In Cold Blood
[Portions reprinted from Gentle Christian Parenting: Jesus, The Gentle Parent due to be released 2014; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages, Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood, and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
Parents worldwide almost universally have one thing in common…a deep, heartfelt desire to raise their children ‘right,’ to do their best to raise healthy, responsible, happy people. And, again almost universally, those parents look to others to help guide them on their parenting journey. Sometimes they look to their own family or to close friends, but often they seek out parenting guides, trusting that what they read in a book from a parenting ‘expert’ must be right…right?
What they don’t realize is that anyone can write a parenting book, and it’s often the expertise in marketing rather than in parenting that sells the most books. Here are excerpts and quotes from and about some of today’s most widely read and trusted self-proclaimed parenting experts:
“For young children, especially during the first year, the rod is used very lightly as a training tool. You use something small and light to get the child’s attention and to reinforce your command. One or two light licks on the bare legs or arms will cause a child to stop in his tracks and regard your commands. A 12-inch piece of weed eater chord works well as a beginner rod. It will fit in your purse or pocket. Later, a plumber’s supply line is a good spanking tool. You can get it at Wal-Mart or any hardware store. Ask for a plastic, ¼ inch, supply line. They come in different lengths and several colors; so you can have a designer rod to your own taste. They sell for less than $1.00. A baby needs to be trained all day, everyday.” – Michael Pearl
“I often come across a baby who has learnt to vomit at bedtime during failed attempts at controlled crying. If you have one of these babies you will need to teach your child that vomiting will not get your attention or buy any extra time. This is hard, but it has to be done to stop the vomiting. The way you achieve this is to make the bed vomit-proof. Layer the towels in the bed and on the floor so it is easy for you to remove the vomit. When your baby vomits take the top towels away, leaving a second layer in case of a second vomit. If the vomit has gone on her clothing, undress her and put clean clothes on without taking her out of the cot by moving her to the other end. Do not make eye contact or talk to her while you do all this and be calm and confident through out, so you can fool your baby into thinking you don’t care about vomit.” – Tizzie Hall
“The baby must be awake and fed by 7am and parents must have their breakfast by 8am so they slot into the baby’s day. After that the baby must be fed every four hours and allowed to cry, for up to an hour if necessary, so they learn they will not always be picked up. Parents are advised not to make eye contact with their child when feeding it at certain times.” BBC News on Gina Ford
“Even at mealtime, be looking for training opportunities in order to avoid retraining. Don’t allow poor eating habits– such as fingers in the mouth, playing with food, and spitting out food–to become a normal pattern of your child’s behavior. It only means correcting the child at a later date”
“Chastisement (spanking) is the price paid to remove the guilt thus free the child from his burden. If the parents do not remove the guilt, the child lives under the weight of sin.” – Gary Ezzo
These self-styled parenting ‘experts’ and others mandate strict, unemotional behavioral controls, often enforced punitively, stemming from a shared core ideology that children need to be trained…trained to self-soothe, trained to sleep alone, trained to play independently, trained to instantly obey.
Much of the root of the idea that children need to be trained comes from a misinterpretation of the Biblical verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
The word translated ‘train up’ is the Hebrew word ‘chanak’ which translated literally means ‘to dedicate or to initiate.’ To dedicate means to ‘commit to a special use’ and ‘to focus on a specific purpose.’ To initiate means to ‘introduce to, create an appetite or a taste for’ and ‘to set on the path of.’ Note that the word ‘train’ doesn’t appear in the literal translation of the word ‘chanak.’ In every other Old Testament usage of ‘chanak’ it is translated ‘to dedicate or to initiate’ except for the ‘train up a child’ verse.
That verse, coupled with a handful of others such as the Spare the Rod verse, has led to an entire parenting paradigm based on Old Testament practices of rigid expectations and harsh consequences, purported to be ‘God’s Way.’ Parents are often bullied or intimidated into following these strict parenting models with dire predictions of raising ‘brats’ or rebels and threats of being in opposition to ‘God’s Will.’
Before we examine the supposed correlation of strict, fear-based parenting to positive parenting outcomes and gentle, connection-based parenting to negative parenting outcomes, let’s take a quick look at the God of the Old Testament…that seemingly distant, unreachable, merciless, commanding, harshly punishing image being touted as the parenting model we must follow.
