TTUAC: Immediate Obedience or Death

To Train Up A Child, pp. 3—4


We live in a horse and buggy community where someone is always training a new horse. When you get into a buggy to go down a narrow, winding state highway filled with eighteen-wheelers and logging trucks, you must have a totally submissive horse. You cannot depend on whipping it into submission. One mistake, and the young men are again making several new pine boxes and digging six-foot deep holes in the orchard.

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.

The trainer establishes the tone at which the horse will respond. If you scream “Whoa!!” then in the future the horse will not stop unless the command is screamed at him. One such farmer trained his horses with a wild, frantic bellow. Most of his neighbors, who speak quietly to their horses, find it difficult to control his horses because of their inability to raise their voices in vehemence.

What is this I don’t even.

Children are not horses. How many ways can I say that? Horses aren’t supposed to grow up to be independent adult humans interacting independently in the world. Children are. Parents should be preparing children for adulthood, not training them into total unthinking obedience. How is this so difficult to understand?


I was logging with a fifteen-hundred-pound mule that sometimes wanted to run away with the log. In moments of stress (actually I was panic stricken), I found myself frantically YELLING the commands. The owner would patiently caution me, “Speak quietly and calmly, or he will pay no attention.” I never did learn the art of calmly saying, “Whoa” to a runaway mule pulling a twenty-five-foot white oak log with my foot hung in the trace chain. The point to remember is that the animal learns to identify not only the sound but also the tone.

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.

Yes, you shouldn’t yell at your children. But you also shouldn’t train your children to obey your every word immediately and without question, which is what Michael is advocating.

Okay, quick story. My mother read me the Little House on the Prairie books when I was a kid, and one thing I remember her emphasizing was a time when Laura and her mother were outside after dark checking on the animals when they were approached by a bear. Laura could not see the bear, but her mother could. Laura’s mother told Laura, in an even tone so as not to set off the bear, to go back into the house, and without question Laura obeyed. My mother told my siblings and I that if Laura hadn’t been taught to instantly obey her mother’s every command, she could very well have ended up dead. This was an example, my mother told us, of why it was so important that children obey their parents immediately, absolutely, and without question.

But you know what I’ve learned since then? Children are really good at being able to tell when your tone of voice indicates that there is danger, and they are really good at obeying quickly in those circumstances. Michael seems to be unaware of that. Seriously though, as the mother of two young children, this is fascinating to watch. Bobby will toddle towards the road, a huge smile on his face, and if, as I get up to go after him, I say in a voice that is commanding and assertive, “Bobby, stop right there,” he will stop and turn back to look at me attentively. It’s not that I’ve trained him to obey my every command—I haven’t. It’s just that in a moment like that he can sense the urgency in my voice.

Also, this has been bugging me—would it have been so hard for Laura’s mother to say “Go inside, there is danger”? You could argue that Laura might have freaked out, but I would argue that her response—immediately going into the house—indicates that she understood from her mother’s tone that there was danger. And I think the fact that Laura’s mother could just as well have said “Go inside, there is danger” undermines the idea that the only alternative to children obeying their parents immediately whether they understand or not is, well, a greater chance of death by bear attack.

Communicating with your children about why certain things are dangerous really isn’t that hard. Sally has a healthy fear of cars—something I am still working on instilling in Bobby—not simply because I’ve told her to stay away from them but rather because she understands what could happen to her should she be hit by one. (Sure, Bobby is too young to understand that yet, so I just keep him close enough to ensure that he’s safe. That’s just how it works.) This sort of communication, rather than blanket commands without explanation, helps build a bond of trust between us, a bond of trust I hope will grown and expand and mature into something life-long. But the only bond of trust Michael wants to build between parent and child is the sort of bond of trust built between master and horse. And that’s just weird.

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When Toxicity Demands a Break
TTUAC: If Your Child Is Roughed-Up, Rejoice!
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    I’ve had the same eperience that children have an uncanny ability to know when it matters. I think Michael has no idea about this dynamic because he never got to that level of interaction with his kids. After all, they got hit for everything from moving during diaper changing to crawling off a blanket. Discern real danger? When danger is there all the time?
    I really think Michael’s methos sets the child up for injury because if they must fear so much from within and without, they simply can’t sort through the stimuli.

    • Guest

      That’s so unbearablly sad.

    • NeaDods

      I think you’ve got it in a nutshell. Michael doesn’t teach the children to think, he teaches them that they will be hit no matter what they do. *He* is the danger they must beware!

