Chapter 1 turned out longer than I expected, so I’m splitting it into two parts.
Switch Your Kids
The book starts out fundamentally flawed, highlighting Michael Pearl’s love for the extremes by two stories featuring a family whose children are obviously out of control (I cringe saying that), contrasted with a woman who tells her children “Go out in the sun-room to play and don’t bother Mama unless you need something.” Of course, they obey perfectly, supposedly through using the “Biblical principles found in these pages”. In Pearlala land, I have yet to see where they even mention nonviolent parenting methods in which the children are taught to love and respect their fellow humans without having it beaten into them.
I remember being the child of the second mother. I remember being told to go play and not bother the adults. (I wasn’t always told this; my parents also loved having us kids sitting in on their adult discussions, even when we couldn’t understand them, because we were always so well-behaved, they liked to show us off.) Even as a very small child, I hated that. I felt demeaned, like a lesser person. And these things I felt before age 10! I remember having to try to figure out how to handle things without bothering the adults. I remember being really scared of trying to get mom’s or dad’s attention, even when I thought it was necessary. Sometimes I got scolded because mom or dad thought it wasn’t necessary; sometimes it really was. How was a five-year-old supposed to know what was “necessary”?
The paragraphs under this heading make me shudder.
Training does not necessarily require that the trainee be capable of reason; even mice and rats can be trained to respond to stimuli. Careful training can make a dog perfectly obedient. If a seeing-eye dog can be trained to reliably lead a blind man through the obstacles of a city street, shouldn’t a parent expect more out of an intelligent child? A dog can be trained not to touch a tasty morsel laid in front of him. Can’t a child be trained not to touch? A dog can be trained to come, stay, sit, be quiet or fetch upon command. You may not have trained your dog that well, yet every day someone accomplishes it on the dumbest mutts. Even a clumsy teenager can be trained to be an effective trainer in a dog obedience school.
Michael Pearl fails to see (as I wrote in the Introduction) that GOOD dog obedience methods do not use violence. Plus, if parents are expecting more out of an intelligent child (I’m surprised he even refers to a child’s intelligence!), then wouldn’t it follow that children are more teachable than dogs? And just if you used violence to train a dog, then shouldn’t you be able to use better methods on a child? Wouldn’t a child be able to understand without using violence?
Teaching a child not to touch things isn’t a bad thing; in fact it can be a very good thing. But a child should be taught not to touch for a reason, not simply “because I said so”. Because it could break. Because it’s not yours. Because it will hurt you. Those are all real reasons that would make much more sense to a child than if you touch this, I will spank you. Why? Because I said not to touch it. One could argue this creates a trust between the child and parent, but it doesn’t. It actually makes the parent seem all the more arbitrary. What’s OK to touch and what’s not OK? Who knows! (Except the parent, of course!)
I’m also certain when a teenager brings his/her dog to dog obedience school, there is no violence used on the teenager to make him/her an effective trainer. That would just be really, really, really bad for business.
If you wait until your dog is displaying unacceptable behavior before you rebuke (or kick) him, you will have a foot-shy mutt who is always sulking around seeing what he can get away with before being screamed at. Where there is an absence of training, you can no more rebuke and whip a child into acceptable behavior than you can the family dog. No amount of discipline can make up for lack of training.
Proper training always works on every child. To neglect training is to create miserable circumstances for yourself and your child. Out of innocent ignorance many of you have bypassed the training and expected the discipline alone to effect proper behavior.
Basically, Pearl’s methods (which will be expounded upon later) isn’t based so much on consistent discipline (though they talk about that as well) so much as “training” beforehand: set your child up (or dog) for a fall, then spank them when they go for the obvious. So instead of having to deal with the child on a situation-by-situation basis (taking advantage of teachable moments), you have training sessions. Instead of having “a foot-shy mutt who is always sulking around seeing what he can get away with before being screamed at”, you’ll get foot-shy children who never know what is a set-up and what is the real thing.
