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Location: Allentown, PA

I'm a Christian wife and a mom to three daughters and two sons. I'm a member of the board of directors of EmPoWeReD Birth. In my "spare time" I'm a doula, and a certified childbirth instructor.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Rebel in a diaper...

Rebellion. According to scripture it is bound up in our hearts. As humans, we often chafe against authority and desire to rebel.

But just when does rebellion start? Recently my husband and I chose to leave our church home of nearly 7 years. One of the issues was a disagreement over when rebellion starts. Our church had chosen to advocate an author who defines rebellion as even an infant who continues to struggle during a diaper change after being told not to. Another example given in this book of rebellion was an 8 month old child who was examining books on a shelf, then after being reprimanded by Mom, returned to the shelf presumably to pick up where she left off.

But is this really rebellion? I don't think so. In my mind (and we all know how warped it is... ;-) in order for someone to rebel, that "someone" has to have an identified authority to rebel against. And this is where we get into a problem when we say that infants are rebelling.

Many years ago a wise woman told me that the primary root cause of child abuse is age inappropriate expectations--parents who expect behavior from their children that is not appropriate to expect at the child's age. To avoid that pitfall she reccommended that I educate myself about normal childhood development. Fortunately I had already taken a class on childhood development which I have since supplemented with further learning as I have undertaken the momentous task of mothering.

Something I learned back in that class was the concept that infants do not understand that other people want different things than they want. If the infant wants to each Cheerios and hates brocolli, they can not comprehend that another person would want brocolli. In testing, children about 10-12 months old will readily feed a parent Cheerios. But when directed to feed the parent a food that the child does not like--perhaps brocolli--they will get a confused look on their face, and feed the parent Cheerios.

Is the child rebelling against the instruction? NO! The child simply can not comprehend that the parent would want brocolli, and thus feeds Cheerios. Between about 14-18 months of age this changes. They child may be confused, but will give the parent brocolli when asked to do so. The child is starting to understand that other people want different things than the child does.

Does an infant have a will? YES! Does the infant get angry when that will is twarted? YES! But is the infant capable of rebellion? I don't think so.

So going back to the infant struggling during a diaper change. The infant wants to explore the world, crawl away. The infant has no concept--even if told by the parent--that the parent wants the child to stay still. (do we really even know that a 6-7 month old infant understands what the parent is saying???) So what is the parent to do? The diaper needs to be changed! A wise parent will be fully ready to do a speedy diaper change, and will creatively think of ways to entertain the infant during the process--kisses, zerberts, funny voice, toys, diapers turned into puppets...


Anonymous Emily said...

Hi! It's Emily again, of "brains of a sheep" fame. I was just interested in the "wise woman" who said that the primary cause of child abuse was inappropriate age expectations. I'm wondering. I'll say upfront that I don't consider an infant struggling against a diaper change to be "rebelling." And I do think some parents can be unrealistic in their expectations. Still, I wonder if in some ways we've lowered our expectations for children over the years. For example, the age at which toilet training has increased in the last few decades. Part of this had to do with psychologists who said that too early toilet training could cause neuroses in a child. Somehow I have difficulty believing that frustrated toilet training caused scores of children to be abused in earlier years. Second, I'm sceptical of the statement that inappropriate age expectations are the number-one cause of child abuse. Politically incorrect as it may seem, child abuse seems related less to age-appropriate expectations and parents' overall level of strictness than to factors like teenage parenthood, drug abuse on the part of parents, poverty, etcetera. Granted, there undoubtedly have been parents who abuse their children because they have unrealistic expectations of the latter. But all in all, I'm not sure whether the two (expectations and child abuse) really have much to do with each other.

9:33 AM, March 30, 2005  
Blogger Jenn said...

Emily, you are right that there are a LOT of factors that go into child abuse. But when you get right down to brass tacks, most cases of "discipline based" child abuse boil down to a parent expecting a child to perform at a level that they just aren't capable of at that age. And most child abuse is "discipline based," medical neglect and such are usually secondary to disciplinary abuse.

As for the potty training thing...I've heard some folks speculate many reasons for that shift. There is of course the "psychological" reasons--but to be honest, I don't think that is affecting a huge proportion of moms. Really, how many have you heard discussing that issue as opposed to how many you hear talking about how tired they are of changing diapers and how they wish their kids would potty train?

I also think there is a bit of "rose colored glasses" going on with memories as far as how old children were when they potty trained. My grandmother insists that I was 19 months old when I potty trained. But I remember one of my aunts changing my diaper once. Would I really remember that if I was only 19 months old when I quit wearing them? BTW, that memory sticks out in my mind because she smacked me for squirming...perhaps that is part of why I get so irritated with the crowd who insists a smack on the thigh is an appropriate response to wiggling during a diaper change?

