Mostly I avoid getting involved in discussions about parenting, because opinions are a dime a dozen although dearly held and too often used to hurt people. Parenting is the hardest job I’ve ever done, and one that unfortunately receives more judgment than grace from many.
However, recently a friend emailed me about a child-training boot-camp method that is hugely popular in some communities. I don’t know where the article originated, but it reminds me of Michael Pearl and his followers. The article has been making its rounds on Facebook and other places. I read up on it, and the longer I read the sicker I felt. Considering this story (and others I have not told), the article was provoking enough to push me out of my hesitation to say what I think.
I want to say from the start that I’m not interested in judging or guilt-tripping parents who really are trying their best to raise kids who love and serve Jesus. Our best is all any of us can do.
I see plenty of parents who are selfish and don’t take care of their kids at all, or who are raising untrained little terrors. But among those of us who are serious about parenting, I see two opposing ways it tends to be done: through control or through connection.
The “child-training boot camp” article was long and not well organized so it was a little hard to condense, but it consisted of the following:
- The parent is not to be the child’s friend. (The article stated this repeatedly.)
- The parent’s decisions are not explained to the child, and children under 10 are not allowed to appeal.
- Instant, unquestioning obedience is required, whether or not the parent is wrong.
- Pleasant attitudes are required at all times from the child.
- Physical discipline is promptly meted out for nearly every offense. Little or no discussion before or after, just quick spankings.
- The child may not ask for what they want, except for a predetermined number of things decided by the parent.
- Parents are supposed to smile and be pleasant while training their kids this way. This was stressed over and over in the article.
I will give you just a few quotes from the article. (If you want to read the whole thing, email me and I will send it to you.)
When I give direction, it is to be carried out pleasantly and immediately. I don’t allow dialogue even if the child is right!
I tell them that the rule is no matter what I tell them to do, the only acceptable answer is “Yes, ma’am.”
We took away the privilege of eating on their own and made them sit with their hands on their knees while we fed them like babies. Once they were used to not fiddling with things while eating, they were allowed to pick up the fork, put a bite in their mouths, put the fork back down, and then return their hands to their laps.
I had a child once have an “episode” (she asked for MORE in a tone that implied that she thought it was her “right” to have whatever she chose) when we were buying the stuff for her birthday cake and the like. I told the checker to void the transaction, and then I took the cart full of stuff and had the child put it all away. I told her that I would purchase what I was willing to buy myself later and she would be thankful. Trust me, she has always been thankful since!”
Seriously, fiddling with food is a punishable offense? And a little girl may not help plan her birthday cake because she asked for too many things? I can see how any of us might get carried away with planning something as exciting as a birthday party. Instead of the parent working through a reasonable plan with the child, the child was shamed and made to put everything back. The birthday girl’s excitement was squashed and she had to accept whatever the mother decided. It makes me heart-sick just to think of it.
I identify with the desire for respectful, obedient children. I don’t want selfish little monsters who never sacrifice for the good of others. But this parenting style capitalizes on control and fear.
When the parent is always right and never allows discussion, children become unable to make decisions or resist abuse. It programs their minds to think what others decide they must think. This way of parenting treats children as though they are inherently evil.
I’m not a perfect parent–not even close–but here is my response to the above points from the article:
- I’m a parent who enforces rules, but I’m still my child’s friend. Our relationship is based on connection, not control. When the disciples wanted to send the children away (Matthew 19:13-14, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17), Jesus rebuked them. Jesus wanted to connect with the children. It is not His idea for children to be “seen and not heard.”
- Many times my children are content to obey without knowing why I asked something of them. However; if they ask why, I see this as a teachable moment. I dialogue with them about things they don’t understand. Children often have a natural desire to please, and even very simple explanations may be all they need. If I don’t have a good reason to ask something of my child but demand obedience anyway, I have a serious control problem.
- My children should not obey someone if they feel a sense of danger. They are allowed to ask questions. I never want them to feel like they can’t ask me something.
- I am a safe place for my child’s hard feelings. They do not need to mask their feelings when they are not happy. I am here for them in those times. We will work together toward emotional regulation.