Been there, done that. Those situations are partly why I hated answering any type of question my dad asked: I didn’t know if it was a set-up or if he genuinely wanted to know. I never knew when he was just testing me, or when it was the real deal. Consequently, I grew to second-guess my every thought and action. And second-guess his.
There are things that should still be taught beforehand: no putting fingers in the electric outlets (or DUH just buy those things that prevent it until you can teach him/her why s/he shouldn’t do that!), no running out in the street, even to chase a ball, etc. The difference is, these are things you don’t need to create a scenario for them to fall in. Are you walking down the street? Reinforce why you don’t run out into the street, even after a pet or ball. Sometimes children are forgetful, which is why you should be patient and repeat things often enough for them to grasp it fully.
Did you also see the sleight-of-hand he did there? “Where there is an absence of training, you can no more rebuke and whip a child into acceptable behavior than you can the family dog”. In fact, he means you can. He gives plenty of examples on his website (nogreaterjoy.org) of how he suggests turning families around by telling them to spank. And not just in training sessions!
When headstrong young men join the military, they are first taught to stand still. The many hours of close-order-drill are simply to teach and reinforce submission of the will. “Attention!” pronounced, “TENNN–HUTT!!” is the beginning of all maneuvers. Just think of the relief it would be if by one command you could gain the absolute, silent, concentrated attention of all your children. A sergeant can call his men to attention and then, without explanation, ignore them, and they will continue to stand frozen in that position until they fall out unconscious. The maneuvers “Right flank, Left flank, Companeeey–Halt” have no value in war except as they condition the men to instant, unquestioning obedience.
As in the military, all maneuvers in the home begin with a call to attention. Three-fourths of all home discipline problems would be instantly solved if you could at any time gain your child’s silent, unmoving attention. “TO THE REAR–MARCH” translated into family language would be: “Leave the room,” or, “Go to bed.” Without question they turn and go. This is normal in the well trained family.
First of all, not all who go into the military are “headstrong”, nor “young men”. Secondly, there is a glaring fault in this: those who go into the military (unless there is a draft) choose to be there. Perhaps they don’t know exactly what they are getting into, but they are still there voluntarily.
Children, on the other hand, have no such luxury: they are stuck with the parents they were born to.
This all sounds really nice to parents who have never attempted any sort of teaching of their children, who of course are wild. The whole reason parents get sucked into the Pearl trap is because they offer easy-to-use formulas that promise picture-perfect results. Parents who follow Pearl methods aren’t usually abusive, or trying to be, they are simply desperate. In later chapters I will show you the phrases that, taken literally, can lead to death.
I remember being in one of those “well trained families”. Do you have any clue how humiliating it is for a person (child, teen, adult…happened in all those stages of my life, but it bothered me more in my teen/adult years) to have to obey right away when mom or dad gives a command, especially if it happens in front of other people? (Which seemed to be often; I referred to those types of instances as the dog-and-pony shows.) Again, it made me feel like less than a person. It didn’t matter what I felt, or what I wanted, as long as I obeyed mommy and daddy. Plus, whatever it was had to be done with a smile, or it was off to the other room for a spanking. Yes, even as a teen/adult.
Not to mention there is the military command “at ease”, which means “do whatever you want until I call you again.” There’s not always that option in the “well trained family”. (For instance, when dad was around, we had to be hyper vigilant because he expected us to listen to anything he said, even if it was a conversation with someone else.)
I would just like to put his last paragraph into simple words: Three-fourths of all home discipline problems would be instantly solved if you turned your children into robots.
Think Stepford Wives. (I think about the newer version; I didn’t see the one from the 70’s.) Do you really want perfect robots, or do you want children?!?
Control of people is a fallacy; you may think you have it, but deep down it breeds rebellion.1
Pearlala land is evidently somewhere out in the boonies where horses and buggies are used, because in the next few paragraphs, Michael talks about how you must train the horses before you get them hitched to the buggies. Instead of explaining all of it, I’ll include some of it. (No way I can quote the entire book! — but I’ll try to get relevant passages in.)
