumbling a block, something that causes someone to fall. When babies are beginning to walk, we clear the floor so his unsteady little steps will not be hindered by any object. Why do we not continue to “clear the floor” so when he takes his first steps into the world, his unsteady little steps won’t be hindered by his own defects of character?
Charlotte Mason asserts that children are born law-abiding. Scold a baby and watch the infant soul rise visibly before your eyes. This display of feeling, of conscience, before any human teaching can have reached him, points to a child’s readiness to live according to the law. He has a sense of may and must not, of right and wrong. But through parents winking and ignoring misbehavior, a child’s senses of right and wrong become deadened. And, this being so, we see tweens and teens who have unlearned
what must means, who are not moved by ought, whose hearts feel no stir at the solemn name of Duty, who know no higher rule of life than ‘I want,’ and ‘I don’t want,’ ‘I like,’ and ‘I don’t like.’
What pain that child will cause his employer or employees, his wife or her husband, and their children! What pain that child will experience. Life is a hard task-master. Wouldn’t it have been kinder for the parents to have taught him limits and boundaries sooner?
How does this happen? Here is how — the little hand sneaks into the cookie jar. “No,” the mother says. The little eyes seek hers, mischievous, furtive, and the mother laughs. She can’t help it. She is so cute. The trespass is allowed.
The great divide has begun. When she finds that her little angel has been dealing drugs or stealing to get drugs, she’ll wonder, “How did this happen?” Or when he sneaks out at night or flouts her rules, she’ll wonder where she went wrong. She’d have to look a long way back. The stumbling block was tossed into his path when she overlooked his small sins.
The child learns that he does not have to overcome the Great and Unchanging Law. He only has to overcome his mother. The Law has been intercepted by her interference.
Children must perceive that their parents are law-compelled. They must use the weighty force of the law behind their authority to back their choices. Both “yes” and “no” should not be said according to personal moods, but have the weight of absolute RIGHT and WRONG behind them.
Parents begin with no sense of duty. They think themselves free to allow and disallow, to say and unsay, at pleasure, as if the child were theirs to do whatever they like with. The child is wise enough to perceive whether a parent’s decision is backed by must and must not. He recognizes that his mother or father are operating from their own weak wills and not by a greater power. A spoiled child doesn’t know that she must not break her sister’s toys, gorge herself with cake, or spoil the pleasure of other people because it is WRONG.
Let the child perceive that his parents are law-compelled as well as he, that they simply cannot allow him to do forbidden things, and he submits with sweet meekness. Often, fits and tantrums are caused by this very desire to find the boundary. How far are you willing to let him go? Can he do this? What about this? What about that? If parents would set the boundary quickly and firmly, the child would feel safe and the tantrum would subside.
To give reasons to a child is out of place and a sacrifice of parental dignity. If one feels compelled, then do it quickly and be done with it. Don’t prattle on incessantly about the reasons behind your decision. Children are quick to discern which adults are backed by the power of a greater authority. Parents will find their children doing their duties for others without argument and their parents wonder at it, never recognizing that the fault lies within their own shoes.
Parents may also offend their children by disregarding the laws of health — by giving her unwholesome food, by giving her too much food, letting him sleep in unventilated rooms, and allowing his time to be spent in activities that do not give him exercise for his mind or body.
Parents may also offend the intellectual life of their children by providing or putting him in a place where the day is dreary, the lessons dawdling, in which the joy of learning is killed. By the tweens and teens age, their wits are gone, their vocabulary severely limited, their love of learning disappeared.
Parents may also offend the moral life of their children, especially with unequal affections. Favoritism is out of vogue, now, thankfully, but in Charlotte Mason’s lifetime, it often played foul with a child’s heart. One person’s testimony:
My childhood was made miserable … by my mother’s doting fondness for my little brother; there was not a day when she did not make me wretched by coming into the nursery to fondle and play with him, and all the time she had not a word nor a look nor a smile for me, any more than if I had not been in the room. I have never got over it; she is very kind to me now, but I never feel quite natural with her.