Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/March 1879/The First Three Years of Childhood

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 14 March 1879  (1879) 
The First Three Years of Childhood


THE readers of the "Monthly" will remember the account of "An Infant's Progress in Language," by F. Pollock, in our September number. We also published an article on "Lingual Development in Babyhood," by M. Taine, in June, 1876. M. Bernard Perez has just published a book upon an analogous subject—the mental development of children under three years of age. The following résumé of his observations is translated from the "Revue Scientifique" for November, 1878.

I. Sensibility: Pleasures and Pains of the Senses.—From the first month the fœtus is sensible to the action of cold. Its nervous system commences to react.

Taste.—The first manifestations of pleasure in infancy are due to taste. A child two months and a half old will refuse with grimaces a sucking-bottle filled with water, or with milk too little sweetened.

Touch.—The feather of a quill passed over the eyes and nose of a child fifteen days old will make it frown. Agreeable sensations are not manifested before the age of two months, although they may exist before that time.

Temperature.—Infants die easily of cold even in summer. It is thought, however, that adults suffer more from cold, because they are better able to compare their different states.

Vision.—Color attracts a babe; lively colors charm it, dull colors also please if they are positive and distinct. Two children, one three months, the other five, were delighted by some sketches of a grayish color.

Hearing.—One child a month old liked to listen to playing and singing. When four or six months old almost all children like to be sung to, and many try to prattle. They please themselves by making a noise.

Smell.—Children for a long time show no sensibility to good and bad odors. At ten or fifteen months their sense of smell is very lively.

II. Sensibility: Emotions and Passions.

Taste.—The emotions connected with taste are for a long time the most lively.

Fear.—Fear is early manifested. A babe of two months will make a face, cry, and recoil upon the bosom of its nurse, if one sneezes or cries out near it.

Jealousy and Anger.—A little girl, nearly three months old, would frown, make wry faces, kick, and cry, on seeing another babe on her mother's breast. A little boy, on the second day, when dressed, gesticulated in a manner painful to see, and especially when his arms were put in the sleeves.

Emotions vary with the Objects.—A little child eleven months old was pleased to hold the nursing-bottle, and to eat various foods; he loved to play; he showed affection for his parents, and made some difference in this respect between different persons that he liked. He showed aversion for some inanimate objects (hammer syringe); for a little black barking dog; and for the caresses of a neighboring child seven years old, who had played him more than one trick. The organization of children being more feeble than ours, their emotions are short-lived, and things the most disagreeable or painful do not long remain so.

Animal Sympathy.—Children love animals, but in a purely egotistic fashion. A child six months old, left alone with a turtle, half tore off one of its feet, and when his nurse came was pulling at another with all his might.

Human Sympathy.—One child a year old, coming home after a month's absence, paid no attention to a cat and dog that he knew well, but with a smile reached out his arms to an old servant. Children have only a germ of true sympathy. A little child four years old lost one of his dearest companions. The father of the dead boy took him on his knee while sobbing. The child escaped, frisked about for a little, and, coming back to the afflicted father, said, "Now Peter is dead, you will give me his horse and drum, will you not?" Sometimes more sensibility is manifested: a baby of sixteen months would cry to the shedding of hot tears on seeing his father take a shower-bath. The same child at the same time was the terror of cats.

III. Movements (First Period).—The new-born child sneezes.

Cries and Tears.—During its first weeks the babe sheds no tears. In a child seventy-seven days old rapid and short inspirations approached to sobbing; in another child of one hundred and thirty-eight days M. Perez observed a distinct sob.

Laughing.—Smiling often occurs before the age of a month. Children of two months laugh, but without seeming to suspect that the laugh expresses anything.

Sense.—A little girl three months old would prattle when her mother sang; she had for some time expressed, by particular sounds, her wish to suck.

Various Movements.—A child six days old left, with his arms free, in his cradle, would mechanically carry his hand toward his face, and succeed in placing it almost under his head. We may remark that his father often slept in an analogous position. Children raise and lower their arms and legs with no apparent reason. Some new-born babes move their eyes from the second day. The son of Tiedemann, a philosopher of the eighteenth century, would, when inspiring, suck anything put in his mouth the next day after his birth.

IV. Movements (Second Period).—Between four and eight months the child passes over the interval which separates motion and locomotion. Toward the age of fifteen months he executes many movements—shaking his head from right to left to say no, and bowing it to say yes. The ear and eye have accommodated themselves to distances. The eye expresses many shades of thought, feeling, and will. Laughs, tears, and various movements of the hand serve equally to express emotion.

V. Voluntary Movements.—The new-born child executes some movements that have a definite end. These movements are probably automatic; consciousness is, however, beginning to awaken. When two or three months old the child can put forth a good deal of strength. At four or five months he will make such a stir that it will take several persons to quiet him. Voluntary action is always determined by feeling more or less conscious.