- Punishment is not my primary method of training. I use consequences, yes, but most training is done by patient instruction and by modeling the behavior I want to see.
- Jesus made my children to have desires, and they are allowed to feel those longings. They might not get what they want, but we can talk about it and even dream together.
- Last but not least, I’m not going to think I can get by with being abusive just because I am smiling!
It’s so hard for me to leave behind the control, and work on empowering my kids. I want my children to follow the rules, but I also want them to exercise their thinking skills. I want them to have a sense of autonomy and value. I want them to be able to stand up for what they know is right while refusing to let abusive people ruin them. I want them to follow their longings and to use their unique gifts to serve God and others.
Over and over I have seen a direct correlation between how people view God and the way they parent or have been parented. If children are treated coldly and harshly, is it any surprise when they find it difficult to experience friendship with God?
The Bible describes a God who connects with His children. God’s best friends in the Bible were the people who asked Him questions. His children obey Him because they love Him not because they are afraid of Him. A loving and guiding human parent makes it easy for children to grow up believing in a God who loves and guides them.
I want my children to follow Jesus because they love Him and not because they were forced. I will not demand of my children what God does not demand of us. We love, because He loved us first. And then we obey because our hearts are connected to His.
But Jesus called to them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.
Luke 18:16-17 (ESV)
36 thoughts on “Why I don’t teach my children unquestioning obedience, Part 2 of 2”
That “parenting” method of control sounds like really good training for future spiritual abuse as well as sexual abuse. I’ve seen such a system in a community with one controlling leader. It looks an awful lot like a cult. Children who are trained to obey unquestioningly fit perfectly in such a system. It is unbearable to watch a system like this, whether in a family or a community.
I think such a method and system grows out of ugly views of God, but I think it also really appeals to a nasty side of human nature. It feels really good to the flesh to be The Ultimate Boss and smack down every little request or infraction. No wonder they’re smiling the whole time!
You’re right, it is unbearable.
The smiling part I found almost sinister.
I would like to read the article please. I appreciate your thoughts on this so much. I have a fractured relationship with my oldest child due to these harmful teachings. I am at least grateful for a second chance with my younger ones.
God is so gracious to give us second chances! I’ll email the article to you.
I see you left out the part where it talks about how the mother must have a good attitude of love to help with retraining when there are problems that need to change. It makes all the difference .
You left out some key points here from the info. It “…is a short time of redirection when things have gotten off track in your family…” or “neither is this boot camp the way that a family lives forever. It is a short time of intense training before continuing on with your new life. ”
Maybe you should have included this part too, because if you as mother do not have a right attitude then it would be abusive. What’s in the heart comes out.
First, it is absolutely necessary to SMILE! This is mommy training as well as child training. You must speak quietly. The best tone for boot camp is JUST below conversational tone. Make it a little more difficult to hear so they have to pay attention. It helps to make it enjoyable when you can, but the point isn’t to have fun. The point is to train mom and child. If it is fun at times, that will be a blessing. I do NOT recommend that you spend this time harshly or with an attitude of anger. The purpose is to fall in love again with your children, and for them to regain lost respect. If you are going to do this with an ugly attitude, please stop here. You will fail and your children will fail and suffer. The ideas you will read here and in the resources will SOUND very harsh. They would be if not tempered by LOTS of love, smiles, and good- natured parenting. If you are going to do this in anger and self-importance, please just forget it. I assure you that it will only make things worse. “
To be forwarding this to others without asking permission to do so from a group is not respectful of the poster.
Actually, I did include that in the above points. “Parents are supposed to smile and be pleasant while training their kids this way. This was stressed over and over in the article.”
I know this was supposed to be a periodic, temporary training, but I don’t see how that makes it less harmful. It takes only one painful incident to mark a child for life. And I have a hard time seeing how a parent could do this temporarily without some deep underlying issues that show up otherwise.
A friend emailed this information to me, and I believe it’s circulated widely. How does this violate privacy? No names or specific groups are mentioned. What is there to hide?
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Cricket, the text is publicly available elsewhere, as a search for excerpts you included in your comment will reveal. And regardless of the parent’s self-perception of “loving” or of points of truth in the “bootcamp”, this models and perpetuates toxic relationship, predisposing children to be abuse victims (aside from the parenting relationship) and toward horribly distorted views of God.
