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Training at Three Months

December 15, 1995

One of the young mothers in the church tells how she trained her three-month-old daughter to cry and whine to be picked up and held.

Upon seeing the parents start to drift into another room, the baby cried out. The father said, “Get little Susie, she wants to be with us.” Mother picked up Susie and she spread her beautiful smile in delight. Well, that’s the real life story of how Susie was trained to whine. She initiated an act, whining, to which the mother responded, picked her up; and that was the first day of a lifelong habit.

She will refine her technique, employing more threats and spreading more misery. She will eventually fall on the floor, kicking her feet and screaming. The mother will be embarrassed in public, frustrated and angry at home, and will eventually have such contention and strife between her and her demanding daughter that she will write a letter to me wanting to know how to deal with an angry, undisciplined, and unthankful teenager.

At less than three-months-old this little girl had discovered the power of emotional manipulation. For several days she refined her technique of control. She discovered how to use the mother’s guilt against her. She is so sweet, such a delight—as long as she is getting her way. Most parents will tolerate this behavior until the child is a two-year-old terror, and then they will decide that maybe she is about old enough to start getting a spanking for her fits. The first good spanking will produce the greatest tantrum yet, and the parents will decide that their child just has a double dose of that “sinful nature” they heard the preacher talking about. When the little girl is taken to the professionals, they will tag her with the Attention Deficit Disorder lie.

But the story didn’t end there. This wise mother decided to retrain her three-month-old baby. She laid her down knowing she would cry. The mother calmly ignored the crying. When Susie stopped crying and became cheerful, Mother picked her up and played with her. When Susie was placed in the crib and again cried, the mother again ignored her until she became cheerful. Through a several day process of never paying her any attention when she cried, Susie stopped crying to get her way. Now, four-month-old Susie never cries to get her way. Why go to the trouble if it doesn’t work? She is trained to maintain a good attitude. This training has extended to every area of Susie’s life.

I hear a frustrated mother of five- and six-year-olds saying, “Yea, but wait till they get older!” Susie's mother has older children who are well trained, being cheerful and obedient in all things. She started being faithful about two years ago, and it has paid off. I heard this mother say, “It’s so fun training my children; I enjoy them so much!”

A few days later, a fifteen-year-old girl was visiting this family when the mother said, “Pick up Susie and hold her a while.” The teenager responded, “Why? She isn’t crying.” The mother explained, “I never pick her up when she is crying because she will then be trained to always cry to get her way. Rather, I reward her good behavior.” The teenager immediately saw the wisdom of her methods. Maybe when this young girl becomes a mother she will have the wisdom to begin training her newborns and not wait until they are three months old.

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28 comments on “Training at Three Months”

  1. Thanks a bunch-I needed this. My little one is 3 months old and is going thru this. He screams and then I pick him up because I have a hard time listening to it. But, starting today I am going to work on only picking him up when he is cheerful. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. I completely disagree with this article. One of the only means of communication that a baby has is crying. When a baby cries, the baby needs something. Babies want to be held and paid attention to. I have had three babies and one on the way. I pick up my babies when they cry. My 7 and 5 and 2 year olds are well behaved and not spoiled from me picking them up when they cried as babies. In fact, that is what made us close. Ignoring a baby's needs is only going to hurt the mother/ child relationship later.

  3. Suzzie has stopped crying not because she's been 'trained' right but because she's given up. Michael, how does a 3 month old actually articulate she wants mummy and daddy when language has not formally developed nor motor skills sufficiently to stand up walk over and say "excuse me mummy, please could you lift me up - I'm feeling rather insecure at the moment, being 3 months old and unable to talk much nor feed, cloth, walk, use my arms properly yet. Thankyou ever so kindly for listening to me". No that's right Michael they can't.

    If it's okay to hit/'spank'/'pat' a child when is it not okay to do this to an adult? In the church like on the street it's called assault. Babies and children are fully human and even though not reached full maturity, they are protected by secular law as such. The bible verses about the 'rod' being spared leading to a wayward child is for me not about spanking your child but about using your brain to face the challenges of how you might discipline/guide them without the neaderthal slap and hits that are so easy to dish out.
    If I went to a church that made me feel like a failure as a mum and embarressed by picking up my 3 mth old bub when it cried I'd be running out the door. Fortunately I go to a Christian church where I breastfeed my 2 year old up the front, people say 'good on you luv', and look with compassion and understanding at how hard the job of parenting can get at times AND help me to love my kids.

