A Succinct Review of To Train Up a Child by Michael & Debi Pearl

Because I can’t get past page 2 of To Train Up a Child without being incredibly disturbed by the premises and recommendations combined with the author’s tone, I’ll leave it to Glenn Chatfield to provide my readers with a critique of the book.  I believe he has been more than fair.  (He’s a little more spank-happy than I am comfortable with, but let that underline an important point:  disagreement with the Pearls’ material is not about “spanking,” it’s about harsh, heavy-handed and hypercontrolling extremes.)

Watchman’s Bagpipes:  To Train up a Child?

Note: Glenn contacted me to say he’s not “spank-happy”, and I have apologized to him.  Glenn expanded on his thoughts in the comments.  He’s clearly not “spank-happy”.  I used that term flippantly to indicate that the review recommended spanking in a couple of situations where I wouldn’t have.  That’s all.  I should have put it that way to start with.

ETA:  Another Review, this one by Rey Reynoso at the Theologica website.  Rey also has been more than fair in his summaries of the Pearls’ teachings in To Train Up a Child.  His review is focused on the theological and scriptural justifications in the book.

Theologica:  To Train Up a Child: An Examination


About katiekind

Enjoying the second half of life. I have three sons who are the apples of my eye and a wonderful husband of 35 years--those are the important things. Long ago, out of the blue, I became a Christian. It was something I never planned on, but what joy it has been. I do website development and I like to read and garden and paint and I love beauty and truth.
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10 Responses to A Succinct Review of To Train Up a Child by Michael & Debi Pearl

  1. darlene says:

    Hi Kathy,
    I thought it was interesting the comment that advocates of Pearl’s teachings are only found amoung homeschoolers. Is this correct, or am I misreading it? If this is so, I find that a scary thought.
    As a homeschooler, or more correctly an unschooler, I found that harsh punishments only damaged my relationship with my child, and that there are much better ways of teaching good behavior that take more time, more patience, more self-control, more understanding of child-development and what can reasonably be expected at what age, more empathy, and most importantly teaches the Golden Rule.
    I was not interested in training robots to obey the commands of authority figues. I wanted thinking, discerning, willing to challenge the status quo young adults leaving our home to face this crazy world.

  2. katiekind says:

    Yes, they are popular among conservative Christian homeschoolers (but not universally known or followed– nothing like that, thank God!) I know several families that are or were into them.

    Your priorities and observations are very wise.

  3. Laurie says:

    Thanks for the link. I found it very helpful, since I, too, cannot bear the thought of slogging through that book to address it point by point. The hours I have already spent have left me in a dreadful funk. Unfortunately, I’ve found that just the briefest exposures to this teaching bring up the ghosts of the legalism of my past, and visions of the “trickster god” which left me without hope, and sent me running from the church for many years.

    It truly was God’s kindness, not His rule of law, that led to my repentance. One day, after a dreadful, life shattering experience I looked over my life and realized for the first time how KIND God had been to me – how He had NOT dealt with me according to my sins, or repaid me according to my iniquities, how I had rebelled and rebelled yet been repaid with patient care and kindness. That realization marked my conversion and the beginnings of a life of repentance and a desire to live in obedience.

  4. TulipGirl says:

    “One day, after a dreadful, life shattering experience I looked over my life and realized for the first time how KIND God had been to me – how He had NOT dealt with me according to my sins, or repaid me according to my iniquities, how I had rebelled and rebelled yet been repaid with patient care and kindness.”

    That is beautifully said. . . and oh-so-true. I really want my relationships with my family to point to the grace and Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  5. Pingback: TulipGirl » Blog Archive » Speaking Out, Updated. . .

  6. Just for a clarification – I am not “Spank happy.” I think spanking has its place when behavior has not been able to be corrected by any other means. God blessed us with only two children and we spanked once in all the years we had raising them. The spanking was for an infraction that had been repeated after other corrective options had taken place (sitting in corner, removal of privileges, etc. That one spanking, which was only three quick slaps on a bare bottom of a 5-year-old, never had to be resorted to again! The only other time we spanked was when we had a 7-year-old in our house for 3 months looking for adoption; this girl had gotten away with attacking foster parents over and over again. She refused to sit in chairs, remain in room, etc and I was called home when she attacked my wife, biting and clawing deep wounds. I turned her over my knee and gave her three smacks and she was shocked that anyone would dare do that. But she never again misbehaved to that degree because she didn’t want the spanking.

    • katiekind says:

      Sorry, Glenn! Thanks for the clarification. I apologize. I got the wrong impression from your comment about what you’d recommend instead of Debi Pearl’s appalling response to the child who hit her with a toy tool.

      I am glad you mentioned that particular incident in your critique….even though it is not one of the most cruel of their stories, I found it one of the most appalling, ridiculous and undignified efforts I ever heard of in the name of discipline (or “training”) between an adult and a two year old.

