TTUAC: Spank Your Baby to Sleep

To Train Up A Child, chapter 9, part 2

We are still in the “Training Examples” chapter. In this section, Michael reinforces both the idea that the rod should be the go-t0 tool of choice and his earlier assertions that even infants should be spanked. The rod is primary to Michael, the rod, the rod, the rod. Spank your child to make her sleep. Spank your child to make her stop crying. Spank your child to make her smile. If in doubt, spank her. This is a distinction that needs to be made when discussing this book with people who do not see spanking in and of itself as abuse—Michael both teaches a method of spanking that is most certainly abuse (advising spanking babies and taking a belt to older children, for instance) and robs parents of every other parenting tool, leaving them only with “the rod.”

This is no mere quick swat to get a child’s attention. This is something twisted.

A SWITCH AT NAP TIME SAVES MINE

When your baby is tired and sleepy enough to become irritable, don’t reinforce irritability by allowing the cause and effect to continue. Put the little one to sleep. But what of the grouch who would rather complain than sleep? Get tough. Be firm with him. Never put him down and then allow him to get up. If, after putting him down, you remember he just woke up, do not reward his complaining by allowing him to get up. For the sake of consistency in training, you must follow through.

One thing I place a lot of importance on as a parent is admitting it when I am wrong. Sometimes I make a mistake, because I am not perfect. No parent is. I appreciate it when my children point out a mistake both so that I can correct and because I don’t want them to grow up thinking I am perfect. I want them to know that I am human just like them. And so, when I realize I have made a mistake, I admit it—yes, even to my children.

What Michael is saying here is that parents should never admit to making a mistake, and that once they make a decision, they should never backtrack or change their minds, even if it was a bad decision. Is there a point to all this stubbornness? Who does it actually help? Going through on a bad decision just to make some sort of point (what exactly?) is incredibly immature.

He may not be able to sleep, but he can be trained to lie there quietly. He will very quickly come to know that any time he is laid down there is no alternative but to stay put.

And what if there is actually something wrong? What if the baby is in pain, or is pinched by her diaper? Babies can’t talk, so crying is how they communicate. Yes, sometimes they cry because they are overtired, or just feeling grouchy, but what about all the times they cry for real reasons? Michael says that if you’ve put the baby to bed, you should’t get her back up . . . period.

To get up is to be on the firing line and get switched back down. It will become as easy as putting a rag doll to bed. Those who are MOSTLY consistent must use the switch too often. Those who are ALWAYS consistent come to almost never need the switch.

This passage is particularly horrifying. Michael is talking about babies here. Infants. As I’ve said of previous passages, these couple of sentences alone ought to be enough to show this book for the child abuse manual it is.

The infant is not reasoning and reflecting on the best way to get his will. The first time he finds dissatisfaction in being laid down, the whimpering comes naturally. If the child’s response is rewarded, you can expect a repeat of the whimpering. If the child is again rewarded, the response of whining is further reinforced. The parent’s caving-in to the child’s demand is training the child to act the role of “brat.” Since this whining and crying to get his way is eventually going to lead to the mother being annoyed with the child, it is better, regardless of the mother’s feelings, to break this tendency before it gets rooted and becomes a personality habit.

Just think! A child who never begs, whines or cries for anything! We have raised five whineless children. Think of the convenience of being able to lay your children down and say, “Nap time,” and then lie down yourself, knowing that they will all still be quietly in bed when you wake.

As I’ve pointed out before, Michael’s main concern seems to be ensuring that parents not be annoyed and making children “convenient.” I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say it again—children are not convenient, and children are sometimes annoying (honestly, do you know any adult whom you haven’t sometimes found annoying?). If you’re going into parenting with the belief that children should be convenient, you probably shouldn’t be parenting.

To take away a child’s ability to object or state their own opinion is to take away their spirit. I work to teach my daughter to communicate with me rather than simply whining, yes, and to understand the importance of compromise—and then I try to listen. But Michael doesn’t appear to be talking about teaching children to communicate rather than to whine. He appears to be telling parents to cut out children’s objections entirely—to make them convenient.

One more thing—I find that Sally generally whines when I haven’t been listening to her. She first tries to ask me something, and then I ignore her because I’m trying to finish something, and then she begins to whine. In other words, Sally uses whining as her fallback when simply talking to me doesn’t work. I suspect this is true for a lot of children. In other words, any attempt to address whining should have the importance of listening to your children at center stage—something Michael doesn’t seem to have ever thought of.

OBEDIENCE

One mother, while reading an early manuscript of this book, was being pulled on by her whining twelve-month-old daughter. When the mother came to the part (above) about not allowing a child to whine (“If they are tired put them to bed.”), she decided to apply what she was reading. She put her daughter down and told her to go to sleep. The sleepy child responded by crying in protest. Following the book’s instructions, she spanked the child and told her to stop crying and go to sleep. The child had previously been trained to spend an hour intermittently crying and getting up, only to be fussed at and laid back down. Nevertheless, the spanking subdued the crying and caused her to lie still. The mother continued her reading, and after a while she looked up to see that the child had very quietly slipped to the floor to browse through a book. The mother smiled at how sweet and quiet the child was. Without interruption, she continued her reading.

