Guest post by author L.R. Knost
of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources
Parenting crosses all cultural, ethnic, economic, life-style, and faith boundaries. It connects us as humans in a way that few things are capable of doing. As adults we are, each and every one of us, products of our childhood. Whether good or bad, filled with connection or neglect, characterized by healthy or harmful relationships, we are indelibly marked by the etchings of our past.
When our childhood is filled with safety, joy, and secure attachments, we take the tools of healthy relationships and life choices with us into adulthood. But when our childhood is marred by pain, insecurity, and fear, we not only enter adulthood lacking the tools to create a healthy, happy, successful life, but we also carry a heavy baggage of unresolved anger, confusion, and anxiety with us into the future. We may forgive and heal and move on, but the reality is that the scars we carry, though perhaps faded and forgotten, remain part of who we become.
Recognizing that our perceptions and beliefs about parenting are rooted in our own childhood experiences is a vital step toward parenting from a place of intention rather reaction. It is in that recognition, as we discover that we are carrying forward practices that will negatively impact our own children, that we become empowered to step back and unpack our childhood baggage in the past where it belongs rather than unloading it onto our children in the present and setting them up carry the negative practices and resultant baggage into their own adulthood.
But what about when destructive parenting practices are carried forward intentionally? What about when parenting practices become generational, passed from parent to child with conscious intent? Why are some parenting choices, even those such as spanking which research has shown to have powerfully negative impacts on children and the adults they will become, carried on from one generation to the next in the vast majority of homes across the planet?
Studies have revealed that in excess of 90% of American parents admit to spanking their children at some point in their childhood, and more than 50% concede that they employ spanking on a regular basis. Worldwide, it is estimated that in excess of 80% of children are spanked, typically in the most vulnerable early developmental years.
While cultural influences and stressors such as economic hardship and family instability and a lack of education are all certainly involved in the continuing high rates of physical punishment of children, one factor that cannot be overlooked in its continuation is the prevalence of punitive parenting guides that promote such practices. These books that instruct parents on the tenets of child-training and behavioral modification often use spanking as the ‘gold standard,’ the ultimate tool for controlling children, and many of these guides intimate or even outright state that parents MUST spank children because, in their view, “the Bible commands it.”
In order to stop the damaging generational cycle of violence against children, we need to take on that pseudo-Biblical viewpoint, disseminate the doctrinal beliefs underpinning it, and make sense of the original texts in the original language of the Bible.
Parents worldwide 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 some of today’s most widely read and trusted self-proclaimed parenting experts:
“After ten acts of stubborn defiance, followed by ten switchings, he surrendered his will to one higher than himself.” (about whipping a 15 month old) …”Don’t wait until they are one year old to start training. Rebellion and self-will should be broken in the six-month-old when it first appears” …never show mercy. One squeak of a scream gets a switching.” (about whipping a 3-year-old) …“For young children, especially during the first year, the rod is used 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(sic) 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…A baby needs to be trained all day, everyday.”(Michael Pearl, To Train up a Child)
“Pain is a marvelous purifier…It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely… Real crying usually lasts two minutes or less, but may continue for five. After that point, the child is merely complaining… I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears.”(Dr. James Dobson, Dare to Discipline)
“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” (Ezzo, Babywise II, p. 44) …”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, Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 212 )
“A parent must recognize and see clearly that Biblically beating his child sensitizes that child not only to the fact of sin but also to its ugliness. In addition, the child will see that the penalty must always be paid when we sin…The one who does not Biblically beat his child, in a loving and consistent way, in a very real sense predisposes that child for hell and even has a very direct part in sending him there.” (Ronald E. Williams, The Correction and Salvation of Children)
“The rod is a parent, in faith toward God and faithfulness toward his or her children, undertaking the responsibility of careful, timely, measured and controlled use of physical punishment to underscore the importance of obeying God…If you fail to spank, you fail to take God’s Word seriously. You are saying you do not believe what the Bible teaches about the import of these issues. You are saying that you do not love your child enough to do the painful things that God has called you to.” (Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart)
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 the Old Testament 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 in that verse is the Hebrew word chanak/chanokh 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.’ In every other Old Testament usage of chanak/chanokh it is translated ‘to dedicate or to initiate’ except for the ‘train up a child’ verse.
Thus, the verse literally reads…
“Train up Introduce a child to/set a child on the path in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
That verse, coupled with a handful of others such as the ‘spare the rod’ verses (see Chapter Eleven of Jesus, the Gentle Parent for a discussion of the original translations and misinterpretations of those verses), 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.’
Incidentally, it’s interesting to note how just as a child begins to develop the cognitive ability to have impulse control and forethought, their ‘need’ to be spanked begins to drastically decrease. The child-trainers say this is because their early training is paying off. Brain science says this is because they are developing at a normal rate.
Now, before we examine the supposed correlation of strict, punishment-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=Punishment-based Parenting
In the Old Testament, the Bible prescribed rigid 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, punishment-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 that were meted out, punishment-based parenting just flat out didn’t work, even for God. 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 big, yellow highlighter called ‘The Law’ to do it…
“YOU HAVE FALLEN AND YOU CAN’T GET UP!”
Sin entered the world when humans first had the thought planted in their minds…”You don’t need God. You can BE God!”…and humans took the bait and were separated from their Father.
In the Old Testament, God used that big yellow highlighter, the Law, to show humans that they aren’t God and can’t work their way or earn their way or find any other way to be God or to find God on their own, period. The Old Testament proved that definitively. And the Law, with its punishment-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)
Punishment-based vs Connection-based Parenting Outcomes
As to the supposed correlation of strict, punishment-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.” (Time, 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.”(Science Daily, 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.”(Science Daily, 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”(Cambridge Journal, Studies on the Effects of Prolonged Crying in Infancy)
Listen, parents, to your heart. Listen to your children. Treat your children how you, yourself, want to be treated. Read parenting books, blogs, 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 those mistakes and do better next time…well, that’s the stuff of life, isn’t it? (end excerpt)
Trust is the most basic ingredient of all healthy human relationships, so building and nurturing and guarding the trust relationship between parent and child should be of paramount importance in any parenting approach. Yet the most widely read and trusted parenting resources are often focused on punitive behavior modification that comes at the expense of trust. Parents worldwide are told that instant obedience, forced independence, and complete submission to authority are the goals of ‘good’ parenting and that to achieve that state of absolute power over their children they must to control their children through coercion in the form of punishments, threats, intimidation, or manipulation. The result is generational damage—pain, distrust, and fear passed from parent to child.
Parenting connects us all. It is our common human experience. While the generational cycle of destructive parenting practices continues, peace will always be unreachable…individually, in homes and communities, and globally.
We can stop the cycle, starting in our own homes with our own children. We can change the world, one little heart at a time.
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” L.R.Knost
L.R.Knost: Best-selling parenting and children’s book author, L.R.Knost, is an independent child development researcher and founder and director of the advocacy and consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, as well as a monthly contributor to ‘The Natural Parent Magazine.” Books by L.R.Knost include 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, and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting are the first in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series. The next books series, Raising Bookworms: Life, Literacy and Learning, is due to be released in November 2014. Other works by this award-winning author include a children’s picture book, A Walk in the Clouds, due to be released September 2014, and Petey’s Listening Ears, the first in her Wisdom for Little Hearts series for ages 2 to 6, which are humorous and engaging tools for parents, teachers, and caregivers to use in implementing gentle parenting techniques in their homes and schools.