I saw this question, but mine is slightly different.

Could a hyper militaristic society get better soldiers by training all children from when they are toddlers?

They would be put in state-run training centers, where they would be rigorously instructed in combat skills. While they would probably not be strong enough to hold and fire adult sized assault rifles, they could still be taught how to dig defensive fighting positions and reinforce them with wood/sandbags/scrap metal, clean and maintain weapons, perform first aid, to practice proper gun safety, to swim and climb, the basics of hand to hand combat, map reading and navigation, vehicle maintenance, etc.

They could start with simpler tasks first, then move on to more complex ones later. The children could also be taken on long marches through harsh terrain while carrying heavy weights to toughen them up, and made to play "anything goes" capture the flag to increase their aggression.

  • Electric shocks would be used to make them follow orders and to become very disciplined and pain resistant. You would also be able to control their food, water, and sleep schedules, so that you can teach them how to operate while starved, dehydrated, and with little sleep.

  • You would also be able to indoctrinate them about the glory of the state and to exterminate its enemies without mercy, because they are disgusting subhuman vermin.

Obviously, these children would become emotionally-stunted borderline-psychopaths, but would this process result in improved soldiers?

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    $\begingroup$ Sparta did this at age of 7. Technically we can do it at toddler age, but logistically, that would become a more complex setup that won't buy us that much in terms of military skill. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Mar 4, 2019 at 23:46
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    $\begingroup$ This is not an answer but "La femme Nikita" Tv series (Canadian one) explores the idea from a more spy-oriented point of view, "Dark Angel" from a designed and trained from birth point of view - could be usefull to you. $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2019 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ A modern society cannot afford to have its children waste time with antiquated (and useless) pseudo-military training, instead of developing useful skills. It's not clear whether you understand what a modern soldier or sailor actually does. We have progressed quite a bit from the days of the Macedonian phalanges. Marching and firing rifles are activities performed by a tiny minority of the members of a modern military force, while hand to hand combat skills belong to an even tinier minority. And "exterminating the enemies without mercy" is a good way to get to visit the Hague. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 5, 2019 at 0:49
  • $\begingroup$ A Song of Ice and Fire shows this pretty well (I can't remember in which book...the 2nd? 3rd?...look for The Unsullied). Not sure they start immediately after weaning...it may be more age 5 or even 7. $\endgroup$
    – Cyn
    Mar 5, 2019 at 3:26
  • $\begingroup$ Some of the best modern military training available is video games. Kids raised with video games can pilot drones or operate remote controlled turrets, gaining all the situational awareness that is needed from video feeds. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Mar 5, 2019 at 15:56

5 Answers 5


I cant find the article I read anymore so this will have to do: https://scholar.google.nl/scholar?hl=nl&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=olympic+training+toddlers&btnG=#d=gs_qabs&u=%23p%3D31F1lBUcOosJ

What I read was an article which trained children extremely young to see the effects. They trained the children in ice skating using play and rewards (rather than shocks which would reduce the effects of training). This allowed the children to be extremely good at ice skating. Not olympic material (yet) but they surpassed many semi-professionals. The drawback was that other skills immediately suffered, such as development of communication, social skills and learning what the world was ("this is a bench, that is a shirt"). Once they stopped the program most of these skills saw a massive drop, while "normal" skills for that age rapidly started catching up.

A more well-suited way to teach would be to encourage playsessions that learn them the basics, rather than hyperfocus on military aspects which will most certainly mean that other 'less important' skills will lack.

As for essentially abusing your children to "make them pain resistant", you might as well set up gladiatorial combat to the death as that will be close to what your army would be doing to itself. https://www.secasa.com.au/pages/child-physical-abuse-understanding-and-responding/effects-of-child-physical-abuse/

These children would become insubordinate, lack the skills to work together as a group, have issues with anger management, would be violent (not a good thing as they would be violent against fellow soldiers and officers just as easily), have problems with getting new children in your army and many other psychological problems.

A better way is to encourage a proper response to pain. Lets say you add tree climbing to the programs and make small contests for the children to climb towards a goal (not necessarily the fastest as that only encourages the best climbers to play). Climbing causes small wounds but when play is fun those arent as important and the child will learn what pains it can ignore and when pains are serious enough to keep an eye on, IE "I fell and broke a finger" is a good moment for a child to react and seek help to learn how to treat it. Additional advantage of such playtypes would be a stronger immune system. Tree climbing is just one example, and the idea would be to have a variety of playtypes that encourage not just physical exercise but also having to think and plan through a situation. Say having a treasure hunt for some candy but having to overcome some obstacles to get there. Depending on the age the amount of support would change. Toddlers would be guided by adults, this would strengthen their belief in listening to others and cooperation while the adults can present them with bite-sized problems tailored to the current skill of the children. Older children would get less supervision but more responsibility. A great way would be to have older children guide younger one's while an adult supervises the entire group to steer them. It teaches responsibility, guidance and teaches the older children both when to trust in someone's abilities once they give an order and when they need guidance. It also teaches them that guiding is a far better option than ordering and expecting results every time.