  4. Research shows that when you respond consistently to a baby's cries under 6 mo, they actually cry less. That's their only mode of communication, and they are NOT doing it to manipulate anyone. They don't know how. When you respond to them, you build trust & communication. You teach the child that their efforts are effective & not futile. It builds the relationship b/t Mom & baby. I respond to mine & he usually doesn't even cry, he more yells or "talks" to me, & I respond. Lazy & selfish moms will not like this, I know, but it's the way it is. I totally agree with not letting children manipulate you when they know how, but babies DO NOT! Please stop writing such abusive things about babies. This is a much better way to handle babies, and if you don't have the time to do this, don't have them!

  5. As a child, my parents brought up my brother, sister, and I this way and my mom still advocates this style of parenting. I, however, do not and will not. As a victim of this type of "training" and others described on this website I can testify to neither feeling happy nor loved. I knew my parents loved me but I didn't feel loved. Instead, I knew at an early age that if I wanted my parents attention, love and affection I had to be perfect, had to be cheerful and sweet and so I would be, not because I felt happy or sweet all the time but because sadness, fear, anger, insecurity, loneliness or any other less than "cheerful" emotion was ignored and later punished. You claim in this article that the child becomes emotionally manipulative of her parents but what you describe is emotional abuse of the child. Parents that do this kill something in their children and themselves. An infant's and child's cry is annoying and grating on an adult's nerves for a reason, to get our attention so we, the ones God has placed to protect them will respond to those needs. The consequences of my parents ignoring me when I cried for them was that I knew from early on and the rest of my life they would not actually be available to me when I needed them and so I didn't bother. As an older child, teen and young adult I didn't feel I could ever have a problem, could ever be something other than happy and my parents were the last ones I would choose to go to if I was struggling with something. I felt ashamed of my emotions and then, who I was. There was no grace in my family, not really. Sure, it was spoken of often but not practiced. My mother wondered why I became distant, why I eventually stopped wanting her affection. It was because I knew that she could only accept me when I made her feel good, I felt as though I existed for her, like a puppy and she only wanted me when I was happy. When I became older I discovered that this distorted my view of God, I thought that God, like my parents, only wanted me when I was happy. I am so grateful that God led me to meet and know some wonderful people that could show me grace, allow me to be me and struggle with whatever I needed to struggle with. My faith was hanging in the balance. Now I know what unconditional love is like and am blessed to know the God of grace and love that comes to me when I cry for Him.

    I don't let my parents babysit my children, I don't trust them. They still tell me I should follow these teachings but I will not harm my children the same way they harmed my brother and sister and I. And yes, all three of us were harmed and I am the only one that is even a Christian any more, my siblings want nothing to do with a God that would want parents to treat their children as you teach. The damage done by the teachings on this site are horrific including emotional, spiritual and physical abuse. Because of these twisted teachings my children rarely see their grandparents, I have to keep my children safe. I respond to my child's cries and so far I have secure, healthy children that are learning how to be more than mindless, emotionless robots or puppies looking for a pat on the head. Adults don't want to be treated this way, why would we treat children this way?

    Matthew 7:9-12 "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

    1 Thessalonians 2:7-8
    But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
    you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

    Colossians 3:21
    Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

    1. Vanessa, my child IS a joy to be around. She's my daughter! I love her more than life itself. She is already a joy with all her cleverness, all her loveliness and yes, on occasions her cheekiness! She is a JOY! If you feel that you need to "train" your child so that they are a joy to you then you are seriously not getting what it is to be a parent.

      You gave birth to a human being who you carried inside you for 9 months. That human being needs love to be unconditional and absolute. A three month old baby needs to be able to express itself.

      I have had the misfortune to know a few stories of babies who went into foster care (I was a foster parent for a while) who never cried. Never. Not because they had been well trained but because they had been neglected and had given up crying- what's the point if no one comes? Their parents were in prison, their children in care.

  6. Anyone who's ever spent time around babies knows the difference between "I need help!" crying and "I demand attention!!" crying. I don't believe this article is talking about ignoring obvious distress, but rather refusing to reward a child bullying her parents.

    "Research shows that when you respond consistently to a baby's cries under 6 mo, they actually cry less." Please link to this research.

