You’d Better Not Pout

Much of my clinical work lately has been helping parents set limits with their children and take control of their homes. It is interesting how some parents have the knack, and others do not.  Many have tried spanking and harsh punishments and threats, and find they don’t work. Others have just given up, and let their children run wild.  I was a particularly well-behaved child, and my parents never spanked or yelled or used fear or intimidation.  I need to think more on how they did it.  This is not a new problem. I think every generation complains that children are getting worse and worse, and try innovative ways to get their children to behave.  Many of these ways involve trying to scare children into good behavior, especially in December.  So, take heed, naughty Baboons. Tonight is Krampusnacht!!

The Krampus is a Bavarian, Austrian, and central European figure who is said to visit homes on the Night of December 5. He was invoked to scare children into good behavior. He is hideous, with horns, and has a basket in which he carries away naughty children to  eat them, drown them, or take them to Hell.  The picture below is an example of a Krampus Card from the 19th century. Notice that it is the boy who is naughty and the girl who is good. I think this perpetuates stereotypes.

I had never heard of Krampus  until recently. They aren’t characters from northern Germany, where my family comes from.  My mother told me that that the Christ child would bring the presents when they were at church on Christmas eve.  How mild and comforting is that! (If any of you haven’t read David Sedaris’ 6-8 Black Men, you need to read it.)  Krampus parades are quite popular in Austria. You can see how terrifying they are in the video clip.

Belsnickel is another German character from Christmas who sort of combines St. Nick with the Krampus.  He was dressed in rags and fur, and carried a switch as well as a bag of goodies.  He arrived 1–2 weeks before Christmas, and he knew exactly which of the children had been naughty during the year.  He knocked on the door or window with his stick and the children either answered a question for him or sang some type of song.  In exchange, he tossed candies onto the floor. If the children jumped too quickly for the treats, they would end up getting struck with Belsnickel’s switch. He orginated in south-west Germany, and was brought to the US by German immigrants to Pennsylvania and Indiana.

It doesn’t seem that Europeans were the only ones who had trouble getting children to behave. I found this photo of Japanese folklore characters called Namehage, who go from house to house carrying knives on New Year’s Eve and ask if there are any naughty children inside. They are not that different than Krampus. They give the children lectures on how to behave.  I find them pretty scary. I find it even more interesting that they, too, come out at the same time in winter as Santa Claus, Krampus, and Belsnickel. Why?  What is so significant about that that time of year?

By Douglas P Perkins (Douglaspperkins (talk)) – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Scaring children into good behavior doesn’t work, especially if the scary characters only arrive in December.  I find that structure, consistency, parents getting off their phones, natural consequences, and positive praise work very well.  Daughter asked me yesterday “Do you remember when you cancelled my birthday party when I  got a C on a test when I was in Grade 5?”  There is a lot more to that story, but I told her that was unnecessarily harsh, and I know better ways to handle that now.  When will we ever learn?

What scared you as a child?  What is your parenting philosophy? How did your parents discipline? Did you worry that Santa might bring you coal?

27 thoughts on “You’d Better Not Pout”

  1. As a kid I did my best to behave and please my parents. I had rebellious thoughts from time to time, but kept them to myself. I didn’t fear punishment because that wasn’t a real threat in our family. I got spanked one time when I was four. (My crime was eating all the baby carrots we’d recently planted in our gardening.) Apart from that, I kept out of trouble.

    Discipline in our family dished out by my mother. From time to time she would sit me down to explain how badly I was disappointing her. That probably sounds progressive, and maybe it was for that time. I’d argue that guilt can be a terrible weapon when used often and intemperately.

    As a parent I had a low opinion of punishment. I never physically punished my daughter and only once punished her verbally. I believed in rewarding good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior. But then, there was no need for me to get tough. My erstwife embraced the role of disciplinarian so enthusiastically that we didn’t need another of those in our house.

    Coal in my stocking? Impossible! Christmas was the one truly holy day of the year for my mother, the day she made a grand pageant of family love.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I don’t mean to make too much of that. It’s my legacy, but it is hardly a strange or big thing. Lots of people have shame/guilt issues. She was a great mom and I miss her terribly. Shame and guilt aren’t so awful. I’ve noticed that have instinctively sought out people who are attuned to guilt. One consequence, I think, is that people like that are empathic and easy for me to understand.