Primary Advantage: Psychological Control

The primary advantage for manipulating toddlers would be psychological, not the physical training. By stunting certain emotional development patterns, it would be possible to make hyper-violent (and possibly hyper-loyal) soldiers. Taking over the psychological development of toddlers would also prevent the child from having any memories of life with parents, siblings, friends, or a non-military world. None of that pesky individuality to get in the way. The child may not even believe they are human (either god, slave, angel, half-human, alien, etc) - they may believe they are grown, produced, or "manifested" through a non-birth process. Heck, they may not even know about sex or reproduction! Absolute control over their earliest memories equals absolute control over their basic view of the universe.

would this process result in improved soldiers?

Depends on what you mean by "improved" - that's not immediately obvious. If "super loyal, willing to die, and very good at being violent" equates to "improved", then yes. But with every pro is a con. It's difficult to stunt someone's growth and then have them be creative thinkers. You need at least one guy to be able to think calmly and strategically, which becomes both a strength (not very much insubordination) and a major weakness (that guy becomes a single point of failure for the entire military structure). I'm sure there are many other cons, but that would depend on the specifics of your story.

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    $\begingroup$ This is what essentially happen with Janissaries, but even there children weren't taken that young. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Mar 5, 2019 at 1:03
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    $\begingroup$ Add to this Reactive Associative Disorder and PTSD. You are teaching your soldiers from a young age that authority can only be relied on for causing pain. By puberty they will willfully flout authority and become useless as soldiers. They will be prone to flashbacks and alternate between lashing out violently and withdrawing into a weeping fetal shell. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Mar 5, 2019 at 12:31

cegfault pointed out the main draw of this method, but I'd like to complete with drawbacks:

While I'm not knowledgeable in epigenetic1, a lot of things during your growth will affect the final result, and not only on a genetic level.

While exercising is connected to the release of hormones linked to growth and muscle development, over-exercising has also been proven to be harmful to a child development. Too much effort and/or muscle mass will grind down the growth cartilage.

Starving and depriving of sleep someone will also affect their physical development. You will probably achieve murderous sociopaths given the proper training, but you must expect mental and physical setbacks if you overdo it, especially at a young age.

So a too harsh training from a young age seems suboptimal, as you will eventually produce a bunch of degenerates hyper violent short-sized, short-focused "murder hobos".

1: Only learned about that recently, it's the science focused on the changes in genes expression during life, as far as I understood.


While a few answers explain the downsides of your plan to militarize their early training I want to explain a path you could take. Don't train your children through sheer adversity, train them optimally. There is a lot of research out there how to raise a proper adult.

Care for them, exercise them but not to much. Give them proper nutrition to maximize potential physical limits. Raise them as well adjusted adults that can improvise and are stress resistant. You don't want a dumb grunt, you want an elite killing machine. Given the amount of resources you put into them you're going for special forces of some kind.

Now the point you start giving this your own spin is in the loyalty department. For a soldier loyalty is key, it will make them accept orders without hesitation, it will allow them to push through their limits. Donb't be feared, be loved.

Research into animals has shown loyalty is best achieved by mixing love and pain. Sheer pain and torture will turn the subject away, they simply fear their caretakers and shun contact. Just love make s them loyal but only so much. Mixing them is the sweet spot. Experiencing a good deal of love make them familiar with it. But alternating it with harsh punishment creates a fear. A fear they'll fight to prevent to become reality.

Be kind to them till they misbehave. Punish laziness but reward giving it all. With a loyal subject you can train them to be anything. Combine this with shaping their moral frame of reference and you can get incredible control over your soldiers.


There is not much historical evidence for training soldiers or warriors when they are toddlers.

A toddler is defined as a child just learning to walk, or as a child age 12 to 36 months.

As far as I can tell the youngest boys to ever be officially enlisted in professional armed forces were aged five at the time, and that was very rare, and also much older than a toddler.

As for a warrior class, the Spartans began training boys to be warriors at age seven.

As far as I can tell, the youngest soldiers and sailors to successfully carry out military duties would have been not much younger than ten - nine or eight being the youngest I can think of and very rare.

Similarly, the youngest military & naval officers on active duty would have been not much younger than ten, and that would have been very unusual.

Therefore, military training of toddlers would not begin to pay off with reasonably competent and capable soldiers for five, ten, or maybe even fifteen years. The average length of military training has varied a lot, from weeks to years, but even five years training before active duty for the average soldier in an army would be unusually long and expensive.

Therefore most societies would not have universal training of children as soldiers beginning as toddlers, considering it a waste of time and money, and your society needs a special reason to begin that practice.


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