TTUAC: Children Should Be Convenient

To Train Up a Child, pp. 5—7

If I continue going through To Train Up A Child individual section by individual section, it will take me forever to get through it. Some sections are literally only two paragraphs long. So from here on out, I’ll be addressing several sections in each post, including their titles in the quotations.

TRAINING NOT TO TOUCH

There is much satisfaction in training up a child. It is easy and challenging. When my children were able to crawl (in the case of one, roll) around the room, I set up training sessions.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is creeped out by the level of “satisfaction” Michael gains from “training” children into utter submission.

Try it yourself. Place an appealing object where they can reach it, maybe in a “No-no” corner or on an apple juice table (That’s where the coffee table once sat). When they spy it and make a dive for it, in a calm voice say, “No, don’t touch it.” They will already be familiar with the “No,” so they will pause, look at you in wonder and then turn around and grab it. Switch their hand once and simultaneously say, “No.” Remember, you are not disciplining, you are training. One spat with a little switch is enough. They will again pull back their hand and consider the relationship between the object, their desire, the command and the little reinforcing pain. It may take several times, but if you are consistent, they will learn to consistently obey, even in your absence.

This one little paragraph elicits so many emotions in me. I’ve watched this done, time and again. I’ve done it myself, with my little siblings. I frequently used the living room coffee table. I would place something on it that I knew the baby wanted, and then say “no” and switch the child’s hand whenever he or she nevertheless reached for it. What sticks in my head is the utter look of betrayal, combined with anguish and frustration, on the poor child’s face as it would crumple to tears.

I also did this with Sally, when she was first crawling, it was that that snapped me out of my adherence to the Pearls’ methods. See, it didn’t work. Again and again Sally reached for the plants Sean was growing on the coffee table, digging her fingers into the dirt, and again and again I switched her little hand. She would look at me with that same look, begin to cry, and then turn back to the dirt and stick her fingers in again. What changed things for me was when I realized that she was putting her fingers in the dirt out of curiosity, not rebellion, and that I was switching her for being curious. Wasn’t curiosity something I should foster, not punish? And how unfair of me was it to have these beds of dirt and plants setting out right at her level, where she could get her hands in it, and yet expect her not to touch? It was then that I took to the internet to see if I could find any criticism of the Pearls’ methods, and, well, the rest is history.

PLANT YOUR TREE IN THE MIDST OF THE GARDEN 

When God wanted to “train” his first two children not to touch, He did not place the forbidden object out of their reach. Instead, He placed the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” in the “midst of the garden (Gen. 3:3).” Being in the middle of the garden, they would pass it continually. God’s purpose was not to save the tree—rather, to train the couple. Note the name of the tree was not just “knowledge of evil,” but, “knowledge of good and evil.” By exercising their wills not to eat, they would have learned the meaning of “good” as well as “evil.” The eating was a shortcut to the knowledge, but not a necessary path.

Hey! I wrote a blog post about this once! Except, my argument was rather different from this. Because to be honest, a God who would do what Michael describes here is a cruel God indeed.

Also, this is really bad theology. The whole point of the tree being named the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil” was that Adam and Eve didn’t have the knowledge of good and evil until after they ate of the fruit. The Bible does not say they would have gained that knowledge without eating the fruit—in fact, it rather says the opposite.

The beauty of this is that thereafter, every time the children pass the ‘No-No’ object (their “tree of knowledge of good and evil”), they are gaining knowledge of good and evil from the standpoint of an overcomer.

Actually, no. Every time a child passes that object she will associate it with pain, remember being hurt, and stay away from it. That’s not called being an overcomer. That’s called being traumatized.

As with Adam and Eve in the garden, the object and the touching of it is, in itself, of no consequence; but the attachment of a command to it makes it a moral “factory” where character is produced. By your enforcement, your children are learning about moral government, duty, responsibility and, in the event of failure, accountability, rewards and punishment. In the here and now, they are also learning not to touch, which makes a child’s social life a lot more pleasant.