I think probably the biggest culprit is disposable diapers (and now "training pants" too!) Kids just don't have a lot of motivation to use the toilet when they wear disposable diapers--soiling the diapers is not as uncomfortable as it is with cloth. When my grandmother tells stories about her children potty training it seems that a lot of it was child-directed--and at pretty young ages (she claims that one of my aunts was only 10 months old and would crawl over to the potty chair!). My son was pretty close to being fully trained, but then he got sick, had diarrhea, so we put him in Pull Ups. Now that he has been well for several weeks, we are struggling to get him back on the potty. I finally quit using the Pull Ups 3 days ago. 1 day of not one potty use. Next day he used the potty a few times. Today a few more. He seems very bothered by having wet pants--a Pull Up soaked to the point of being saturated doesn't bother him one bit.

8:40 PM, April 06, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Jenn. It's Emily again. Before I responded to your comment, I actually went to the nearby university library to research the question of whether unrealistic expectations, as opposed to social factors like young maternal age, low education, etc., were the principal cause of child abuse. I looked at a number of journals, including one entitled, quite appropriately, Child Abuse & Neglect, and searched under "child abuse" and "expectations" on a site called Psychological Abstracts. My conclusion: unrealistic expectations can play a role in child abuse, but they're overshadowed by risk factors like parental mental illness, low education, young maternal age, and one or both parents having been in foster care as children. Two studies showed that abusive parents indeed did have more unrealistic expectations about their children than other parents (and even the one I saw was somewhat equivocal; the abusive parents were only unrealistic about children's ability to care for themselves at a young age). Two other reports, on the other hand, showed no relationship. So I'm highly sceptical of whether age-inappropriate expectations really contribute as much to child abuse as your "wise woman" suggests. I also suspect that it's more politically correct to say that inappropriate expectations contribute to child abuse than to say that mentally ill and/or teenage and/or uneducated parents are more likely to abuse their children. Also, "unrealistic expectations" go hand-in-hand with the cult of permissive parenting embraced by many psychologists.

About age of toilet training, yes, perhaps there is a bit of "rose-coloured glasses" thinking behind our parents' and grandparents' memories. However, the rise in the age of toilet training has been noted in countries other than the United States, such as Belgium. Also, a recent report showed that Chinese children even today are still toilet-trained at a relatively early age (by two). So unless you adhere to the idea that Chinese kids are somehow genetically superior to European and North American children, it's hard not to conclude that the latter could be trained earlier.

All this being said, I don't think a child who squirms in his or her diaper is rebelling...

6:41 AM, April 08, 2005  
Blogger Jenn said...

No, the Chinese children aren't genetically superior.

But technically they aren't "potty trained" either. By and large the mothers in China use "elimination communication." This is akin to cue feeding. The mothers learn to read the cues that their babies give indicating that they need to pee/poo...and hold them over the pot to allow that. Soon enough the babies are learning to have a small amount of control--in order to wait for mom to get them to the pot. The natural progression is that once the child is mobile, the child will take him/her self to the pot rather than relying on mom, in much the same way that a toddler will self feed from a snack left on a low table.

There are moms in America who use this. I'm intriqued by the idea...but quite frankly, with 4 kids spaced closely together and going back to work with each at 8-12 weeks post partum, it wasn't something that I can do. From all I've read about it, you pretty much have to do it by 7 months, or you are out of luck. They have learned that the place to pee/poo is in the diaper, and they aren't giving cues anymore.

9:10 PM, April 18, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, it's Emily.

I don't think Chinese children are genetically superior (or inferior for that matter) to other children. Yes, they do better in school - but that's because of cultural (ex. high value placed on education by parents) rather than genetic factors.

This particular study claimed that most Chinese kids were toilet-trained by two, but it didn't go into detail about how that training actually took place. Still, data from the U.S. and Belgium do show the age of toilet training has risen significantly in the last few decades. The study also showed Chinese kids were more compliant and had higher self-control.

I don't really have a "position" on toilet training. In other words, early toilet training doesn't necessarily equal better (or worse). But I think some psychologists have put out a lot of equine feces regarding the so-called "trauma" of premature toilet training for children.

10:38 AM, April 19, 2005  
Blogger Imladris2 said...

I think this is a really interesting discussion. As a new mama of an almost 4 month old, I've been wondering about when rebellion starts myself. St. Augstine believed that an infant crying for his mother's breast was guilty of being selfish. Well, when I miss my son's cues and don't feed him right away, he proceeds to cry as a way to communicate to me that he's really hungry. Cooing doesn't clue me in. I just think its cute :-)

So I've been wondering if my son has committed any sins. He has a sinful nature as do we all, but I wonder if crying to be fed really IS a sin...