  2. When I was a kid, for some reason I thought that any stray lights in the night sky were alien spaceships. Particularly those klieg lights that used to be popular at car dealerships and Hollywood. To this day I’m not sure why I believe this and I don’t think I ever spoke about it out loud!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. i got whooped as a kid regularly and semi severely
    belts and paddles, wooden spoons and whatever else was nearby at the moment of truth
    i learned pain as a punishment is a temporary deterrent. it only hurts a while.
    you gotta do what you gotta do and certainly
    you can’t please all the people all the time so…

    my parenting style was one of tolerance with input.
    i am lucky to have all really smart kids who only needed to be reminded to make good choices. when they were little i was successful in business and full of myself do i voiced my opinion and believed i was right, i still do but both they and i have come to understand my thoughts are just that, my thoughts and they are not bulletproof and beyond reproach.
    it was easier when they were.
    i was scared of stuff as a child based on my vivid imagination . the stuff shadows were about to become

    back soon

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is a fascinating story. Thanks for sharing this. I wasn’t aware of all these creatures, thankfully. Man, I’da been scarred for life.
    Been thinking about this and our behavior as children all morning.

    I think the basics have to be established early. So while I remember being mouthy once in a while (and one time mom trying to swat me with the flyswatter but that’s only because she was on the phone. So, 1) she had limited mobility because she was tethered to the wall, and 2) with the phone in one hand and the fly swatter in the other, it was the only choice she had. Another thing today’s kids will never be able to experience. 🙂
    Dad just yelled; if he chewed you out, you listened. Mom didn’t get mad.
    And it’s funny, (in the curious sense of the word), I have more memories of Dad yelling at me than I do of Dad being nice to me. And it’s not that he wasn’t nice- I don’t mean it that way and please don’t think less of him; I know he loved all the kids and he taught me a lot and we would have good conversations, but it’s those harsh words that cut deepest and last longest. And that’s really unfortunate.

    We learned a lot from seeing Barbara Coloroso and reading her books.
    Let kids make decisions when they’re small decisions. “Unless they’re moral threatening, Life threatening or illegal”. Because you want them to learn how to make decisions early when they’re not serious decisions. And have a backbone; that was a big one with us. And we had good examples with our parents and other family.

    I say all this as my friend Paul and I are working on the upcoming Christmas concerts at the college. I just told him, maybe next year we could do the dark side of Christmas and feature some Krampus’!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Nice job, Renee. I sure am glad that Krampus never made it to Scandinavia when I was a child. Nisserne were a lot more fun.

    As I’ve written before, mom was abusive, physically, verbally and emotionally. She was also effusively repentant and loving afterwards, and as a child I think that emotional roller coaster was most damaging. It was impossible to predict what would set her off, and that left me in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear around her.

    Dad hit me exactly twice while I was growing up.

    The first time was a spanking when I was two. I had wet the bed, while he and mom were at the movies, and had given me strict orders not to get out of bed while they were gone. I have no memory of this incident, but he told me late in his life that he regretted that spanking, and apologized for it.

    It was then that I confronted him with the second time he hit me, which I did remember, and to my mind, did vastly more damage to our relationship. He punched me in the face with a closed fist when I was fifteen. My infraction? I went to Tivoli with a couple of girlfriends and two fifteen year old German boys we had met on our summer bicycle vacation. No daughter of his was going to be friends with any German. This was a crossroads in our relationship.

    In general, I think my parents, especially my mother, believed that if you instilled enough fear in your kids, you could prevent them from doing things they shouldn’t. To some extent, that may be true in the short term, but in the long run, I don’t think it’s a good strategy for raising a child. But no, I never feared that I’d get a lump of coal for Christmas. We’d get one or two presents. I’m aghast at the amount of gifts some parents now seem to think their kids need or deserve on any occasion.

    I’m not a parent, so it’s easy for me to have developed a pretty bulletproof theory of what works and what doesn’t. Kids are different, and what works perfectly with one child may not work at all with another. If my experience as a nanny to a total of five kids amounts to anything, I know I enjoyed them, liked being with them, and spent lots of time doing things with them. That, of course, is a luxury that many parents don’t have, or, as in the case of these kids, chose to assign to someone else. I believe kids need to be encouraged and supported, and learn right from wrong. They also need to learn that choices have consequences.

    Good parenting is a joy to behold, and I feel lucky I know several couples that are excellent parents in my estimation. They are engaged and active in their children’s lives, give them responsibilities of increasing consequence as grow into them, and they make a point of celebrating special occasions both with the family and the individual child. When we spend time with them as a family, their love and respect for each other is almost palpable.

    My dad loved kids, and not just his own. He enjoyed spending time with us, playing with us, and teaching us about all the things that interested him. In retrospect, I don’t think mom particularly enjoyed kids. She liked for us to be neat, clean, and well dressed, and saw us and our behavior as a reflection of her. Her motto was “Children should be seen and not heard.”

