Childhood (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
The period between birth and adulthood, during which a person develops physically, intellectually, and socially.
History of childhood
Childhood has been defined differently across the ages. The Greek philosopher Plato (427?-347 B.C.) believed children were born with certain dispositions that could be changed by their environment. Ancient Romans expressed great affection for their children in letters and on tombstones. During the Middle Ages, little distinction was made between adults and children, who worked from a very young age. The Renaissance saw the beginning of the nuclear family in Europe, with an increased focus on childhood as a time for education and training. John Locke (1632-1704), founder of the empirical school of philosophy, believed the child enters the world as a tabula rasa or blank slate, and learns through experience. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) took the opposite tack, recommending that education should follow nature since infants automatically prefer goodness. According to Sigmund Freud's (1856-1939) psychoanalytic theory, children must pass through five psychosexual stages to achieve healthy adulthood. In contrast behaviorist John Watson (1878-1935) asserted that, given a controlled environment, he could train a child to be anything from doctor to thief. The emphasis on environment, particularly the behavior of parents, continued through the twentieth century until studies of identical and fraternal twins, reared together or apart, began to show the effect of genes on the journey from infancy to adulthood.
The future adult begins not at birth but at conception, with the creation of a unique set of genes, half from the mother, half from the father. This genetic blueprint is called the genotype; its outward manifestation is the phenotype. Sometimes the phenotype is controlled directly by the genotype, for example, eye color. More often, the phenotype represents the interaction of the genotype and the environment. It is even possible for the genotype to be altered by the environment, as happens when men exposed to certain toxins suffer an increased risk of fathering children with genetic abnormalities.
Fewer than half of fertilized eggs, called zygotes, survive the first two weeks during which the zygote moves from the fallopian tube where it was fertilized to the uterus where it is implanted. During the next six weeks, the zygote differentiates into an embryo with internal organs, skin, nerves, and rudimentary limbs, fingers, and toes. In the final seven months of gestation, the maturing skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems of what is now called the fetus make movement possible. Babies born at 28 weeks can survive, although often with chronic health problems.
As each system undergoes its most rapid growth, it is especially vulnerable to damage. In addition to genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome, environmental agents called teratogens can affect the fetus. These might be maternal viruses such as rubella (German measles) or chemicals such as nicotine, alcohol, and cocaine. Exposure to nicotine is linked to premature birth, low birth weight, and cleft (malformed) palate and lips, while exposure to alcohol is linked to intellectual and behavioral impairments. An inadequate maternal diet also puts the fetus at risk, especially its brain and nervous system. Prenatal teratogens can cause lifelong problems or even death. The vast majority of babies, however, are born healthy and normal.
Newborns enter the world with many skills. In addition to a range of adaptive reflexes such as grasping, sucking, and rooting (turning the head when the cheek is touched), they are able to recognize their mothers' face, voice, and smell. Even more impressive, less than one hour after birth, babies can imitate gestures such as sticking out the tongue.
(The entire section is 1764 words.)
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Childhood (International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis)
Childhood is not a Freudian concept. A large part of psychoanalytic theory concerns the early years of life and childhood but, in a certain sense, we can say along with Donald Winnicott that "Freud neglected childhood as a state in itself" (1961).
Only after a wrenching period of revision (1895-1901) could Sigmund Freud come to acknowledge the active role of the child in sexual seduction and to abandon his earlier view of children as innocent victims of the incestuous desires of adults; this reversal, moreover, led him to theorize childhood sexuality for the first time. "In the beginning," he would later write, "my statements about infantile sexuality were founded almost exclusively on the findings of analysis in adults which led back into the past. I had no opportunity of direct observations on children. It was therefore a very great triumph when it became possible years later to confirm almost all my inferences by direct observations and the analysis of very young children" (1914d).
It was in connection with the treatment of adults that Freud became interested in observing small children. As he wrote apropos of the case of "Little Hans," "I have for years encouraged my pupils and friends to collect observations on the sexual life of children, which is normally either skillfully overlooked or deliberately denied" (1909b). Freud indeed never abandoned this line of enquiry, as witness his celebrated account of the "Fort/Da" game played with a cotton reel by one of his grandsons, the personal observation of which he used to support his theoretical conclusions. As related in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g), the fact that an act provoking unpleasure would be repeated, coupled with clinical findings from his treatment of traumatic neuroses, was what led Freud to formulate the concept of the death instinct.