  7. Wonderful article, and so true ! I have a two-month-old girl who have cried the moment I put her in her pram to lay with me in the kitchen while I finish dinner. I knew she had a full tummy, a clean diaper/have just been to the potty. She only wanted to be held and/or entertained at it just is not possible for Mommy at that moment. We've given her no attention while she cried and it only happened two to three times. Now, if I put her down to be with the family (of course assuring that all her needs was met first so that there could be no real reason for crying), she might fuss a little and even that would get no attention. Just today she laid silently with us in her pram beside the dinner table, waiting placidly for us to finish before she gets her bath.
    My 5 year old girl has a very soft spot for her baby sister and will very quickly start crying silently when baby cries. We had to explain to her that her little sister does not need anything and just have to learn to accept 'no' for an answer - to accept Mommy and Daddy's decision. She won't cry like this for long anymore, she will quickly learn to wait a little.
    It's amazing at what a young age babies can understand and learn. They are incredibly smart, parents just need to direct their ability to understand for the good.
    To let your baby not have attention while crying, does not mean baby does not receive any love and attention at all. This is isolated moments during a day. Mostly our baby is happy, content and part of the family being happily together, getting attention and wooing all who smiles at her. But there are instances where she has to learn to not demand attention and wait and be content to just be 'around'.
    Parents can hear a baby's different cries. You learn when it is bowel discomfort, hunger, sleepy, in need of a burp, or defiant. Of all kinds of crying, the defiant one does not get what it wants.

  8. I also disagree with this article because I believe that babies have no other way of communicating than to cry and the "let them cry it out" method has been proven to increase feelings of abandonment later in life. My parents did not subscribe to this method and I have a very loving relationship with them and trust that they will take care of my needs all around. I am also not manipulative or conniving as a result of my parents nurturing me. That is my opinion.

  9. I'm so pleased to read the sanity in so many of these posts and would like to just add that to leave a baby for more than 15 mins crying is not recommended by the doctors as babies can get so distraught that they are sick and can then choke on their own vomit and DIE. Want to do that to your babies? No? Then pick them up and take care of them. That's what you had them for isn't it? And if it isn't then look into adoption.

  10. Ok people, you are over reacting to this article. Like everything else Micheal and Debbie teach, this is not intended to hurt your child. Use common sense and of course pick up your child and feed him if he hasnt been fed for 2+ hours, or if your can tell by the cry that the tummy or gas is the problem. This article is for when your childs needs are all met and the child lets out a cry and you consistently pick him up. Instead of waiting for you baby to be 'insecure' and cry, why dont you spend time and cuddle when it hasnt gotten to the point of loneliness.
    I agree with Micheal. It doesnt mean I am perfect at this (Im 22 with an 8month old) I just see now that my baby cries when held by some one else and I walk past...thats sweet, but thats bound to get bad when she is older and I need to leave her for 2 hours during church, etc. Anyway, I get the point of this kind of training. It motivates me to be a better parent, wiser in raising and responsible for my childs future.

  11. A normal, well-adjusted baby doesn't cry without warrant. All these complainers on here must be those "gentle" parent types that don't know how to disciple their children. My kids were never left to scream it out because they don't scream. I make sure I reward great behavior from the second they are born.

    It's not hard to train your children to be a joy to be around. It's setting the kid up for failure if you train them to think that every time they cry and whine they'll be catered to. Even once they actually need something, you make sure you look them in the eye, get them to calm down first (sometimes even smile) and then attend to their diaper changes or boo boos. Obviously common sense is not an option with some parents. If a child has a serious injury they can cry and get picked up. The important thing is to skill the child in being able to gauge what is worth a good, loud cry and what isn't. Gosh, people. You're the ones in the dark wondering why no awesome babysitter will watch your kids without compensation. I have people lining up to watch my kids and I have 6!

    1. Hi Vanessa! I am a newish mother of a 6month old. I was wondering what you did to reward good behavior from birth? Did you wait for you baby to stop crying every single time before you picked them up, fed them etc?

  12. Hello, Michael. I have a question. For how long I should allow my baby to cry? My son is almost 5 months old. He wants to be carry around almost everytime, but it is hard for me. And sometimes when I leave him in bed and allow to cry, he starts to cry very hard and for a long and it is hard to calm him even by carrying him. What should I do in this case? Thank you.

    1. You should carry him if he needs carrying. Cuddle him if he needs cuddling. He is a baby! Babies don't manipulate. They just feel and crying is all they can do to express what they feel. Enjoy your baby!

  13. Hey thanks for the advice. I have read about the benefits of baby wearing and thought it would be great to try with my firstborn that will be coming in a few months. But I was really concerned. That I would create a little monster but this artical really puts it in balance! Thanks agian!

    1. I hope you'll reconsider and read more about gentle Christian parenting. L.R. Knost has written excellent books on the subject. Babywearing is also a wonderful practice, and when used in conjunction with gentle discipline, will only strengthen the bond between you and your baby, and the independence your child develops will be of a deeper, truer nature than a child who has been ignored and punished for their basic needs. Wishing you all the best!