Because children aren’t supposed to touch anything. Seen and not heard, etc.

Apparently, in Michael’s world, moral government, duty, responsibility, and accountability are about getting hit every time you touch something you were told not to touch. That’s not what they’re about in my world. I teach my daughter Sally about all of those things, but I do it by communicating and explaining and discussing, not by hitting her when she does something I say not to do or conditioning her to absolute obedience. I want Sally to learn which rules she should obey and which she shouldn’t, and that ethics and values and responsibility are not synonymous with obeying rules. I want her to learn compassion and to approach the world with an ethical system very different from might makes right. The ethical system Michael is promoting is immature, simplistic, and dangerous.

It just takes a few minutes to train a child not to touch a given object.

This is not my experience. Sometimes, sure, but when I was trying to train Sally not to touch those pans of dirt, it literally did not work. And believe me, I tried, and for a lot longer than “a few minutes.”

Most children can be brought into complete and joyous subjection in just three days.

And can you imagine how horrifying and traumatizing those three days must be?

Thereafter, if you continue to be faithful, the children will remain happy and obedient. By obedient, I mean you will never need to tell them twice. If you expect to receive instant obedience, and you train them to that end, you will be successful. It will take extra time to train, but once the children are in general subjection the time saved is extraordinary.

Because it’s all about saving Michael time, dontcha know.

Some people say, “Child-proof your home.” I say, “Home-proof your child.”

And . . . this is where my parents got that line.

This idea is the natural extension of Michael’s proposed training sessions. The idea is that if you tell a child “no” and then switch them every time they touch, say, the expensive vase on the side table, they’ll learn not to touch the vase. This way you can leave anything you like out—a bowl of M&Ms, a laptop, a delicate decoration—and the child won’t touch it. It is true, this promises to be quite convenient for the parents.

But I happen to think that a child’s home is a place where he or she should feel comfortable and should be able to be, well, a kid. I child-proof my home because I happen to think my children are important and that I should take their needs into account. The other thing I’ve realized is that breakable items should be out of children’s reach not just because they might touch them but also because children are just becoming comfortable in their bodies and are often quite clumsy.

TOUCHY SITUATIONS

Have you ever been the victim of tiny inquisitive hands? The very young child, not yet walking, is keen on wanting to grab any object of interest. There is no fault in this, but sometimes it can be annoying.

Note that Michael says that the child is not doing anything wrong, but instead doing something annoying. I think one thing that parents find appealing about the Pearls’ methods is that they promise not simply to eliminate wrongdoing but rather to make children cease to be annoying. Because god forbid children should annoy their parents!

When you are holding a baby and he keeps pulling off your glasses, you cannot explain to him the impropriety of such socially crude behavior. The little tot is not yet moved by fear of rejection. So, do you try to hold him in a pinned-down fashion where he can’t get to your face? No, you train him not to touch. Once you train an infant to respond to the command of ‘No,” then you will have control in every area where a prohibition is in order.

Michael is correct that you cannot explain to a baby why she should not pull off your glasses. Believe me, I have glasses and two young children, I’m keenly aware of this. Michael is also right that it’s not a good idea to respond by pinning a baby down. But Michael is missing some options in how to handle this, which honestly, given his claim to be an expert at raising children, is a bit surprising.

  1. You can distract the baby. This is generally called redirecting. You can read the baby a book or get the baby a toy to play with. You can play peek-a-boo or tickle. Sure, this won’t always work, but in my experience it usually does.
  2. You can let the baby pull off your glasses and hold them. If you don’t want to do this that’s fine, and if your glasses are fragile it may not be an option anyway. Personally, I have fairly sturdy glasses and from time to time, and I didn’t mind letting Sally or Bobby have a supervised look at them from time to time when they were babies and found them fascinating.
  3. You can take your glasses off. If you’re moving around or watching a movie this may not be possible, but in my experience in those cases the baby is generally too distracted to go for the glasses. If you’re just sitting still and holding the baby, taking your glasses off isn’t that hard (depending, of course, on the strength of your prescription).
  4. You can put the baby down. If the baby refuses to be distracted and you can’t take your glasses off and don’t want to let the baby pull them off and look at them, you can always put the baby down and give her other things to play with.

