Child psychologists, Fundamentals, Psychology

Schreber’s Parenting Style Was About Unconditional Obedience and Harsh Discipline

parenting style

“You will be master of the child forever. From then on, a glance, a word, a single threatening gesture will be sufficient to control the child,”

said Dr. Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber, about mastering the crying baby through frightening it.

Parenting style

Schreber was not a madman who took pleasure in torturing babies. He was a world famous German pedagogue and child psychiatrist wrote many childcare books promoting his parenting style between 1850 and 1860. He was a physician, later a university teacher at the University of Leipzig and director of the Leipzig‘s sanatorium and was seen as a child psychiatrist. He was read widely in France, England, and America and his parenting style was very famous. He really became a rare authority on childcare in Germany which went through forty reprints of his books from 1858 till 1950’s. His success in giving advice on parenting style was unmatched for several decades, and it still has some ripple effect today.

The manuals on education and his parenting style explained in a step-by-step method how to create obedient children from day one, through a systematic approach close to torture. The method had to be applied with the newborn baby who should be drilled from the very first day to obey and refrain from crying.

Stroking, cuddling and kissing were forbidden and entire generations of Germans went without direct, loving contact with their parents. Today’s extensive research into attachment theory makes clear the damage done by such parenting style.

Unconditional obedience through harsh discipline

His own words, from his book Education towards Beauty by Natural and Balanced Furtherance of Normal Body Growth written in 1858 are the best ticket into his mind:

“Joined to the feeling of law, a feeling of impossibility of struggling against the law; a child’s obedience, the basic condition for all further education, is thus solidly founded for the time to come… The most generally necessary condition for moral will power and character is the unconditional obedience of the child.” (p. 135)

When the child psychiatrist talked about his parenting style and more particularly the caring for infants under five he uses words like law, control and will power. He was all about harsh discipline and for babies that would start with cold baths and constant discomfort.

“The noble seeds of human nature sprout upwards in their purity almost on their own if the ignoble ones, the weeds, are sought out and destroyed in time. This must be done ruthlessly and vigorously. It is a dangerous error to believe that flaws in a child’s character will disappear by themselves. (…) A child’s misbehaviour will become in the adult a serious fault in character and opens the way to vice and baseness.” (p. 140)

A child could not be the responsibility of a women

There were still many Schreberian children, as they were called, around by the 1920’s when Nazism came around. He was one of the many reasons why fascism was easier in Germany than in other countries. The time for sense and sensibility personified by women was over. In his totalitarian attitude and parenting style one could easily detect sexism.

“To form a protective wall against the unhealthy predominance of the emotional side against that feeble sensitiveness – the disease of our age, which must be recognized as the usual reason for the increasing frequency of depression, mental illness, and suicide.” (p. 281)

The father would be the absolute ruler, an open door to homemade and familiar despotism.

“No wife with common sense and good will want to oppose his decisive voice.”

A child could not be the responsibility of a women:

“If one wants a planned upbringing based on principles to flourish, the father above anyone else must hold the reins of upbringing in his hands…. The main responsibility for the whole result of upbringing always belongs to the father…” (p.32)

Schreber was a self-declared child psychiatrist  but above all a fine business man and along with his books and parenting style came a series of merchandise goodies. One could choose belts to tie children tightly in bed or a head holder with chin clamp to hold a head straight or straight holder to sit up in a chair or shoulder bands to keep the shoulders nicely back. Or you could buy the lot. Schreber opened gymnastics all over Germany and members had Schreber magazines to be kept up to date. That must have given him even a greater authority to speak so confidently on mothering and parenting style.

He was extremely successful and the approval of Freud of the appropriately called Schreber system from this child psychiatrist might have helped also. The fact that his two sons got insane and that one got therapy by Freud himself did not impress people much because by 1958 there were still two million people member of the Schreber association.

parenting style
The Daughters of Catulle Mendès, Auguste Renoir, 1888, Credit Line The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection 1998
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