Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Are You Trying To "Gun-Proof" Your Child?

About a year ago I had the unfortunate experience of reading To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl. Many things I read in it still haunt me today, and I don't recommend reading the book if you like children, or people in general. It reads like a dog-training manual for people who don't like dogs, only it's meant to be a parenting guide.

One part of the book I will never forget is this, the section on gun safety:
With our first toddler, I placed an old, unused and empty, single-shot shot-gun in the living room corner. After taking the toddler through the "No" saying, hand-switching sessions, they knew guns were always off limits. Every day they played around the gun without touching it. I never had to be concerned with their going into someone else's house and touching a gun. I didn't gun-proof my house, I gun-proofed my children.
Because locking up the darn gun after every time you use it is just too much trouble, I guess. And because a child is supposed to know to avoid all types of guns (even toy guns I imagine) based on the one type of gun used for the lesson. It's not surprising, having read the rest of the book, because the whole idea of their "parenting style" is to completely kill any curiosity in their children for the sake of parental convenience.

While most of us never would go to such extremes, I think we can learn something from the ridiculousness of this idea.

I'm talking about the times we leave our children in a room with a bowl full of popcorn, or a glass of cranberry juice on a low table. Or the times we walk away talking on the phone while they are playing at the bathroom sink. When we set up these situations, do we expect that our toddlers know better than to dump popcorn on the carpet, juice on the couch, or water all over the floor?

Once I was at my parents' house with the kids, and Emmitt was on the floor, about six months old. I walked out of the room for one minute to grab a snack for my daughter Louise, who was two. When I heard the baby gasping for breath, I ran back into the room to find Louise standing on her infant brother's back, playing the piano. I was shocked. I took Louise off of Emmitt and held him close. It was scary, but he was fine after he calmed down.

I told Louise how dangerous it was to stand on the baby, but I could tell she really did not get it. I realized after that day, that it was not fair of me to expect Louise to understand about keeping the baby safe. It was my job to keep both of the kids safe. It was my job to try not to leave them alone in a situation that could turn dangerous.

Now that they are four and two years old, I can leave them in the living room or the bedroom together for short periods of time while I take a shower or make food. But I have gotten better at reading them. I know it's not safe to leave them when one of them is cranky, so I try to bring one with me. I know it's not safe to leave them when one of them has a special toy the other one wants.

I am not training my children to parent themselves, as I think the Pearls tried to do. I am not training them to avoid dangerous situations all by themselves before they are developmentally able to do so. To act perfectly even in my absence. I am not training them not to hit each other by using punishments. At this point, they both know that hitting hurts. It's not that I need to teach them that lesson. What I want them to learn is that I am here to protect them. I am here to prevent the opportunities for them to hurt each other, and to hug and comfort them if I can't prevent it.

If something happens when I am out of the room, it is my fault, not theirs. I apologize for leaving them alone and we can all move on. There is no need to blame or punish the kids. No matter how hard you try, you can't be sure that you have gun-proofed your child so you can comfortably leave the child alone with it. Locking up the gun is the better option.

Do you expect your toddler to know better even when he has proven he does not?


Before you tell me, Your children are going to grow up not knowing that hitting is wrong... I assure you, they already know it is wrong. Even now, at such young ages, never having been punished, never having been forced to say sorry, both of my kids will freely and genuinely apologize to one another after an altercation. It is a beautiful thing.


  1. I adore your posts! Every single one is so full of wisdom and brings such delight to me. <3

    When my daughter was 6 months old, our pediatrician gave me a copy of TTUAC because he could tell she was strong willed. Um, yeah. I filed a complaint and changed peds. But the good thing is that it made me reevaluate much that I had been taught and ultimately led me to respectful, gentle parenting. :)

    Thank you so much for advocating for peaceful families! <3

  2. Ugh, I came across their website once and was horrified by just about everything I read there. I don't think I could get through their book. The biggest problem I see with "gun training" is that they aren't teaching their child how to be safe around guns. They are teaching their children that if mom or dad sees them touch a gun, they're in trouble. What happens if they end up in a room alone with a gun one day with no chance that mom or dad will see them? It reminds me of a story in a book I read (Naomi Aldort or Alfie Kohn I believe), where the author described two kids. One is told never to go to the creek behind the house under any circumstances, and the other is asked to come find a parent when she wants to go to the creek. The first kid is not given any information about how to be safe around the creek but probably still wants to go, while the second is shown how to be safe and can go whenever she wants so has no reason to sneak off anyway.

    Anyway, sorry for the tangent, it's just one of those things that hits on a nerve with me. I completely agree with your point of view. We are the parents for a reason. I will sometimes leave my daughters for a minute or two too (1 and almost 4), but like you I judge their moods and what they're doing/playing with at the time.

  3. Gun-proofing a child? Seriously? They wrote a book with stuff like that? I almost want to read it just for the laughs.
    But on a more serious note, that is wrong on so many levels and you point them out very well in your post. Thank you!

  4. I love this post. Have commented twice and each time my comment got wiped out!! So third time lucky summary - I totally agree with you - when something happens between my two young children, it really is my fault and not theirs. I have to keep them safe rather than allow something to happen and dish out punishments. I heard Dayna Martin say something like this a while ago and it has really helped me, especially when others have tried to tell me that I should punish/lecture my older child for kicking, biting, pinching etc I have to know that it's age appropriate and work with her to keep them both at ease. 'That book' is so warped, I wish them and all exposed to the book, a magnificent flash of Divine inspiration on gentle parenting.

  5. @Dulce, What?!! Your doctor actually gave you that book? I am in shock. It literally gave me nightmares.

    @Lindsay, Exactly. Child-training doesn't "work" for exactly that reason. Kids learn what not to do in front of you. That is dangerous.

    @Brave New Life, Another thing I will never forget from the book: If your child doesn't potty-train fast enough, just clean him at each diaper change by hosing him off with cold water from the garden hose. It's seriously abusive.

    @Terri, So annoying when you type a comment and it gets wiped out! Thanks for hanging in there though. :) I wish the same thing for people who can't see the insanity in that book. My heart breaks for children who are raised that way.