  14. What a heartbreakingly negative view to have of a brand new baby. I'm shocked at so much of the language used to describe babies and children on this site. Three-month old babies do not whine and manipulate. They have very limited tools available to communicate their needs, and they are dependent upon their parents; being left alone doesn't feel safe to little ones, and that's part of their innate design. To suggest that a baby who needs to be assured of her parents' presence is being manipulative, "employing threats and spreading misery" and will become a child who embarrasses her mother in public, and an ungrateful teenager... it's outrageous, untrue, misguided, and cruel.

    Your teachings have the power to do a great deal of damage. I know (from reading your articles) that you think people who disagree with you don't bother reading, but many of us do. I've heard from a number of parents that they tried to read your book or articles, but felt physically ill and couldn't continue. You condone physical and emotional abuse, though I know you disagree.

    I'm so curious... knowing that children can be taught without being ignored and hit, and knowing that there are so many Christians who understand the gentle interpretation of the Bible's message about discipline (and who don't pretend that they aren't picking and choosing which parts of the Bible they live by)- WHY do you insist on doing things this way? You can raise joyful, polite, honest, spiritual children without inflicting pain. Why not try?

    1. Apparently your experience is extremely limited. Having worked several years with troubled youth, I can assure you that the successful children who were never spanked are the rare exception. The child training philosophy presented on this website cannot cause damage, but has resulted in hundreds of thousands of happy, healthy, emotionally stable and successful adults. I am familiar with those who have gone to the Bible to prove their point instead of believing the scriptures for what they actually say in the context that they are written.

      1. No, my experience is actually extensive. And clearly the staff here isn't capable of intelligent responses or thoughtful conversation, so I won't respond again. I will, however, do what I can to guide parents away from this negative philosophy and to help them truly thrive in their parenting relationships.

        1. Nothing in the previous response was unintelligent or on thoughtful. If you are unwilling to engage in thoughtful correspondence, then it is probably best that you not respond. Fortunately, your inability to intelligently engage will limit any negative influence you may have on impressionable parents.

          1. Your responses are so aggressive that they do nothing to support your intended image of calmness

  15. OMG My CHILD comes FIRST not a grown adult. If you're capable of taking care of yourself I would put you LAST. My children, then myself, then my spouse and family. ANYONE foolish enough to ignore your BABY for a grown man's attention should be thrown in jail and have all your rights to any child removed immediately. Move you to another country, another state and throw you in jail if you go near them again. NEVER ignore your child because a full grown adult wants attention.

  16. Does no greater joy have experience with ADHD? I have never observed it to be addressed well here. When I read above about the "Attention Deficit Disorder lie" it makes me sad because my husband and three of my children have it. Adhd is quite real and affects how children respond to training. I wondered for many years why my son never seemed to learn from cause and effect. I hope No Greater Joy will address training children with extra challenges as well as typical children because the process does not look exactly the same.

    1. Hello R,
      Thank you for your question! Mike says:
      "Our daughter Shoshanna is double marker ADHD. Her daughter Penelope says that I am as well because of my inability to remember names and my agitation in crowds. But what does a five-year-old know? Shoshanna is high-strung and has extreme lows and highs, but she uses her highs to amass great wealth and accomplish great deeds, and she uses her lows to rest up for her next explosive adventure. I don’t think she would be so successful if she weren’t ADHD. All divergence from the norm, whether mental, emotional, or physical, is just an opportunity to be exceptional or an excuse to be a victim. We have had many parents tell us that their ADHD child responded well to normal biblical training principles and we have had parents tell us that biblical training principles don’t work because their child is ADHD. You decide."
      NGJ has also written several articles over the years, you can read them here:
      http://nogreaterjoy.org/answers/my-child-has-adhd-attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-where-can-i-learn-more-about-this-disorder/
      http://nogreaterjoy.org/articles/autism-answered/
      http://nogreaterjoy.org/articles/soy-alert/

  17. Dear Michael and Debbie,

    It breaks my heart to see the comments after the story.
    My parents started reading your books back when you first started your ministry and followed your training practices. All 5 of us kids turned out great! No issues with feeling loved or not loved by letting us cry in our crib. Lol
    Just saying keep up the good work and don’t let that devil get you down.
    ??

  18. This will result in adults who suppress their emotions and do not know how to regulate their needs. I would implore you to research how many of the children raised by these methods grew up to have pornography addictions, alcohol or drug abuse, inability to cope with stress, and other inward issues. I can name dozens of families I met through my ex husband who raised their large families by this method and the resulting adults are a mess. All “Godly” men and women on the outside with strict images to maintain and huge issues hiding in the closet. It breaks my heart because many of them want so badly to be good people but their only experience in life is denying their needs and avoiding asking for help (because they were taught it would not be given). Seriously. Take a survey of adults raised by this and find out how many of them are “successful” on the inside, where it counts. I think you will notice that something doesn’t look good.