Did you keep your baby in the same room with you when cooking or cleaning, or did you leave her to play alone?

Debi Answers

I enjoyed my baby being a part of my life, so from the beginning I would move her from room to room so she could watch me and hear my voice as I sang or talked to her. When she was 8 or 10 months old and was playing on the floor I would come and go as needed from kitchen to living room, but I always kept up a flow of joyful, cheerful singing or talk. If I finished cleaning a bedroom and knew I would be in the kitchen for a while I carried her to where I would be working. I tried not to let her develop fear or anxiety over being left alone. Fear is hard to eradicate once it takes root. If I was out of sight and heard her make a noise that indicated fear, I would call out cheerfully, “Here I am. Come find Mama!”—while laughing and playing. When she made it around the corner, I would swoop her up in a happy tone to break the cycle immediately and put her fears to rest in the joy of the moment.

Everything you do or don’t do is training. It is far better to anticipate your child’s needs and take steps to make all experiences productive. Your calm, happy voice—be it talking or singing—is the greatest element in training. The next effective tool you have is the child’s participation, even if it is just watching as you cook or clean. Training is like basting. It is a slow process of soaking up the atmosphere of the home until it permeates the child. By the time your little one can walk, she should be participating in all your activities. It will slow you down having little helpers, but it is what being a parent is all about. The Scripture says, “…but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15).

My little guy panics and screams when he notices he is alone. Should I spank him?

No, don’t spank. Spanking is for rebellion, not fear, confusion, distress, pain, or weariness. Never force a small child to endure emotions they cannot handle. You cause a child to learn self-control by meting out the trials in increments the child can manage. If you increase the stress level daily, but never beyond the child’s ability to cope, the child will soon become a seasoned veteran while remaining emotionally secure.

The unknown is scary. Parents need to learn to talk to their children—a LOT. Even a baby should hear mother saying, “Mama is washing the dishes so they will be clean. The water is warm; feel the warm water.” Knowledge and understanding bring peace. Think of children as immigrants to a strange land with an unidentifiable language, where bizarre things are always popping up in front of them.

If a child came into my care who was already full of anxiousness and fear, I could break him of it in less than six months by creating absolutely secure situations in which I allowed a very small amount of stress to enter—never enough to destroy his security, but enough to test it. For example, if a child screamed when left alone, I would not leave him alone until I could do so without him screaming. Now I am assuming we are dealing with a child who is genuinely fearful, not one who pretends fear in order to control others. A mother knows the difference.
Each day, in an atmosphere of great security and fellowship, I would play games of hide and seek, in the same room. Duck behind a chair where the child cannot see you but knows where you are, laughing all the while. When the child learns to endure one level of being alone, take it further. Tell the child that you are going to step around the corner and come right back. Go only as far and stay only as long as the child can endure without losing it—even if it is just two feet and three seconds. You want him to feel just a little stress or fear and then immediately discover that there is no reason to fear. Over a period of days or weeks, increase the distance and time the child is left alone until he can manage isolation without fear. That is training. And there are many variations of this technique that can be applied to all training needs.

Both of my small children are overly loud when they cry or ask for something. It doesn’t matter if they are hurt, scared, mad, hungry, or just wanting attention. How can I train them to tone it down?

This usually becomes a problem when very laid-back parents ignore their small children’s cries until their irritation turns to vocal protests and then screaming. It is an effective voice for a language-less child. Babies develop this habit quickly, and it takes a lot of time and immediate attention to conquer it.

First, always respond to the first sound of need. Look straight at your child to show them that they have your attention, and then put your index finger over their lips while whispering, “Shhhh.” Even if they are as young as 8 months old, they will quickly get the idea. If the LOUD habit is already established, it will take hundreds of times for them to re-establish a more moderated tone.

They developed this mode of communication (screaming) because it worked. When they discover a more effective means, they will switch. Furthermore, when the screaming becomes counterproductive, they will cease doing it.

If they are out of control and you cannot get their attention, a thump or one swat with a switch will communicate that their behavior is unacceptable and unproductive. Don’t rely upon the physical discipline alone. Employ it as part of your comprehensive training.

My daughter is totally uninterested in crawling. She likes walking by holding our fingers. If I put her down on all fours, she cries like she is in pain. Should we put her down anyway and let her cry until she stops, or should I spank her for crying?

Don’t spank her for doing what you have trained her to do. Have you been down on all fours lately? It hurts! But babies seem to build a set of tough hands and knees after a few days. Put her on a quilt on the floor and give her toys to play with. When she wants to come to you, encourage her to make it on her own. Get down on the floor and play, and then encourage her to crawl to you. It sounds like you are carrying her around or assisting her in walking. She needs to develop independence in getting around, and crawling is an important part of her physical and mental development. When you stop being her legs, she will learn to use her knees.

Please write down a typical schedule of your days when you had young children—the times you got up and went to bed and generally what you did each day. Also, did you put your infant to bed before you came to bed, even though it was sleeping with you?