A horse is first trained to stand still and submit to being caught. He must not fear the bridle or harness. He must stand still while the thirteen children step in front of the iron wheels to climb into the buggy. When stopped at the end of a driveway, waiting for the traffic to clear, he must not exercise his own will to step out in front of eighty-thousand pounds of speeding truck.
You must anticipate and train the horse for all potential occurrences. This is done in a controlled environment where situations are created to test and condition the horse’s responses. The horse is first conditioned by being taken through paces. As you hold the bridle and lead the horse, you say, “Whoa,” and then stop. Since you have a tight hold on the bridle, he must stop. After just a few times, the horse will stop to just the command.
This is giving an example of why you would train your children “for all potential occurrences….in a controlled environment”. Flaw: Children are not horses. What is right for a horse is not right for a child. Notice, though, that the horse is still being trained using nonviolent methods. I guess children really are dumber than animals to him.
Speak To Me Only
He goes on to talk about how when you’re training your horse, you use your normal voice so the horse learns to respond to not only the sound, but the tone of your voice instead of a wild bellow.
If you raise your voice when giving a command to your child, he will learn to associate your tone and decibel level with your intention. If you have so trained him, don’t blame him if he ignores your first thirteen “suggestions” waiting for the fevered pitch to reach the point where he must interpret it to be a real command.
If you’re teaching your child to do what’s right, of course it’s going to take longer than a command, but in the end the child learns to do or not do something of his own will, and for the right reasons, rather than “because I said”.
There’s always the classic “you have to train your children to obey or they won’t stop when you tell them to and they’re running out in the street!”. Straight-up fear tactic. Teach your child why s/he shouldn’t run out into the street. Then you won’t have to keep such an eagle eye on them. Win-win!
Training, Not Disciplining
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6).” Train up, not beat up. Train up, not discipline up. Train up, not educate up. Train up, not “positive affirmation” up. Training is the most obvious missing element in child rearing. Training is not discipline. A child will need more than “obedience training,” but without it everything else will be insufficient.
Wow, I wonder if it says “train up” in every version. I sure hope it does, because it seems they are pretty stuck on the word “train”. Oops, it doesn’t. That also makes me wonder what definition of “train” are they using.
Parents should not wait until the child’s behavior becomes unacceptable before they commence training–that would be discipline. Discipline is a part of training but is insufficient in itself to effect proper behavior. Training is the conditioning of the child’s mind before the crisis arises; it is preparation for future, instant, unquestioning obedience. An athlete trains before he competes. Animals, including wild ones, are conditioned to respond to the trainer’s voice command.
Oh, I see…by “train” he means “brainwash“. There’s a difference between teaching and brainwashing. Evidently, to him, there is no difference between training and brainwashing.
Having been brainwashed/conditioned by my parents (evidently not well enough, since I didn’t obey cheerfully!) about certain things, I can tell you it is a mess. Especially when you realize you did things just because mommy and daddy said, and for no other reason. Why do I believe in God? Mom and dad said so. Why do I believe in these certain standards of modesty? Mom and dad said so. Basically, you destroy rational thought and free thinking. And let me tell you, it is hard to undo. You have to step back from everything and look at it objectively to decide WHY you have these behaviors, reactions, and beliefs. And then there’s a whole other ballgame…dealing with people who don’t understand why you are struggling, why you need to take those steps back!
The frustration experienced by parents is of their own ignorant making. Our problem is not “bad” children, just bad training. There are no exceptions, the “strong willed,” the hyper active, the highly intelligent and the easily bored all need training, and training is effective on all.
I actually agree here (other than the whole hangup on what he says train means…I would substitute “training” for “teaching”). But I agree for completely different reasons: without any sort of teaching, YES, you will experience frustration with your children!
I hate to use words and phrases referring to children as “out of control”, “untamed”, etc. Though perhaps “untamed” is a good word: you can tame an animal and make friends with it, without controlling it or forcing it to obey you. Children are miniature people with a lot less life experience. I don’t believe (as Michael Pearl does2) that children are born with the intent to rule the world. They are born not knowing, but with the intelligence and capacity to learn through careful, loving teaching. Children don’t manipulate on purpose (unless taught to do so by their parents’ actions and reactions), they are trying to communicate in the only ways they know how!
