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Child-Rearing Practices in the 1800s

By Nicole O'Driscoll ; Updated April 18, 2017
The 1800s was a time of reform in child rearing.

According to the Dr. James Ford Historic Home's website, child-rearing practices changed significantly during the 1800s. Up to this point, children were seen as smaller adults and did not have a "childhood" as such. They were expected to learn tasks and responsibilities quickly, and to work alongside adults as soon as they were ready and able. An article entitled "New Rules for Children" that was published in "Harper's Roundtable" magazine made suggestions for families to change the way they raised children and to set a positive example for them.

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Parents were encouraged to show approval to their children when they achieved something or behaved well. Children began to be regarded by adults as young learners who needed to follow a good example set by their elders. They began to learn by receiving constructive responses from their parents, instead of only being punished for their mistakes.

Restraint in Punishment

Parents were encouraged to behave humanely towards their children. "New Rules for Parents" advised that adults should never punish children when they were angry. If the child is to receive the correct message about what she has done wrong, the parent must communicate this in a calm but firm way. Violent punishments and threatening behavior towards children were strongly advised against. The way that children were to learn from adults was being revolutionized during the 1800s.

Education and Labor

Education for children in the 1800s was piecemeal because they were needed at home for farm labor and household work. In rural areas, the schools tended to consist of just one room in which children of all ages were taught. The emphasis on education during the 1800s was on reading, writing and basic mathematics (also known as "the three Rs"). Many parents recognized that their children needed this basic education to have a choice of professions and trades when they reached adulthood. Christian instruction was also a significant part of education for children in the 1800s, with the ability to read the Bible seen as an essential way of becoming a good Christian. Mores and values such as honesty, manners and charity were also taught at school.

Gender Roles

During the 1800s, Americans believed that males and females should occupy very distinct spheres, and children were prepared for this from a young age. Boys were encouraged to be inventive and enterprising, so that they would grow up to be entrepreneurs, engineers, politicians, ministers. They were considered to be the state-builders of the future. Girls were taught to develop nurturing qualities, such as patience, kindness and gentleness. Girls were expected to learn how to be homemakers and to develop the moral wisdom to support the men in their families.

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About the Author

Nicole O'Driscoll has been writing since 2000. She is published in "The James Joyce Bloomsday Centenary Collection" and has written about social exclusion and incarceration in Samuel Beckett's "Trilogy." O'Driscoll is a qualified nurse who manages a mental-health crisis house. She holds a doctorate in English literature from Newcastle University.

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