After the publication of the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d), the first generation of analysts began observing and reporting on the behavior of their own children in reference to infantile sexuality, the Oedipus complex, and castration anxiety. Anna Freud shared in this activity (Geissmann and Geissmann, 1992). Soon these analysts were joined by specialists on child behavior who had themselves been analyzed. They began to observe specific populations of disturbed children, such as delinquents, then certain periods of childhood, notably that of the earliest mother-child relations, and finally certain types of problems encountered (feeding, thumb-sucking, attempts at separation, etc.). In so doing they were "systematically constructing a psychoanalytic psychology of the child, integrating two kinds of data: data based on direct observation and data based on reconstructions with adults" (Freud, 1968).
It is important to note, along with Anna Freud, that psychoanalysts at first showed considerable reluctance to undertake such direct observation of children. The pioneers were more concerned to underscore the differences between observable behavior and hidden drives than they were to point up the similarities. Their chief aim was still to show that manifest behavior concealed unconscious processes. Anna Freud was initially interested in the defense mechanisms, which became accessible to an observational approach; she then turned her attention to children's behavior, to what they produced, and, lastly to the child's ego. She sought to include a psychology of the ego within the analytic framework, an effort further developed later by her friend Heinz Hartmann, whom she never completely disavowed.
On a practical level she created institutions for young children, the first in Vienna in 1924-1925, the last and most complex, which was established after the war in London, being the Hampstead Clinic, an extension of Hampstead Nurseries. At the end of her life she trained child specialists at Hampstead Clinic who worked within the framework of a psychoanalytic psychology of childhood. This work involved treating the childot only with analysiso prevent further disturbances, conducting research, and training future specialists in children's education and pedagogy by applying previously acquired knowledge.
During this same period, Melanie Klein also became interested in childhood. She did not base her theories on direct observation, however. Starting from the psychoanalysis of young children, she constructed a detailed picture of the internal world of the young child. She pioneered the use of play in analysis. Like dream interpretation for Freud, the free play of the child was for Klein the royal road to the unconscious and to the fantasy life. In The Psychoanalysis of Children (1932), she argued forcefully that play translated the child's fantasies, desires, and lived experience into a symbolic mode. Her technique consisted in analyzing play just as one would analyze dreams and free association in adults, that is, by interpreting fantasies, conflicts, and defenses. The inner world of the young child as she describes it is filled with monsters and demons, and the picture of infantile sexuality she presents is strongly tinged with sadism. In discussing the death drive, she describes an infant whose first act is not simply a gesture of pure love toward the object (breast) but also a sadistic act associated with the action of the drive. Here, as Freud had earlier, Klein challenged a universal human shibboleth: the innocent soul of the child. This was one of the reasons why her work was often poorly received.
The direct observation of young children has expanded considerably in recent years, helped in part advances in technology: it is now possible to study newborns and even fetuses. It is interesting to note that, in this way, the significance and the complexity of the mental life of the very young child have been confirmed, along therefore with the intuitions and efforts of psychoanalysts working during the early twentieth century.
It is clear that psychoanalysis has renewed our vision and understanding of the world of childhood. However, that world remains highly complex, especially its pathology, and it is important to avoid seeing it in terms of adult behavior. Also, while psychoanalysis has enabled us to better understand that world, we must remember, as Anna Freud remarked at the end of her life, that it does not have the power to eliminate childhood neuroses and turn the child and childhood into that place where we would so much love to find innocence, the mythical innocence of a paradise lost.
See also: Childhood and Society; Children's play; Fort-Da; Klein-Reizes, Melanie; Winnicott, Donald Woods.
Freud, Anna. (1966). Collected writings. New York: International Universities Press.
Freud, Sigmund. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.
. (1909b). Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. SE, 10: 1-149.
. (1914d). On the history of the psycho-analytic movement. SE, 14: 1-66.
. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE,18:1-64.
Geissmann, Claudine and Geissmann, Pierre. (1992). A history of child psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge.