Jenn, I have to agree with you that many times, age inappropriate expectations are a significant cause of child abuse in this country. I used to work for a top child advocate agency in a department that send in-home family counselors to teach parents age appropriate expectations and discipline techniques. So often, these parents expected their children to behave in a way which they simply were not capable because they hadn't read the mental or emotional maturity to do so. This is one of my MAJOR problem with the Pearls. So often, their expectations for a child's behavior are set way too high simply because they are age-inappropriate. Accordingly, the Pearls resort to abusive techniques, IMHO. Children have been removed from the custody of their parents for A LOT less then what the Pearls advocate. But I digress.

Emily, you are also right in stating that the other factors such as low education, young maternal age, etc. are significant factors in child abuse. Sooo many of our families had young parents or the parents were immigrants who just didn't have the education.

I just keep going back to the idea that so much of what is taught to the families are age appropriate expectations. It is SO VITAL to know what our children are capable of doing and understanding at any age so that we can discipline them accordingly when necessary. Notice I said "discipline" not "punish" so spanking would be out at this point. Unlike the Pearls, I don't believe "rebellion" needs to be switched out of the child.

Anyway, those are just some thoughts. I hope I contributed to the discussion. Thanks for letting me post! You can visit me at http://hampsonbaby.blog-city.com

11:45 PM, April 19, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi again! It's Emily. I read Imladris' post and found it very interesting.

I'm not going to get into the Pearls. Let's just say I don't regard Michael Pearl as the next Jesus Chris, but nor do I see him as the next Attila the Hun. While some of their methods may be extreme (ex. setting up a child to "sin" by placing a forbidden object in front of him or her), other techniques, like lightly thumping a child's hand if he or she tries to take someone's glasses, aren't that much different from those our own parents used. Overall, I think the Pearls' premise that children should be obedient is a good one.

About age-inappropriate expectations, yes, they can play a role in child abuse, but looking at studies of child abusers, they don't seem to be the MAJOR cause as some people like to think. Regarding immigrants, I don't know if they have a higher rate of child abuse than other parents (I live in Canada, so the immigrants here may come from different places than do those to the States). I do know some immigrant parents have been bullied by (White) American social workers who disagree with some of their child-rearing practices, like spanking children. It's so ironic that these supposedly enlightened non-racist professionals have the same mentality as the conquistadors of old who wanted to save the so-called "savages" and bring them "civilization" (I'm White myself, so I'm not being reverse racist).

In my previous post, I said that SOME studies showed that child abusers were more likely to have age-inappropriate expectations of children; other reports did not. If age-inappropriate expectations were really such a significant risk factor, wouldn't you think that all or nearly all such studies would show child abusers were more likely to expect too much of their children? I still think that factors like young maternal age, mental illness (ex. Andrea Yates) and alcoholism play a much more important role in child maltreatment than do inappropriate expectations. And again, what's "appropriate" or "inappropriate" for children can vary over time and place.

It's ironic that judging by the standards of today's social workers and psychologists, many of the disciplinary techniques our parents and grandparents used would be considered abusive. Nonetheless, are children today really that much better off? I'd love some of the "modern" social service professionals to provide a good answer to that question.

8:46 AM, April 20, 2005  
Blogger Imladris2 said...

Oooh, I sure hope I didn't sound racist or anything of the sort in my post. It just happens that so many of the families that organization works with happen to be immigrant families. I have no idea why that is. From what I've seen social workers don't get involved simply because a child is spanked. Its perfectly legal to spank a child in this state. A lot of time, families enter services because of neglect, not necessarily physical abuse. And if physical abuse is present, it is REAL abuse- excessive hitting, beating that left marks, that kind of thing.

Emily, I think I'm inclined to agree with you about other causes of abuse ou discussed. Now that I'm thinking about it more carefully, while age inappropriate expections play a part, there are soooo many other factors that I think it may be near impossible to pinpoint and exact cause.

Again, I sure hope I didn't come across as racist or prejudice in any way. That certainly was *not* my intention :-)

10:06 PM, April 20, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, it's Emily again. No, please don't think I'm saying that you are racist. However, some (mostly White) social workers consider spanking children, whether by immigrants or native-born Americans, child abuse, and that has some immigrant groups up in arms. For example, a Cambodian community leader living in Wisconsin said that some social workers have felt it was their duty to intervene when Cambodian parents physically disciplined their children. In one case, a father committed suicide after such an investigation.

I still think, though, that much of the anti-spanking crowd takes a "more enlightened than thou" approach that comes across as obnoxious to a lot of people, regardless of race. And when this approach is directed at minorities, it doesn't seem that different from the White man's burden of old.