Reading further, she contemplated the fact that the child had not obeyed. “But she is being so good and is not bothering me,” the mother thought. She then realized the issue was not whether the child was bothering her, but whether or not she was learning to obey. She rightly concluded that by allowing the child to quietly sit on the floor at the foot of her bed, where she would eventually go to sleep, she was effectively training the child to be in rebellion to the rule of law. Out of love for her child, the mother inconvenienced herself and shattered the quiet solitude by spanking the child and again telling her to stay in the bed and go to sleep. An hour later the waking child was cheerful.

Twelve months old. This is a baby we’re talking about. Michael is teaching parents to use spanking as their go-to solution, and that children’s obedience is more important than working out a compromise. This mother could have viewed her daughter’s quiet play time as a compromise—she wanted her daughter to leave her some space so she could read, but her daughter did not want to sleep, making the quiet play time something both mother and daughter could live with. But to Michael, this is irrelevant. All that matters is that children submit to every parental dictate.

And need I emphasize again that Michael is once again advising parents to spank babies? He’s not talking about just a little pat to get their attention, either. Remember his discussion of what implement to use earlier in the book:

Select your instrument according to the child’s size. For the under one year old, a little, ten- to twelve-inch long, willowy branch (striped of any knots that might break the skin) about one-eighth inch diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a sufficient alternative. For the larger child, a belt or larger tree branch is effective.

If she is following Michael’s advise, then, this mother would be using a thin ten- to twelve-inch willowy branch or a one foot ruler to spank her 12-month-old for not going to sleep when told.  

THREE-YEAR-OLD MOTHER

The other day at our house, a three-year-old little girl was playing with dolls. (Let me interject: All children’s dolls should be BABY dolls, not “Barbie” dolls. The fantasy arising from playing with baby dolls causes the child to role-play mother. The fantasy arising from Barbie dolls causes a child to role-play a sex goddess. “As a [child] thinketh in his heart so is he (Prov. 23: 7).” This little girl was role-playing mother. Up until about a year ago, she was disobedient and spoiled. After some counseling, the parents straightened up on their training and discipline. Today she is an ideal little girl, always obedient and cheerful.

What is the “ideal little girl”? Why, “always obedient and cheerful,” of course. Funny, though, that’s not my ideal at all. For one thing, I expect children to be different—some more outgoing, some less, some more naturally bubbly, some more naturally solemn—but beyond that, I’m more interested in qualities like curiosity and compassion than I am in obedience or a permanent smile. Michael writes as though he thinks his ideal is everyone’s ideal, when it’s not.

What was interesting is the role she assumed with her baby. In her imagination the baby started crying after being given a command. She scolded her baby, turned her over and spanked her. She then spoke comforting, reassuring words and praised her baby for being good. She perfectly mimicked the loving, patient tone and firmness of her own mother.

As we sneaked a peek at the proceedings, she continued her “mother practice” session. Several situations arose with her rag baby which she promptly and firmly dealt with like an old pro. In fact, I could not have handled the make-believe situations any better. She told the screaming child (a rag doll). “No! That’s not nice. You can’t have it now. Stop your crying. SWITCH, SWITCH. If you don’t stop crying, Mama will have to spank you again. SWITCH, SWITCH, SWITCH. OK, stop crying now. That’s better. Now see if you can play happily.”

Here is a three-year-old “mother” already prepared to rear happy obedient children. She knows exactly what to expect from her mother. And, what is further amazing, she knows exactly what her mother expects from her. She disciplined her baby doll for attitudes, not actions. This three-year-old little girl is a near finished product. The battle is won. As long as the parents consistently maintain what they have already instilled, the child will never be anything but a blessing and help.

I can’t even with this.

This is not okay. Michael is bragging like this girl’s behavior toward her doll is some sort of proof that his methods work, but this is not okay. To help point at what’s making me so uncomfortable, I want to quote from another mother’s story of how she transitioned from the Pearls’ methods to gentle parenting:

That very day I saw my daughter giving one of her baby dolls a spanking. She whacked it indiscriminately all over. Suddenly I saw my parenting through a child’s eyes and I was shocked and horrified. I began researching the so-called spanking scriptures and I was led to Gentle Christian Mothers where I finally found help for a different way of parenting. When I realized the rod was one of guidance, discipleship and example, I began to cry. It was as if a huge burden had been lifted from me. I haven’t spanked my children since that day. . . .

The transition from punitive to gentle parenting has been difficult. . . . Recently I saw something that made it all worth while. My daughter was playing with her baby doll and she pretended it was trying to hit her. Instead of hitting it as she once would have done she sweetly said, “No, no, be kind,” and gently restrained it with a hug. I could finally look into the mirror of her innocence and not shudder.

This mother is not the only one who has been motivated to give up spanking after watching a child spank her dolls, and with good reason. We as parents do not always know how our parenting comes across to our children, and this sort of thing can reveal that in a very stark way. Once a couple of months ago Sally wanted to play that she was the mom and I was the child. What struck me was the number of times she told me that she was “busy” and that I would have to wait. It really made me think, and it made me realize how it effects her when I put spending time with her on the burner so I can squeeze in some extra work.

Michael looks at this little girl harshly spanking her doll—”Stop your crying. SWITCH, SWITCH. If you don’t stop crying, Mama will have to spank you again. SWITCH, SWITCH, SWITCH. OK, stop crying now.”—and sees something to praise, and a sign that her mother is parenting correctly. He sees that this girl’s go-to parenting tool is the switch, and her lack of compassion, and he doesn’t see what he should—a sign that there is a problem. Instead, he sees it as an affirmation that his sadistic, dictatorial, self-erasing child rearing methods work.

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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