    Parenting is, no doubt, a challenge, with plenty of opportunity to screw up. Unfortunately it’s a responsibility that an awful lot of people don’t stop to consider before they embark on that journey. I suspect a lot of couples don’t even discuss what their idea of good parenting looks like before the fact, and a conflict in that area becomes a source of conflict in the family for a long time. My friend, Aura Lee, was engaged to be married at the time she adopted Elea from China. Within six months after Elea was brought to this country, Aura Lee broke off the engagement. It had become very apparent to her that her and her fiance’s idea of how to discipline a child were incompatible. I, for one, applauded that decision, painful as it was. She has remained single, and her two daughters, both adopted from China, are now sixteen and eighteen years old.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thoughtful post, PJ. I’ve known several outstanding parents but almost none who weren’t occasionally overwhelmed and confused by that awesome, complex responsibility. And of course, few of us have much relevant experience before becoming parents.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. We often need to pay attention to when things happened. My childhood was in the 1940s and 1950s. Many parents–maybe most parents–believed “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Another way of saying that is they believed it was their duty to discipline their kids with physical punishment. My sense is that many parents still believe that, especially in the South, especially African Americans. My parents’ reluctance to spank us was remarkable for kids raised before Dr. Spock published his books.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree that it’s important to consider the context within which things occur, but considering that Dr. Spock’s revolutionary book was first published in 1946, do you think it’s a possibility that your parents may have read it? As I understand it, the book was a best-seller and extremely controversial at the time, and so would not rule out that possibility. What do you think? I’d certainly rule out any possibility of may parents ever having read it.

      I agree

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m sure my folks had not read Spock. They weren’t big on books. (Actually, they had lots of books, but they were bought as home decor.) I know from what they said that they both were highly concerned about raising children who were “spoiled.” That was a big thing in the culture that produced them.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t remember being afraid much as a child. My folks rarely spanked us, though I remember my dad threatening to get out the belt – I believe he may have actually used it once on my sister. It was mostly stern looks – heck, with me, withholding approval was all that was needed most of the time! And there was no coal.

    From what I’ve seen of different parenting styles, the one thing that is key is following through on what you say. If not, then the child learns that there really is no consequence to their action, no cause and effect, no reason to obey if they don’t want to. So you have to be really careful with what you threaten to do, make sure you’re willing to go through with it if the child misbehaves again.

    I was lucky enough to take some parenting classes through Community Ed when Joel was a toddler – I wish every parent could go to some of these (if led by a good person). I learned a lot, including some book titles that are now out-of-date; one of the best was “Get Out of My Life, But First Can You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall” by Anthony Wolf.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I recall one specific incident of punishment from my childhood that also taught me a valuable lesson. I was five years old. I can pinpoint my age because the incident happened in our newly remodeled bathroom, and that remodel was undertaken in the spring of 1947. Mom was looking in the bathroom mirror while applying make-up, I was standing behind her watching her. Apparently I was unhappy about something because as she was standing there primping, I stuck out my tongue and made a nasty face at her back. She promptly swung around and gave me a wallop upside the head. I recall being surprised at the swiftness of her reaction, and also wondering about how. she knew what I had done. It was then that I realized that you have to be careful what you do behind people’s back, especially if they have a mirror in front of them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Or as it was expressed in a NYT article about #41’s funeral: “But whatever the weather, the climate was always loving.” This in reference to the relationship between GHWB and his son, GWB, an analogy I find easy to grasp.

      Liked by 4 people

  9. I have mentioned before that training dogs is a surprisingly useful background for anyone who will become a parent. I was an inept dog trainer at first but got better with experience. Here are some lessons learned with dogs that later served me as a dad:

    *Be consistent (as BiR notes).
    *Limit the number of demands you make, keeping in mind what the dog knows and doesn’t know. One effect of issuing too many commands is that the dog pays less attention than if you limit commands.
    *Don’t give a command unless you mean it. When the dog doesn’t obey you have to follow through, but in a way that is educational rather than punitive.
    *Keep commands clear and limited (no confusing repetition, no extraneous verbiage).
    *What seems like disobedience is often your fault for not educating the dog so it knows what you want.
    *The key is not to punish bad conduct but to teach desirable conduct.
    *NEVER act out of anger. It is unfair and counterproductive.

    Obviously we shouldn’t treat kids like dogs. No shock collars! But good training can point the way to better parenting.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Children Learn What They Live
    By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

    If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
    If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
    If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
    If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
    If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
    If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
    If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
    If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
    If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
    If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
    If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
    If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
    If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
    If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
    If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
    If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
    If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
    If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
    If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
    Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte

    Liked by 5 people

  11. When I was little I remember having nightmares about witches. Not sure where that fear came from. Maybe a Halloween prank or a scary book of fairy tales. But I always trusted Santa to bring me something I would like. I’m glad I never made the acquaintance of the Krampus – that picture would have given me nightmares for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Yesterday I heard a mother at the JCC telling her little boy, “You can’t change the rules, but you can change how you respond to the rules. That’s within your control.” The look on the boy’s face suggested that he heard some version of this lecture with some frequency.

    Liked by 2 people

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