Understand, at this point we are not talking about producing godly children, just happy and obedient children. The principles for training children to instantly obey can be equally applied by Christians and non-Christians.
Training Not To Touch
There is much satisfaction in training up a child. It is easy and challenging. When my children were able to crawl (in the case of one, roll) around the room, I set up training sessions.
Try it yourself. Place an appealing object where they can reach it, maybe in a “No-no” corner or on an apple juice table (That’s where the coffee table once sat). When they spy it and make a dive for it, in a calm voice say, “No, don’t touch it.” They will already be familiar with the “No,” so they will pause, look at you in wonder and then turn around and grab it. Switch their hand once and simultaneously say, “No.” Remember, you are not disciplining, you are training. One spat with a little switch is enough. They will again pull back their hand and consider the relationship between the object, their desire, the command and the little reinforcing pain. It may take several times, but if you are consistent, they will learn to consistently obey, even in your absence.
I can see how there would be “much satisfaction” and a sense of real accomplishment in teaching your child, but not in training, in the way Michael Pearl defines. Honestly, this sounds sadistic. There is “much satisfaction” in creating a situation in which you know the child will mess up, so you can switch their hand? What if the child continues, more than “several times”? Is it more important to break your child, to keep switching their hand (or backside, whichever you choose), to bruise your child, than it is to create a loving, trusting relationship in which such scenarios are completely unnecessary??
Plant Your Tree In The Midst Of The Garden
When God wanted to “train” his first two children not to touch, He did not place the forbidden object out of their reach. Instead, He placed the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” in the “midst of the garden (Gen. 3:3).” Being in the middle of the garden, they would pass it continually. God’s purpose was not to save the tree–rather, to train the couple.
First of all, I don’t believe the histories of the Old Testament (of the Christian bible) should ever be used as examples of child training. What did God do? Well let’s see…for one, he punished his children by making them walk around the desert for 40 years, eating the same two things. (Wait…could that be where someone would derive the child training technique of feeding their children bread and water, then leaving them outside??) I’m not even going to try to attempt to list all the other ways God punished the Israelites. The point being, those are histories, NOT how-to’s.
It just takes a few minutes to train a child not to touch a given object. Most children can be brought into complete and joyous subjection in just three days. Thereafter, if you continue to be faithful, the children will remain happy and obedient. By obedient, I mean you will never need to tell them twice. If you expect to receive instant obedience, and you train them to that end, you will be successful. It will take extra time to train, but once the children are in general subjection the time saved is extraordinary. Some people say, “Child-proof your home.” I say, “Home-proof your child.”
Ah, yes…I remember my parents talking about how they refused to child-proof the house. I also love (heavy sarcasm) how he says “most children can be brought into complete and joyous subjection in just three days”. Self-help hype, anyone? Not to mention the “complete….subjection” bit. The whole reason the children appear “joyous” or happy is because they are afraid! That was the whole reason I learned to repress my emotions (really bad idea, incidentally): fear of the consequences (a sound spanking).
In those three days, yes, perhaps it will “take extra time”. However, the reason I call spanking lazy parenting is because of this: it requires little to no thinking or actual teaching. You don’t really have to teach your child right from wrong; all you have to do is train him/her to obey you and YOU, as the parent, decide what’s right or wrong and notify the child.
Every time the book mentions the word “train”, think of a literal locomotive that runs on rails. No room for free thought. It switches from track to track without thinking, because the decisions are already pre-made.
My dad likes to tell the story of when I was just crawling, and I touched his stereo or something. He said he would spank me every time I did, and it took like 20 times before I stopped. He would say that he had to break me then, or I would rule over him the rest of his life. He would also talk about how another of his babies would get into one of Grandma’s houseplants that was down on our level. Instead of moving it out of reach (something any sane parent would do), he would spank whichever child until s/he stopped tearing it up. Meanwhile, Grandma watched in horror as her plant kept getting abused until the child stopped!
