TTUAC: The “Emotional Liar”

TTUAC: The “Emotional Liar” November 23, 2015

To Train Up A Child, chapter 14, part 1

And, we’re back! I’m not sure whether I’ll keep this regular or on the same day, but I do want to get back to reviewing Michael Pearl’s child rearing manual, To Train Up A Child. It’s been a year and a half since I took a break from this series. I had no idea it had been that long until I checked today!

For those new to this series, and new to the Pearls, Michael Pearl is a fundamentalist Christian author and preacher who has traction in many fundamentalist Christian homeschool communities. His child rearing manual has been linked to the deaths of three children, and as a result is more controversial today than it was in my childhood. The Pearls still have their staunch defenders, however, including—to my continued dismay—my own parents. I was raised on the Pearls’ child rearing methods to the extent that my mother always kept a box of extra copies of To Train Up A Child and handed the book out to new parents she came in contact with.

I started reviewing To Train Up A Child in August 2013, writing one installment per week. I have been reviewing the book in its entirety, rather than merely selections, as the book is available in entirety online. You can read my entire series so far here.

Today we begin Chapter 14: Emotion Control. This topic feels really relevant because it’s something I’ve been dealing with lately with my own children. Children aren’t born knowing how to handle their emotions, after all. When my daughter Sally is being bothered by her younger brother, she sometimes snaps and screams at him and runs off and slams the door. One thing I’ve been telling her, lately, is that it’s okay for her to experience anger and frustration and to feel upset, but that it’s not okay to hurt others while experiencing these emotions.

I suggested to Sally that we set up a “calm down corner” for her to go to when she’s feeling frustrated and is worried she’s headed in the direction of blowing up. She was really excited, and helped me pick out the supplies—various manipulative for distracting one’s hands and a game of Find It for distracting and relaxing one’s mind. The calm down corner isn’t a rebranding of a time out corner. It’s fully voluntary and operates on completely different principles—and has the potential to set positive lifelong patterns. And don’t worry, we’re also working on teaching Sally’s brother better boundaries.

There is a crucial difference between teaching your child how to understand, handle, and work through their emotions (without hurting those around them)—something generally termed “emotion coaching“—and the”emotion control” taught by the Pearls. Let’s take a look at some of those differences, shall we?

THE AMISH FAMILY

When an Amish family with their twelve children comes over to visit, you would think it was a Japanese delegation, for all the self-control and order present. The children are taught to maintain control of their emotions. They are all respectful of your property and presence. When in the presence of adults, the children don’t talk or play loudly. If hurt, they don’t cry excessively. The children learn to give-over when their rights are trampled on by another child. This is consistently accomplished through consistent training and discipline.

Michael Pearl is a master of taking bad things and acting like they’re good things. What he’s describing sounds like children who have been absolutely cowed by oppressive authoritarian corporal punishment, and he thinks he’s describing something beautiful. And what even is with him saying that the children have learned “to give-over when their rights are trampled on by another child,” like that’s a good thing? On the contrary! I may not like it when my children fight with each other, but I want them to learn to stand up for themselves, for their needs and their rights, because I want them to be able to stand up for themselves as teens (vis a vis peer pressure) and as adults.

And for what it’s worth, my children are respectful of others’ property too. They ask before using others’ things. In fact, my three-year-old son, Bobby, absolutely loves dogs and wants to pet every dog he sees, and I’ve taught him to always ask a dog’s human for permission to pet it. Some dogs aren’t friendly, after all, and other dogs shy. So now as soon as he sees a dog out on a walk, he runs up to the dog’s human and says “excuse me, can I pet your dog?” Yes, people think it’s adorable, but my point is that children can learn to respect other people’s needs, persons, and property without the harsh authoritarian discipline taught by the Pearls.

Also, it occurs to me that Michael only cares about children being respectful of adults’ property. He expects children to give over if another child violates their rights, after all. I, in contrast, teach my children that all people should have their persons and property respected. I teach my children that they have rights over their own bodies, and that their belongings are theirs. I encourage sharing and I require it when the object in question is owned by the family as a whole, but I don’t require them to hand over their own belongings to another.

Anyway, let’s look at one more (slightly longer) section:

SCREAMING TEEN

We were at a saints’ “dinner on the grounds” [This is not eating off the ground. It is eating together outdoors.] when a twelve-year-old girl who had been swinging on a swing set commenced to scream the cry of the imminently perishing. If one of my kids had screamed like that, I would have expected her to have been caught in a people eating machine slowly being dragged to destruction. We all threw our paper plates of food on the ground and ran to the rescue. She appeared to have fallen out of the swing, with no perceptible damage. (We later discover she had received one bee sting.) When the father tried to examine her for what he thought was a broken arm, she rolled and thrashed, kicked and squalled. She sounded much like someone tied to a hill of fire ants.

For the next ten minutes he tried to get her attention, demanding to know what was wrong. She wouldn’t let him examine it, but continued the screaming. Ten seconds of that, and I said to my wife, “She isn’t hurt, she’s mad.”

As I returned to find my paper plate, I could occasionally hear the father’s bellow over hers, “What’s wrong honey? Tell me where it hurts.” I knew she wasn’t badly hurt, for no one who was hurting could muster that much energy. Furthermore, the screaming had the sound of a protest–an assault cry.

After the men had shared a couple more fishing tales, we saw them carry her past us into the house where her arm was eventually pronounced just fine. I was glad when they got her indoors. With the background noise, the men were starting to tell war stories. Be careful not to make emotional liars out of your children by your own emotional weaknesses.

I have no idea what was actually going on with this girl, and Michael doesn’t either. If my children are acting out in order to get my attention, I give them my attention. Sometimes that attention involves teaching them new ways to get my attention, and sometimes they tell me that they tried that and it didn’t work and I realize that I need to do a better job of being attentive to and listening to my children. And sometimes these things are less conscious, but I realize that a given behavior I consider inappropriate is occurring because some of their underlying needs are not being met. See this article as an example of what I’m talking about.

Michael is also very flippant about this girl’s pain. It sounds like she fell off a swing and simultaneously got stung by a bee and completely freaked out. For whatever reason she had trouble calming down enough to tell her parents what was wrong. It could be that the girl had a panic attack or struggled with anxiety. It could be that she had special needs and struggled with communication. It could be that her parents rarely ever gave her any attention, and that when she became the center of attention after her initial (and understandable) wail she enjoyed it so much that she decided to prolong it. We don’t know, because Michael didn’t really consider any of that—instead, he assumed she was just a whining whiner who whines a lot. Or, in his words, an “emotional liar.”

Michael preaches “emotion control.” In contrast, I practice “emotion coaching.” Think about the difference for a moment. The first teaches children to ignore their emotions, and that their emotions don’t matter. The second teaches children how to understand their emotions, and how to handle them in a healthy way. The first denies children’s emotions, the second affirms them. Children have emotions. Rather than shutting these emotions down, we need to teach children how to navigate them.

Anyway, more next week!

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