Child Development


From day comes night, and from the boy comes the man.
— Aristotle, Generation of Animals, 724a.22

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So when the nurse would discover its desires she guesses from these indications what to offer it; if the child is quiet when something is offered it, she thinks she has found the right thing, but the wrong if it cries and screams. Thus, you see, the baby's likes and dislikes are disclosed by these ominous signals, its tears and screams: this holds good for a period of no less than three years, no inconsiderable part of one's life to be spent ill or well.
— Plato, Laws, Bk. 7, 792a

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But why an animal that is to stand erect must necessarily be a biped, and must also have the superior parts of the body lighter, and those that lie under heavier, is plain. Only if situated like this could it possibly carry itself easily. And so man, the only erect animal, has legs longer and stouter relatively to the upper parts of his body than any other animals with legs. Children cannot walk erect because they are always dwarf-like, the upper parts of their bodies being too long and too stout in proportion to the lower. With advancing years the lower increase disproportionately, until they get their appropriate size, and then they succeed in walking erect.
— Aristotle, Progression of Animals, 710b

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Why is it that children, who have a hot temperament, are not fond of wine, although the Scythians and all who are courageous are fond of wine because they have a hot temperament? Is it because the latter, though they are hot, are also dry (for this is the natural condition of a man) whereas children are hot and moist? Now fondness for drink is due to a desire for moisture; and so their moist condition prevents children from being thirsty, for desire is a lack of something.
— Aristotle, Problems, Bk. 3, 872


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Now speaking is signifying something not merely by the voice but by certain conditions of the voice, and not merely to signify pain or pleasure; and it is the letters which regulate these conditions. But children express what they want to say in just the same way as wild beasts; for young children cannot yet make use of the letters in speech.
— Aristotle, Problems, Bk. 10, 895a

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Well, then if we employ all our ingenuity to keep our growing child all through these three years from the experience of distress, alarms and, so far as possible, pain itself, the growing soul is all this time being rendered more cheerful and gracious.
— Plato, Laws, Bk. 7, 792b

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Children that come into the world before seven months can under no circumstances survive. The seven months' children are the earliest that are capable of life, and most of them are weakly– for which reason, by the way, it is customary to swaddle them in wool– and many of them are born with some of the orifices in the body imperforate, for instance the ears or the nostrils. But as they get bigger they become more perfectly developed, and many of them grow up.
— Aristotle, History of Animals, Bk. 7, 584b

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Until the child is forty days old it neither laughs nor weeps during waking hours, but of nights it sometimes does both; and for the most part it does not even notice being tickled, but passes most of its time in sleep. As it keeps growing it gets more and more wakeful; and moreover it shows signs of dreaming, though it is long afterwards before it remembers what it dreams.
— Aristotle, History of Animals, Bk. 7, 587b


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Children are very commonly subject to convulsions, more especially such of them as are more than ordinarily well-nourished on rich or unusually plentiful milk from a stout nurse. Wine tends to excite this malady, and red wine is worse than white, especially when taken undiluted; and most things that tend to induce flatulency are also bad, and constipation too is prejudicial. The majority of deaths in infancy occur before a child is a week old, hence it is customary to name the child at that age, from a belief that it has now a better chance of survival. The malady is worst at the full moon; and it is a dangerous symptom when the spasms begin in the child's back.
— Aristotle, History of Animals, Bk. 7, 588a

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When twice seven years old, in the most of cases, the male begins to engender seed; and at the same time hair appears upon the pubes, in like manner, so Alcmaeon of Croton remarks, as plants first blossom and then seed. About the same time, the voice begins to alter, getting harsher and more uneven, neither shrill as formerly nor deep as afterward, nor yet of any even tone, but like an instrument whose strings are frayed and out of tune– they say his voice is 'breaking.' Now this breaking of the voice is the more apparent in those who are making trial of their sexual powers; for in those who are prone to lustfulness the voice turns into the voice of a man, but not so in the continent. For if a lad strives diligently to hinder his voice from breaking, as some do of those who devote themselves to music, the voice lasts a long while unbroken and may persist even with little change. And the breasts swell and likewise the private parts, altering in size and shape. (And at this time of life those who try by friction to provoke emission of seed are apt to experience pain as well as pleasure.) At the same age in the female, the breasts swell and the so-called menstrual fluids commence to flow; and this fluid resembles fresh blood. The 'whites' occur even in very young children, more especially if their diet be largely of a fluid nature; and this malady causes arrest of growth and loss of flesh. In the majority of cases menstruation begins by the time the breasts have grown to the height of two fingers' breadth. In girls, too, about this time the voice changes to a deeper note; for while in general the woman's voice is higher than the man's, so also the voices of girls are pitched in a higher key than the elder woman's, just as the boy's are higher than the man's; and the girls' voices are shriller than the boys', and a maid's flute is tuned sharper than a lad's.
— Aristotle, History of Animals, Bk. 7, 581a-581b

