The Heart of the Matter

What should the purpose and goal of discipline be? A response to the Pearls' book, To Train Up a Child

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 because 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.

 

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, Amazon.com 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 because 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. What lessons do I want them to learn? If I discipline (or train) them to obey me out of fear, but I never concern myself with what is going on in their hearts, what will they learn about God from me? If, as some “experts” say, I need to make sure my children “know their place” in our home, what will they learn from that? If I love my children and help teach them to have soft hearts and a willing spirit, what will they learn? If I show them sacrifice and compassion, what will they learn? If I am not willing to show them the very grace I receive, what will they learn?

So, what do I think the purpose and goal of discipline should be? My purpose in disciplining my boys is two-fold. I want my boys to grow up to be godly men who live to honor God out of love for Him. I also want my boys to be people I would enjoy being around.

Basically it’s not enough for me to be concerned with the outward behavior of my children. I’m not training them like I would a dog, to sit, heel, and stay (although those can be important lessons to learn). I’m trying to reach their hearts. I want them to listen to me because they love me and because we have a relationship. I don’t want them to be obey just to keep from being in trouble. I don’t want to break their wills so that they are afraid to try new things. I want to establish good boundaries and encourage them to reach for the stars. Most importantly I want them to love God with all their hearts.

I know that I am far, far from perfect. I fail and sin even as I am asking for forgiveness. I have failed my children in many ways. I pray that I can show them grace and mercy. I also pray that they will see past my failings and see the One who is at work in my heart. May God grant me my greatest desire which is to see my children come to faith.

Rachel Miller is News Editor for the Aquila Report. She is also a homeschooling mother of 3 boys and member of a PCA church in Spring, Texas. This article first appeared on her blog, A Daughter of the Reformation, and is used with permission.