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Those Juniors, Part 4: Studying the Child

by Eric B. Hare

Last week: To speak and teach with confidence, one must know what they are talking about. A knowledge of the Bible is our source of authority. One must also know their pupils. A knowledge of the pupil is the secret of applying the lesson to his life.

There are two methods by which we can study children: the objective method and the subjective method.

Objective Study
In objective study we observe children very much as we would observe tadpoles in a jar, developing into frogs. We watch them grow, noting the periods of rapid growth and the periods of slow growth. We note what foods they eat, and the results upon their health. We watch them during sleep, during play, during study, during work. We watch their association with mother, with father, with older boys and girls, with younger boys and girls. We watch them in Sabbath school, in day school, in junior camp, and from this objective study, through the process of observation, we discover natural traits and characteristics and the laws that govern and control them.

Subjective Study
But there is another way we can study children, in which we can never study tadpoles. For try as we may, we cannot obtain a tadpole’s viewpoint of life. We cannot look through a tadpole’s eyes, live in a tadpole’s skin, or experience a tadpole’s reactions. We can, however, obtain, to a very measurable extent, a child’s viewpoint. We can look through a child’s eyes, and understand a child’s reactions. This is called the subjective study of children and is performed through the process of introspection. Introspection is simply the ability of the teacher to put himself in the place of the child. You are studying a ten-year-old child. You can remember when you were ten. You can remember what you enjoyed and how you reacted to firmness, to correction, to kindness.

Henry Ford declared, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle, as well as from your own.” And Dale Carnegie, when quoting him, adds, “That is so simple, so obvious, that anyone ought to see the truth of it at a glance; yet ninety per cent of the people on this earth ignore it ninety-nine per cent of the time.”1

It is deplorable that so many adults have forgotten all about their childhood reactions. Many a father declares, when correcting his son, “I never did that when I was a boy.” It might add to the feeling of inferiority in the boy’s heart for the moment, but as he grows up and sees his own children doing those same things, with a smile of recollection, he says, “Well, I guess my dad just forgot.”

Professor A. W. Spalding expresses this essential ability in these words, “But to meet the occasion you must have and maintain within you a reservoir of child life. Happy are you if you have never lost the child’s point of view while gaining also the adult’s. He is poor indeed who, like a boring worm, must fill his past with the excavation of his future.”2

This faculty of introspection can be cultivated by deliberately taking time to sit down and reflect. With your toes warming at the fire, and maybe the old family photograph album on your knee, ruminate over the days when you were five years old. Dig up those early impressions of your first Sabbath school, your first day at school, the teachers you had, the ones you loved best, and why. Take time to relive your life from year to year, from stage to stage—from the kindergarten, through the primary, into the awkward stage. Remember when you loved to play with little boys or little girls, and dolls, and the sudden antipathy that came into your life for the opposite sex, and how it changed when you reached adolescence. It might humiliate you, as you find mistakes along the way, but in thinking through your reactions to the things that entered your life and the things you wish could have entered your life, you will have armed yourself with something that will help you understand boys and girls better, and that will almost unconsciously influence what you do for them and say to them.

Anabolism and Catabolism
Returning now to the objective study in children, we notice two great forces influencing their growth. The forces which build up are called anabolism; the forces that tear down are called catabolism. Elements of nutrition are taken from our food and supplied to the body by the circulatory system. During the day, while we are active, the body and the mind are exercised, but tissues are broken down in the process. Catabolism produces weariness and fatigue. Then we sleep, and during sleep the wastes are carried away, new tissues are built up—anabolism refreshes and invigorates the body. In the days of childhood and youth anabolism predominates over catabolism. In adult life the two are balanced. In old age catabolism predominates over anabolism.

Physical and Mental Development
It is interesting to chart the line of physical and mental development, and it may be surprising when you realize that they are not at all parallel.

At birth the average baby weighs about eight pounds; during the first eight years of his life he will multiply his weight by eight, so that a child eight years of age weighs sixty to seventy pounds. Then for the next four years the body rests, comparatively, and at twelve years the child will weigh maybe only half as much more, or ninety to one hundred pounds. Then—then, as though some magic wand had been waved over him, in the next few years he shoots away up to adult size.

A year or so ago, while conducting a week of special meetings in one of our academies, I spent much pleasant time chatting with the young people. To help me remember their names, I had them give me their autographs as they sat down in my sanctum. As I called, “Come in,” in answer to a knock on the door, a tall, very tall, young man entered, and after our greeting I watched him write his name: “Roland Johnson.”

“Oh,” I commented, “I used to know a little boy with that name. I had him at junior camp once or—”

“Yes, that was me,” he said.

“Oh, no!” I assured him, “this was a little fellow, and he lived near Vallejo.”

“Sure, I’m that same boy.”

“But, Roland, it couldn’t be! Why—”

“Yes, I am the very same one. I’ve grown a foot in about two years.”

I tried my best to recognize my little friend in this great giant, but beyond a familiar grin at the corner of his mouth, he was past recognition.

The line of mental growth, however, does not follow this step-and-stair pattern. At birth the infant mind is not developed. It contains only the primary instincts. It cannot think; it cannot form words; it cannot remember. It cannot even understand what it sees and hears. These mental abilities must all be developed, and the line of development starts on a comparatively slow curve, in no way keeping pace with the physical. But at about eight years of age, when the body rests awhile, the mind keeps going, and by twelve years of age, it has just about caught up with the body. Then the physical surge in adolescence again causes the more constant curve of mental development to lag behind. However, after the rapid growth in adolescence has been stabilized, the mental development soon catches up, and in college life surpasses it. And in adult life, if we choose, it will continue to soar above our physical development. In old age we come to another unbalance, when the mental declines more rapidly than the physical.

Now look for a moment at the accompanying graph, and what does it tell us?

It is the unbalance between the physical and the mental development that accounts for the wriggly restlessness of the kindergarten age. It is the catching up of the mental development that makes the primary age “the golden age of memory,” and primary boys and girls the easiest to manage in the school or at home. Again it is the unbalance between physical and mental development during adolescence that accounts for the flighty, unexplainable, erratic behavior most usually exhibited in that period. The overtaking of the physical development by the mental in college life explains the “settling down” that makes the parents’ hearts rejoice.

The pre-eminence of the mental development over the physical in adult life decides just how much each of us will give to the world, and the unbalance between the physical and the mental in old age accounts for what we call the “second childhood.”

(Next week: “Natural Phenomena, Part 1.”)

1. Carnegie, Dale, How to Win Friends and Influence People, pp. 61, 62. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1937.
2. Spalding, A. W., Christian Storytelling, 1944 ed., pp. 117, 118.

Copyright © 1973 by Eric B. Hare. Used by permission.

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