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And therefore what I would say is this. A child's first infant consciousness is that of pleasure and pain; this is the domain wherein the soul first acquires virtue or vice. For wisdom and assured true conviction, a man is fortunate if he acquires them even on the verge of old age, and, in every case, he that possesses them with all their attendant blessings has come to the full stature of man. By education, then, I mean goodness in the form in which it is first acquired by a child. In fact, if pleasure and liking, pain and dislike, are formed in the soul on right lines before the age of understanding is reached, and when that age is attained, these feelings are in concord with understanding, thanks to early discipline in appropriate habits—this concord, regarded as a whole, is virtue. But if you consider the one factor in it, the rightly disciplined state of pleasures and pains whereby a man, from his first beginnings on, will abhor what he should abhor and relish what he should relish—if you isolate this factor and call it education, you will be giving it its true name. At least, that is my own conviction.
— Plato, Laws, Bk. 2, 653a-653c



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After the children have been born, the manner of rearing them may be supposed to have a great effect on their bodily strength. It would appear from the example of animals, and of those nations who desire to create the military habit, that food which has most milk in it is best suited to human beings; but the less wine the better, if they would escape diseases. Also all the motions to which children can be subjected at their early age are very useful. But in order to preserve their tender limbs from distortion, some nations have had recourse to mechanical appliances which straighten their bodies. To accustom children to the cold from their earliest years is also an excellent practice, which greatly conduces to health, and hardens them for military service. Hence many barbarians have a custom of plunging their children at birth into a cold stream; others, like the Celts, clothe them in a light wrapper only. For human nature should be early habituated to endure all which by habit it can be made to endure; but the process must be gradual. Such care should attend them in the first stage of life.
— Aristotle, Politics, Bk. 7, 1336a

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The next period lasts to the age of five: during this no demand should be made upon the child for study or labor, lest its growth be impeded; and there should be sufficient motion to prevent the limbs from being inactive. This can be secured, among other ways, by play, but the play should not be vulgar or tiring or effeminate. The Directors of Education, as they are termed, should be careful what tales or stories the children hear, for all such things are designed to prepare the way for the business of later life, and should be for the most part imitations of the occupations which they will hereafter pursue in earnest. Those who are wrong who in their Laws attempt to check the loud crying and screaming of children, for these contribute toward their growth, and, in a manner, exercise their bodies. Straining the voice has a strengthening effect similar to that produced by the retention of breathing violent exertions. The Directors of Education should have an eye to their bringing up, and in particular should take care that they are left as little as possible with slaves. For until they are seven years old, they must live at home, and therefore, even at this early age, it is to be expected that they should acquire a taint of meanness from what they hear and see. Indeed, there is nothing which the legislator should be more careful to drive away than indecency of speech; for the light utterance of shameful words leads soon to shameful actions. The young especially should never be allowed to repeat or hear anything of the sort. A freeman who is found saying or doing what is forbidden, if he be too young as yet to have the privilege of reclining at the public tables, should be disgraced and beaten, and an elder person degraded as his slavish conduct deserves. And since we do not allow improper language, clearly we should also banish pictures and speeches from the stage which are indecent. Let the rulers take care there be no image or picture representing unseemly actions, except in the temples of those gods at whose festivals the law permits even ribaldry, and whom the law also permits to be worshipped by persons of mature age on behalf of themselves, their children, and their wives. But the legislator should not allow youth to be spectators of iambi or of comedy until they are of an age to sit at the public tables and to drink strong wine; by that time education will have armed them against the evil influences of such representations.
— Aristotle, Politics, Bk. 7, 1336a–1336b


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Why do children and the young of other animals have shriller voices than the full-grown of their species, and that though shrillness involves a quality of violence? Is it because the voice is a movement of the air, and the swifter the movement the shriller is the sound? Now a little air can be moved more easily and quickly than a large quantity, and it is set in motion owing either to its concretion or to its dissolution by heat. Now since we draw in cold air when we inhale, the air within us can become concreted by the act of inhalation; but exhalation, when heat sets air in motion, can become voice, for it is when we are exhaling that we speak, not when we are inhaling. And since the young are hotter than their elders, and their interior passages are narrower, they may well have less air in them. So, as there is less in them of that which is moved and more motive power, namely heat, for both reasons the movement of the air may be quicker; and, for the reasons already stated, the quicker the movement the shriller the voice.
— Aristotle, Problems, Bk.11, 900a–900b

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When I see a little child, for whom it is still proper to speak in this way, lisping and playing, I like it and it seems to me pretty and ingenious and appropriate to the child's age, and when I hear it talking with precision, it seems to me disagreeable and it vexes my ears and appears to me more fitting for a slave, but when one hears a grown man lisping or sees him playing the child, it looks ridiculous and unmanly and worthy of a beating.
— Plato, Gorgias, 485b–485c

