Letter:

Dear Pearls,
I am a pastor’s wife and have a question for you. Is it right to spank a 7-month-old for crying when put down for bed? I grew up with just ignoring the child, thus training them that they will not get their way. My husband wants it to stop all together. I know all the verses for training a child, but I am not sure how to approach this situation. I know you will give me a straight answer.
- Charity

Debi Answers:

Dear Mama,

Different families feel differently about this. Most babies quickly learn to adapt. Train your baby to become familiar with a special blanket or soft toy that she gets when she goes to bed. One of our friends uses white, soft, worn-out pillow cases so that she gets a fresh clean one each day. Babies find comfort in the familiar. Also, they like to know that they are not alone or abandoned. So keep a light on, a ticking clock in the room, or their door open so they can hear noises from the other room. Daddy needs to be in charge, and you need to learn to trust and honor his judgment. If you don’t, then the children will never trust and honor you. He is the head, and you are the heart of the home. Let the head decide, and the heart makes those decisions sweeter.

- Debi Pearl

Mike adds his two cents:

The above question is loaded. Since we do not know your attitudes or the details of your circumstances, it is impossible to give a yes or no answer. But I do caution: A 7-month-old is too young to be spanked as such—too young to be punished. They do not have any understanding of good and evil (Deut 1:39; Is 7:15-16; Romans 9:11) and cannot reason weighty matters. But the 7-month-old is already learning the dark art of self-will, and must be wisely, gently, and firmly constrained to yield to authority.

The very nature of authority is the power to constrain to obedience through enforcing negative consequences. “A child left to himself will bring his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15). Leaving the child in the bed to cry herself to sleep is indeed a negative consequence, and may be used as a last resort, but it is a result of a failure to train and is not the most effective training. Obviously, we wouldn’t want to see her crying herself to sleep on a regular basis, any more than we would want to spank her every evening. Difficult measures and unpleasant con-sequences should be thoughtfully employed so as to effect a positive change very quickly—in two or three nights. If negative consequences are not soon productive, they become counterproductive. So before I would resign to allowing her to spend her evenings crying, I would try other measures first.

Arrange circumstances so as to lull the child to sleep in a peaceful and natural manner. Don’t keep her up until she is exhausted. Don’t try to put her to sleep when her heart and respiration are racing from excitement. Be consistent in the details of how she is put to sleep each time. Create a thirty-minute “unwinding” ritual that ends with laying her down to sleep. Once you condition her to expect to yield to your overtures, she will lie down and sleep with only minimal suggestion, and even in more distracting circumstances.

When you have taken the child through her night-time paces and left her to sleep, never, never allow her to come out of the snooze mode and become active again. To do so is to leave her with the belief that time and place of sleep is left to her discretion. Humans are made by God to operate according to stimulation. Things that activate any of the senses are stimulating and pleasurable. Children love pleasure, and they love to be stimulated. They so love excitement that they will fight going into the “shut-off” mode. Wind them down gently so sleep comes naturally.

If the child has been mistrained, or if you have failed to provide a good prelude to sleep, and the child rises up to fight and resist, you should evaluate your whole procedure so as to improve your pre-sleep ritual for tomorrow night. But for the moment, you must constrain the child to obey authority and remain lying down. As a last resort, you may have to prove the power of your word by enforcing it with one or two stinging licks (applied with a small flexible switch) to the child’s leg that says to the child, “There is no reward for getting up; Mama means business; she is not going to give over to my demands; the path to greatest pleasure is to go to sleep; there is no alternative; my parents always get their way; what can I say? Good night.”

Commands are not negotiable; authority must be obeyed. The soul of the child needs that kind of authority in her life to be stable emotionally and to develop a will to accept discipline.
Finally, if you are angry or frustrated, do nothing more than allow the child to cry herself to sleep. You are momentarily unfit as a trainer. Get your head and heart together and do better tomorrow night.

- Michael Pearl