Parenting Without Punishing

Chapter 11

Seeds of Today's Punishment Tradition Were Sown in 1800s

"The history of childhood has been a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken," said Dr. Lloyd deMause in his introduction to The History of Child Abuse.

"The further back in history one goes, the more massive the cruelty and neglect one finds, and the more likely children are to have been killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized and sexually abused by their care-takers." Having devoted his life to a psychohistorical study of the treatment of children from antiquity to today, he comes to this shocking conclusion: "the history of humanity is founded upon the abuse of children...

"Most historical families once practiced infanticide, erotic beating and incest. Most states sacrificed and mutilated their children to relieve the guilt of adults ... it has been the cause of war and social violence... [T]he eradication of child abuse and neglect is the most important social task we face today."

Dr. deMause, Dr. Alice Miller, and others have sought to understand why, though children are by nature "more gentle, more joyous, more trustful, more curious, more courageous and more innovative than adults," grownups have always regarded children as beasts and monsters, possessed by devils, basically sinful, and generally enemies to be kept weak and dominated.

"...Parents until relatively recently have been so frightened of and have so hated their newborn infants that they have killed them by the billions, routinely sent them out to extremely neglectful wet-nurses, tied them up tightly in swaddling bandages lest they be overpowered by them, starved, mutilated, raped, neglected and beat them..." writes Dr. deMause.

"I have searched so hard during the past three decades for any exceptions to this extremely abusive pattern that I have offered a prize to anyone who could find even one 'good mother' prior to the 18th century, the definition being one who would not today be incarcerated for child abuse or neglect. No one so far has claimed the prize."

[T]he eradication of child abuse and neglect is the most important social task we face today.

What we consider "our" opinions of how children should be brought up are likely not our own invention. Our views concerning childrearing in the Western world today are heavily influenced by the practices in middle and northern Europe during the 18th century.

About the time Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, et al., were giving birth to our nation and Napoleon was trashing Europe, a number of German-speaking writers during the reign of Frederick William III, (king of Prussia, 1797-1840) began publishing instructions on parenting. In their writings, these founding fathers of psychology, education, and pediatrics reflected the values of the Prussian militarists: strict discipline, Spartan endurance of pain and discomfort without complaint, self-denial if not sacrifice, and above all, unquestioning obedience to all authority.

In her landmark book, For Your Own Good, Dr. Alice Miller quotes some of their instructions to parents: "They see something they want but cannot have; they become angry, cry, and flail about ... These are dangerous faults that hinder their entire education and encourage undesirable qualities in children," wrote J. Sulzer in 1748. [Emphasis added.]

"The moment these flaws appear in a child," he cautioned, "it is high time to resist this evil so that ... the children do not become thoroughly depraved..." as if they are enemies to be feared and subdued. "Once children have learned that anger and tears will win them their own way, they will not fail to use the same methods again. They will finally become the masters of their parents ... But if parents are fortunate enough to drive out willfulness from the very beginning by means of scolding and the rod, they will have obedient, docile, and good children..."

Sulzer then stressed, "To make children into righteous, virtuous persons" this is among the "most important matters one must attend to in the child's first year."

The second year, he admonished, must be devoted to regimentation: "Everything must follow the rules of orderliness"--food, drink, clothing, sleep--"so that the child may learn in earliest childhood to submit strictly to the rules of orderliness." This training is combined with "strict obedience to parents and superiors and a trusting acceptance of all they do."

Of utmost importance to Sulzer was that children be trained to:

"1. willingly do as they are told,
"2. willingly refrain from doing what is forbidden, and
"3. accept the rules made for their sake."

[J. Sulzer: Versuch von der Erziehung und Unterweisung der Kinder --An Essay on the Education and Instruction of Children.]

"...whip him well till he cries so: 'Oh no, Papa, oh no!'
... this will rob him of his courage to rebel anew"

In 1752, child authority J. G. Kruger explained the rationale for beating children: "The only vice deserving of blows is obstinacy. It is therefore wrong to strike children at their lessons, ... to strike them for falling down, ... to strike them for wreaking harm unwittingly. ... to strike them for crying; but it is right and proper to strike them for all of these transgressions and for even more trivial ones if they have committed them out of wickedness. If your son ... cries with the intent to defying you ... if he insists on having his own way, then whip him well till he cries so: 'Oh no, Papa, oh no!' ... this will rob him of his courage to rebel anew."

Certainly a true statement. Such punishment, perhaps all punishment, robs children of confidence and courage, as well as their self-respect. Thus the sons of macho men are made cowardly, the objects of their father's--and their own--contempt.

By 1800, as the carnage and battering continued, there were stirrings of a new way of thinking about children. Rousseau's Emile had appeared in 1762 and was being widely read in educated circles. Rousseau argued for viewing children as natural beings, and therefore good by nature, not evil. Their natural tendencies should be trusted, not treated as evil objects of suspicion. A revolutionary idea, to be sure, heatedly protested even today. Scientists, in efforts to understand adult behavior, increasingly examined the influence of childhood experiences. In time, children came to be seen as raw material to be fashioned into acceptable and productive societal members. (Dr. deMause and others contend that socialization remains today the basic method of child education and treatment.)

