“There are five different subjects in which an infant must be trained in the first year: discipline, balance, concentration, ethics, and relaxation.
When once friendship is established with an infant the guardian is able to attract its attention and the infant will respond to the guardian. And that must be the necessary first condition; that condition must first be produced before beginning education.
When once an infant begins to respond fully to the guardian, then discipline can be taught; but not by anger, not by agitation, as the guardian very often does; for an infant is often very trying, and is sometimes more stubborn than any grown-up person can be, and most difficult to control.
The best way of teaching the infant discipline is without agitation, without showing any temper or annoyance, only repeating the action before it. For instance, the infant wants something which it should not have, while the guardian wishes that it should play with a particular toy. This toy must be given continually into its hand; and when the child throws it away, or when it cries, give it again; and when the child does not look at it, give it again. By repeating the same action you will bring the infant automatically to respond to you and to obey. It is a wrong method when the guardian wishes to control an infant and wishes to teach it discipline by forcing a certain action upon it. It is repetition which will bring about discipline. It only requires patience. For instance, if the infant is crying for its food or for something else when it is not the time for it, one should attract its attention towards something else, even against its wishes. The best thing is repetition.
Balance can be taught to an infant by bringing its rhythm at the moment when it is excited by a certain action, to a normal condition. For instance, when an infant is very excited, then the rhythm of its action and movement is not normal. By clapping the hands, or by rattling, or by knocking on something one can make the rhythm of the infant change to one’s own rhythm; because any noise will attract an infant, and a noise made in a certain rhythm will influence its rhythm according to it. However excited the infant may be, begin by making some noise in its rhythm, and then bring it to a normal rhythm. For instance, if a rattle or something similar is first moved with the infant’s rhythm, and then moved gradually in a slower rhythm, the infant will come naturally to that rhythm. The excitement will abate; the whole condition of the infant’s mind, the blood circulation, the movements, the expression, everything will change to a normal rhythm.
There are three rhythms. There is a rhythm of passiveness, where the child is not active at all. That means the child is not well or there is something wrong with it, something that should not be. There is a second rhythm where the child is active but not excited; that is the normal rhythm. And there is a third rhythm where the child is excited. That excitement must be brought to the second rhythm, where the child was active but not excited. This can be brought about by giving a child what it likes. If it does not like one toy, give another toy; and if not that toy, another toy, and yet another toy. In this way do everything to occupy its mind, so that for some moments it will keep to one thing.
The excitement of an infant is the changing of the rhythm; for the infant has no control over its own rhythm. It goes on at a greater and greater speed, until it cries or laughs. And the laughter or the cry is just the same. On the one side the infant will laugh and on the other side cry, because its rhythm is not normal. It can only be brought to a normal condition by the guardian’s effort. But if one gets agitated or does not like the infant or is displeased with it, then one cannot help it.
Should one stop an infant from crying? It is better to distract the mind of a child that is crying than to let it cry, but at the same time it is very natural for a child to cry sometimes. If the child does not cry, it means that there is something lacking in it, that the child is not normal. One must use discretion in how much one allows the child to cry and when to stop it. One can allow it to go as far as a certain rhythm; when it has reached that rhythm, then it must not cry any longer; that is the time to stop it. But when a mother, annoyed with the infant, stops its crying the moment it begins, it has a bad effect on its nervous system. And very often a guardian will put the child into the cradle or somewhere else to cry by itself. But that means leaving it in the same rhythm, and that does not help. In that way the child will become worse and worse, and more and more nervous every day.
And now regarding the concentration of an infant. Toys with different colors, fruits, flowers, things that attract an infant should be brought before it, whatever attracts most; and then one must try and attract its attention to that particular object, let it play with it, let it look at it, be interested in it. In this way the guardian can develop in the child the faculty of concentration, which will be of the greatest importance when it is grown-up. If this quality is not developed, it will be very difficult for the child to concentrate when it grows up. Besides that, one brings a great interest into the life of the child when it begins to concentrate. And the child concentrates without knowing it. Give it any beautiful thing it likes to amuse itself with, and if its fancy is taken by it, if it is absorbed in it, the child will concentrate naturally upon it. It is good for the child, for its soul and its body, because concentration is all the power there is.
Regarding ethics: this important word is used here, but in reality, the greatest ethics or morals that one can learn in life are friendliness, which culminates in generosity; and it is never too soon to cultivate this seed of morals in the child. When you give something to an infant which it likes, and with friendliness and sympathy and love you ask the child to give it to you, that brings about the feeling of giving and at the same time the feeling of friendliness. Very often the infant is not willing to give, but that means it is not trained to do so. You do not need to force it out of its hands, but by having patience and repeating your wish that the object may be given you, in the end the infant will give it. It may be that the first three or four times, if the child is very tenacious by nature, it will refuse, but in the end it will give it to you; and in this way it is taught the essence of morals.
Should one teach an infant that there are certain things it owns and other things which do not belong to it? Whatever an infant sees, whoever it belongs to, the infant owns it, and owns it as its birthright. it has not yet awakened to this world of limitations, of divisions. All that is there belongs to it; it really belongs to the infant. It is our consciousness of duality that makes us poor. The infant is rich, richer than anyone in this whole world. The infant has the riches of God; because, as everything belongs to God, so, too, everything belongs to an infant. And therefore there is no desire on the part of an infant to own anything: the infant owns all things. It is experience of the world that gives the child, as it grows, the desire to own, because then it becomes limited; then there are things which belong to others and certain things which belong to the child, and this means limitation.
Sometimes people think, ‘Is it not wrong in a way to make a person generous in this wicked world, where everyone wishes to snatch away everything from everybody he sees? And especially all the simple people who are giving, who are generous, they are the ones who do not take, but others do.’ The answer is that a selfish person is his own enemy. He thinks that selfishness is profitable, but his own action works against him. It might seemingly give him success. By selfishness he might earn riches or by a tenacious quality hold on to position, rank or something else; but at the same time he is defeating his own object, he is making himself weak. Besides in the end, whatever be one’s experience, one will come to the realization that from those who pursue the world, the world runs away, and those who turn their backs on the world, the world follows. The spirit of all morals and ethics is friendliness, learning to sacrifice and learning to serve; and that last lesson can be given first to an infant.
Finally we come to relaxation. The infant can become very troublesome to the guardian and to others if it has not learned relaxation properly. But relaxation is learned by an infant much sooner than by a grown-up person. One only needs to put the infant in an even rhythm, to give it calm and quiet surroundings, to place it in a comfortable position, to make passes over the child to give its nervous system rest, looking into its eyes with sympathy and with the thought of its going to sleep, producing by one’s own thought and feeling and atmosphere a restful and peaceful atmosphere for an infant so that it can experience relaxation.
It is very necessary for these five different subjects to be taught in infancy. Besides that, regularity should be observed in everything concerning an infant. In its food, in its sleep, in everything there must be regularity, because nature is rhythmic. The four seasons come regularly; the rising and the setting of the sun, and the waxing and the waning of the moon, all show that nature is rhythmic. By observing the rules of regularity with an infant one can build a foundation for a soul to grow up most successfully…”
The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Education.
Chapter I. The Education of the Infant