    • kecks

      i think he trains his children to be helpless without his commands to rely on. psychologists call this “learned helplessness”. if an individual (it was done with dogs) learns that no matter what they do there will be electro shocks given (like in blanket training the switch happens if child does anything at all) they really quickly stop doing anything at all. they just lie there and take the punishment. the learned to be helpless and loose any initiative of their own they once had. every dog trainer worth their money learns about this stuff. punishment for everything but for immiadetly obidience is not a good way to train any animal at anything.

  • Deird

    Also, if you make a habit of only asking kids to do things for which you have a good reason – and are happy to provide an explanation every time you’re asked for one – the kids will quickly learn that, even when they don’t know why you’re asking something, there will be a good reason for it, and they will be able to find out why.

    On top of everything else that’s wrong with it, requiring immediate obedience to the slightest utterance is so unnecessary. Horses don’t understand extra explanations. Kids can.

    (And if you can’t explain the issue clearly enough to discuss it with a five year old, then it’s probably something you don’t really need to make a rule about. “Don’t do that, it’s dangerous and will hurt you” is something that my two-year-old nephew understands instantly.)

    • rtanen

      This works with teachers too, not just parents. When somebody has a pattern of making reasonable requests only, you can generally assume their next request is reasonable, even if you aren’t quite certain what the reason is.

    • Lyric

      And if you can’t explain the issue clearly enough to discuss it with a
      five year old, then it’s probably something you don’t really need to
      make a rule about.

      Erm, I’m a little uncomfortable with this one just because I know that peoples’ ability to explain things varies a great deal—especially when it comes to certain subjects. For instance, “If you see a man with his pants off, stay away from him and tell mom and dad*”—that’s a decent rule. And parents should be able to make that rule even if they utterly fail at conveying, in five-year-old comprehensible language, why an adult might go around flashing young children and how very unlikely it is that he just misplaced his pants.

      *Or grandma, or the daycare worker—probably best to establish a “trusted adults” category and declare that there are things you can (and should!) tell all trusted adults.

      • Sally

        Yes, there are times when you can’t give a good reason for the child but you do still need to make a rule (or say no, or please do this, or whatever). But those should be few and far between, especially as the child gets older. I agree that we can’t say that unless we can explain a rule well enough to a child of X age, the rule (or request) isn’t important.

      • Lyric

        But those should be few and far between, especially as the child gets older.

        Agreed. And previously unexplained rules can be expanded on as the child gets old enough to understand them.

      • Deird

        I dunno, I think “if you see a man with his pants off, he’s probably a bad person, so stay away and tell mum” pretty much covers it.

      • Lyric

        Yeah . . . I guess. I just don’t want them to connect “naked” with “bad” under all circumstances, so I want to be careful exactly how I word it.

  • krisya0507

    Tried to comment and I think it got lost….. apologies if this posts twice.
    I can’t stand this type of argument mainly because I can’t believe that anybody who has any experience with animals buys it. You don’t train animals with whipping and withholding food and the rest of the Pearl method, especially not high-strung animals. I come from a long line of cattle raisers and ranchers who had working horses and dogs. Those animals did perform their jobs perfectly, but not because they had been beaten into it. They trusted their owners and (to the extent an animal can) enjoyed and took pride in their work. The ones who didn’t were sold, not because they had failed but because they just weren’t suited to the work. My grandfather used to take horses out to check fences and herds in areas with rattlesnakes. He told me that he always took the horses that trusted him the most, because if they saw a snake, they would still follow his directions even when they were scared because of the bond they had with him.
    I don’t mean to equate children with animals, since of course the goal for animals isn’t to produce a fully independent and confident individual, but I think the method of teaching both should be similar and always based on their level of understanding and trust. A 2 year old can’t understand complex concepts, but can know that mom and dad are loving and always take care of him, and even in a confusing or scary situation, they will look to mom and dad to help. A teenager who trusts mom and dad will take them seriously when they say that the situation is dangerous and they really need to just do something and ask questions later.

    • wanderer

      yes!!!!! It’s TRUST (not beatings) that will give them what they need.

  • Lyric

    Story time!

    My grandparents owned a house on the lake. One summer, we were all out swimming in our little cove, my mother, my younger sister, and I. There was a little bit of cloud cover across the lake, over two miles away, but nothing that looked serious to me, so I was getting on with the tremendously important task of tipping my sister off the raft.