VI. Intellectual Faculties: Consciousness, Attention.—M. Perez thinks that many reflex actions of the child are accompanied by consciousness. The eyes of a little girl a week old would sometimes take a rotary movement, as if trying to see something. When some one spoke, or when certain objects made a great noise, something like surprise and attention, and an intentional direction to her gaze, was noticed. This little girl would suck, but without persistence, all objects, besides the nipple, that were carried to her lips. She cried and wrung herself when put in her cradle, but if her mother took her in her arms, and while singing put her face against the child's, she would cease to cry.

Attention.—A child of seventeen days would follow with its eyes a lighted candle that was passed before him. Another, at the age of a month, would give sustained attention to the act of sucking; its fixed eyes would shine with pleasure, and would from time to time half veil themselves under his eyelids. His sucking-bottle was filled with sweetened water. After a slight hesitation, he continued his sucking with the same expression of voluptuous attention as if the bottle had contained milk. When given pure water, he tasted it, left it, took hold again, and then abandoned it, frowning and making a mouth. A child a month old would look fixedly, for three or four minutes, at the reflection in a mirror of the light on a table. In forty-five days he would follow with his eyes a doll dressed in bright blue, that a little girl danced before him a yard off. Thirteen days after his birth the son of Tiedemann gave attention to the gestures of those who spoke to him. The attention of children is very short-lived, but it is often profitable.

VII. Memory.—Hereditary memory is manifested in the first reflex actions of the infant. These awaken the consciousness, and the child's own memory often unites itself with them. In a few months a child has already many personal recollections. A little girl three months and a half old could indicate where her feet were; she also distinguished her dress, which she seemed to take for a part of her person. She had a passion for color; the word picture made her smile. A little boy seven months old had a particular tenderness for his grandmother, who had fed him with a bottle. A brush was put before him. He put his hands upon it, and soon lifted them with a grave air. The experiment was repeated several times; at the eighth he threw himself backward, without touching the brush; at the ninth he reflected, hesitated, again drew back, and embraced his grandmother. Memory is also manifested by a sort of intermittent possession of recollections. A little girl eight months old moves her arms as if she were shaking a bell. She is possessed by the idea of this bell, and often amuses herself with it. When she is distracted for a time, she will recommence her movements, and repeat this manœuvre more than twenty times in half an hour. A little child of fifteen months would incessantly repeat the word a-teau (bateau), meaning the boat, which he liked very-much; later, two hens along with the boat engrossed his attention. Some months afterward he made a journey, and for the two words he had so often repeated he substituted those of min-fer (chemin de fer, railroad).

VIII. Association of Sensations, Ideas, and Acts.—When the young Tiedemann, two days old, was placed on his side, in the position for sucking, or when he felt a soft hand on his face, he was hushed, and sought the breast. At five months he had remarked that when his nurse took her mantle it was a signal for going out. So he always rejoiced when that happened. A little child four months and a half old, hearing her nurse call her from behind a door through the keyhole, raised her head, looked right and left, and, at a fresh call, put out her arms, gave starts of joy, of desire, of spite, and finally began to make grimaces. The nurse of a little girl three months and a half old, when going out with the child, bought a bouquet of violets, which she concealed in her bosom. An uncle of the child one day took her in his lap; he had a pretty rose in his button-hole; the child put out her arms, pressed the vest of her uncle with both hands, applied her lips to his shirt front, and made sucking movements. A child of six months demanded his bottle, with loud cries, the first thing in the morning, even if it had been given him but the moment before. Thus children associate their sensations; and almost all kinds of associations, fortuitous or logical, may be observed among them.

IX. Abstraction.—We may study in little children the analysis which ends in the idea of the individual, and that which ends in the ideas of form and quantity. At the age of one month several children would follow with their eyes an object in motion near their faces. Children learn only little by little to distinguish different colors. External impressions take hold of them by degrees. "Distinctly to perceive sensations, and to preserve the distinct recollection of them, apart from the vague complexity of concomitant impressions, which have only slightly affected the senses, is a work of repair that may be considered as a sort of rudimentary abstraction." Notions of form ought to arise in consequence of the necessity there is that the child should see things separately in order to see them well, and from especially lively impressions made by certain objects. According to Perez, abstraction is not a result of language. Purely abstract ideas do not exist, and relatively abstract ideas have their origin independently of language.

X. Comparison.—Comparison, properly speaking, is not possible to the new-born child for several weeks. A little girl of three months, before whom were put an empty sucking-bottle and one full of milk, seized both, and carried the empty one to her lips. A cake and a morsel of bread were placed before a child of ten months. He seized the cake. It was taken away from him, and he began to cry and kick. Presently a morsel of bread was given him, which he took, but did not see his mistake till he had bitten it, when he threw it away. The same child could easily distinguish its own playthings from those of its comrades, and, while glad to get hold of theirs, would not permit them to amuse themselves with his. After fifteen months, and especially between twenty months and two years, children compare a great deal. When about two years and a half they use such phrases as baby tree (little tree), papa tree (great tree). One child three years old knows the names of more than twenty trees, and can give their more apparent specific characters.