In general, if you’re dealing with a child too young to be reasoned with, the immediate fallbacks should be redirect or remove—i.e., distract the child from what she’s not supposed to touch or remove the object from reach—and other available steps are supervise or withdraw—i.e., allow the baby to view the object up close with supervision or withdraw the child from the situation. But all of those things are apparently off the table for Michael. Apparently it’s pin the baby down or train him not to touch.

And what exactly does training them not to touch involve?

Get set for training. Hold him where he can easily reach your glasses. Look him right in the eye. He reaches out. Don’t pull back. Don’t defend yourself. Calmly say, “No.” If anything, lower your voice, don’t raise it. Don’t sound more serious than usual. Remember you are establishing a pattern of command to be used the rest of his youth. When he touches the glasses, again say, “No,” and accompany your command with minor pain. He will pull his hand back and try to comprehend the association of grabbing the glasses and pain. (I usually just thumped their little hand with my index finger. I never knew one to cry. They don’t even know that you did it. They think it was the glasses, or perhaps the “No” itself causes pain.) Inevitably, he will return to the bait to test his new theory. Sure enough, again the glasses caused pain; and the pain is always accompanied by a quiet little “No.” It may take one or two more tries for him to give up his career as glasses snatcher, but he will.

This really and truly is classic conditioning. I mean, just look:

Through this process of association the child will involuntarily recall the pain every time he hears the word “No.” There comes a time when your word alone is sufficient to gain obedience.

Michael says this training works because by the end of it, when a child hears the word “no” the child will physically relive the pain, experiencing it once again. And yet, Michael has no problem with that and is blatantly boasting about using pain and fear to coerce children into obeying his every whim.

You can also stop him from assaulting his mother with a bottle held by the nipple. The same holds true for hair and beard pulling. You name it, the infant can be trained to obey. Do you want to wrestle with him through his entire youth, nagging him to compliance, threatening, placing things out of reach, fearing what he might get into next? Or would it be better to take a little time to train? If nothing else, training will result in saving you time.

Do you see that sentence I made bold? I made it bold because it’s key. It is true that you can’t explain to a baby why she shouldn’t grab your glasses. However, you can explain to a four-year-old why she shouldn’t grab your glasses. It’s absolutely false that if you don’t train a child for instant obedience you will have to spend the rest of that child’s youth “nagging him to compliance, threatening, placing things out of reach, fearing what he might do next.” Whether or not Michael is aware of this, as children age they gradually gain the ability to listen, understand, reason, and show empathy. In what world does it make more sense to train a child to instant and unquestioning obedience rather than to teach that child how to navigate the world in a responsible manner?

And once again, what seems to be most important here is Michael’s convenience. Is it annoying, as a parent, that babies don’t know not to touch? Yes! But I happen to believe that my convenience is not the only thing that matters. Sometimes being a parent is damn inconvenient, but that’s what I signed up for. No one ever said that lovingly and ethically guiding a child toward mature, responsible, and compassionate adulthood was supposed to be easy.

I know a mother who must call a baby-sitter every time she takes a shower. You should be able to take a nap and expect to find the house in order when you wake.

Notice Michael’s concern here—you should be able to nap while your children play on their own and find the house in order when you wake up. The concern is for the state of the house, not the safety of the children. Notice too that Michael does not mention age. It would not be safe, say, for me to take a nap while Bobby, age one, is up and on his own. It would, in contrast, be safe for me to catch a short nap while Sally, age four, is watching Netflix. Notice too that this is child dependent—different children have different personalities and different levels of development.

But none of that matters to Michael. What matters to Michael is that your children not inconvenience you.

TTUAC: Bed Wetting, Cold Hoses, and Hana Williams
TTUAC: Bad Attitudes Are a Disease
TTUAC: Child Labor (or, Who Needs Academics?)
When Toxicity Demands a Break
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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