Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Ch5 Part 11

Bizarre Child Rearing Practice

Biene contributed this post.

“The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissor-man.
Oh! children, see! the tailor’s come
And caught out little Suck-a-Thumb.
Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out, “Oh! Oh! Oh!”
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast,
That both his thumbs are off at last.”


I sucked my thumb with passion and abandon right from birth and maybe even before. My parents never got tired of telling the embarrassing story when I tried to suck my brother’s thumb. He often stood still when observing something with his hands folded on his back like a statesman. I played on the floor behind him when I suddenly grabbed his hand and tried to put his thumb into my mouth. He screamed in horror, thinking I was going to bite him. Initially, my parents thought that I would eventually give up this bad habit on my own. But when I continued past the toddler stage, they started to get worried. All their attempts to stop me from putting my thumb into my mouth failed. As soon as their attention was diverted, I made up for the lost time, especially at night.

Heinrich Hoffmann: Der Struwwelpeter;

Finally, my mother and sister decided on more drastic measures. To me, they read the then bestselling children’s book ‘Struwwelpeter’ by Heinrich Hoffman. I listened attentively, sucking my thumb peacefully when suddenly my ears pricked up. There was a story of a little boy who had this habit of thumb sucking like me. Like me, the boy did not stop when told so by his parents. Then one day, the thumb cutter came and cut off his thumbs. Thus he stopped him once and for all.

I was getting a bit worried hearing the story when suddenly the doorbell rang. My sister got up to answer it. She returned after a few minutes looking very serious. “The thumb cutter is here looking for Biene,” she told my mom. “Should I let him come in?” My mom replied, looking at me, “Tell him to go because Biene will not suck her thumb anymore.” My thumb was out of my mouth in an instant. I was shaken to the core. “Miraculously” from that day on, I stopped this bad habit for good.

22 Replies to “Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Ch5 Part 11”

  1. Bizarre, you can say that again! To act it out like that seems cruel to me, but at that time parents had a different opinion about how to educate their children. And it was all for “their best”. Even beatings were given under that pretense. I know Struwwlpeter, it was included in a book with Wilhelm Busch’s equally brutal stories.
    I was outraged when I read that book as a child, and I think my parents understood why.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That does seem rather cruel. My grandmother used shame instead of fear to get me to stop sucking my thumb. My mother was in the hospital having her second child (I was almost three), and my grandmother told me that I was no longer a baby and thus could not suck my thumb any more. For whatever reason it worked. My parents, however, were not pleased because I sucked my thumb to help me fall asleep, and now I refused to do so. So my parents had a newborn who wasn’t sleeping and a toddler who wasn’t either. (Obviously this story was told to me as I don’t have any memory of it.) I am not sure which method was better—or whether we all should have been allowed to self-comfort for as long as it took to outgrow the habit.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I still have that book on my shelf here at home. Even as kids we knew it wasn’t real. I didn’t take any of the stories in the book seriously and I loved reading them over and over. I loved the rhymes and thought the stories were funny – the harsh way these lessons were supposedly taught were not part of the real world. The stories were never meant to scare kids or to be taken seriously, but nowadays EVERYTHING has to be viewed with horror and banned. I think I turned out fairly normal and I never had nightmares about any of the Struwwelpeter stories. I loved them. And of course I would never seriously threaten children with these things. Suck your thumb and the scissor man will cut it off. Really! What child in a loving home would believe that? And isn’t it funny how all the children’s fairy tales are being banned but no one worries about the real problems going on in the world?

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I know it’s a controversial subject and I took a chance that many would not agree with me, but speaking only for myself (and my brother and sisters), we all loved these stories and were not traumatized because we knew they were just stories. Look at what kids watch today instead – Halloween horror shows and video games where they cut people’s heads off. Anyway, I will always treasure my copy of Struwwelpeter. I still have so many lines from the book in my head (und Minz und Maunz die Katzen, Erheben ihre Tatzen. Sie drohen mit den Pfoten: „Der Vater hat’s verboten! Miau! Mio! Miau! Mio! Laß stehn! etc….) I didn’t play with matches, I loved my cats, and I am not maladjusted.
        I just had a thought – if people object to these books, they don’t have to buy them, but I hope they will back off and allow me to make my own choice about what I can read.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Definitely in German. I have an old copy of it and about 50 years ago I was able to replace it with a new one (in German) from the German import store on Robson St. in Vancouver. But this version, even though it looked identical, didn’t have the first page about the Christmas tree. I think I have to do a blog post about these books.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Klar,der Struwwelpeter war schon so geschrieben, dass Kinder sich “Unarten” möglichst schnell abgewöhnen sollten…Das war aber erziehungsmässig damals so gewollt….Ich hatte vor langer Zeit mal Folgendes gelesen:
    Der Heinrich Hoffmann machte sich bei einem Spaziergang Gedanken darüber ,was er ( ich glaube zu Weihnachten) seinen Kindern schenken könnte..Es sollte natürlich vor allem nützlich und erzieherisch einprägsam sein.Da hat er beschlossen,ein Buch für sie zu schreiben , unter anderem war da der Struwwelpeter mit drin. ( Das Feuerzeug ist ja auch sehr schlimm für Kinder zu lesen. .)
    Ob es den Kindern gefallen hat,wurde nicht überliefert…aber es verbreitete sich sehr schnell.
    Ich bin sicher,eher durch viele Eltern anstatt der
    Kinder….. Als Kind hab ich übrigens diese Geschichten sehr oft gelesen,ich lese auch heute noch sehr gerne Krimis. Bestimmt hat der Struwwelpeter das bewirkt…
    Bei Dir hat es ja eingeschlagen wie eine Bombe,armes Bienchen…
    Herzliche Grüße aus Sottmar!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Vielen Dank, liebe Edda! Du schreibst immer die besten Kommentare. Ich finde es schade, das Böcher dieser Art verboten werden, weil sie angeblich einen schlechten Einfluss auf die Kinder haben könnten. Viele liebe Grüße aus dem fernen Kanads!

      Like

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