XI. Imagination.—Representative imagination is exercised at the beginning of life. Several facts already given prove this. The vague and profound terror manifested by children is a product of imagination, and so are dreams. The passage from reproductive imagination to creative imagination is effected by a change in the order in which the ideas are represented, a change which frequently occurs during sleep. Creative imagination is shown in a waking state by many acts. The child appreciates fun, and sometimes tries to amuse those who surround it. At four months lacking three days, young Tiedemann tried, for amusement, to make all sorts of movements, and to take different postures. The same faculty manifests itself under the form of destructive and constructive mania. The imitation of gestures, of expressions, of the cries of animals, indicate the first awakening of the æsthetic sentiment, to which, perhaps, we should also attribute the attraction that certain pictures have for the child. A little boy three and a half years old, being admitted for some weeks to play with a dozen little girls four or five years old, chose his favorites the second day. He had a strong affection for two or three children more playful than the others; he would take them in his arms and caress them, while turning away from the others, scolding them and striking them. The same child early showed a sort of æsthetic musical sentiment. When listening to the piano, he would execute rhythmic jerks or starts. At twenty months children are passionate for the recital of impressions suited to them. Even at three years they take in earnest the stories told them, and often, when these stories are repeated, they will not permit any changes of statement.

XII. Generalization.—M. Perez does not believe that language is necessary to the making of a generalization. He points out to the observer a rudiment of generalization in children that can not talk. A child eight months old had, among his favorite playthings, a tin box, into which he put everything that would go into it. Having found out the property of the box to contain other things, he reasoned from this to unknown objects, and began to experiment. He tried to put the legs of a little dancing jack into the stopper of a decanter, then a little doll's cradle, and finally the end of his forefinger. A child of eight months, at the sight of any young or playful person, would make starts toward her. Besides, even at the time when children express some general ideas by words, they have others which they do not so express. A child of thirteen months, who was refused the hand when he wished to be led, left the person who held him, got down upon the floor, and began to creep. Creeping was for him a means of going along—a means of which he had a very distinct idea.

XIII. Judgment.—If to judge is to believe something of something else, we can not doubt that judgment is manifested by children. The young Tiedemann made a judgment when, seeing his nurse take her mantle, he understood that she was going out. The notion of quantity is early formed by little children, who know very well a large piece of cake from a small one. The idea of number is confounded with that of quantity; a little child of three months seized at the same time two sucking-bottles that were offered him. A child two years and a half old knows how to count twelve, but has not a clear idea of the time represented by three days. In a general way the child often judges very well of concrete matters. Abstract judgments are more difficult for it.

XIV. Reasoning.—The little child reasons, if reason is only a series of consecutive judgments arranged according to the law of habitual association. A child seven months old associates the idea of the movements of mastication, and the resulting sensations. When he sees his nurse eat, he thinks that what she eats is good for her, and that what is good for her will be good for him. And, as he knows by experience that the nurse can divide with him if she pleases, he begins to cry, in order to make her do it. It is very difficult to distinguish that which is conscious from that which is unconscious in the total manifestations of apparently rationally ordered feelings, ideas, and organic impulses. A child whose father often went fishing was accustomed to eat fried fish. One day his father, coming home after the hour of supper, ate alone. "Me want fry, papa; me want fry," said he, seeking to get the attention of his father; he finished by getting under the table, and pulling his father's leg. "Me want fry, not kitty; me fry; me want fry." His idea was to imitate the cat in getting under the table, so as to get some fish. Conscious acts are mingled with reflex acts. Children often show a great aptitude in appropriating the experiences arising in new circumstances. A little child, in the neighborhood of two years old, would sometimes, at the table, steal something from his neighbor's plate. He would at once compare the stolen morsel with his own piece, then he would hurry and compress it, so that his larceny would be less apparent.

