Spare the rod and don’t be a child abuser

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned but I prefer cheeky children to those who have been abused into submission. Crazy, huh? Yes indeed, I would rather have children who talked back and argued with me than beat them with a switch.

::shudders:: You may think I’m using hyperbole (as I’m wont to do) when I say it’s horrifying, but in fact, I think I’m accurately describing the book To Train up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl. After reading a sample of the book, I was horrified. I was aghast. I was disgusted, in fact.

Look, there’s a lot of room for reasonable disagreement when it comes to parenting and you know I will often say that both sides of an issue are at least partially right. There’s a continuum stretching from attachment parenting to cry-it-out and depending on the kid and the parent and the circumstances, any point along that line could be the right one.

Sure, parents aren’t perfect and sometimes we don’t choose exactly the right point. (I don’t want to talk about my kids’ eating and sleeping habits right now, okay?) And you know what? Your kids will probably be just fine even if you weren’t perfect.

And then there’s the Pearls’ approach.

When my children were able to crawl (in the case of one, roll) around the room, I set up training sessions.

Try it yourself. Place an appealing object where they can reach it…. When they spy it and make a dive for it, in a calm voice say, “No, don’t touch that.” Since they are already familiar with the word “No,” 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.

Yup, it’s definitely enough. It’s enough for me to know that I’d much rather have smart-ass kids than kids “trained” by you.

I’m sure all of us have had the experience of calling our kids and being ignored. Well, the Pearls have a solution!

If the child ignores the call, the father gives additional explanation and a repeat of the practiced walk. The parent, having assured himself that the child understands what is expected of him, goes back to call again. This time if the child does not respond immediately, the father administers one or two swats with a switch and then continues the exercise until the child readily responds to his summons.

Lovely. I think I’ll stick with yelling. It’s not perfect, but I suddenly feel better about it.

“The spanking is not punishment. It is to give weight to your words.” Sorry, buddy, but I’ve gotta disagree. Hitting kids is punishment. And in your case, child abuse.

One of our girls, who developed mobility early, had a fascination with crawling up stairs. At five months she was too unknowing to be punished for disobedience. But for her own good we attempted to train her not to climb the stairs by coordinating the voice command of “No” with little spats on her bare legs. The switch was a twelve-inch long, one-eighth-inch diameter sprig from a willow tree.

I…I…I can’t even.

The thing is, buried among the anecdotes of hitting kids are some actual pieces of good advice, all of which could be implemented with no physical pain. I’m no passive weeny who thinks that kids should be allowed to roam free and destroy whatever they want for the sake of learning.

I absolutely think parents need to be firm and consistent. I think we need to learn to let our kids cry for that third cookie rather than give in so they’ll stop crying. I think kids need guidance and we need to be willing to say “no” and back it up. I think we need to praise and reward good behavior and scold and punish bad behavior. There are plenty of punishments that don’t involve a tree branch, believe me. (Yael dreads the words “Which toy should I take away today?”)

However, I don’t think we need children who are so perfectly obedient that they’re afraid to ever question their parents. C’mon folks, admit it…your kids have caught your mistakes, haven’t they? Barak’s still too young, but Yael sure has.

And y’know what? Sometimes it’s aggravating, but I love that Yael is willing to question why she needs to do things. She and I discuss the fact that some things are not negotiable. If I tell her to get out of the street or stop walking, she needs to do that immediately or there will be consequences.

But I really do believe it’s good for her to question things that aren’t life-threatening. It’s good for me as a parent to have to articulate why she has to clean her room and why she needs to stop licking her brother. Those discussions have allowed to me organically introduce all kinds of moral and ethical issues.

I try to never provide a rule without its justification. We always get out of the way of fire trucks and police cars. Why? Because what the people in those vehicles are doing is more important than what we’re doing. We’re not the center of the universe, honey. Sometimes we need to get out of the way.

We don’t hit people, even annoying little brothers. Why? Lots of reasons: It hurts them, it makes them sad, it teaches them to hit us back, it doesn’t actually stop them from being annoying, it’s not nice… I’ve given Yael all of those reasons at one point or another, depending on how mature I judged her ability to understand at that moment.