An effective abuser will smile and treat people well, sometimes, as an effective part of controlling his/her target. And abuse may not be motivated by malice, and be deeply harmful nonetheless.
A relevant article, targeted at adults experiencing similar practices:
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The more I read, the more alarm kept going off in my head. Such a greatly needed article and spot on!
Thank you, Anne!
Our parenting days are past. We sometimes “bumbled” our way through and we certainly made our share of mistakes. But parenting with connection instead of parenting with control was our desire. You worded it perfectly. And yes, we were considered permissive by those who parented with control. We don’t regret it. God’s heart for children is so precious!!!
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Yes, it is! If we could only love them as God does! And bless you for going against the pressure and loving your kids well!
Very well said. Thanks for another great post! I’ve never met you but am always happy to see another blog post from you in my inbox 🙂
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Thank you, Miriam! I’d enjoy meeting you over a cup of coffee, or tea if you prefer! 😊
“God’s best friends in the Bible were the people who asked him questions.” Excellent observation!
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I’m not sure where we got this strange notion that God wants us to obey without communicating with Him. God is quite big enough to handle our questions and fears.
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Yes, and YES! (Hint: your next post should be about TBRI).
You would be much more qualified to write about TBRI! 😉
This article reminds me what Elmer Jantzi told his class on “Child Training” at Rosedale back in 1967. He has a former student tell him that after she took his class she had 7 rules for training children. Now she had 7 children and no rules.
Secular child training experts back then warned parents to not tell a child “no” but reason with them. Since this generation has not learned there are boundaries they are the ones who do as they pleased and no one is going to tell them what to do.
The best lesson one can take about child training is to consider how did God deal with his people? God is the best teacher.
Yes, parenting is among the most difficult tasks one can get involved with….when you think you got it all down pat you will learn you otherwise…been there done that. For some reason God ordained it such and the interesting question is, “why?”
Sandra, you are right that parenting is challenging and takes much humility and willingness to change when we need to!
Just for clarification, this post is not about refusing to tell children “no.” I tell my kids “no” a lot! But I don’t have a problem with explaining why. Many times, a simple explanation works and can be a big part of teaching and training a child.
For instance, I tell a child to take the dumpster out to the street. The child is reading and doesn’t want to be interrupted. May I finish my book first? he asks. No, I say, the garbage truck will be here in half an hour. So the child takes out the trash then finishes his book.
I could have said no and left it at that. But by that simple explanation, the child learns that the garbage truck comes at a certain time every week and we need to be ready. The child learns that if we don’t take out the trash by the right time we will have to take out an overflowing dumpster next week. And he also learns that I’m not being disapproving of the fact that he is reading a book. Reading is a good thing to do, not something I want to guilt-trip him about. And so on. It’s easier to just give the command, but kids also need teaching.
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Will a few of you chime in to answer whether the garbage truck situation does or does not echo reality? I rarely find that a consistent “no, the garbage truck will be here in half an hour” sort of parental response will produce the child’s response detailed above. Rather, the child will take the parent’s words as a suggestion or recommendation–“You should take the garbage out” is always the wording rather than “Take the garbage out”–or reason that he or she therefore has the next half hour to read their wonderful book while waiting for the last minute to take out the garbage. Then, when the garbage truck arrives well before half an hour–which the parent could bring to the child at any point or several times within that half hour– the child takes on the reasoning role and explains the ways the parents have failed and could have done better in this event, rather than owning up or realizing anything. They are reflecting their parents. Also, an overflowing dumpster has almost NEVER upset any children I know, but it certainly upsets nearly all parents I know. If anything, the child does in fact learn that “if we don’t take out the trash by the right time we will have to take out an overflowing dumpster next week” and by “if WE don’t take out the trash” will very quickly mean “YOU, the parent.” A recommendation or suggestion is not a “must be done” but a “should be done,” so why should the child take the garbage out if he or she reasons that doing something else is more profitable and the situation has little personal consequence?
