Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: child training

Why a child should not be king of the home

There are widely divergent views on child training in North America – ranging all the way from a laissez faire attitude (let the child alone and she will figure things out on her own), to the harsh disciplinarian (if you want a child to learn how to behave you need to spank him once a day, and twice on Sundays). Actually, neither extreme can be called child training, both imply that the parents have abdicated from their role as parents to become either neutral observers or the administrators of a punitive law.

Child training means teaching and the teaching needs to begin in the first weeks and months. There is no harm in getting used to explaining to a baby what we expect of her when she is very small. This is a habit that we need to develop early, so that when a child is older we don’t leave our explaining until after she has done something wrong.

Parents in France start by teaching their babies to sleep through the night. They do this simply by learning to discern the sounds a baby makes when he wakes up in the night. We all go through many cycles each night of deep sleep and light sleep where we are awake or almost awake. A newborn does not know how to connect these cycles and if a mother jumps up at every whimper to comfort her child, she is actually hindering the child from learning. If the child’s cry is a cry of distress, then the mother knows the child needs help, but a few little whimpers between sleep cycles are normal. By not running for every whimper, the mother is also teaching the child that parents need sleep, too, they are not just servants who are at their child’s beck and call.

This is part of the essential task of teaching a child that she is not the one in charge, the parents are.  As soon as possible, a child should be expected to greet adults when they come to visit and to greet the adults in a home where the family visits. This is good manners, and makes the child more aware that other people matter.

Most of us in North America grew up being ordered to eat everything on our plate and threatened with no dessert if we didn’t. Sometimes we were told about the poor starving children in China who would love to eat what we were leaving on our plate. Today there is an epidemic of obesity in both North America and China, and North American children are still very picky eaters. A better plan is to teach children that they don’t have to clean their plates, but they must eat at least a little of every food on the table.  Treats should be limited to once a day, perhaps an after school snack. If this plan is explained and adhered to without exception the child will learn that begging for a treat is useless. (This plan needs to be explained to the grandparents, too.)

A newborn baby understands only his own needs, but small steps such as these make him aware that other people have needs, too. This is child training and much of it can be accomplished without much fuss or stress. The goal is to teach the child that he is not in charge, the parents are. This does not mean that there might not be a need for stronger measures on occasion, but I am convinced that a lot of corporal punishment is simply an attempt to compensate for a lack of child training.

The child who grows up in a home where parents constantly yield to his wishes and whines is going to have a hard time adjusting to real life as an adult. It seems that some people today never really reach adulthood. We are doing our children a favour if we teach them in such a way that they are spared from a life of perpetual spoiled childhood.

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Somebody ought to do something

Just about every day the media presents new evidence of bullying, neglected and mistreated children, juvenile prostitution, verbal, physical and sexual abuse, youth gangs and all the other problems that seem to afflict the children and youth of our society. Cries of distress and outrage go up and there is a universal feeling that something needs to be done.

Most folks seem to think it is the government that should be doing something. However, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of agreement about what needs to be done.

Governments are already doing a lot, but is it working? Social service agencies have developed into huge bureaucracies and are given extensive authority to intervene in situations where children are deemed to be at risk. The number of children at risk continues to balloon. In the province where I live there is an ongoing investigation into problems in the foster parent system.

For anyone who does not have his eyes blinded by utopian fantasies it should be evident by now that governments are impotent when it comes to fixing these problems. In fact, the problems have been exacerbated by ongoing government interventions over the past 100 years. The thinkers behind the public school system made no secret of their goal to reduce the influence of parents. There has been an ongoing attempt, couched in idealistic terms, to set children free from their parents. I could have said ideological; however it seems that many of those involved in this nationwide sociological experiment did not have a clear vision of where they were going.

Now we see the results, but it has happened so gradually that most parents don’t have an inkling that things could, and should, be done differently. Yet parents are the only ones capable of making a difference. Top-down solutions do not work. Bottoms up, grass roots, solutions are presently making a difference for the children of those parents who have dropped out of the top-down, government run system.

If we want different results, we have to march to the sound of a different drummer. We should not harbour any utopian dreams, there never was an era where parents did all things in the best possible way and it’s not going to happen in our era, either. “Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (Psalm 39:5). We are fallen people in a fallen world, yet by the grace of God we can make a difference.

The Word of God has some essential guidelines for parents: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7); “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

There are many other such instructions. There are some Christians who seem to think that corporal punishment is the most essential part of child training. It is not. The essential part is patient, consistent teaching, by word and example, from the cradle to adulthood.