Klein, Melanie. (1975). The psycho-analysis of children. In The Writings of Melanie Klein (Vol. II). London, Hogarth. (Original work published 1932)
Winnicott, Donald. (1965). The theory of infant-parent relationship. In The maturational processes and the facilitating environment. (pp. 17-55). London: Hogarth. (Original work published 1962)
Childhood (American History Through Literature)
The stage of life referred to as "childhood" is not a fixed notion but is instead a concept defined largely by the dominant concerns, needs, and values of a given cultural and historical context. What it means to be a child changes as society changes. How children are portrayed in literary texts of a given period and what recommendations are documented regarding the actual treatment of children become ways to examine the major issues and events of that particular historical time and place. According to Caroline Levander and Carol Singley in The American Child: A Cultural Studies Reader, the child is "not only a biological fact but a cultural construct that encodes the complex, ever-shifting logic of a given group . . . and reveals much about its inner workings" (p. 4). The period between 1820 and 1870 in American history is one of the richest for examining changes in attitudes about childhood and studying the child as a vehicle that reveals the struggles and inner workings of an emerging nation. Summarizing the early- and mid-nineteenth-century shifts in understanding childhood, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803882) commented, "There grew a certain tenderness on the people not before remarked. Children had been repressed and in the background; now they were considered, cosseted and pampered" (Complete Works 10:325). Emerson's observation not only refers to the growing interest in nurturing children that characterized these decades but alludes to broader meanings as well.
In the years following the American Revolution, childhood became a useful site for debate about changing theological beliefs regarding human nature and served as an allegorical tool for exploring the challenges faced by the newly formed, independent Republic separated from its parental monarch. The portrayal and treatment of the child became an important tool for reflecting and conveying the fundamental transition from harsh puritanical, authoritarian rule of colonial America to more egalitarian and participatory democracy of the Jacksonian era; a transition apparent in church, government, and even in the microcosm of the family. No longer "repressed and in the background," Americans were exploring what would be required of governing themselves while respecting the common good and solidifying a diverse nation (Emerson, Complete Works 10:325). A new concept of citizenry was emerging and with it new ideas about raising children who would fulfill the role of democratic citizens guided by conscienceble to be self-governing yet unified. Moreover, in theological matters, beliefs in original sin and infant depravity, dominant in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Calvinism, were giving way to more moderate viewpoints about human nature, specifically regarding souls of infants and children. By the early 1800s children were considered to be morally neutral, not evil, and by mid-century, Romantic notions of the child's innate goodness had emerged in the writings of Unitarians and transcendentalists respectively. In an unprecedented way, major and lesser-known American authors of early and mid-century incorporated children as significant characters in novels and stories, while childhood itself both served as subject matter and appeared in figurative language and rhetorical devices in imaginative literature as well.
Additionally, literature and periodicals were written and published for children. With increasing literacy rates, the reading of magazines, stories, and informational books became a commonplace activity for children and family gatherings, whereas in earlier times reading the Bible or religious tracts had been the predominant, if not exclusive, literacy activity for children and adults. As the connection was made between nation building and child rearing, large numbers of advice manuals were published and sold between 1820 and 1870. In the previous century parents received guidance on raising their children from sermons and authorities on religious doctrine; by the nineteenth century sources of information had broadened and came from more liberal religious teachers as well as from secular writers on child rearing and domestic management. This advice literature incorporated and represented the opinions of physicians and educators as well as mothers and fathers themselves, who at least to some extent were influenced by the philosophy of John Locke (1632704) and, to a lesser degree, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile (1762). American parents and educators found in the work of Locke especially and Rousseau (1712788) more controversially explanations of the critical role that environment plays in shaping the malleable, growing child. Such views were compatible with the hope of cultivating conscientious children for future citizenship in a republican society.