Not child-proofing a house was something I thought was right for a while…until I started letting go of my belief in spanking, actually. It’s dangerous for a house to be un-child-proofed. You have to really keep an eye on your babies to make sure they aren’t putting their fingers in the electrical sockets! Well, until you “train” them not to. But again, it’s all about controlling the actions of your children.
Have you ever been the victim of tiny inquisitive hands? The very young child, not yet walking, is keen on wanting to grab any object of interest. There is no fault in this, but sometimes it can be annoying. When you are holding a baby and he keeps pulling off your glasses, you cannot explain to him the impropriety of such socially crude behavior. The little tot is not yet moved by fear of rejection. So, do you try to hold him in a pinned-down fashion where he can’t get to your face? No, you train him not to touch. Once you train an infant to respond to the command of ‘No,” then you will have control in every area where a prohibition is in order.
Since I am reading the older version of the book (apparently it was updated), I wonder if he has changed his mind on a young child bearing no fault for wanting to grab things, as he believes 7-month-olds are “already learning the dark art of self-will, and must be wisely, gently, and firmly constrained to yield to authority”2.
He goes on to explain how to train the baby to stop grabbing for the glasses, by thumping his/her hand with your finger. He says:
Through this process of association the child will involuntarily recall the pain every time he hears the word “No.” There comes a time when your word alone is sufficient to gain obedience.
Fear. The child doesn’t learn what’s right or wrong, merely to fear your word, and the pain associated.
You name it, the infant can be trained to obey. Do you want to wrestle with him through his entire youth, nagging him to compliance, threatening, placing things out of reach, fearing what he might get into next? Or would it be better to take a little time to train? If nothing else, training will result in saving you time.
I know a mother who must call a baby-sitter every time she takes a shower. You should be able to take a nap and expect to find the house in order when you wake.
Again, the notion of baby-proofing and later teaching right from wrong is completely overlooked. Either you train your child to obey 100% and fear the pain of consequence, OR s/he turns out to be spoiled, selfish, willful. This is a straw man. He goes on to knock down the straw man by pointing out it would be better to “take a little time to train”. He is right, though, when he says “training will result in saving you time”. It will. Because all you are doing is programming the robot. A little extra work in the beginning saves a lot of time later. It does! And then you end up with children who either continue in the way you have established because they are so conditioned and brainwashed, or you’ll end up with children who resent you for your control and eventually hugely disappoint you.
Another solution for that mother may be to wait to shower until hubby is home and can keep an eye on the kids? There’s no such thing as a perfect child. Children make messes. That’s not a sin, it’s a fact of life!
Obedience Training — Biting Babies
One particularly painful experience of nursing mothers is the biting baby. My wife did not waste time finding a cure. When the baby bit, she pulled hair (an alternative has to be sought for baldheaded babies). Understand, the baby is not being punished, just conditioned. A baby learns not to stick his finger in his eyes or bite his tongue through the negative associations accompanying it. It requires no understanding or reasoning. Somewhere in the brain that information is unconsciously stored. After two or three times of biting, with the accompanying head hurting, the child programs that information away for his own comfort. The biting habit is cured before it starts. This is not discipline. It is obedience training.
I haven’t had the “pleasure” of this experience yet, but I anticipate it. I also anticipate handling it without the need for violence. What if, for instance, she bites and instead of pulling her hair (how childish!!) or smacking her, I remove her from the breast for a minute and say “no biting, that hurts”? Hmm, now there’s an idea. Instead of learning pain-for-pain, she learns through a mild consequence. Biting = no food for a second. Just because you don’t spank (or in this instance, pull hair…??) doesn’t mean there should never be consequences!
Also, I can try to figure out WHY she is biting, if it continues3. As with most (if not all) behavior in a child, there is a reason. Even if it’s discovery of a new “thing”.
It’s also curious how he says “This is not discipline. It is obedience training”, when he already pointed out “obedience training” is setting up a situation, not dealing with an immediate problem. Nice little sleight-of-hand there! Don’t be fooled. I’ll quote again what he says about obedience training vs. discipline:
Parents should not wait until the child’s behavior becomes unacceptable before they commence training–that would be discipline. Discipline is a part of training but is insufficient in itself to effect proper behavior. Training is the conditioning of the child’s mind before the crisis arises; it is preparation for future, instant, unquestioning obedience.
