A Gentleman’s Rules for Raising Kids With Morals, Based on a Handbook From the 1880s

A Gentleman’s Rules for Raising Kids With Morals, Based on a Handbook From the 1880s
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Epoch Inspired Staff

OUR earliest and best recollections are associated with home. There the first lessons of infancy are learned. The mother’s heart is the child’s first school-room. The parents’ examples are first imitated by the child, whose earliest impressions are gained from them. In no way are evil habits more effectually propagated than by example, and therefore parents should be what they wish their children to be.


To the mother belongs the privilege of planting in the hearts of her children those seeds of love, which, nurtured and fostered, will bear the fruit of earnest and useful lives. It is she who must fit them to meet the duties and emergencies of life, and in this work of training she keeps her heart fresh and young, and thereby insures the growth of those powers with which nature has endowed her.

As the faculties of man, woman or child are brought into active exercise, so do they become strengthened, and the mother, in doing her work in the training of her children, grows in wisdom, in knowledge and in power, thus enabling her the better to perform her duties.


As children first acquire knowledge and habits from the examples of their parents, the latter should be circumspect in all their actions, manners and modes of speech. If you wish your children’s faces illumined with good humor, contentment and satisfaction, so that they will be cheerful, joyous and happy, day by day, then must your own countenance appear illumined by the sunshine of love. Kind words, kind deeds and loving looks are true works of charity, and they are needed in our home circle.

Never a tear bedims the eye, That time and patience can not dry; Never a lip is curved with pain, That can not be kissed into smiles again.

Your children will form habits of evil speaking if they hear you deal lightly with the reputation of another—if they hear you slander or revile your neighbor. If you wish your child to show charity toward the erring, you must set the example by the habitual exercise of that virtue yourself. Without this your teaching will be of but little avail. If you take pleasure in dwelling upon the faults of others, if you refuse to cover over their infirmities with the mantle of charity, your example will nullify your teaching, and your admonitions will be lost.


Mothers should early train their children to regard all the courtesies of life as scrupulously toward each other as to mere acquaintances and strangers. This is the only way in which you can secure to them the daily enjoyment of a happy home. When the external forms of courtesy are disregarded in the family circle, we are sure to find contention and bickering perpetually recurring. Rudeness is a constant source of bickering. Each will have his own way of being rude, and each will be angry at some portion of the ill-breeding of all the rest, thus provoking accusations and retorts. Where the rule of life is to do good and to make others happy, there will be found the art of securing a happy home. It is said that there is something higher in politeness than Christian moralists have recognized. In its best forms, none but the truly religious man can show it, for it is the sacrifice of self in the habitual matters of life—always the best test of our principles—together with a respect for man as our brother, under the same great destiny.


The true test of the success of any education is its efficiency in giving full use of the moral and intellectual faculties wherewith to meet the duties and the struggles of life, and not by the variety of knowledge acquired. The development of the powers of the mind and its cutivation are the work of a teacher; moral training is the work of the mother, and commences long before one word of precept can be understood. Children should be early taught to regard the rights of others, that they may early learn the rights which property confers and not entertain confused ideas upon this subject.


Virtue is the child of good habits, and the formation of habits may be said to almost constitute the whole work of education. The mother can create habits which shall mold character and enable the mind to maintain that habitual sense of duty which gives command over the passions, and power to fight temptation, and which makes obedience to principle comparatively easy, under most circumstances. The social and domestic life are marred by habits which have grown into a second nature. It is not in an occasional act of civility that the charm of either home or society consists, but in continued practice of courtesy and respect for the rights and feelings of those around us. Whatever may be the precepts for a home, the practices of the fireside will give form to the habits. Parents who indulge in gossip, scandal, slander and tale-telling, will rear children possessing the same tastes and deteriorating habits. A parent’s example outlines the child’s character. It sinks down deep into his heart and influences his whole life for good or for evil. A parent should carefully avoid speaking evil of others, and should never exhibit faults requiring the mantle of charity to cover. A parent’s example should be such as to excite an abhorrence of evil speaking, of tattling and of uncharitable construction of the motives of others. Let the mother begin the proper training of her children in early life and she will be able to so mold their characters that not only will they acquire the habit of bridling the tongue, but they will learn to avoid the presence of the slanderer as they do a deadly viper.