LITERARY REPRESENTATIONS OF CHILDHOOD
With religious and political change as a thematic focus, major writers of the nineteenth century, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804864), Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811896), Mark Twain (1835910), Walt Whitman (1819892), Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau (1817862), and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807882) employed the child figure in some fashion in their work, usually emphasizing the redemptive and innocent nature and presence of the child while also acknowledging the rebellious and resistant capacities of children. Most widely recognized among texts by these authors in which children appear as central characters are Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Gentle Boy" (1832), "Little Annie's Ramble" (1834), and The Scarlet Letter (1850); Harriett Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852); and Mark Twain's "The Story of the Bad Little Boy" (1865) and "The Story of the Good Little Boy" (1870), forerunners to his The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and later Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). Perhaps no child characters of the nineteenth century are discussed more extensively in critical scholarship than Hawthorne's Pearl, Stowe's Little Eva and Topsy, and Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. The proliferation of comment is not surprising because these characters embody so clearly three essential and frequently expressed themes, sometimes contradictory, related to the portrayal of children in fiction of this period: children possess higher moral insight and integrity that challenges the status quo; children die dramatically and with redemptive flair; and children behave rebelliously or uncontrollably as symbolic voices against the social injustices of their historical settings, whether it be against the abuses and bigotry of New England Puritanism or slavery. Child "saintliness" and early death as described by Anne Trensky (1975) or their cunning misbehavior as discussed by Daneen Wardrop (2000) and Franny Nudelman (1997) are two general characterizations of children in early- to mid-century fiction. Each child prototype carries significant symbolic reference to numerous and timely controversial issues having to do with beliefs in innate neutrality or purity replacing the eroding dogma of original sin; the corruptive aspect of urban industrialization and expanding commerce, where good cannot survive without a price; the abolitionists' debates and discussions about inhumane and unjust treatment of slaves and Native Americans; and paradoxically, the persistent need to instill the value of conformity to support a threatened national identity during this time.
ANGELIC AND INSPIRATIONAL CHILDREN
Nathaniel Hawthorne's child characters Ilbrahim in "The Gentle Boy" and Pearl in The Scarlet Letter function as outcasts from their restrictive and judgmental New England Puritan communities of the seventeenth century. Each endures ridicule for different reasons. Ilbrahim is a child of Quaker heritage among intolerant and condemning Puritans, and Pearl's illegitimate status renders her little identity in the eyes of the Puritans beyond that of the manifestation of her mother's stigma as adulteress. In both texts the child becomes a method for Hawthorne to display his ambivalent position about human nature and to explore the questions regarding the extent to which children inherit the sins of their parents. At the same time, Pearl and Ilbrahim also show endearing and genuine tenderness and playfulness that provide joy and comfort to adults and soften the impact of their persecution. Pearl and Ilbrahim meet different fates. Ilbrahim dies a martyr to the narrowness of a community intolerant of his different "sect." He suffers as well from the death of his birth father; the abandonment by his biological mother, an eccentric Quaker; and the inadequacies and ambivalences of his adoptive parents. Ilbrahim's death suggests the fundamental possibility of evil associated with religious and doctrinal fanaticism, while Pearl survives and, as the character in the novel least repressed or oppressed, embodies redemption or hope for a broader, open future.
What is generally understood is that Hawthorne modeled Pearl on his observations of his daughter, Una, and that Pearl provides evidence for the strong influences of discussions he had with friends and family about children's education and development. Hawthorne's wife, Sophia, expressed interest in transcendentalist ideas of the period, although Hawthorne
Anne Tropp Trensky calls the character Little Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin a "quintessential saintly childn unequivocally pure savior" ("The Saintly Child," p. 392). Harriet Beecher Stowe, deploying the sentimentality characteristic of the period and especially associated with child and childlike figures (e.g., Uncle Tom), portrays children as voices of wisdom and redemptive insight. Stowe distinguishes Eva from other children by describing her as having a "dreamy earnestness" and noting "the deep spiritual gravity" of her eyes (p. 161). Like Hawthorne's Annie, Eva has a profound and transforming impact on those around her, particularly as she nears her death and expresses deep compassion for the suffering of slaves and contempt for the injustices they endure. Eva is a voice for Christian humanitarianism and assures the uncontrollable and self-depreciating slave child, Topsy, that Jesus loves her even in her bondage. Eva is the vehicle for Stowe's abolitionist statement, which, as Jane Tompkins suggests, is softened and made palatable by the use of child characters and their tear-jerking deaths or the heart-wrenching plight of a slave mother attempting to prevent the sale of and separation from her young son. Stowe's child characters are covert instruments of social critique and are designed in their domestic innocence and purity as tools of persuasion to elicit sympathy.