I would lie down and nurse the baby to sleep and then get up to spend the evening with my husband. My baby slept fine whether I was there or not. My husband worked at home and I often worked with him doing whatever he was doing at the time, so our schedule revolved around him. When I finally had too many children to be with him all the time we developed more of a routine. Each night I tried to put on a slow-cooker of beans or stew to cook for the next day. This would serve as lunch. This is a habit all young women should consider developing, as it saves money and last-minute panic, and your family eats healthier.

Babies and small children tend to wake you up earlier than nature does. In the morning, I nursed the baby in bed while the other children piled into bed to visit Daddy. After ten minutes we would get up, dress, do light clean-up of the bedrooms, and head to the kitchen for breakfast.

After breakfast Mike and the boys headed to the workshop. Beka, my oldest daughter, would help clean the house and get the baby girls cleaned up and dressed. I never finished before Mike and the boys were back for a big lunch, which I had mostly prepared the night before.

We all laid down for an afternoon rest. Beka read quietly in her room. My two little boys listened to Bible story tapes and read along in the picture book. All my children learned Bible and some reading while listening to those tapes. Nathan totally learned to read while reading along with the tapes, but Gabe needed a bit more help, and the tapes greatly improved his reading. It all happened while I took a nap with Daddy.

After a nap, Beka and the boys sat down to do a few workbook pages while the small children colored or played. I helped them with school as I washed clothes, sewed, canned, gardened, cleaned house, and worked in the kitchen getting dinner ready.

When the children tired of school they went out to play or spend time with Daddy, and I got supper on the table. After supper the children took turns doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen, from the time they were 6 years old. Now Gabe says it was almost too much for him at that age, so I would consider putting an 8-year-old with a 6-year-old if there is a lot of cleaning up to do.

While the children cleaned the kitchen, Mike and I often took a stroll, usually to the garden to work or down to the shop to see what he had done during the day. He spent most evenings away from home teaching or witnessing on the streets. I spent the evening sitting in the car with the kids (reading to them), watching Mike and praying, or at home reading and doing art projects with the children.

Of course, every day included more phone calls than you would believe, visits from people Mike had ministered to over the years, and running to the store. This is a tiny slice of what life was like back when we had a house full of children.

Did you allow your children to go to sleepovers or play outings at a friend’s house? If so, how did you assure yourself that they would not be subjected to abuse of any kind—especially sexual? I have always heard that most molestation is perpetrated by a family friend or relative who is trusted.

You heard right. If you read our mail you would be so paranoid about sleepovers that you would never let your child participate in them. When our porn article came out (on the NGJ website), we received a flood of letters from adults who were exposed to porn while sleeping over with a good friend or relative, or had friends over to their house who brought it with them. These adults say that from the age of 6 or 7 when they first saw the pictures, they were addicted and have been all their lives. We also receive many letters from people who for years were molested by their brother’s friends while the family slept. The little girls were always too sleepy and confused to be able to tell what was happening to them every Friday night when big brother had his friends over. Parents never knew why little Suzy was such a problem when she turned 13 years old. I will repeat: anyone who has ever counseled or read as many letters as we do would NEVER open their children up to this possibility. It is too common and too terrible.

You really need to be reading our Yell and Tell books to your children regularly. I say this: Those prepared are usually SPARED.

I will never forget when I was writing the Yell and Tell books, a mother said to me in a very self-righteous huff after seeing a proof of my first book, “I would never want my child to think people wanted to do things to her.” That SAME mama wrote back shamed and full of regret a few months later. She said her young daughter was sending naked pictures of herself to young teen boys. A 12-year-old boy at church had taught her how to use the phone to do it. Sexting… at age 8.

I apologize for some of these questions being very personal, but we young mothers desperately need guidance from a mature, spiritual woman in how to nurture our children. On every side we are bombarded with one group saying we should carry our baby around in a sling and keep him with us constantly, sleep with our child, and don’t spank. On the other side there are those that say, “Never let the child fall asleep while you are holding him, and don’t rock him to sleep. Don’t sleep with him because he will be too dependent on you, and let him cry during the night when he wakes up so he can learn to sleep through the night without eating.”

Of course, there are others somewhere along the swinging pendulum, but you are the first I have heard that matches my gut instincts, that says the baby needs much nurturing and fellowship but also training and discipline. I am in desperate need of guidance so that I don’t reinforce bad habits my daughter may have already developed. Thank you for all you do to help our families!
A. P.

Dear young mothers, I would suggest you seek out advice from older grandmothers in your community. I would not look for “spiritual” type women, but just some plain, old lady who has a sense of humor and has maintained a respect and reverence for her husband, and who has grown children who like her to babysit the grandkids. Don’t ask her to babysit, and don’t take your children over to her house. Just call her and ask, “How do you cook dried black beans and rice?” While you are talking, ask her a simple question about how she handled a certain problem when her daughter was a baby.

We do the same thing. We often go to the country store here in our area and talk to the old men who hang around during the day. We ask them questions about child training, and they have loud, funny stories to tell and much wisdom that comes from just living a long, long time. My children always enjoyed listening to their tales.