Obedience Training — Bowls and Babies
The mother clumsily holds her cereal bowl at arms length as she wrestles her infant for supremacy. When she places the bowl out of the baby’s reach, he is taught it is off limits only if it is out of reach. To train him, place the bowl within easy reach. When he reaches out, say “No” and thump his hand. He will pull his hand back, momentarily look alarmed and again reach out. Repeat the process of saying “No” in a calm voice and thumping the hand. After several times, you can eat in peace.
When “No” and a thump occur simultaneously, several times, on different occasions, the voice command alone soon becomes sufficient to mold behavior. Again, keep in mind, the baby is not being punished, just conditioned. The thump is not a substitute rod. It is reinforcement to the obedience training.
Again, with the thumping. What about putting the baby down, in a highchair, or having someone else hold him/her? Seriously! Use your head!
Wait, don’t take that literally; I’d hate to have a bunch of followers who used their heads to punish their children. Oops, did I say punish? Yes. Again, he’s telling you (after repeating over and over before what he means by obedience training) that responding directly to a situation isn’t discipline/punishment, it’s “reinforcement to the obedience training”. The baby is supposed to know the difference…how? Pain as a consequence is not discipline/punishment…how? The thump is not a “substitute rod”…how? It’s still pain!
Come When I Call You
One father tells of his training sessions with each new toddler. He sets aside an evening for “booty” camp, which is a boot camp for toddlers. The child of ten to twelve months is left alone to become deeply interested in a toy or some delightful object. From across the room or just inside the other room, the father calls the child. If he ignores the call, the father goes to him and explains the necessity of immediately coming when called, and then leads him to the father’s chair. The child thus led through these paces is being programmed.
Programmed. He said it.
He is returned to the toy and left alone long enough to again become engrossed. Another call, and, if no response, the father gives a patient explanation and demonstration of the desired response. The parent, having assured himself of the child’s understanding, once again sets up the situation and calls the child. This time, if there is not an immediate response the child is lightly spanked and lectured. The father continues this throughout the evening until the child readily and immediately responds to a summons. Thereafter, until the child leaves home, he is expected to drop everything and come upon the first call. As long as the parents remain consistent, the child will consistently obey. This “obedience training” is carried out in the utmost patience and concentration. The spanking should not be viewed as punishment, but as reinforcement to commands.
The spanking will be viewed as punishment. It will be viewed as the consequence. No matter what you try to make it look like! Action = pain. I’ll re-quote:
“One spat with a little switch is enough. They will again pull back their hand and consider the relationship between the object, their desire, the command and the little reinforcing pain.”
“When the baby bit, she pulled hair (an alternative has to be sought for baldheaded babies). Understand, the baby is not being punished, just conditioned. … After two or three times of biting, with the accompanying head hurting, the child programs that information away for his own comfort.”
This line makes me feel sick: “until the child leaves home, he is expected to drop everything and come upon the first call”. I don’t think I need to repeat again how humiliating it is to be an “adult child” (that’s the term my mom used) and still be expected to drop everything (including important things…of course dad would say nothing was as important as coming when he called) to come when the parents call. My dad also had a certain whistle he would use to call us all at once (or even if he didn’t know where one particular kid was, which was even more annoying…all of us would come running and he’d select the one he wanted and tell everyone else to go back to whatever they were doing).
So far, not only is he promoting using unnecessary pain as a consequence, he is talking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to discipline/punishment and obedience training!
- Control of people is a fallacy; you may think you have it, but deep down it breeds rebellion.
- Michael Pearl believes a “7-month-old is already learning the dark art of self-will, and must be wisely, gently, and firmly constrained to yield to authority”: http://www.nogreaterjoy.org/articles/general-view/archive/2003/july/01/spanking-a-7-month-old/
- How to Stop a Breast-feeding Baby From Biting, When Baby Bites, Breastfeeding and biting- mistakes, surviving, and what I’ve learned