To Train Up A Child, pp. 7—9
These pages contain story after story about how to “train” infants. If that kind of thing bothers you, you might want to skip this post.
OBEDIENCE TRAINING—BITING BABIES
One particularly painful experience of nursing mothers is the biting baby. My wife did not waste time finding a cure. When the baby bit, she pulled hair (an alternative has to be sought for baldheaded babies). Understand, the baby is not being punished, just conditioned. A baby learns not to stick his finger in his eyes or bite his tongue through the negative associations accompanying it. It requires no understanding or reasoning. Somewhere in the brain that information is unconsciously stored. After two or three times of biting, with the accompanying head hurting, the child programs that information away for his own comfort. The biting habit is cured before it starts. This is not discipline. It is obedience training.
I’d like to tell you all that the biting thing is simple. Sadly, I can’t. Sally only bit twice, and each time I jumped and yelped and that was enough to frighten her into not trying that again. With Bobby, things were different. I nursed Sally until she was over two, but I stopped nursing Bobby before he turned one—because he bit. I read and researched and asked for advice, and I got lots of suggestions. I tried simply taking him off the breast every time so that he would realize that if he bit his feeding would end. He responded by waiting until he was full to bite. I jumped and yelped as I had with Sally, and he found it hilarious. I tried responding by pulling his face in to my breast so that he couldn’t breath and would release my nipple, and while that worked it didn’t dissuade him from biting again in the future and still left me with sore, painful, and even bleeding nipples (which is probably more than you wanted to know!). I never tried pulling his hair or slapping him (likely Michael’s “alternative”), but I highly doubt this would have worked either. I really think what works or doesn’t work to get a nursing baby to stop biting depends on the child. The one thing I would emphasize is that babies don’t bite out of malice. As for Bobby, I ended the battle by weaning him. He was just shy of 12 months old.
One thing I would point out here is Michael’s continued insistence that this isn’t punishment, it’s conditioning. And that’s just the thing: I don’t want to condition my children. They’re people. People aren’t supposed to be conditioned. People are supposed to be communicated with, taught, and interacted with. People are supposed to learn, grow in understanding, and exhibit a fascination with the world around them. Anyway, the promotion of “conditioning” children, especially small children, is a continuing theme in these pages of the book.
OBEDIENCE TRAINING—BOWLS AND BABIES
The mother clumsily holds her cereal bowl at arms length as she wrestles her infant for supremacy.
If you see a mother working to keep her bowl of cereal out of her baby’s reach as a struggle for “supremacy,” the problem is with you, not with the baby (or the mother).
When she places the bowl out of the baby’s reach, he is taught it is off limits only if it is out of reach.
And that is exactly why you do things like childproofing the house. You want the baby to know that what is at his level and in his reach is his for exploring. The things that will get broken or spilled you put out of reach.
To train him, place the bowl within easy reach. When he reaches out, say “No” and thump his hand. He will pull his hand back, momentarily look alarmed and again reach out. Repeat the process of saying “No” in a calm voice and thumping the hand. After several times, you can eat in peace.
Yay. Conditioning a baby to be scared of a bowl of cereal. So when you put a bowl of cereal on the baby’s tray the next morning, are you going to expect the baby to actually eat it, or to recoil in fear?
When “No” and a thump occur simultaneously, several times, on different occasions, the voice command alone soon becomes sufficient to mold behavior. Again, keep in mind, the baby is not being punished, just conditioned. The thump is not a substitute rod. It is reinforcement to the obedience training.
And do you know why that “no” becomes sufficient to “mold behavior”? Not because the baby is learning anything. It’s because the baby hears the word “no” and immediately is afraid of pain, and shuts down. “No” becomes stultifying and the baby’s curiosity becomes stunted. Again, I want my own baby’s home to be one where he feels safe to explore and learn, not one where the fear of pain follows every “no.” I don’t want to condition my children so that they will do just as I say, jumping when I say jump. Instead, I want to be their guides as they explore and learn about the world they live in.
COME WHEN I CALL YOU
One father tells of his training sessions with each new toddler. He sets aside an evening for “booty” camp, which is a boot camp for toddlers. The child of ten to twelve months is left alone to become deeply interested in a toy or some delightful object. From across the room or just inside the other room, the father calls the child. If he ignores the call, the father goes to him and explains the necessity of immediately coming when called, and then leads him to the father’s chair. The child thus led through these paces is being programmed.
