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Child Rearing in sixteenth century English Upper Classes Essay

Child-rearing was an evolving practice within the English upper class from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. A new adult view of children as mature, fragile and inherently good led to changes in the nursing, care, and discipline of English, aristocratic children.

In the 16th century, much in accordance with the Puritan doctrine, children were seen as naturally evil beings (Doc 1). Proper and pious parents were responsible for instilling virtues and morals into their organically pagan children. However, the Stuart-run religious beliefs of the 17th century and the Anglican Church brought about a new and differing view of children. Offspring were effectively blank-slates and, left to their own devices, happy and benevolent (Doc 2, 3). The new society placed more blame on nurture, rather that nature, and these views led to drastic changes in how children were reared.

In the 1500s and early 1600s, aristocratic mothers often hired, after giving birth, a wet nurse, a woman whose job it was to breast-feed the infant. Women craved separation from ungodly children, and felt the duty of breastfeeding was disgraceful. However, many mothers now saw the hiring of wet nurses morally reprehensible (Doc 5). In the late 17th and 18th centuries, parents now craved a closeness and bond with their children, often enhanced by breastfeeding (Doc 6, 7). Children and infants had garnered a better reputation, an parents now sought close and loving relationships with them (Doc 4).

Furthermore, scientific changes brought a new adult view of child-rearing. Doctors now sought to care for an infant with a more tender and loving touch, and sought less to control it. In the 1500s, mothers often constricted the motion of their newborn by swaddling it tightly (Doc 8). New medical developments attributed fractures to this practice, and by the 1700s, it was long since obsolete (Doc 9). Also, the mental health of children was also taken into more account. Verbal abuse was looked down upon by members of the English aristocracy, and calling one’s child a dunce was no longer acceptable (Doc 14). The new consideration into the physical and mental health of a child changed the way children were taken care of.

Finally, these changing adult policies extended to the discipline or lack thereof of the English aristocratic child. In the late 1500s, to ensure perfection in a child, threats of physical punishment which often bordered on and became violent were prevalent within society (Doc 10, 11). However, beginning in the late 1500s and continuing for the next two centuries, it became less and less socially acceptable to physically and zealously punish ones child. Forms of physical punishment were now left to a rod or cane that was used in moderation, in specific areas, and was only used for the most egregious of mistakes (Doc 11). Some members of the aristocracy abandoned physical punishment altogether, instead relying on the encouragement of good behavior with rewards (Doc 12). However, this method of child-rearing often led to bratty behavior in children (Doc 13).

In conclusion, the changes in nursing, child care and discipline are all symptoms of a greater change, one which had religious, scientific and social roots. The newly enlightened English aristocracy changed the way in reared its children and its future generation, and in thus doing, changed the future of England.


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