Old Testament=Fear-based Parenting
In the Old Testament, God issued a rigid list of do’s and don’ts along with decisive and harsh consequences for anything less than strict obedience. As time went on and the people rebelled (Wait, rebelled? Strict, fear-based parenting with harsh punitive consequences resulted in rebellion instead of obedience?!?) more and more regulations were layered on the Israelites along with commensurate penalties.
The result? More rebellion!
No matter how many rules, how many threats, how much follow-thru on punishments God meted out, fear-based parenting just flat out didn’t work, even for Him. Of course, He already knew it wouldn’t work.
So why did He do it?
Well, God doesn’t do anything arbitrarily. He was showing us something and using a
called ‘The Law’ to do it…
“YOU HAVE FALLEN AND YOU CAN’T GET UP!”
Sin entered the world when mankind first had the thought planted in his mind…”You don’t need God. You can BE God!”…and man took the bait and was separated from his Father.
In the Old Testament, God used that big yellow highlighter, the Law, to show man that he isn’t God and can’t work his way or earn his way or find any other way to be God or to find God on his own, period. The Old Testament proved that definitively. And the Law, with its fear-based parenting, didn’t bring obedience or peace or reconciliation. It brought only rebellion, suffering, exile.
So, God set out to reconnect with His children.
And how did He do it? Gentle Parenting!
New Testament=Connection-based Parenting
God stepped right down in the flesh for skin-to-skin (à la kangaroo care!) time with His children. In Jesus, He lived and slept and walked with His children day and night, always available, meeting every need whether it was food, healing, guidance, or comfort.
God didn’t parent His children from a distance. He didn’t force separation on them. He didn’t respond to their sin in cold blood. In fact, He did just the opposite. He closed the distance, bridged the separation man’s sin had created, and poured out His own blood to atone for His children so they could be close to Him forever.
So…the purportedly tyrannical parent of the Old Testament who supposedly commands us to rigidly train and harshly punish our children is actually, Himself, a Gentle Parent!
“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” – Isaiah 66:13
Fear-based vs Connection-based Parenting Outcomes
As to the supposed correlation of strict, fear-based parenting to positive parenting outcomes and gentle, connection-based parenting to negative parenting outcomes, here are some interesting studies…
“As 5-year-olds, the children who had been spanked were more likely than the non-spanked to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, become frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against other people or animals”…Physical Punishment Increases Aggression in Children
“Physical punishment is also associated with a variety of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and use of drugs and alcohol”… Canadian Medical Association Journal: Long-term Negative Effects of Physical Punishment
“IQs of children ages 2 to 4 who were not spanked were 5 points higher four years later than the IQs of those who were spanked”… Research Shows Children Who Are Spanked Have Lower IQ’s
“Dr. Brazy at Duke University and Ludington-Hoe and colleagues at Case Western University showed in 2 separate studies how prolonged crying in infants causes increased blood pressure in the brain, elevates stress hormones, obstructs blood from draining out of the brain, and decreases oxygenation to the brain. They concluded that caregivers should answer cries swiftly, consistently, and comprehensively.” …Dr. William Sears: Studies on the Effects of Excessive/Prolonged Crying in Infancy
“Dr. Allan Schore (1996), of the UCLA School of Medicine has demonstrated that the stress hormone cortisol can damage nerve connections in significant areas of the infant’s brain. His research suggests that not only does stress damage connections in these areas of the infant’s brain but when the areas of the infant’s brain responsible for bonding, emotional control, and attachment are not nurtured in a healthy way, those areas remain undeveloped or underdeveloped”…Studies on the Effects of Prolonged Crying in Infancy (see bottom of article)
Listen, parents, to your heart. Listen to your children. Treat your children how you, yourself, want to be treated. Read parenting books, blogs (like this one), articles, etc. if you need guidance, but do so with discernment. You are your children’s parents. No one on earth loves them or knows them like you do. You’ll make mistakes, for sure. We all do. But if you learn from them and do better next time…well, that’s the stuff of life, isn’t it?
L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood , Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages , and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline the first three books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.