The Heart of the Matter

I originally wrote this a couple of years ago about the Pearls and their method of discipline. There is a new story this week about parents who apparently used the Pearls’ book, To Train Up a Child, and who have been found guilty of murdering their child. Given the renewed attention that the Pearls’ method is receiving, I thought it worthwhile to repost the following article.

I read an article about the controversial discipline methods advocated by Michael and Debi Pearl in their book To Train Up A Child. As a mother of three, I have spent a reasonable amount of time considering the issue of discipline. There are so many opinions out there. In fact, has over 7000 hits on the topic. While the article, and most of the negative attention that the Pearls have received, focuses on the topic of spanking or the use of the “rod,” my concern with the Pearls’ approach goes beyond that.

My concern is with the attitude the Pearls seem to have towards children. While I certainly agree that children need to learn that the universe doesn’t revolve around them, the universe also doesn’t revolve around the parents. According to the Pearls, a three month old child who cries when you walk away is attempting to “emotionally manipulate” his parents. This behavior, therefore, should be “trained” out of the child. Imagine a parent swatting a 10 week old infant with a 1/4″ tubing┬ábecause the baby dared to cry when she was placed in her crib. Her needs had been met, according to the parents, so therefore her cry was an attempt to manipulate.

Here is a short quote from an article by the Pearls “Infant Manifesto” written from the perspective of a small child:

I started lying from day one. I am ashamed of it now, but I made my sweet mother think that I was hurting or cold, when all I wanted was to be held close. I soon learned that I could make her believe that I was hungry when I was not.

Is it really a sin for a child to want to be held close? Is it wrong for a baby to have emotional needs? From what I’ve read from the Pearls, children are supposed to learn their place and not be an inconvenience. Maybe the Pearls have some good advice to give, but again and again the things I’ve read make the still, small voice inside me scream “THIS IS WRONG!!” The approach the Pearls use will lead to emotional (and likely physical) abuse. Children in many orphanage settings don’t cry, not because they don’t have needs or are especially well-behaved, but because they know no one will answer their cries.

Is that they way I want my children to be? For good or for ill, my children are going to associate their relationship with me with their relationship with God. Continue reading