Hmm, this doesn’t really make sense to me. I give my kids a simple command to take the garbage out. They want to please me, so they do it. I’ve never had them go through the convoluted reasoning you’re describing here. I think we’d have to have a pretty unhealthy relationship for that scenario to exist.
The article sounds horrifying, in the most literal sense: literally a codification of psychological abuse of children. When you initially talked about “unquestioning obedience”, my imagination was apparently not nearly active enough to understand the range of possible meaning!
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It is abuse, there’s no question in my mind about that!
What really breaks my heart is that many young parents are naturally connecting with their kids, then they read something like the boot-camp training post and think they’re doing it all wrong, and try to do it like the “experts” say. How many kids have been hurt because of it? 😢
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Sometimes I wish I’d never read a parenting book at all. I think the problem with so many of these resources is that each child, each situation, each time is different and unique. It’s so easy for young inexperienced parents to latch onto something that promises instant success… without considering whether that’s really what their child needs right now you know? I still vividly remember the time I asked a wise older mother for advice with a certain problem with our oldest and she said “Well, what would Jesus do?” and it struck me that no one had ever asked that me question concerning child training before. We need more of the Holy Spirit, not more lists and ruleals “ten steps for well behaved children”… Thank you for a thought provoking article.
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I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been thinking on writing a short and simple post for new mothers. We have made parenting look much too hard and complicated!
I would love to see this article! I’m completely unaware of this “new” old way of parenting.
You probably don’t remember, but I remember meeting you twelve to fourteen years ago at you mother in laws house. Just before Levi got married. My mom is Martha Steiner, a first cousin to Carol. And if I remember correctly, you went to SMBI with my sister, Karen Steiner. I remember thinking you were a nice person and I would have enjoyed learning to actually know you! I found your blog several months ago through someone else’s blog, Dorcas Smucker, I think. I’ve enjoyed reading your writings.
Thank you! LuAnn Mast
Aww, come back sometime when we can get to know each other! 🙂 I’ll email the article.
The excerpts remind me of a book someone (well meaning but clueless) gave me at the most terrifying and heartbreaking time in my motherhood. It only added guilt and shame. The term boot camp itself should give us pause. Struggling parents need an arm around the shoulder, not a kick in the rear.
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Yes, so much truth there. Parents tend to receive so much judgment instead of love and understanding.
Very interesting! I have a close friend who I love but as the years go on I noticed her parenting style is much more control then a relationship; therefor we have drifted. I hear often how I am not suppose to be my child’s friend- but isn’t Jesus, my Heavenly Father , MY friend? Isn’t our job as parents to show our children what His love is like? Not controlling by force but out of love- a relationship- connection.. Just random thoughts.. I enjoyed this post.
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Jesus is not too proud to be friends with the children. Emulating Jesus to our children is the most important thing we can possibly do. If we rule with an iron hand, they will see God as being that way too.
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I would also be interested in a link to the original article.
Your blog post is well done! I was raised with the ‘control/domination’ mindset and did too much parenting that way, especially the first seven years. The wisdom of connection was never taught in my experience, and it wasn’t until God got hold of me that I started trying to move toward that parenting style. I still did it more imperfectly than I wish I had. Now, as a grandma with grown children, the world looks so different, and the ‘cost’ for those early years lingers. But the grace of God is bigger, and for that I thank Him.
I have regrets, too, and still am far from a perfect parent. It’s a stretching journey, to be sure. I sent you several emails. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Rosina, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the task of parenting, and these two posts on your blog were just the boost I needed right now. I haven’t read the article you were referring to, and don’t care to read it, but your affirmation of the importance of relationship and teaching our children is very encouraging to me.
Sarah, parenting advice is overwhelming, it truly is. With social media adding to the noise, it seems like opinions are staunchly expressed at every turn. I think God has put in our hearts what we need to be a good parent. And you’ll never regret the time you put into connecting with your children!
This post made me re-think about the two methods:Control and Connection, some of us grew up through the control method and can testify that it is horrible,fear is the only thing that guides you to maks any decision.You weigh the punishment and always go with the one with a lighter form of punishment not caring whether right or wrong. As time goes,we decide to change towards connection and but its also seen as rebellion.