Y’know, my kids aren’t perfectly behaved. Barak is currently a little destructoboy. He’s testing how much of a mess he can make and I haven’t reacted properly to that all the time. Yael is whinier than I’d prefer and she’s still doing temper tantrums occasionally.

But I have good kids, smart kids, and loving kids. Barak gets worried when other people are sad and hugs them. He’s been known to bring his favorite toy over if someone (especially a baby) is crying, and try to comfort them. Yael was playing restaurant with her cousin the other day and I heard her explaining that they were “making money so they could buy food for the poor.” Yael’s teachers tell me that she always helps other kids in class who are struggling with something.

And d’you know, if smartass is the price I have to pay, I’ll pay it. And occasionally I’ll think about throwing them out the window…but I won’t do it, because I love them 🙂


About mamamara

I'm a 40-something, work-at-home mother of two. I'm pro-vaccine, pro-medicine, pro-science, and an avid reader of information about all of the above, and I want to combine my love for my children with my love for science. So here we are!
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7 Responses to Spare the rod and don’t be a child abuser

  1. Libby Anne says:

    “Yes indeed, I would rather have children who talked back and argued with me than beat them with a switch.”

    This. I was raised on the Pearls and their methods. I believed their lies, all of them, and intended to parent that way. What else did I know? And then came the moment, when my daughter Sally was ten months old, that I realized that I was spanking her for curiosity – and it wasn’t working. What was I doing?!? I suddenly asked myself, and then I started to research. Today, gentle discipline is something I am VERY passionate about, and my kids are going to be welcome to talk back any time they like.

    I still can’t believe that I fell for the Pearls’ lies, but they can be very persuasive. So persuasive, in fact, that my parents thought they had found the formula for perfect kids who would never turn from God. When I left my parents’ religious beliefs, they could not understand what had happened! I now see the Pearls’ methods for what they are: abuse.

    I blog about this stuff if you want to check it out, btw.

    • mamamara says:

      I can see how it would be persuasive, especially because of the actual good advice that’s in there. Well, of course you have to be firm and consistent and not lose your temper. So that makes the other stuff seem more reasonable. ::shakes head:: Ugh.

      My kids do talk back and they’re smart and curious and it’s fabulous 🙂

  2. Lauren says:

    “Our kid is too young to be punished, so we hit her.” How does that make sense?! You’re right, this stuff is sickening.

  3. Tom Rogers says:

    I’m on my second tour of duty,( raising 2 grandchildren) and I’ve found that the easiest way to instill respect for “authority” was by actually following through on discipline. No, I’ve never had to hit any of the children, but they are well aware that if I say no allowance for 2 weeks, they’ll see no money in that time, no matter what the “dire social emergency”.

    I admit that I’m a softy, and let them get away with a bit more than mom/grandma would, in a “good cop-bad cop” kinda way, but it seems to work, and I certainly have less anxiety toward their upbringing, though that has much to do with my being a slob and believing that housecleaning isn’t the reason for living.

    • mamamara says:

      Yeah, I’m a softy sometimes too, but I don’t think we’re ruining them. And housecleaning is definitely not the reason for living. It’s one thing to teach kids that they need to pick stuff up if they don’t want to get it stepped on and it’s another thing to worry about having a single thing out of place. We’ve already got a tendency to OCD in my family…I don’t want to encourage it!

  4. Jenne says:

    I admit I was raised with spanking, but it was plain ordinary spanking, and in fact the spanking was a lot less scary than the emotional upheaval of Making Mommy Angry.
    Nowadays, the family rule is that spanking– a potch in tuchus– is reserved very specifically for Doing Things That Could Get You Killed (running into the road, repeatedly trying to touch the grill, etc.). This is because before we instituted that rule, Miss B. was not deterred by anything less than Full Scale Mommy Meltdown– and that scared the pants off her and was inconsistently applied.

    Hitting someone with a SWITCH? as a deterrent? URGH. *shudder*

    (I think the key is to be consistent if at all possible, as one of your commenters said.)

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