Often, these divine children die, further underscoring the idea that the corrupt world is no place for them to thrive. The frequent depiction of child death was especially poignant and effective rhetorically because actual infant and child mortality rates in the nineteenth century were extremely high. Many families suffered from the actual deaths of their children. Readers empathized with and sought solace in fictive descriptions of angelic children who were taken from earth where, as Fanny Fern (Sara Payson Willis Parton, 1811872) says of her character "Dear Little Charley" in Fern Leaves from Fanny's Port-Folio (1853), "you were . . . out of place" (p. 120). Children of redemptive virtue who retain their innocence or succumb to death in the face of society's hostility are also portrayed in Susan Warner's best-seller The Wide, Wide World (1850), Timothy Shay Arthur's The Angel of the Household (1854), Elizabeth Oakes Smith's The Newsboy (1854), Maria Cummins's The Lamplighter (1854), Martha Finley's Elsie Dinsmore (1868), and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (1868869). Twenty-firstcentury readers may think of these texts as designed for child audiences, yet nineteenth-century readers of all ages, especially women, enjoyed these books.
CHILDREN AND NATURE
Transcendentalist writers and thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau saw the child as aligned with essential divine energies of nature. Not only did the child represent a model of integrity, purity, and an unaccommodating "self-reliance" to which adults should aspire, but in its youthfulness possessed a vitality of the senses, a freshness, that these writers saw as an important quality in having direct, authentic experiences with the divine vitality in daily life. "Children appear to me as raw as the fresh fungi on a fence rail," Thoreau wrote in his journal (Journal 1:85). Similarly, he wrote in 1851, "The senses of children are unprofaned" (Journal 3:291). It was the clarity and purity of the senses that Thoreau revered as the avenue to living a "fresh" and creative life. Because observation of the natural world confirms the cycles of new life followed by growth, degeneration, and regeneration, both Thoreau and Emerson saw human life as adhering to this natural rhythm. The child, literally, was new life and symbolically represented to the transcendentalist writers the possibility of inspired self-regeneration at any chronological age. Hence, in his 1836 essay Nature not only does Emerson write about the importance of accessing the inward source of new inspiration, but he also emphasizes that when adults live close to nature they live a "perpetual youth"; they "retain the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood" (p. 498).
Apart from his theoretical reverence, Emerson suffered immense personal loss when his own young son, Waldo, died in 1842. Emerson was forced by this tragic event to reexamine his understanding of nature and childhood. His 1846 poem "Threnody" was written in honor of his son and reflects some of his modifications. Instead of perceiving the child as perfectly unified with natural, "self-reliant" life, Emerson elevated the child above nature to a state so pure and open to divine intuitions that it is, in fact, vulnerable to the grosser natural world (pp. 69906). Waldo's death affected Emerson and Thoreau to the extent that both writers began in their later work to acknowledge that although the child, "the feeblest babe," may indeed represent "a channel through which the tremendous energies stream" (Emerson, Journals 8:223), the mature adult has the benefit of experience to mix with inspiration, so maturation is not entirely a disadvantage. Thoreau's poem "Manhood" refers to "the man, the long-lived child . . . I love to contemplate the mature soul of lesser innocence, Who hath traveled far on life's dusty road" ("Manhood," p. 634).
Another transcendentalist, Amos Bronson Alcott, a teacher of young children and father of Louisa May Alcott, wrote extensive journals and texts from the 1820s through the 1840s about his teaching philosophy and observations of children. His beliefs that children must be allowed to pursue the spontaneity of their divine natures were radical to the point of being impractical, especially in the eyes of many conservative parents, and Alcott was dismissed from several teaching positions. Nevertheless, progressive educators and writers of the period, such as Peabody, Mary and Horace Mann, and Emerson, admired and encouraged Alcott's deep commitment to describing and respecting the spiritual quality of children. In a similar vein, Walt Whitman's poetry also exalts the higher spiritual and intuitive status of the child. In "There Was a Child Went Forth" (1855), Whitman describes the child's capacity to merge with and assimilate the vast world of experience. Fundamentally, Whitman echoes the Lockean perspective that learning comes from direct experience through the senses and, similar to Thoreau and Emerson, suggests that the child's senses and intuitions are particularly acute for generating new perspectives. In "Song of Myself" (1855), Whitman suggests that the child's insight and knowledge is just as valid as the adult's, and he uses the child as the rhetorical vehicle for diminishing authoritarianism in favor of an egalitarian spirit. When the voice of a child poses the question, "What is the grass?" the poet responds, "How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he" (p. 665).
