To Train Up A Child, chapter 10, part 2
This week we finish Michael’s chapter on “safety training.” In this section we see more about the lengths to which Michael will go to make children convenient above all else.
GET OUT FAST
Last winter, my two girls, nine and eleven, were riding with me in the old 4×4 Army truck. The gravel road was bumpy and rough. When I made a stop at an intersection, I heard the two, twelve-volt batteries, which are located right behind the seats, shortout and begin to arc. An explosion of spraying battery acid was potentially imminent. The girls understood none of this. However, when I said (this time in a raised voice), “Get out fast!” they didn’t ask, “Why?” I immediately got out on my side to run around and open their usually jammed door. As soon as I cleared the door on my side, I looked over my shoulder to see how they were doing. They were gone. The door was still closed, and the window, which also sticks, was only open about half way. But, they were nowhere in sight. When I got around to the other side, there they were piled up in the gravel road rubbing sore hands and knees. “How did you get out?” I asked. “Through the window,” they choked out. “Head first?” I asked. “You said get out fast,” was their accusing reply.
My son, who was driving another truck behind me, said, “I didn’t know what was happening. Suddenly they both came flying out the window head first and landed in the road.” I had trained them to jump upon command. They did. There may come a time when their safety or survival will depend on instant obedience. “Duck!” or “Hit the deck!” has saved more than one life.
When I was a child, we used to go swimming in a small pond near the house. Sometimes horseflies liked to haunt the area, and their bites were painful. Fortunately, horseflies are large and noisy, so we generally spotted them first. Whoever noticed one would yell “duck!” and we would all dive under water. When we came up, we would look around to see if it had gone, and if it was spotted someone would once again yell “duck!” and down we would go. Occasionally one of my siblings would call out “duck!” when there was no horsefly, just to see us all go under, but if he did that and was found out (as generally happened), he would be in for quite the splashing from angry siblings. Self regulated as it was, the system worked well. It had nothing to do with being “trained . . . to jump on command.”
As a mother today, I know that protecting them from danger is not about having them “trained . . . to jump on command.” For one thing, my children can read the tone of my voice just as they can read the words I say. When they read danger in my voice, they respond. For another thing, my children trust me. They trust me because they know I don’t play around. When I issue a command, I have a reason for it, and I know that. In fact, I would argue that creating this trust between parent and child is far more important than training a child to jump on command.
TRAIN FOR REALITY
The world is sometimes a hostile place. A child must learn early to take precautions. Don’t give your child a modified sense of reality. Teach them about heights and falling, about guns, the danger of knives and scissors, the caution of sharp sticks and coat-hanger wires, the terror of fire, and the danger of poisons and electricity. School them. Drill them. Show them examples. Expose them to death—the death of a pet, or an accident victim. This must be done with calm, confident reverence, not with fear. Don’t be excessive. One or two examples to a three-year-old is enough. Control their environment, but don’t shut out reality. Expose them to it at a level they can comprehend and at a rate suitable to their maturity. The goal is to keep the training ahead of the external assaults and to have them worldly wise by the time they must face it on their own.
I would add that you should give children the tools they need to handle the dangers around them so that they can feel confident and prepared rather than freaked out and afraid. Also, children should be told that the world can be friendly as well as hostile.
SNAP TO IT!
I am the General. My wife is my aid and adviser—the first in command when I am absent. I rule benevolently. Love and respect are my primary tools of persuasion. I lead, not command from a distant bunker. Mine know that I will lay down my life for them; consequently, they will lay down theirs for me. They find joy and pride in being part of the team. To instantly obey a command is their part of the team work. In doing so, the home team runs smoothly and our common objectives are met.
I really dislike Michael’s military analogies. Children are not soldiers, and parents are not military generals.
I have taught the children to obey first and ask questions later. When they were small and I put them through paces, they learned to immediately do what I said. If they ever failed to instantly obey a command, I would “drill” them. “Sit down. Don’t speak until I tell you to.” Understand, I was not taking out frustrations. It was all done in the utmost pleasantness and usually even fun. “Stand up,” I would say. “Now come here. Go touch the door.” And, before they could get there, “Sit.” Plop, down they would go. “Now, go to your rooms and clean them up.” Just like little, proud soldiers, off they would go to the task.
If one of them should fail in his attitude, he would be spanked—without haste or hostility, mind you. Negligence or clumsiness was a time for patience and grace, but lazy rebellion was punished with the rod.
This may sound all cold and harsh. I hope it doesn’t; for it was warm, friendly, loving, and produced confident, calm, hard working, loyal children and adults. In actuality, because of our consistency, the children were seldom spanked. They soon learned that every transgression received a “Just recompense of reward.” They knew, without a doubt, that to even delay obedience meant a meeting with the rod. Delayed obedience was dealt with as disobedience. Such firmness with consistency makes for a sense of security.
I remember what it was like to be punished for not being sufficiently cheerful, or for questioning an order rather than simply obeying it, or for dawdling or trying to finish something else first. “Obedience is immediate, complete, cheerful, and without question,” my mother used to say.
It was the bar on questioning an order that was the worst. It felt like being gagged. Sometimes I had damn good reason for questioning an order—for example, if my mother had already given me a different job and then forgotten about it, or if it was supposed to be another sibling’s turn to do this job—but as soon as I tried to put a word in I was told that “obedience is immediate, complete, cheerful, and without question,” and then sent to the bathroom for a spanking.
The bar on obeying with a negative attitude just about as bad. It was being told not only what you were allowed to do but also what you were allowed to think. I learned quickly to put on a cheerful exterior and hold my true feelings inside, creating a divide between my body and my true self. If I was an unconvincing actor, I was told that “obedience is immediate, complete, cheerful, and without question,” and then sent to the bathroom for a spanking.
Michael says that enforcing obedience, disallowing questions, and controlling what his children were allowed to think was done in such a way as to be “warm,” “friendly,” and “loving.” But how could he really have known that? I recently opened up a bit to my mother about how I experienced being spanked as a child. This was the first time I had ever really told her straight out how it made me feel, how I feared the paddle, how I closed up inside. My mother didn’t say much, but she clearly registered shock.
As a child, I could not have told my mother how I actually felt about how she was disciplining me. For one thing, I knew nothing different, so for all I knew my parents were right in demanding this. But for another thing, anything I could have said would have been interpreted as rebellion, and would have merited another spanking.
And now back to Michael:
Even today, without looking at the children, I can snap my finger, pointing to the floor, and they all (including the ones over six-feet) immediately sit. I can point to the door, and they all take it. When a visit develops into a counseling session, I have given the gesture for the children to vacate the room and the company never knew what prompted everyone to leave. Teach your children to “snap to it.” They will be better for it, and it will make them more lovable—which makes for more loving.
This does not sound healthy, and is a very odd thing to brag about. Not to mention, this is also dangerous. What if someone used these various motions or signals to take advantage of his children, even as adults? I would much prefer children capable of thinking for themselves and making their own choices to ones trained to respond without thought to a whistle or a gesture.
Teach your children to “snap to it.” They will be better for it, and it will make them more lovable—which makes for more loving.
Training your children to “snap to it” does not make them more lovable. Instead, it makes them more convenient. I feel like so much of Michael’s book focuses on training children to obey instantly so that parents don’t have to worry about things like explaining their commands or reasoning with a child. It absolute would be convenient to be able to tell a child to go here, or there, or sit, or stand, or speak, or be silent, and to always get instant obedience. But that is not what parenting is about. Parenting is not about making your children convenient. It is about building relationships with your children and preparing them for adulthood. Yet for all his talk about “Training for Reality,” I don’t think Michael fully grasps that.