The thinking of the times in which we live has invaded the churches, causing them to fall short in encouraging and supporting parents in their responsibilities. It is important for Christian parents to raise their children in a community of believers who share their faith, their convictions, their goals. But it is not the responsibility of others to train our children, not the church, not the school, not the government. God has entrusted these tender children to the care of their parents and the Holy Spirit will guide parents in fulfilling that responsibility if they will ask.

It is parents who ought to be doing something more than what they are presently doing. They are the ones who have the potential, with God’s help, to turn back the tide and raise up a generation that is respectful, responsible and compassionate.

Getting the point across

My wife and I were getting ready to go to Saskatoon, an hour’s drive from our home.  I thought we needed to leave by 9:30 to accomplish all we wanted to do.  I busied myself getting ready, preparing the things I needed to take to the places I needed to go.  My wife was busy with other things in the house and didn’t appear to be in much of a hurry.  My frustration began to mount and I was on the verge of saying something when a little voice in my head said: “How is she supposed to know that you want to leave by 9:30?  You never told her that.”

I did say something to her then, but it had an altogether different tone than what I had originally thought of saying.  We didn’t get away at 9:30, yet there was still time to accomplish all we wanted to do and to enjoy the day.

We lived next door to a family with a girl the same age as our daughter.  The mother worked full-time as a nurse, yet was a super-neat, super-efficient housekeeper.  She wanted her daughter to learn to keep house like she did, but she was in too much of a hurry to bear with the poor girl’s fumbling attempts.  It was so much quicker to just do it herself.  Her daughter never acquired much in the way of housekeeping skills until she was grown up and on her own.

Dad gives his son instructions on how to do a job, then leaves for work.  When he comes home, he finds that his son has hit a snag and abandoned the job.  Dad grumbles that if he wants a job done right he’ll just have to do it himself.

A family business hires a new employee who is not of the family.  The employee is given a list of responsibilities and sent to work.  It isn’t long until the new employee quits or is fired because he/she never did figure out just what was expected of him/her.

If only one person understands what is expected, no real communication has taken place.  In the case of a child or a new worker, words are usually not enough.  A more effective approach is to work with the child or employee until one is confident they can do the job without further coaching.

Part of my job in the quality assurance department of  an auto parts plant some years ago was developing operating procedures to be posted at each piece of equipment in the plant.  This may sound silly, but it was a great help to someone who had operated this machine for one day several months ago and now was once again assigned to it.  Another visual aid was to put up samples of unacceptable defects that made a part unusable and of minor visual defects that were acceptable because they did not in any way compromise the function of the part.

Effective communication does not always require a lot of words.  My wife knew a lady who was a Bosnian refugee.  One day her son brought home a fish and cleaned it over the toilet bowl, plugging the toilet.  Desanka went to Canadian Tire to buy a plunger, but didn’t know what it is called  in English.  She went to a clerk and said “I want,” then made vigorous up and down pumping motions with her hands clasping an imaginary handle.  He understood immediately.

Tell me, I’ll forget;
Show me, I’ll remember;
Work with me, I’ll understand.
-author unknown

Book review: Hold On to Your Kids

Hold On to Your Kids: Why parents need to matter more than peers, by Gordon Neufeld, © 2004.

This book is for parents who feel their children are slipping away from them.  Doctor Neufeld is a child psychologist in Vancouver, B.C. who believes that parents need to be the strongest influence in the development of their children.

He teaches that parenting is the natural result of a close relationship between parent and child and that children have a natural predisposition to look to their parents for guidance and example.  The problem is that parents have been brainwashed into believing that parenting is a very complex set of skills and this teaching leaves most parents feeling inadequate.

“The reasoning behind parenting as a set of skills seemed logical enough, but in hindsight has been a dreadful mistake.  It has led to an artificial reliance on experts, robbed parents of their natural confidence, and often leaves them feeling dumb and inadequate.  We are quick to assume that our children don’t listen because we don’t know how to make them listen, that our children are not compliant because we have not learned the right tricks, that children are not respectful enough of authority because we the parents, have not taught them to be respectful.  We miss the essential point that what matters is not the skill of the parents but the relationship of the child to the adult who is assuming responsibility.”  (Page 55 in the Ballantine Books edition.)

Dr. Neufeld contends that the key to having happy and obedient children is to maintain the natural, instinctive attachment between child and parent.  When that is intact, the child will naturally wish to obey the parent’s commands.  Obedience is a matter of attachment, not coercion.