Finally, no discussion of early- and mid-nineteenth-century literary representations of children would be complete without mention of the "bad boy" prototype. Although associated with dime novels and work of the later decades of the century, the depiction of children as rambunctious, mischievous, and slightly criminal appeared by mid-century as reaction to the prevalence of fiction portraying holy and esteemed child characters and allusions. There had been a proliferation of American Sunday School Union publications for children in the early decades describing excessively pious children whose dedication to their religion brought rewards to themselves and to their families or, in contrast, portrayed naughty children who brought downfall and shame to their lives and those around them. Obviously, these texts were designed to teach the benefits of good and moral living and the hazards of wrongdoing. The bad-boy genre, however, had a broader focus and attempted to dilute the sweet sentimentalizing about childhood by presenting children in a more realistic light. In The Story of a Bad Boy (1869) by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, the narrator says, "I was really not a cherub . . . I was a real boy" (pp. 7). Aldrich's use of the word "cherub" is particularly significant, since Lydia Maria Child's The Mother's Book (1831), which sets the stage for an onslaught of domestic guidebooks on the importance of mothering and diligent nurturance of the tender body, mind, and spirit of the innocent and impressionable child, describes the child as "the little cherub."
Advice literature of the time built the case for child rearing to be taken seriously. While middle-class white children certainly benefited from such attention, there were also growing populations of abandoned and poor "street children," especially in expanding urban areas. By the 1840s and 1850s, the problem of petty crimes and vagrancy among children in New York was perceived as a threat to civility and predictions of a growing "dangerous" underclass began to proliferate. Philanthropic efforts were begun to save children. Charles Loring Brace established the Children's Aid Society in 1853, and actions were taken to get children off the street and into facilities where they would receive adult supervision and care. Horatio Alger's Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York, published in 1867, popularized the struggles of urban underclass children and their relentless efforts to improve themselves and rise above a life of poverty, actually as much through luck and the intervention of benevolent wealthy strangers as through their own cunning and hard work. Alger's writing was certainly one version of presenting the bad-child-turned-successful formula and served to construct the didactic message linking social mobility to honest effort in a democratic society.
Bad-boy fiction conveyed other viewpoints as well. It also provided a way to glorify the noncon-forming, precocious independent child whose less than stellar behavior was more an insightful act of resistance to societal restraint than it was a sign of maliciousness. Furthermore, the bad boy, in his refusal to be civilized and grown up, was a nineteenth-century manifestation of the Peter Pan complex, and this reluctance to comply was communicated as particularly American. Even before Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Mark Twain published "The Story of the Bad Little Boy" and "The Story of the Good Little Boy." These stories were some of the first examples of the bad-boy genre and were parodies of sentimental fiction that contained the usual trajectory of reward promised pious, well-behaved children explicit particularly in the Sunday school series. But Twain reverses the trajectory: the bad boy is seen as justified in his unruliness, and the good boy endures more pain than reward for his propriety.
LITERATURE FOR CHILDREN AND ADVICE LITERATURE ON CHILD REARING
Attitudes toward real children changed drastically in the nineteenth century. Whereas references to children in poetry and diaries of previous centuries focused mainly on birth and death in baptism or funeral elegies emphasizing the child's salvation, by the nineteenth century attention began to be directed to the quality of a child's upbringing and the experience of childhood itself. This attitude had emerged as a logical extension of eighteenth-century sermons about parents' responsibilities in helping their children consciously adopt Christian practices for redemption of the child's innate sinfulness and then extended to an understanding that children are indeed malleable and could be shaped in ways that promoted moral conscience and good character as was necessary, particularly in the national context of political uncertainties and change. The modern understanding of childhood as an important life stage took hold in the early 1800s, perhaps because for the first time in history, childhood was embraced as a period of preparation for adult life and children were viewed as responsive to a variety of adult influences. The breaking of the child's will through harsh discipline and even beatings to the point of death in rare cases in the 1600s and 1700s shifted to gentler approaches that emphasized cultivating a relationship of nurturance, trust, and guidance aimed at building, not breaking, the child's character and spirit.
