Saturday, March 13, 2010

Train Up a Child

One of the ladies in our group recently commented on a post titled Perfectionism written by Anne Voskamp regarding the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl.

Their methods are controversial, to say the least, and even more so now with all the media attention they are garnering.

Kristine took the time to write out her thoughts on the matter and also point out some of what Charlotte Mason had to say about habit training. As always, I love and appreciate her perspective and so with permission, I am re-posting her comments here in hopes that they may also be a blessing to others.

We're reading that book right now as a group and it has nuggets of wisdom, but Ann is right (I love her blog) in that his doctrine of perfectionism is in there along with his advice. His theology is off and that infuses his words. I have been helped in some practical situations with his suggestions, but always felt that he was arrogant in his tone. He is serious about 100% obedience. But when training a particular habit, it is extremely helpful to catch it each time and consistently deal with it so that it becomes a habit. Charlotte Mason in speaking of habit training emphasizes the same:

“Not mere spurts of occasional punishment, but the incessant
watchfulness and endeavour which go to the forming and
preserving of the habits of the good life, is what we mean by
discipline” (Vol. 2, p. 173)

“The mother will have to adopt various little devices to remind
him; but of two things she will be careful––that he never slips
off without shutting the door, and that she never lets the matter
be a cause of friction between herself and the child, taking the
line of his friendly ally to help him against that bad memory of
his” (Vol. 1, p. 123)

Note: That certainly doesn't mean spanking each time, but requiring the right behavior. Going back and doing it correctly. But showing mercy at a time like this would cause the child to not gain that habit. Instead, with a smile and friendly tone, mother helps him in his forgetting.

"The Dangerous Stage.––Now that Johnny always shuts the door, his mother's joy and triumph begin to be mixed with unreasonable pity. 'Poor child,' she says to herself, 'it is very good of him to take so much pains about a little thing, just because he is bid!' She thinks that, all the time, the child is making an effort for her sake; losing sight of the fact that the habit has become easy and natural, that, in fact, Johnny shuts the door without knowing that he does so.

Now comes the critical moment. Some day Johnny is so taken up with a new delight that the habit, not yet fully formed, loses its hold, and he is half-way downstairs before he thinks of the door. Then he does think of it, with a little prick of conscience, strong enough, not to send him back, but to make him pause a moment to see if his mother will call him back. She has noticed the omission, and is saying to herself, 'Poor little fellow, he has been very good about it this long time; I'll let him off this once.' He, outside, fails to hear his mother's call, says, to himself––fatal sentence!––'Oh, it doesn't matter,' and trots off.

Next time he leaves the door open, but it is not a 'forget.' His mother calls him back in a rather feeble way. His quick ear catches the weakness of her tone, and, without coming back, he cries, 'Oh, mother, I'm in such a hurry,' and she says no more, but lets him off. Again he rushes in, leaving the door wide open. 'Johnny!'––in a warning voice. 'I'm going out again just in a minute, mother,' and after ten minutes' rummaging he does go out, and forgets to shut the door. The mother's mis-timed easiness has lost for her every foot of the ground she had gained. " (vol 1 p. 124)

One could say here that she allows no mercy in shutting the door to create this habit, but you see, it is exactly at this time that the wise mother must have fortitude to stick with the training and not budge or the habit is lost.

“Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively
forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon
anything else, future character and conduct depend” (Vol. 1, p. 118)

“Educate the child in right habits and the man’s life will run
in them, without the constant wear and tear of the moral effort
of decision. Once, twice, three times in a day, he will still, no
doubt, have to choose between the highest and the less high,
the best and the less good course. But all the minor moralities
of life may be made habitual to him. He has been brought up
to be courteous, prompt, punctual, neat, considerate; and he
practises these virtues without conscious effort” (Vol. 2, p. 124)

“We entertain the idea which gives birth to the act and the act
repeated again and again becomes the habit” (Vol. 6, p. 102)

When I read the Pearls the first time, I did feel like I was always failing. He'd give examples of the mothers who let things slide and would point out the rotten fruit of their half-hearted labor. If my children weren't obeying perfectly, I would be down on myself and them. I think it was his tone and delivery that was discouraging. I read it now with a filter of the Gospel and also an emphasis from Charlotte of working on one habit at a time and to be diligent to enforce and encourage that behavior until it is a habit, laying down the rails. His words of no mercy are what sound harsh, but it is really the same as Charlotte's encouragement not to let a single episode pass when training a habit. Now, that said, I am very inconsistent. I am lazy. I am busy with other children and can't seem to find out which child pees all over the floor. I am encouraged by the instruction to lay down the rails, to guard my children's actions and their hearts, yet with gentleness and a cheerful heart.

I have heard Mr. Pearl speak a couple of times, and he seems to emphasize the joy and tying strings of love with your children, not the harshness of the book. I heard him respond to some of his harshness and he said that he figured the joy and love were evident in all families, it was the lack of training that he saw missing in families, but if that joy was missing, then you would become a frustrated parent whose children would not have the motivation to obey you. I think that was the basis of a series of articles called Jumping Ship about children who have rebelled in later years, because that joy and love was lacking. If you skim over or never get to the chapter on Joy and tying strings, all his advice would be incomplete and lacking.

I don't think that when the Pearls speak of training a child that you are just swatting all day. And it isn't emphasized for punishment, but as a tool for training a behavior. My boys actually drew a happy face on a wooden spoon to remind them that the spoon was an attitude changer. It would bring a smile looking at it, knowing that they could will themselves into a better choice of attitude. And seeing a spoon laying in an area not allowed to go would be a reminder that it was a no-touch zone. So it isn't always swatting, it's sometimes guiding them along to will themselves to do what is right, what is required by mom and dad. But even CM states that it is not easily done:

The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures
for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take
care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children” (Vol. 1, p. 136)

Another book I found very helpful in practical training was Raising Godly Tomatoes. Tips such as training your children to come and replying with a cheerful, "Yes, Mom" was one of the most helpful training tips for me when my oldest was a toddler. Training your infant to lay his head on your shoulder while holding him helped to keep babies from squirming and being fussy. Having my children smile when they are pouting will often change their hearts, training them out of a sour disposition. Keeping my children close to me, "tomato-staking," so I can see their interactions and be available for constant training, rather than sending one to his room to stew and grow bitter. I never thought of these simple solutions to help me along my way. All this advice was free from her website. Once again, though, I take what is helpful. I don't adhere to everything from any parenting book.

I am reading a book called Gospel-Powered Parenting right now. I'm about half way through, but I think you would like it very much. He has a right view of God's Mercy and His Wrath toward sin. His explanation of the Gospel is clear and how our view of it will affect our parenting. While it doesn't have those practical tips that you may pick up from a seasoned mom (or raising godly tomatoes or the Pearls), it does lay the most important foundation which will give you the motivation to "take pains to" raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Much love as we journey together on this most worthwhile endeavor.


1 comment:

  1. Great commentary on the Pearls: well-reasoned and well-seasoned!