Parents have been led to believe that their children need to spend a lot of time with other children their own age in order to learn how to get along with others.  Dr. Neufeld points out the folly of this idea:

“The belief is that socializing — children spending time with one another — begets socialization: the capacity for skilful and mature relating to other human beings.  There is no evidence to support such an assumption, despite its popularity.  If socializing with peers led to getting along and to becoming responsible members of society, the more time a child spent with her peers, the better the relating would tend to be.  In actual fact, the more time children spend with one another, the less likely they are to get along and the less likely they are to fit into civil society.  If we take the socialization assumption to the extreme — to orphanage children, street children, children involved in gangs — the flaw in thinking becomes obvious.  If socializing were the key to socialization, gang members and street kids would be model citizens.”  (Pages 241-242).

There are numerous examples in the book of children who became emotionally estranged from their parents, looking to their peers for approval and direction and ignoring the attempts of their parents to establish some kind of respect and order in the home.  One of those examples is one of Dr. Neufeld’s own daughters (who is now a mother herself and an enthusiastic advocate of her father’s teachings).  He shows how to re-establish the attachment between child and parent from which true parental authority is derived.

Peer oriented children tend to stifle their feelings in order to appear “cool” and invulnerable.  They may become aggressive and hostile, because the peer-oriented culture is full of aggression and hostility.  It is only at home, with understanding parents, that a child can freely show his emotions, talk about his fears and struggles, and eventually become a mature and caring adult.

Book review: BRINGING UP BÉBÉ

This is my review of the book, Bringing up bébé, by Pamela Druckerman, an American living in Paris with her English husband, one daughter and twin boys.

Ms. Druckerman was shocked to discover that all that she thought she knew about child training, learned in the USA, was considered bizarre and impractical by mothers in France.  What’s more, French parents appeared to get much better results, with much less fuss, than American parents.  French parents don’t yell at their children, don’t seem stressed, their children are calm and well behaved and hardly ever whine or fuss.

French parents believe it is important for a child to learn that others do not exist solely to satisfy his or her every whim.  It starts when mother and baby come home from the hospital.  Parents do not jump up in the night every time they hear a whimper from their child.  They wait just a little to see if the baby is just half awake and will go back to sleep by itself, or if the baby really needs their attention.  They do not let them cry and cry, but this little pause is the beginning of teaching the baby that Mom and Dad have lives of their own.  By three or four months the baby is sleeping through the night.

Before long the child is eating the same food as the parents, at the same times: 8:00 AM, 12:00, 4:00 PM and 8:00 PM.  The food is pureed at first, but a child is taught that he cannot leave the table until he has tried a little of each food.  A French mother does not cater to her child’s whims about food.  “C’est moi qui décide.”  (I am the one who decides.)  She expects that a child might have to taste a new food up to a dozen times before he develops a taste for it.  The child knows his mother is going to keep on serving that new veggie, fish or cheese and soon learns to adapt and like it.  Sweet treats are only available at the 4:00 PM snack time.  No amount of whining will make them available any earlier or later.  So there is no point in whining.

French parents talk to their children a lot, even when they are babies, explaining to the child how he or she should behave, until it is embedded in the child’s mind and conscience.  This establishes a framework of acceptable behaviour.  Within that framework the child is free to do pretty much as it pleases.  A child learns that he cannot move or adjust those limits and accepts them.  French parents do not tell their children to “be good.”  They say “sois sage” (be wise), encouraging the child to take responsibility for his own decisions and actions.

Children are taught to say please and thank you.  But it is even more important to say hello and good-bye to everyone, adults included, when entering or leaving someone else’s home and when others come to their home.  This politeness makes the child acknowledge the importance of others and discourages anti-social behaviour.

North American guidelines for writers of children’s books say that a publisher will reject a manuscript where an adult helps a child resolve a problem.  In France it is considered normal that a child needs the help and guidance of parents and other adults.  Having a parent say “no” or “not yet”, or having a baby in the family that gets more attention than an older child, these frustrations are healthy, normal and essential to a child’s growth.

Ms Druckerman recounts an incident that happened when her boys were toddlers.  One was very active and hard to control.  The boys were playing with another little boy in a park sandbox while the mothers visited.  Except that this one little boy kept running away and would ignore his mother when she called him to come back.  So she would run after him and haul him back.  The French mother commented that they could hardly visit that way.  She told Ms Druckerman that she needed to speak to her boy with more authority.  She tried, but it had no effect.  The French mother told her, “You have to believe that you really do have the authority.”  The next time her little boy started running away, Ms Druckerman summoned up a voice of authority from deep inside her.  Her little boy stopped, looked at her, came back and settled down to play happily in the sandbox.

The way some North American parents talk, one would think that spanking is the only effective child training method, and if we can’t do that there is no hope that we can raise well-behaved children.  This book shows that there is so much more to effective child training.  I wish my parents had known these things.  I wish I had known them when my daughter was growing up.  I wish my daughter would learn them and teach them to her children.

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