Since Ann Douglas coined the phrase "the cult of motherhood" in her 1976 book The Feminization of American Culture, much scholarly attention has been given to studying connections between nineteenth-century domestic advice literature and literary texts produced for children as well as its influence on major literary work for adult readers, such as The Scarlet Letter or Uncle Tom's Cabin. The critical role of the mother in the child's care and education, the movement away from the use of corporeal punishment in favor of instilling an internalized self-restraint in the child through firm but gentle parental correction, and the importance given the role of play and entertainment are three basic themes appearing repeatedly as recommendations for raising children with strong self discipline and initiative in addition to nurturing in them the awareness and capacity to make constructive social contribution. Two early secular child-care publications that had wide influence on parents and teachers and on subsequent advice authors were Thoughts upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic (1784) by Benjamin Rush (1746813) and Treatise on the Physical and Medical Treatment of Children (1825) by William Potts Dewees (1768841). Rush and Dewees, both physicians, emphasized good physical and mental health in children and early cultivation of a social consciousness to the extent that the child must understand his or her purpose in life to be one of contribution to community functioning even if it entailed the sacrifice of personal advantage or whim. With the breakdown of the father's autocratic rule of the family prevalent during colonial times, the mother assumed a more central role in the management of the home and children throughout the 1800s. Motherhood was a personal as well as patriotic duty for women to take seriously, and from 1830 through 1850, an extensive list of books with this message was published. Most influential in this category were The Mother's Book (1831) by Lydia Maria Child, Home (1835) by Catherine Sedgwick, Letters to Mothers (1839) by Lydia Sigourney, and Treatise on Domestic Economy (1841) by Catherine Beecher. Later, in 1869, Catherine Beecher (1800878) and her sister Harriet Beecher Stowe published The American Woman's Home; or, Principles of Domestic Science Being a Guide to the Formation and Maintenance of Economical, Healthful, Beautiful, and Christian Homes. The lengthy title bespeaks the comprehensive duty of women to "form" and "maintain" the domestic sphere, which of course included the care of children and from which men had less and less influence because they were preoccupied by demands in the public, not private, realm. These books were written by and for women, yet men also published significant contributions on child rearing. In 1847 Horace Bushnell wrote Views of Christian Nurture, and as early as 1833 a small version of The Mother at Home by John Abbott was published, to be published again in 1852.
In the wake of such attentiveness to raising children, the market for books and periodicals for children and youth exploded in the early and mid-1800s. Lydia Maria Child (1802880), a prolific writer and abolitionist, started publishing the magazine Juvenile Miscellany in 1826. The periodical, although intensely popular for awhile, was discontinued in 1834, when subscriptions fell drastically in protest of Child's out-spoken opposition to slavery. Samuel Griswold Goodrich (1793860) began publishing the series of Tales of Peter Parley about America in 1827, followed by his publication of Parley's Magazine. Later Goodrich solicited the help of writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Lydia Maria Child, Catherine Sedgwick, and Oliver Wendell Holmes to contribute to a gift book called The Token that was released each year from 1827 to 1842. Jacob Abbott, already widely known for his child rearing advice, wrote a series of popular books focused on a central child character, Rollo.
For the most part, children's literature, whether fictional or factual, had a didactic flavor and was geared to promote a unified national identity and instill a sense of morally inspired character in nineteenth-century youth. Scholarly work examining children's literature grew exponentially in the late twentieth century and considers gender role divisions in addition to social class, moral, and political messages embedded in these texts. Without doubt, the modern understanding of childhood as a developmentally significant time began in the decades of the early and middle nineteenth century. With greater attention devoted to nurturing children and by conceptualizing childhood as a formative life stage, the period from 1820 to 1850 viewed children as resources to be cultivated with the goal of securing a strong and unified democratic citizenry. Fiction and nonfiction of the period portrayed the child as a site of opportunity and hope, filled with wisdom and promise for a better future in a new nation valuing good character and persistent self-improvement.
See also Children's and Adolescent Literature; Domestic Fiction; Education; Marriage; Reform; Romanticism; The Scarlet Letter; Uncle Tom's Cabin
Aldrich, Thomas Bailey. The Story of a Bad Boy. 1869. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1976.
Alger, Horatio. Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York with the Boot-Blacks. 1867. Introduction by Alan Trachtenberg. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.
Child, Lydia Maria. The Mother's Book. 1831. New York: Arno, 1972.
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