To Train Up A Child, chapter 12, part 1
And at last, here we are. “Attitude Training.” I have really not been looking forward to this section of the book. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I was raised on the Pearls’ child training methods, and it was the attempt to control my attitude—my thoughts and my emotions—that stung the most. As we will see, it was also this focus on attitude that led to the death of Lydia Schatz.
KEEPING LITTLE HEARTS
The attitude of your children is far more important than their actions. If their powers of concentration, faculties of discernment and bodily disciplines were equal to their intentions, they could always be judged solely by actions. However, the infirmity of the flesh being what it is, the intentions better express the character of a child. When a child has an innocent heart, clumsiness or misjudgment can be accepted as perfection.
For instance, one mother left her little girl doing minor housework and returned to find the little girl had expanded her role to bring in the clothes from off the line, fold and put them away. The only problem was that some of the clothes were still damp. This mother, seeing the proud glow in her little girl’s eyes, accepted the offering as perfect. It was not until after the little helper had gone out to play that the mother removed the damp clothes and returned them to the line. She later trained her little daughter to know the difference between wet and dry clothes. Training must consider the actions, but discipline should be concerned only with the child’s attitude. It is embarrassing to see a parent upset at a child for spilling milk or acting their normal, clumsy self. Judge them as God judges us—by the heart.
On the other hand, there are times when there is no disobedience, but the attitude is completely rotten. A parent must be on guard to discern attitudes. If we wait until actions become annoying to initiate discipline, we only deal with the surface symptoms. The root of all sin is in the heart. Know your child’s heart and guard it. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life (Prov. 4:23).” It will be several years before your child can “keep” his or her own heart; until then it is entrusted to you. Let us observe some real-life examples.
Michael’s emphasis on children being completely and unquestioningly obedient at all times suggests that actions do, in fact, matter a great deal to him. If the little girl in the example here had disobeyed her mother’s direct command to leave the laundry on the line, even if it stemmed from her desire to help, you better believe Michael would be instructing that mother to punish her daughter’s disobedience. Because in this book, when a child disobeys an order, it matters more that the child has disobeyed than it does why the child has disobeyed. In fact, never has Michael asked why a child disobeys except to insist that the reason is rebellion.
I am myself very careful to consider what is going on inside of my children rather than just looking at their actions. This is not, however, because I want to ensure that my children are obedient to me inside as well as outside. Rather, it is because I want to know my children, to listen to their wants, their needs, and their concerns. That’s a big difference.
Also? My children own their own hearts, thank you very much. I do not in any way shape or form “keep” their hearts for them. I’m not unfamiliar with this rhetoric, but I have to say, I honestly do not understand what it’s supposed to mean in practical terms. Children own their own hearts, and it is a delusion to think they don’t.
A very frazzled mother of several children, who sometimes appears as emotionally worn out as an old Confederate flag, commented on her failures with her thirteen-year-old daughter. The daughter, when asked to change a diaper on one of the small children, curled her lip in a surly manner and looked at her mother as if to say, “Why do you do this to me?” The mother received the response as added weight. After the daughter was out of hearing, the mother resignedly said, “My daughter is going to have to answer to God for herself. For awhile I felt guilty, like my sins were being reflected in my daughter; but (and her voice trailing off for lack of certainty), she will have to find God for herself.”
This mother has several young children and a dread of several more on the way. With all the responsibilities of home schooling and natural living, she is too emotionally taxed to maintain responsibility for one as old as thirteen. It was as if she were giving up on this one to pour what strength she had left into the ones coming on.
Hard work is never as draining as is tension. One who is emotionally discouraged wakes up tired. The thirteen-year-old daughter, who should be a blessing and encouragement to her mother, is an added burden. If this older daughter had been given proper attitude training, the mother would not now be so vexed. It is not impossible, but much more difficult, to alter the attitude of older children. They reach a point where they must be appealed to and reasoned with much as one would another adult. When a child gets old enough to possess the reigns of his own heart, he must be wooed as a sinner is wooed by the Holy Spirit.
Note that the woman’s daughter is completely obedient to her mother. The issue is not that she is being disobedient—she is not. The issue is that she is disobeying, it is that she does not have the proper attitude—she is not obeying with a cheerful smile.
If my daughter Sally had a surly attitude, I, too, would be concerned, but for completely different reasons from Michael. It would not be that Sally was not being a proper “blessing and encouragement” or that I had neglected “attitude training.” I would want to know what was upsetting Sally, largely so that I could know what I could do to help her through it, or whether I was part of the problem and if so what I needed to do different. Children of thirteen are beginning the transition to adulthood. Sometimes what they need is space, and to be allowed some agency of their own. Sometimes what they need is support, affirmation, and encouragement. But every bit of Michael’s three paragraphs here focus on the needs and interests of the mother, not those of the daughter. Not a bit of care is given to what is going on inside the girl, except that it is wrong and must be stopped, because it’s discouraging her mother.
Also, did you notice that last part, about needing to reason with older children, to meet them adult to adult, or to woo them? Watch how quickly this goes out the door.
Those of you who have stair-step kids in a dismal state of disrepair may be discouraged with the seeming impossibility of the task of retraining the whole lot. Start with the ones still within an age-range to show quick improvement. Be absolutely consistent, and don’t let the older ones discourage you. Their time is coming!
“Their time is coming”? So much for wooing! Through this entire chapter, Michael never returns to the idea that older children should be treated differently when it comes to ensuring that they have proper attitudes. He does not give parents different tools for doing this with older children and he does not specify that the beating sessions he recommends for correcting attitude are for younger children only.