He is returned to the toy and left alone long enough to again become engrossed. Another call, and, if no response, the father gives a patient explanation and demonstration of the desired response. The parent, having assured himself of the child’s understanding, once again sets up the situation and calls the child. This time, if there is not an immediate response the child is lightly spanked and lectured. The father continues this throughout the evening until the child readily and immediately responds to a summons. Thereafter, until the child leaves home, he is expected to drop everything and come when called. As long as the parents remain consistent, the child will consistently obey. This “obedience training” is conducted with quiet patience. The spanking is not punishment and is not very painful. It merely gives weight to your words.
Oh gosh, so much here. First, Michael is getting repetitive. He’s described this “booty camp” type situation before, first with the coffee table, then with the glasses, and then with the cereal bowl. This is really just more of the same thing—tell the child to do something or not do it, and if they disobey respond verbally and physically. Continue until they obey what you say, no questions asked, instantly and with a smile. Next, note that Michael says that “until the child leaves home, he is expected to drop everything and come upon the first call.” This would mean even when a child was 17, or even when a child was 20 if he or she was still living at home. How does Michael think this is practical? What if the 17 year old daughter is bathing one of her smallest siblings, say aged 1, and her father calls her? Does she leave the baby in the bath and scurry to her father? What if a son, aged 20, is metalworking and the project can’t just be stopped without ruining the piece? Should he come anyway? What about the basic human ability to develop into an independent person?
As for Sally (she’s four), I require her to respond if I call her, but she is totally allowed to say “what mom?” or “I need to finish this!” If she’s in the middle of something and I really need to tell her something or ask her something, I can always go to her. Or, if I really need her to come anyway, I can call again and tell her that and add why I need her right then and can’t wait. In many ways I approach it similarly to how I approach my husband Sean—if I call him I would expect him to answer me out of common curtesy (as I would answer him if he called me), but not necessarily to come when called (because he’s his own person and not my servant or slave). If I really need him, I’ll let him know that, whether by going to him to see what he’s doing and if he can spare a moment or by hollering that, say, Bobby’s diaper is leaking but I have the stove on and can’t leave the kitchen to get a diaper. But for Michael, treating other people like people is just too much to ask for.
NEVER TOO YOUNG TO TRAIN
The parents who put off training until the child is old enough to discuss issues or receive explanations find their child a terror long before he understands the meaning of the word. A newborn soon needs training. The child needs holding, loving and lots of attention, but the mother often has other duties.
As the mother, holding her child, leans over the crib and begins the swing downward, the infant stiffens, takes a deep breath and bellows. The battle for control has begun in earnest. Someone is going to be conditioned. Either the tender-hearted mother will cave in to this self-centered demand (thus training the child to get his way by crying) or the infant is allowed to cry (learning that crying is counterproductive). Crying because of genuine physical need is simply the infant’s only voice to the outside world, but crying in order to manipulate the adults into constant servitude should never be rewarded. Otherwise, you will reinforce the child’s growing self-centeredness, which will eventually become socially intolerable.
(I should note that the underlining is Michael’s, not mine.)
Michael is wrong that “parents who put off training until the child is old enough to discuss issues or receive explanations find their child a terror long before he understands the meaning of the word.” Except for a brief period when Sally was about 10 months old when I attempted to implement the Pearls’ teachings, I haven’t laid a finger to her and I certainly haven’t tried to condition her. Instead, I’ve always tried to see things from her perspective. And do you know what? That goes a very, very long way! Sally’s melting down on a shopping trip? Well good heavens, what was I thinking taking her shopping when I new she was tired! Or, good heavens, of course she’s having a meltdown, I’m picking all these things to buy and and I’m in a hurry so I’m giving her no say in the decision-making, so it’s totally boring and trying for her! Or, good heavens, what was I thinking going shopping before feeding her supper, she’s probably starving! And so on. Seriously, Michael should try it. Trying to see things from a kid’s perspective instead of just judging a kid from an adult’s perspective is huge. And now that Sally’s old enough to reason with and explain things to, she’s actually very, very amenable to listening and considering the needs of others around her (probably because that’s what she’s seen modeled.)