Other institutional forces had a vested interest in how "the twig is bent." Governments, through compulsory schooling, wanted children indoctrinated to defend their respective nations, and be ready to die for them; industry wanted consumers oriented to support business; religious institutions insisted that children grow up faithfully supporting the church--and to multiply, thus increasing their numbers and coffers.

Above all among the forces working to slow the progress of the reformers were the parents, who harbored unconscious hates, resentments, ambitions and fears to unwittingly work out on those most avail-able and vulnerable--the children. Each generation consisted only of the survivors of victimization--before they themselves became the victimizers. The few reformers who objected to the brutality were often themselves brutalized for their trouble.


Early movements for the humane treatment of children took the form of legislation against the beating and raping that was common and usually unchallenged. "But those who tried to oppose buggering and beating boys in schools were opposed by parents who said 'It didn't hurt me.' "

Progress was therefore very slow, and reformers were seen as troublemakers, subversives, or worse. They were resisting the powerful momentum of traditional thinking. Established experts on childhood were of little help. As late as 1858, author D. G. M. Schreber advised that if your child persists in screaming or crying, the correct response is to persistently punish it until it stops. "This procedure will be necessary only once or at most twice, and then you will be master of the child forever. From now on, a glance, a word, a single threatening gesture will be sufficient to control the child."

"But those who tried to oppose buggering and beating boys in schools were opposed by parents who said 'It didn't hurt me."
There was, of course, heavy dependence on the Bible for its ancient advice in treating children, principally Solomon's dictum to not "spare the rod". The historical fact that Solomon kept dozens of concubines and did his own share of child abusing seems not to have affected his standing as child-raising expert.


In examining the childrearing beliefs and practices of the generations preceding Hitler's Third Reich, Dr. Miller summarized the lessons we inherited from the German pediatricians of last century. The traditional treatment passed down from our great-great grandparents to our great-grand-parents to our grandparents to our parents were, in short, an insidious collection of cruel myths, a list of beliefs that are all lies. Yet they are accepted as guides by the great majority of parents in the United States today:

1. A feeling of duty produces love.
2. Hatred can be done away with by forbidding it.
3. Parents deserve respect simply because they are parents.
4. Children are undeserving of respect simply because they are children.
5. Obedience makes a child strong.
6. A high degree of self-esteem is harmful.
7. A low degree of self-esteem makes a person altruistic.
8. Tenderness (doting) is harmful.
9. Responding to a child's needs is wrong.
10. Severity and coldness are a good preparation for life.
11. A pretense of gratitude is better than honest ingratitude.
12. The way you behave is more important than the way you really are.
13. Neither parents nor God would survive being offended.
14. The body is something dirty and disgusting.
15. Strong feelings are harmful.
16. Parents are creatures free of drives and guilt.
17. Parents are always right.


In her account of the childhood experiences of the perpetrators of the Holocaust, Alice Miller asked, "What made respected members of society suddenly act like monsters? How could a former teacher like Klaus Barbie, described by their daughters as kind, caring fathers, have innocent people tortured or indeed do the torturing themselves?" Blaming it on "anti-Semitism" does not explain it, she insists. It was due to the "destructive child-rearing style practiced widely on infants around the turn of the century in Germany ... a universal abuse of infants."

In the two generations before Hitler was elevated power, the suppression of infants reached its highest intensity. Without this population of survivors of mistreatment, wrote Dr. Miller, Hitler could never have embarked on the systematic killing of an entire race of people.

"... a generation of young people will grow to strike fear into the heart of the world. Violent, masterful, unafraid, cruel youth is what I want..."

A. Hitler

Over 820,000 children born between the years, roughly, 1878 and 1912 joined the Nazi Party, raising its membership to nearly a million by 1933. These were Hitler's card-carrying, fanatically loyal supporters, who listened without objection to their Fuhrer's words concerning childrearing: "Whatever is weak must be hammered away. In the fortresses of my militant order a generation of young people will grow to strike fear into the heart of the world. Violent, masterful, unafraid, cruel youth is what I want... They must withstand pain. There must be nothing weak or tender about them." What made it possible for the German people to champion a leader with such pedagogy?

Dr. Miller answers: "The children systematically subjected to obedience drill around the turn of the century were not only exposed to corporal 'correction' but also to severe emotional deprivation. The upbringing manuals of the day described physical demonstrations of affection ... as indications of a doting, mollycoddling attitude. Parents were warned of the disastrous effects of spoiling their children, a form of indulgence entirely incompatible with the prevalent ideal of rigor and severity."

An example is this excerpt from Wie erziehen wir unseren Sohn Benjamin? How Shall We Rear our Son Benjamin?], a 1902 manual by A. Mathias, quoted in For Your Own Good: "Is it not doting when the baby is coddled and pampered in every way from infancy? Instead of accustoming the baby from the very first day of his life on earth to discipline and regularity in his intake of nourishment ... doting lets itself be guided by the infant's crying ... Doting ... allows itself to be dominated by a blind desire to be kind, as if this were a natural instinct; it permits when it should forbid, is lenient when it should punish.