  7. TealRose says:

    GLENN!!! I am horrified !!! And almost in tears here – You have this little kid in your care, for just three short months. And yes, she was wild. Did you EVER bother to try to find out why before you resulted to violence? What she did was wrong… but as my dear spanking mother was always telling me – two wrongs don’t make a right! I bet she didn’t want the spanking – but I bet too that she actually didn’t LEARN anything by it!

    Spanking = hitting = abuse. Plain and simple – I can’t hit my husband, or the lady at the supermarket or my animal – and defenceless children should be afforded the same!

    There are still adults and indeed children, who having been spanked themselves, STILL think that it is right. And adults who are emotionally damaged by having been spanked. I an 56 and learned never to trust my parents again. I learned they didn’t love me, and no, the ‘post spanking pep talk of ‘oh it’s over and we love you’ NEVER held water with me – heck, they had just demonstrated that they didn’t – and actions speak louder than words. I learned they were hypocrites [don’t hit ] and that adults could do and get away with anything. If I seem angry, resentful, upset, still terrified – then you are very clever because that is exactly how I feel !

    Discipline means to teach – with love, kindness and gentleness not brutality.

    I never spanked my children – and they are now kind, loving and gentle adults.

  8. TealRose if you never learned to trust your parents, I submit it wasn’t just about spanking.

    If spanking is totally unnecessary, then you have to say God is a liar when He says the use of a “rod” may be necessary.

    As I noted, I spanked twice in our entire family history; once my own daughter and once the foster child. Three smacks on the rear end is not excessive, caused more humiliation than pain, and corrected a problem that was unable to be corrected in any other manner. Spanking properly done is not violent.

    I agree that corporal punishment can be violent and abusive, as noted in my comments on the Pearl method. My own father used a belt or his fists, which I consider abusive – let alone very painful.

    As for the foster child whom we tried to adopt, we knew why she behaved as she did. She had learned to be catered to at every whim and was never disciplined previously. She had gotten away with every sort of behavior you can imagine, and I describe the attacks she made on my wife when she tried to sit her in a chair. Learning the cause for a child’s behavior is not as important as getting it stopped on the spot. You can’t let a child run rampant while you try to find out underlying causes – that is pure secular psychobabble.

  9. mcdhome says:

    I am the mother of nine children. Five are biological and four are through the foster care system. We felt called to adopt a sibling group of three or more. At first we were told we could only have two because we already had to many children. When they met our five they agreed to let us have them. When we inquired further about our children we were told the oldest had severe behavioral issues and was headed for a boys home. After much prayer we agreed to take all of them. Today you are not allowed to spank foster children or use any other method of corporal punishment. These children knew it. The oldest was only eight, however they had been in the system for four years and knew they could do anything and nobody could touch them! The oldest had a mouth full of four letter “F” words and would cuss me out every day. I told him if he was going to have a potty mouth he would scrub potties. For the first month he would scrub two or three a day. He finally saw it was not worth it. He was very physically abusive to us and especially his biological siblings. He would break things and say “what are you going to do about it?” I finally called the police and filed an unruly juvenile on him. The judge told him if he didn’t change his behavior he would lock him up. Meanwhile the private adoption agency over seeing us was livid with us. Why would you do that to a child who had been through so much? They said that when he threw his three year old sister down the stairs I should have sat him down and said how much I loved him and what a good boy he was. In my book that is pure crazy! He did not believe the judge so about two weeks later he started again and we had him arrested. He spent a night in jail, wearing jail clothes and sleeping on a rubber mat in a cold cement cell. Before you say how crewel that was consider the alternative. We did nothing, he kept on hurting people and destroying things till he is about fifteen and he ends up in jail for life. Fear is not always a bad thing. Even as adults if you fear nothing you will obey nothing. What keeps us doing the speed limit? Fear of getting a ticket. The Bible says:

    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. I refuse to raise fools.
    It was the best thing we ever did for him. He finally had to face his own consequences. Before this he got away with what ever he wanted to do. It made a big impact on him and he knew we were not going to allow him to act this way.

    I could write a book about our life over the past two years. The bottom line is these once unruly children who could not be trusted or taken anywhere because of their behaviors are now becoming well adjusted and loving. If you were to meet them today you would never believe the stories I could tell you. With my biological children training started from toddlerhood till about five. These children had never been taught. They reminded me of Hellen Keller before Annie Sullivan. They just needed to be taught. My children are not robots but I do expect them to obey the first time asked. Delayed obedience is disobedience. If I allow them to obey when they “feel like it,” what will happen when they run out toward the road and I yell stop? How can I keep them from running out in front of a car. How am I preparing them for the future? That is not expectable in the real world. What type of employee am I raising? Have we arrived No! But we have come so far.
    Extremely Blessed!

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