About age-inappropriate expectations, they can play a role in child abuse. But we should ask "what age." Of course someone who thinks an infant should be able to control their crying is a prime candidate for abuse. But at older ages, it's unclear who expectations can contribute to abuse. In fact, one study, in the journal Child Development, found that primary school girls whose parents had high expectations of them were less likely to use drugs as teens. So I think it's important to clarify the age at which these expectations are set.

6:40 AM, April 21, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, it's Emily again. I actually came across a study that seriously challenges your "wise woman's" contention that age-inappropriate expectations are the number-one cause of child abuse. This study showed that abusive parents had significantly LOWER expectations of their children than did their non-abusive counterparts. In other words, they lacked confidence in their children's maturity. Another study, which didn't deal with abuse but with child adjustment per se, found that girls whose parents had high expectations were less likely to use drugs as a teenagers. I do think there may be individual cases where age-inappropriate expectations can lead to abuse, but at this point (and this could change if I saw more studies) I can't say that expectations per se are necessarily a bad thing.

6:24 AM, April 25, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, it's Emily again. I'll just end this exchange with a great quote I found on a board related to unruly children on airplanes. The woman, named Juliet, had some words that really struck a bell. Here goes:

Juliet225 from [], at 3:31pm ET
American children are out of control in every location, not just airlines.. Doctor's offices, church, airplanes, etc. I have five children, two of whom are 2 and 3. They sit through church, which is over an hour, without incident because they have no choice. They have to conform or face consequences that are most unpleasant. I'm sick of hearing people say that "little two year olds don't know better", "they aren't capable..." Hogwash. They rise to the level of expectation set for them. Our children face old-fashioned discipline and they are a pleasure to be around. They are secure because they know what is expected of them. They are then rewarded for their good behavior. Airplanes are a living nightmare nowadays because parents are listening to the psychobabble child expert crowd. It's the PARENTS' job to civilize our toddlers. Demand obedience from your child and not only will airplanes be more pleasant but every other public place will too.

I couldn't have said it better.

1:26 PM, April 26, 2005  
Blogger Sara said...

[quote]They rise to the level of expectation set for them. Our children face old-fashioned discipline and they are a pleasure to be around. They are secure because they know what is expected of them. [/quote]

I have no doubt you can make a child do age-inappropriate things through excessive physical discipline. I've seen it myself- I attend a church where a lot of people push this sort of thing.

The question is what is the cost? When I see kids who are spanked frequently and compare them to kids who are spanked rarely or not at all, I do not like what I see. There is no better way to put in then that there is something missing. The children may be outwardly compliant, but not happy. They lack that inner spark.

Study after study has shown that while "old-fashioned discipline" produces quicker immediate results, in the long term it is much less effective then other methods, and that it has long term negative effects on the child as a teenager and adult. A good end: obedience; doesn't justify the means.

What I find strange is that our society expects more out of babies and toddlers then teens. Babies are expected to eat on schedule and sleep through the night in their own room; there is a push back towards early potty training, toddlers are expected to sit quietly for long periods of time and share their toys in the day care center, but heaven forbid Suzy be asked to give up her cell phone or not wear the bandaid masqurading as a skirt.

3:49 AM, June 09, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Juliet" doesn't say what old-fashioned discipline consists of in her case. It may be that she doesn't have to use excessive physical discipline to get her children to behave. Anyway, unless you know her and her kids personally, you have no way of knowing whether her children lack that "inner spark."

I know "obedience" is a dirty word these days in some circles. There's a notion floating out there that obedient kids are going to be "in for it" as teens because if they never learn to say "no" to Mom and Dad, they won't be able to say "no" to the buddy who's offering them a joint or ounce of cocaine. But if you look at actual research rather than speculation (remember that speculation led us to believe at one time that the sun revolved around the earth), you'll find that teens who as small children learned obedience are more likely to avoid drugs, excessive alcohol, and premature sex. So I think obedience pays off in the long run, not only in the short run.

OK, you can put me under house arrest in sunny Italy if you want for saying this...


6:24 AM, June 09, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another note: Sara, you say that some people in your church "push" the obedience agenda. I hate to say it, but I think some parents see these supposedly "overly obedient" kids and get jealous because their own children may not behave as well. So they rationalize this situation by saying that well, these other kids might be obedient but they're not happy. I hate to break this to you, but a study in Canada showed that obedient preschoolers are actually HAPPIER than their rowdier counterparts (in Douglas Wilmms' book Vulnerable Children). Then they might go on and say that the obedient kids are "good" now but they'll "break loose" as teens (wrong again, as I mention in my post above). I think many in the "gentle discipline" crowd like to think that super-obedient kids are being damaged, but they're only trying to deceive themselves so they can justify their own parenting style.


P.S. I joked about house arrest in my last post because Galileo was put under it when he said the earth revolved around the sun rather than the other way around.

7:41 AM, June 09, 2005  

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