Next, on to the bit about training infants. Michael looks at a mother trying to settle an infant to sleep and sees a “battle for control.” Again, it’s Michael who is the problem here. Parenting is not supposed to be a battle for control. It really really isn’t. Parenthood is not supposed to be one huge game of “whose kid is the most obedientest of all.” It’s supposed to be cooperative, it’s supposed to involve listening and communication, it’s supposed to be about a parent lovingly guiding a child toward adulthood. It’s not a contest. It’s not a war.
What’s with this idea that a baby crying when being put down is that baby making a “self-centered demand”? Crying is how babies communicate their needs, and one of their needs is to be held. Sure, a parent can’t hold an infant all the time, and sure, an infant may cry when set down, but to call a baby communicating her desire to be held the only way she knows how a “self-centered demand”—really? And it gets worse: Michael wants mothers to teach their infants that crying is “counterproductive.” Michael immediately follows this by admitting that crying is the only way infants have of communicating, and that leaves me scratching my head. Babies don’t know the difference between a reasonable demand and an unreasonable demand. If you purpose to teach an infant that crying is counterproductive, do you really think they’re going to put it together that it’s only “unreasonable” crying that is counterproductive? Or, are you going to teach that infant that she can’t depend on her caregivers and that the adults in her life are capricious and uncaring? And what is this about infants crying “in order to manipulate the adults into constant servitude”? I swear, for the amount of evil Michael imputes onto toddlers and babies, you really have to wonder about the man’s mental state.
But for all of my revulsion at this section, I did grow up in a Pearl-following home. My mother used to talk about how she would “train a baby out of crying.” She would refuse to get the baby as long as he was crying, waiting for him to be quiet and calm before she would get him out of his crib. She said that this taught the baby that it was cheerfulness that would be rewarded, not crying. It’s almost like she couldn’t see that the baby might instead end up feeling abandoned, unwanted, and ignored.
STEPS TO OBEDIENCE
One of our girls who developed mobility early had a fascination with crawling up the stairs. At four months she was too unknowing to be punished for disobedience. But for her own good, we attempted to train her not to climb the stairs by coordinating the voice command of “No” with little spats on the bare legs. The switch was a twelve-inch long, one-eighth-inch diameter sprig from a willow tree.
Such was her fascination with climbing that four or five sessions had not made her stop. The thought of further spankings was disconcerting, so I conceived an alternative. After one more spanking, I laid the switch on the bottom step. We later observed her crawl to the stairs and start the ascent, only to halt at the first step and stare at the switch. She backed off and never again attempted to climb the stairs, even after the switch was removed.
Again, this is getting repetitive. However, we do learn a few things here. First, we learn that when Michael says to start training early (and switching a child with an actual implement, in this case a 12 inch long rod), he means as early as four months old. Second, we learn that Michael can get to a place where he finds additional spankings “disconcerting.” It’s not surprising that switching a four-month-old didn’t have its desired effect, and it’s unfortunate that Michael couldn’t just admit that. I don’t know for sure why Michael’s daughter wouldn’t go up the step once Michael put the switch on it—it could have been that, being an infant, she couldn’t figure out a way to get past it, or it could have been that she associated the object with the pain her father inflicted on her and was afraid of it. But it’s interesting that Michael only found a solution here when he stopped switching (because it wasn’t working) and tried something else instead. As we’ll see as we continue through the book, he never tells parents that they should learn to watch for when spanking isn’t working and respond by trying something else. I begin to wonder if Michael himself actually completely followed the advice he lays out here in his book.
As for the babe “never again” attempting to climb the stairs, I rather hope that’s no the case, because it would be weird if Rebekah, Shalom, or Soshanna (whichever of them it was) never learned to climb stairs (and I would think that would make their lives today a bit difficult). Yes, this is sarcasm, but I think my point stands—Michael’s focus is on getting his children to obey him no matter what, not on helping them learn how to do things themselves (yes I know that four months old is too young to learn to climb the stairs—or to be crawling, actually, which makes this kind of weird—but is it that hard to put a baby gate up until she’s old enough to learn to climb the stairs rather than making her afraid of them?), and he seems to forget that they will eventually grow older and need to learn to do those things. And I feel like his statement here that his daughter “never again” attempted to climb the stairs is reflexive of that blind spot.
And here we come to an end for this week. The first of the sections we will deal with next week is titled “Excessive Discipline,” so stay tuned!