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Turgot on Criticism and Parenting

Turgot (1727-81) was a French liberal (free trade, limited government) thinker. William Godwin read and liked him. He commented on criticism and children:

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, On Some Social Questions, Including the Education of the Young, France, 1751, in The Turgot Collection (emphasis added):

The best advice that can be given to persons living together is to be quite frank with each other in dealing with any serious difference as soon as it appears; this arrests at their source many of the annoyances often proceeding from mere prejudiced dislikes. But this must be done with full sincerity; we must habituate ourselves to criticise, to examine, and to judge others with a perfect impartiality. I do not speak of tempering our criticisms by giving to them some agreeable turns, and of seasoning them with some mixture of praise and tenderness. How difficult this art is! … It is true that, even with the best tact used by us to soften reproaches, there are persons who do not know how to receive them; advice they mistake for scolding, they imagine always to see in him who gives it them an assumption of superiority and authority which repels them. It must be admitted that this is a defect belonging to many givers of advice. I have often met with persons who say in self-defense: “I am so made, and I cannot help it.” These are persons whose self-love embraces even their defects. This bad disposition proceeds, perhaps, from the manner in which we have had advice given us in childhood, always under the form of reproach, of correction, with the tone of authority, often of threatening. Hence a youth when once free from the hands of his masters or his parents places all his happiness in having no longer to give account of his conduct to anyone, and the most friendly advice appears to him an act of domination, a yoke, a continuance of childhood. Ah! why not accustom children to listen to advice with sweetness by our giving it to them without bitterness? Why exercise authority? I would that children really felt that it is from our affection for them that we reprehend them; but how can we make them feel this if we do not express it in our own softness with them? I have no sympathy with Montaigne when he censures the caresses given by mothers to their children. Who can know better than mothers themselves? It is the instinct that Providence has given them. It is the seasoning which reason teaches should be added to instruction in order to give it genial growth. We forget that it is the caresses of a courageous mother that inspire courage, that they are the most powerful medium of opening the young soul to the inlet of all fine and pure feelings.

I have seen parents who taught their children that “nothing is so beautiful as to make people happy.” And I have seen the same rebuff their children when they wish to invite some young friends. These, perhaps, might not be quite suitable, but the parents should be careful not to intimidate the rising sensibility of their children, they should rather encourage it, and should make evident the pain they feel in refusing their children’s request and the necessity there is for refusing it. But only the present moment is thought of. Again, we reproach children for having been foolish in making some generous gift, as if they would not be corrected of that soon enough! … Thus we contract the heart and mind of a child. I wish, too, that we could avoid exciting in them a shyness when doing a good action, and that we did not believe in inducing them to do it by praises. These repel a timid child; they cause him to feel that we are watching him, and they throw him back upon himself. It is the perfection of tact to bestow praise appropriately. We should teach our children to seek out and to seize occasions of being helpful to others, for this is an art which can and ought to be taught. I do not speak of the delicacy to be used with the unfortunate while we relieve them, for which natural benevolence, without some knowledge of the world, is not sufficient. But above all the great point in home education is to preach by example. Morality in the general is well enough known by men, but the particular refinements of virtue are unknown by most persons; thus *the majority of parents, without knowing it and without intending it, give very bad examples to their children….*

I think Turgot is correct that nasty parental criticism alienates children from criticism, and then when they are free adults, they avoid criticism because it reminds them of childhood and feels pressuring (as it was when their parents really did pressure them).


Elliot Temple on October 19, 2018

Comments (1)

Thanks Alan Forrester for finding these quotes.


curi at 6:45 PM on October 19, 2018 | #11301 | reply | quote

What do you think?

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