Genuine politeness is a great fosterer of domestic love, and those who are habitually polished at home are those who exhibit good manners when abroad. When parents receive any little attention from their children, they should thank them for it. They should ask a favor only in a courteous way; never reply to questions in monosyllables, or indulge in the rudeness of paying no attention to a question, for such an example will be surely followed by the children. Parents sometimes thoughtlessly allow their children to form habits of disrespect in the home circle, which crop out in the bad manners that are found in society.


Parents should never check expressions of tenderness in their children, nor humiliate them before others. This will not only cause suffering to little sensitive hearts, but will tend to harden them. Reproof, if needed, should be administered to each child singly and alone.


Children should not be prohibited from laughing and talking at the table. Joyousness promotes the circulation of the blood, enlivens and invigorates it, and sends it to all parts of the system, carrying with it animation, vigor and life. Controversy should not be permitted at the table, nor should any subjects which call forth political or religious difference. Every topic introduced should be calculated to instruct, interest or amuse. Business matters, past disappointments and mishaps should not be alluded to, nor should bad news be spoken of at the table, nor for half an hour before. All conversation should be of joyous and gladsome character, such as will bring out pleasant remarks and agreeable associations. Reproof should never be administered at the table, either to a child or to a servant; no fault found with anything, and no unkind word should be spoken. If remarks are to be made of absent ones, they should be of a kind and charitable nature. Thus will the family table be the center of pleasant memories in future years, when the family shall have been scattered far and near, and some, perhaps, have been laid in their final resting-place.


Chancellor Kent says: “Without some preparation made in youth for the sequel of life, children of all conditions would probably become idle and vicious when they grow up, from want of good instruction and habits, and the means of subsistence, or from want of rational and useful occupations. A parent who sends his son into the world without educating him in some art, science, profession or business, does great injury to mankind, as well as to his son and his own family, for he defrauds the community of a useful citizen, and bequeaths to it a nuisance. That parent who trains his child for some special occupation, who inspires him with a feeling of genuine self-respect, has contributed a useful citizen to society.”


Dread an insubordinate temper, and deal with it as one of the greatest evils. Let the child feel by your manner that he is not a safe companion for the rest of the family when he is in anger. Allow no one to speak to him at such times, not even to answer a question. Take from him books, and whatever he may have, and place him where he shall feel that the indulgence of a bad temper shall deprive him of all enjoyment, and he will soon learn to control himself.


Selfishness that binds the miser in his chains, that chills the heart, must never be allowed a place in the family circle. Teach the child to share his gifts and pleasures with others, to be obliging, kind and benevolent, and the influence of such instruction may come back into your own bosom, to bless your latest hours.


Remember that children are men and women in miniature, and though they should be allowed to act as children, still our dealings with them should be manly and not morose. Remember also that every word, tone and gesture, nay, even your dress, makes an impression.

Never correct a child on suspicion, or without understanding the whole matter, nor trifle with a child’s feelings when under discipline.

Be always mild and cheerful in their presence, communicative, but never extravagant, trifling or vulgar in language or gesture. Never trifle with a child nor speak beseechingly when it is doing wrong.

Always follow commands with a close and careful watch, until the thing is done, allowing no evasion and no modification, unless the child ask for it, and it be expressly granted.

Never reprove children severely in company, nor hold them up to ridicule, nor make light of their failings.

Never speak in an impatient, pitiful manner, if you have occasion to find fault.

Never say to a child, “I don’t believe what you say,” nor even imply your doubts. If you have such feelings, keep them to yourself and wait; the truth will eventually be made plain.

Never disappoint the confidence a child places in you, whether it be a thing placed in your care or a promise.

Always give prompt attention to a child when he speaks, so as to prevent repeated calls, and that he may learn to give prompt attention when you call him.

Never try to impress a child with religious truth when in anger, or talk to him of God, as it will not have the desired effect. Do it under more favorable circumstances.

At the table a child should be taught to sit up and behave in a becoming manner, not to tease when denied, nor to leave his chair without asking. A parent’s wish at such time should be a law from which no appeal should be made.

Even in sickness gentle restraint is better for a child than indulgence.

There should never be two sets of manners, the one for home and the other for company, but a gentle behavior should be always required.

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