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History lessons to bring up baby; You may think parents in the 1940s were encouraged to raise children differently to modern parents - but archive films reveal that's not the case, reports LISA SALMON.


WHILE life has changed hugely since the Second World War, a new collection of archive films proves that many methods for raising children have remained the same.

Through a series of mainly grainy black-and-white archive films, the Your Children And You collection demonstrates that there are some eternal parenting truths that time simply hasn't eroded.

To illustrate, the collection's opening film, first published in 1946, begins with a very proper male voice telling viewers: "As soon as you're a parent, you have troubles you didn't have before.

"At present it's all give, give, give by you and take, take, take by him.

"In many ways, he's the tyrant and you're just his slave. This takes hours and hours of your time, completely altering your life, and never a thank you."

Many modern parents will agree - and should perhaps take note of the film's subsequent warning: "The slave has got to start right away to teach the young tyrant that family life has sensible rules.

"If you do let him master you completely, he won't learn to live properly, and your life won't be worth living."

Chris Cloke, inset, of the NSPCC says the films, which are part of the Central Office of Information (COI) Collection released by the British Film Institute (BFI), are "fascinating", and explains: "In many ways they were well ahead of their time, with a big focus on positive parenting and advice against smacking.

"They recognise what a huge life change having a child is for the parents, and the pressure it can have on them - this is something which even today isn't fully appreciated."

After warning about the parent slave and baby tyrant, the film goes on to discuss weaning, and then eating meals as a toddler.

It explains, in a way that clearly demonstrates nothing has changed, how: "She must be hungry, but as usual, she won't eat her dinner. The first course of every meal is one long scene of coaxing, pleading, wheedling."

This, says the narrator, is because she's old enough to sense that food refusal gets her mother upset, which gives her a feeling of self-importance.

The film goes on to show Roger and Anthony, who illustrate the need for all young children to have "a good deal of vigorous play".

Anthony plays out in the film and gets muddy but "he feels free and perfectly happy", while inside, poor Roger is clean but "shut in, so resentful and mischievous".

Chris comments: "The focus on encouraging children to grow and explore without too much restriction, with plenty of outdoor learning and the chance to be messy, is great advice."

Praise cleanliness, regular habits, tidiness and obedience consistently, the film advises, and also punish naughtiness consistently, in a way that seems reasonable to the child.

Perhaps surprisingly, smacking is not advocated - instead, when a child is "seriously naughty", the best punishment is to send him to his room, it says, to stay there until his behaviour improves.

An alternative means of discipline, it suggests, is taking away a favourite toy for the day.

"No more tricycle today is a very real and definite punishment," it declares.

"Smacking won't stop him. It never does. Don't imagine smacking is going to produce better behaviour.

"Naughtiness is almost always due to boredom or lack of routine. This is your fault, not the child's."

It's all salient advice that's still very relevant today, says Chris, who adds: "While some of the advice is a little out of date for the 21st century, much of it is as good today as it was then, and considering the smacking debate still rages now, to have firm advice against smacking all these years ago has to be commended.

"The NSPCC agrees that smacking is not an acceptable or effective form of discipline."

Although much of the parenting advice remains relevant, there are, of course, comments which will undoubtedly provoke wry smiles today, including: "When father lights his pipe, this is the time for the children to have a sweet."

And fathers are a vital role model, it stresses, pointing out: "Father especially must be on his guard. He is looked upon as a model of perfection by his son and daughter."

There are 15 films in the two-disc set, including Bathing And Dressing (1935), Childbirth As An Athletic Feat (1939), Children's Thought And Language (1971), and Children Growing Up With Other People, a 1947 film which includes observations on adolescence.

Again, it shows some things remain the same - the narrator remarks that adolescents can sometimes be listless, awkward, and emotionally very touchy, and declares: "We sometimes find adolescents rather irritating.

"Mentally they're struggling with a flood of new ideas, and they seem self-opinionated and boastful.

"They may believe that they've grasped the riddle of the universe, when in fact they've only had a glimpse of one small aspect of it."

Patrick Russell, senior non-fiction curator at the BFI National Archive, points out that an entire sector of the post-war British film industry was devoted to making short films like those in the collection, and says they're a good gauge of official thinking about childcare and parenthood in the 1940s.

"In many respects, things have changed - but many viewers will be surprised that the attitudes expressed in the films aren't as dated as might be expected," he says.

"For instance, their position on physical punishment is more liberal than the one many parents at the time - and some parents now - would have held.

"That said, the films tend to be careful not to be so didactic as to alienate viewers - they often try to just nudge them in the direction of what they see as good practice, rather than lecture them sternly."

He points out that the films were made by talented directors and cinematographers, and adds: "Their film-making skill adds to the charm of these films, which will be fascinating not just to historians and film enthusiasts but also to today's parents."

Your Children And You is available now on DVD from the British Film Institute priced PS19.99.


A film still from Your Children and You shows mums -to-be in the 1940s at what looks to be an antenatal class. Raising children today seems to bear a striking resemblance to how it did back in the day, according to archive footage

A montage of images from Your Children and You, above, and inset top left is Patrick Russell of the BFI
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Apr 24, 2013
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