XV. Of the Expression of Language.—Language is only a superior application of the faculty of expression possessed by all animals. It is based on the correspondence between certain external movements with experienced sensations. Children from the first month cry, prattle, sob, but without attaching any signification to these acts. Association and a sort of selection render these movements and these feelings conscious and voluntary. Hereditary influence ought to interpose in the early progress of language; for little children quickly learn to distinguish tones of pleasure from tones of anger, etc. At three months the child makes intentional gestures in asking for or refusing a thing. "A child of seven months, who had never seen me," says M. Perez, "smiled as to an old acquaintance on hearing me pronounce his name." At nine months he would give little cries of pleasure and of appeal, some of which were evident attempts to imitate a dog, a cat, a bird. At eleven months he understood some little phrases. A child twelve months old, precocious in language, used a certain number of words in their ordinary sense. A little girl of nineteen months pronounced intelligibly many words, and passed easily from inarticulate to articulate sounds that she sought by instinct, but was aided by imitation. She ended by reproducing the last tonic syllable, of which she could modify the articulation in conformity to the law of least effort. For a long time she said only bou for tambour (drum), for café (coffee), for Pierre (Peter). Since then she says a-bou for tambour, a-teau for gâteau (cake). The learning of language seems in general to obey the law of least effort; it is influenced by temperament and by surroundings. The words most easily learned by children are those which express the most salient qualities of objects, or the part which produces the principal and dominant impression. A little girl twenty months old called the decanter (verre, glass). A little child two years old called all dogs wa-wa, except his grandfather's dog, which he did not call by his own name, but only distinguished it from others. Some one made for him a little rounded figure of paper; he said tété, the name by which he designated the bosom of his nurse. Intelligent children often forget words that have no meaning for them; children of less intelligence, on the contrary, sometimes replace ideas by words. The mania for jabbering syllables without signification is common with children, even the most intelligent. No doubt they rest from the effort of mind that their first essays in talking cost them in making this noise, which, without requiring any exertion, charms and stuns their ears.

XVI. Notion of Self: Personality, Reflection.—The notion of self may be considered, to a certain extent, as hereditary, and already existing among the impressions of foetal life. It is developed little by little. The personality of little children is concentrated in the sphere of emotion. They do not know distinctly either themselves or anything else, but they are sensible of the presence of objects, and they are sensible of themselves living, feeling, and acting. At three months the notion of personality is already outlived. When children begin to speak of themselves they employ the third person. M. Perez does not conclude from this that children are unable to separate their personality from external objects. The words I, me, Paul, Charles, etc., alike express the notion of personal individuality; they designate the personality of the child, a personality that he well knows. When between two and three years old the sentiment of personality is affirmed and exaggerated. A child was very delicate before the age of twenty-six months. His self-love had to be corrected. When eight years old he fell, and before getting up he walked on all-fours, making believe that he had not fallen. At another time he stumbled on the staircase, and rolled over two or three times, purposely bumping his head with a noise. He pretended to have fallen for fun. He was usually pedantic, egotistic, and conceited, but from time to time would show sympathy and diffidence.

XVII. The Moral Sense.—The child has not the absolute idea of good and bad; but he has the objective idea from the age of six or seven months. For him that which is permitted is good, that which is forbidden is bad. A child seven months old had learned from its mother, who had scolded and shaken it, that it ought not to cry to be taken up or held in arms if its wishes were not immediately granted. When ten months old the child began to get up itself in a hesitating way—a moral being. A little child of eleven months obeyed his father very well, particularly when asked to do anything for the amusement or pleasure of others. For little children, the moral law is incarnated in their parents. A little boy, staying for two or three months with his uncle, would show how his mother managed in reference to him, and cry and gesticulate if things were not done as she did them. He would himself follow the rule of conduct that he tried to impose upon others. "It is very bad to lie," said he; "that gives mamma much pain—that makes her cry." As for the rest, the moral sense is slowly modified, according to the circumstances in which the child is placed. Both sympathy and the desire to please play an important part in the development of the moral faculties. A little girl of forty months was greatly afflicted when her mother said to her, "I am angry with baby." She was, for the most part, indifferent to her father's scoldings, whom she was accustomed to hear cry out at her, and threaten her. The young Tiedemann, when he was two years and five months old, said, when he thought he had done something good, "Everybody will say that is a good little boy." When he was naughty, if he were told, "The neighbors will see you," he ceased immediately. The moral sense is one of the faculties most susceptible of modification by education.

The love of justice sometimes manifests itself. A little boy, the first time he told a lie, was shut in the closet, and when he was set free he cried out, struck with the importance attached to his fault, But, mamma, perhaps I am not punished enough for a fault so grave." Some children are open-handed to liberality; others, on the contrary, have the instinct of ownership strongly developed, the instinct of appropriation is also manifested, and sometimes becomes the instinct of stealing. Finally, almost all children are cruel; it is hard to prevent them from hurting animals. A little girl, two years old, very affectionate and caressing, passed three fourths of the day tormenting an old dog. The best children are betrayed into striking even those they fondly love.

Conclusion.—We find the germs of all the faculties in the little child, and sensations are the food upon which they grow. We may even say that the essential faculties are innate, since the nervous centers that manifest them are already organized at the moment of birth. The method followed by M. Perez is the scientific method; observation abounds in his work; perhaps, however, some inductions repose upon disputable interpretations. But, be this as it may, the book of M. Perez is full of interest, and can not fail to be of great utility in a study so important, so curious, and so long neglected as the psychology of infants.