"It is the opposite of true love, which does not shrink from punishment. The Bible says, 'he who loves his son chastises him often with the rod, that he may be his joy when he grows up' ...and 'Pamper your child and he will be a terror, indulge him and he will bring you grief '" Thus we have found the roots of "tough love," an extreme attempt to control and suppress.

In her discussion of the Nazis Dr. Miller says, "The rigorous obedience training [of Eichmann, Himmler, Hoess, etc.] in earliest infancy stunted the development of such human capacities as compassion and pity for the sufferings of others. They were incapable of emotion in the face of misfortune... Their total emotional atrophy enabled the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes imaginable to function 'normally'....

"Dr. Mengele could perform the most cruel experiments on Jewish children in Auschwitz and then live for 30 years like a 'normal,' well-adjusted man... only men and women who had experienced mental and physical cruelty in the first weeks and months of life ... could possibly have let themselves be made into Hitler's willing executioners ... no amount of indoctrination alone, at school or wherever, will unleash hatred in a person who has no preconditions in that direction."


It is not to be supposed that the severe treatment of children characteristic under the Nazis was markedly less so elsewhere. The public school philosophy and system was largely developed from German models, the Prussian discipline, Teutonic precision, and authoritarian ethic was much admired by the many millions of European immigrants during the 19th century. An estimated one million-plus German-speaking immigrants arrived during the decade of 1840-1850 alone. The German gymnasium, with its military-oriented, strict, and systematic suppression of school children suited a nation's school system whose task it was to mold and coerce its second-generation immigrant pupils into one, loyal, obedient citizenry.

Reform of hideous child labor practices was vigorously and violently opposed by businesses large and small. Not least among the opposition were parents who depended on their children's income to supply food for the table. In 1914-15, Professor of Economics Dr. Scott Nearing in University of Pennsylvania spoke out publicly against children as young as age six being forced to work 10 or 12 hours a day. Pressure on university officials from factory owners forced his dismissal. His publishers stripped his widely used economics textbooks from the shelves, and he was blacklisted from the teaching profession.

Dr. deMause reports: "Those who tried to pass child labor legislation to reduce horrendous working conditions and hours were labeled Communists. And those who thought one could bring up children kindly were considered impractical visionaries."

Like everything else, the thinking and treatment concerning the upbringing of children is an evolutionary process. While those most informed and most compassionate urge revolutionary changes (before our culture is destroyed), even a brief historical survey tells us that we can expect more--and perhaps faster--progress in the coming years.

A view of the past 20 or 30 centuries shows that progress toward humane treatment, though agonizingly slow, is inexorable, and at a staggering cost in children's suffering. While we may congratulate ourselves for not being as bad as our ancestors, this is not an occasion to rejoice. Today, in this Arizona valley where I live, which includes a small city, schoolmasters with impunity beat small children with wooden weapons (paddles), secure in the support of school boards and most parents.

"Clearly, different groups have moved different distances up the ladder of psychological evolution," wrote Dr. deMause, "since some contemporary groups still practice brain-eating as our Paleolithic ancestors did, and different subgroups of our more advanced nations still terrorize and abuse their children in ways identical to those that were commonplace centuries ago, producing the 'historical fossils' we now call borderline personalities and other severe character disorders."

Even in this new millennium, anyone nervy or foolhardy enough to suggest the abolishment of corporal punishment of children is likely to be met with hostility, and perhaps violence. But when awareness of the harm done to children reaches critical mass, the good changes will occur. We cannot make changes in the past. We cannot even make changes in the future. We can only make changes today.

Alice Miller wrote, "Our parents and grandparents are not to blame for having passed on to us misleading messages because, at that time, they had no better information at their disposal. But we do have them today. We can't claim innocence when the next generation blames us for having rejected information that was available to us and was easy to understand."

Mr. Mazarak and His Orchestra

After listening, in Daddy's lap, to the concertos, sonatas, and symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven, Henry and Russell were eager to attend the Sunday afternoon concerts at the college. We sat front row center, the five- and four-year-olds looking up at Mr. Mazarak, the conductor, with worshipful admiration. Here was a musician, a professional, doing what they had been doing at play: waving a stick in time with the music. And there was the music being produced from the violins, trumpets, cellos, French horns, and tympanis they had heard on the stereo, by musicians who could, and did, perform that magic.

When they learned of the Wednesday evening rehearsals, they clamored to attend those, too. They were immensely impressed with the persistent hard work the conductor and musicians strove to create the precise tone and volume and timbre and tempo required. Not once over the many months of concert and rehearsal attendance did either of the boys squirm or become impatient or bored.

We taped each performance, and then played the tapes at home, pretending they were conducting, like their hero. And when their mother returned home after an extended stay in the hospital, they played it for her, becoming each time more familiar with the music. Thus did Mr. Mazarak take his place among their boyhood models, alongside Roger Staubach, Wilt the Stilt, Bob Dylan, and Pete Seeger.

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