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Why do children hesitate more in their speech than grown men? Is it because, just as when we are children, we always have less control over our hands and feet and at a still earlier age cannot walk at all, so the young cannot control their tongue? Now when they are quite small, they cannot speak at all but can only make sounds like the animals, because they lack control. This is the cause not only of hesitancy in speech but also of lisping and stammering. Lisping is due to the inability to master a letter– not any letter but some particular one; stammering is due to the dropping out of some particular letter or syllable; hesitancy is due to the inability to join one syllable to another sufficiently quickly. All three are due to want of power; for the tongue is not an efficient servant of the intelligence. The same thing occurs in those who are drunken and in the old; but always to a lesser extent than in children.
— Aristotle, Problems, Bk. 11, 902b



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The frame is thus enabled to cope with its nutriment, solid or liquid, and presents a spectacle of health and beauty, to say nothing of robustness. Now in view of those facts, how, let me ask, shall we proceed to act? Would you have us raise a laugh by express statutes directing the pregnant mother to take constitutionals, to mold her infant, when she has borne it, like so much wax while it is still plastic, and to keep it swaddled for its first two years? And what of the nurse? Shall we compel her under legal penalties to be incessantly carrying her charges to the country, the public temples, the homes of their relatives, until they are strong enough to stand on their own feet, and ever later to persist in carrying a child about until it has completed its third year, for fear the limbs may be distorted in infancy if too much weight is thrust upon them? Shall we enact that our nurses must be the most robust that we can get, and that there must be more than one for each infant, and crown our work by prescribing a penalty for the offended in case of neglect for any of these various directions? Surely not. It would be to lay ourselves open to more than enough of the consequences I have mentioned.
— Plato, Laws, Bk. 7, 789d

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Why is it that men are more inclined for sexual intercourse in the winter and women in the summer? Is it because men are hotter and drier in their nature, and women moister and cooler? In men therefore during the winter the moisture and heat are sufficient to cause the impulse (and it is moisture and heat which give rise to the production of semen), whereas in women the heat is less and the moisture is congealed owing to the lack of fire. But in summer in women the heat is well proportioned, whereas in men it is more than sufficient; for the excess dissolves much of their strength. For this reason also children are thinner during the summer; for it is a case of 'fire added to fire.'
— Aristotle, Problems, Bk. 4, 880a

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If the baby's thrust is in the direction of the head, the woman bears her child easily. But if its side is proceeding, or it moves toward the feet the woman gives birth with difficulty. Already many of these women have perished, or their babies, or both.
— Hippocrates, Nature of the Child, 30


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Ajax: Yes. Let me speak to my boy and see his face.
Tecmessa: He’s not far off. The servants are looking after him.
Ajax: Why doesn’t he come at once, then?
Tecmessa: Eurysaces! Your father is calling for you.
You bring him! You have him by the hand.
Ajax: Is he coming? Doesn’t he hear your words?
Tecmessa: Here he is. See, the servant’s bringing him.
Ajax: Lift him up, lift him to me. He won’t be frightened,
Even by seeing this fresh-butchered gore,
Not if he really is my son. Break in
The colt straight off to his father’s rugged ways;
Train him to have a nature like his sire.
My boy, have better luck than your father had,
Be like him in all else; and you will not be base.
You know, even now I somewhat envy you:
You have no sense of all this misery.
Not knowing anything’s the sweetest life—
Ignorance is an evil free from pain—
Till the time comes when you learn of joy and grief.
And when you come to that,
Then you must show your father’s enemies
What sort of a man you are, and what man’s son.
Till then feed on light breezes, basking
In the tenderness of your young life, giving your mother joy.
For rest assured, the Greeks will not offer you outrage
Or hatefully insult you, even when we are parted.
I leave you a strong warden at the door,
Teucer. He will protect and rear you up
And stint you nothing, even though now he’s far away,
Gone on a distant raid in enemy country.
— You, men at arms and seafarers, my followers,
I enjoin this act of kindness on you all:
Pass on my command to Teucer; bid him take
My boy here to my home, present him
To Telamon and my mother, Eriboea,
And let him tend and nourish their old age
With constancy, till at the last they find
Their dark apartments with the god below.
As for my arms—
I say no arbiter of the Greeks shall set them
As a prize of competition for the army;
Certainly my destroyer shall not. Rather
You, my boy, take from me this great weapon
From which you have your name, Eurysaces;
Hold and direct it by its stalwart strap,
This sevenfold-oxhide-thick unbreachable shield.
The rest of my armor shall be buried with me.
— Sophocles, Ajax, 538–78


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