There is a wonderful psychological principle working for you. When the military moves into an area of general anarchy, restoring order to one district, the other districts take notice and involuntarily quiet down. Confess to your older children that you failed to properly train them—accept the blame. But now that you know better, you are going to do differently with the younger children. The older, spoiled kids will sit back and watch. When they see the least improvement in their spoiled little brother or sister, they will be on your side—though they may not say so. When they become convinced of an absolutely positive transformation in the younger siblings, they will want to get on the reclamation list. As long as you remain compassionate, sane and benevolent, they will submit to your discipline, believing it to be for their good.
As I’ve said before, I really don’t like the military analogies that pervade this book. The home is not boot camp. In fact, it is very much not supposed to be boot camp. It is a place for nurturing, not drilling.
Oh, and also, I call bullshit on this suggestion that the older kids will watch their younger siblings’ transformation and see it as positive. That’s not how this kind of thing works. Oh and you know what else? Describing this submit-or-else parenting as “benevolent” strains all meaning of the word. My mother used to use that language—she would say “Our family is not a democracy, it is a benevolent dictatorship.” Um, no.
The times when, due to laziness or passion, rebellion rises, your discipline will carry them through to their more rational self. When you conquer one, the others will know where you are headed and be confident that you mean business. When you pen up a dog, he will run around searching until he is sure there is no way out, and then he will settle down. Once you convince a child that there is no alternative, he will submit.
All I can think upon reading this is “caged animal.” Also, no.
Your children’s natural self-love causes them to assume the easiest stance in any given circumstance. Your children love themselves too much to buck the inevitable. But remember, they know you as a vacillating weakling, never sticking by your principles, ignoring them when it would be inconvenient to do otherwise. They will try to make it inconvenient. Start with the youngest and work your way up. Let them know what is coming. Grin, you have secret weapons: * A plan * Love * Patience * Reproof * THE ROD OF CORRECTION * Endurance.
Oh hey, look which words are in all caps?
THROWING A FIT—TEMPER TANTRUMS
My nine- and eleven-year-old daughters came in from a neighbor’s house complaining of a young mother’s failure to train her child. A seven-month-old boy had, upon failing to get his way, stiffened, clenched his fists, bared his toothless gums and called down damnation on the whole place. At a time like that, the angry expression on a baby’s face can resemble that of one instigating a riot. The young mother, wanting to do the right thing, stood there in helpless consternation, apologetically shrugged her shoulders and said, “What can I do?” My incredulous nine-year-old whipped back, “Switch him.” The mother responded, “I can’t, he’s too little.” With the wisdom of a veteran who had been on the little end of the switch, my daughter answered, “If he is old enough to pitch a fit, he is old enough to be spanked.”
I’ve shared this bit before. It is yet more affirmation that the Pearls advocate spanking babies. Also, remember how Michael earlier talked about understanding children’s hearts rather than just looking at their actions? These sorts of passages make me wonder if Michael is even capable of doing this. Michael always seems to assume the worst about what is going on inside a child.
Some have asked, “But what if the child only screams louder, gets madder?” Know that if he is accustomed to getting his unrestricted way, you can expect just such a response. He will just continue to do what he has always done to get his way. It is his purpose to intimidate you and make you feel like a crud pile. Don’t be bullied. Give him more of the same. On the bare legs or bottom, switch him eight or ten licks; then, while waiting for the pain to subside, speak calm words of rebuke. If the crying turns to a true, wounded, submissive whimper, you have conquered; he has submitted his will. If the crying is still defiant, protesting and other than a response to pain, spank him again. If this is the first time he has come up against someone tougher than he, it may take a while. He must be convinced that you have truly altered your expectations.
I’ve shared this bit before as well.
As I’ve written before, this is the bit that really hurt as a child—this part where only putting on a convincing submissive attitude would end a spanking. Showing any sense of self only led to more licks. Even crying too loudly, or not at all, could be cause for more licks.
There is no justification for this to be done in anger. If you are the least angry, wait until another time. Most parents are so guilt laden and paranoid that they are unable to carry this through to the end.
This does not have to be done in anger to be harmful. In fact, speaking from personal experience, a parent administering this sort of discipline with an attitude of absolute calm can be incredibly frightening.
And note that Michael calls a parent who is unwilling to beat her child into submission “guilt laden and paranoid.” Paranoid? Really? In Michael’s world, being unwilling to beat your child means you’re “guilt laden nad paranoid”?
If you stop before he is voluntarily submissive, you have confirmed to him the value and effectiveness of a screaming protest.
The next time, it will take twice as long to convince him of your commitment to his obedience, because he has learned the ultimate triumph of endurance in this episode in which he has prevailed.
The sentiments in this passage that lead to the death of Lydia Schatz. Lydia’s parents spanked her for what they perceived as an act of disobedience, and Lydia was not properly submissive and remorseful. Instead, her attitude was stubborn and willful. So, true to Michael’s prescription, they continued spanking her. They paused every so often to give her a chance to submit, and she continually refused. So they continued spanking her, using the quarter inch plumbing supply line Michael had recommended, until her muscle tissue broke down and shut down her liver. Lydia was only seven when she died at the hands of parents putting Michael’s prescriptions into practice.
Once he learns that the reward of a tantrum is a swift forceful spanking, he will NEVER throw another fit. If you enforce the rule three times and then fail on the fourth, he will keep looking for that loop-hole until you have convinced him it will not work again.
If a parent starts at infancy discouraging the first crying demands, the child will never develop a habit. In our home a fit was totally unknown because the first time it was tried it proved counterproductive.
Throwing fits is one way small children attempt to gain some amount of control over the big wide world they have so little say in. If what Michael says here is accurate (and I hope it is not), his children learned early that they had utterly no control over their world, and that they existed at the whim of their parents.
Attitude training has got to be the single most toxic thing about this book.