    All of the sudden, my mother said—not even shouting, “Out of the water. Now.”

    I swear we left holes in the water.

    We found out later that she had seen a waterspout start to form on the far side of the lake. But neither of us knew that at the time.

    The thing is, my mother never, ever trained for obedience. She always explained. And my sister and I still had utter confidence in her judgment. Far more than we had in the judgment of our authoritarian parent—our father—who we both knew to be arbitrary, cruel, and someone who had to be “managed.” When my mother finally left him, neither my sister nor I let anything about the operation slip, for several months, because we had learned to lie to him all the time.

    • Rilian Sharp

      can relate. sorry your dad sucked.

    • The_L1985

      “When my mother finally left him, neither my sister nor I let anything
      about the operation slip, for several months, because we had learned to
      lie to him all the time.”

      I can definitely relate. I raised “Don’t tell Dad” to an art form, because while Mom would be crestfallen and talk about how hurt she was when you did something she didn’t understand or approve of, Dad would get vicious.

      It wasn’t until I was 27 that the man bothered to tell me he’d been waiting all those years for me to yell back. The possibility that one child might be a lot more emotionally sensitive than the other (or than my father himself) never even occurred to him!

    • realinterrobang

      I’m not surprised. If there are two things kids like, it’s things making sense, and consistency. Since your mother always had good reasons (which she explained) for things, and operated according to a discernable set of rules, it’s no wonder you were more inclined to trust her than your irrational, capricious parent.

  • MyOwnPerson

    It took having kids of my own to realize how wrong the breaking-their-wills, unquestioned obedience method of parenting is. The whole reason you’re giving kids for obedience is threat of pain. Now, most parents do take some time explaining why certain actions are right and wrong, but spanking is just a short cut. You don’t have to explain things to them if they know physical pain is coming if they don’t obey. The physical pain is the reason for their actions. Once they get old enough and the threat of pain is taken away, they either learn late the reasons why they did or didn’t do certain things, or they don’t learn until it’s too late.

    The people who use these methods do so because they see obedience as a virtue unto itself. My parents thought that making us obey them would help us learn to obey God. The physical pain of punishment was supposed to mimic the bad things God would let happen to us if we didn’t obey him. If the goal is to produce adults who unquestioningly obey the commands of God, I suppose this is a good way of procuring it. After a lifetime of fear induced obedience it is really scary to take the first steps toward thinking for yourself.

    What I don’t understand is the point of it all. The proponents of this ideology must believe in winning God’s favor with good works to some extent. What does unquestioning obedience do to earn salvation? Zero. Are good works and piety the gospel of Jesus? Nope. In the meantime they poison religion by associating it with pain, shame, humiliation, and frustration.

    • MyOwnPerson

      And might I also add, obedience training didn’t exactly make me into a lovely person. It made me feel like I have to always fight for myself and very sensitive to feeling like others aren’t taking my feelings or considerations into account. That’s what happens when obedience is considered more important than the feelings and considerations of your child.

      • KarenJo12

        My husband’s parents were like yours, while mine were considerably less so. Naturally he thinks my parents are lying when they say nice things to him and that they really don’t want him around. Also, he remembers every single slight or insult and holds a grudge like you wouldn’t believe. Thankfully he is not at all that way with our sons.

      • Gillianren

        I have a friend not unlike that–and it’s why he’s absolutely, positively not having kids. He doesn’t want to pass that on.

  • TLC

    Yelling never worked with my son — he would just simply shut down. So I had to keep a level tone in order to get through to him. And if a situation did escalate to my yelling, he knew I was really, really pissed.

    Many people interpreted this as I wasn’t “tough enough” on him. But you know what? Because I asked and reminded without yelling, most of the time he did things the first time I asked him. We had very few fights.

    However, I never expected my son to be perfectly, instantly obedient. My son would negotiate EVERYTHING — bedtime, bath time, you name it — right down to the minute. And even though it drove me crazy sometimes, I knew it was just part of being a kid — nothing else. I never beat him with plastic pipes or anything else. I shudder to think how he would have turned out if I had.

    I just think this whole horse analogy is weird. I mean, I wasn’t training this skinny little boy to haul a 25-foot log through the forest and be a beast of burden to work for me. I was teaching him to be a human being who grows up into a mature adult and uses his gifts to contribute to society. Big difference to most people. But I guess Michael just sees another animal to be broken. How sad for these children.

    • Kat

      “My son would negotiate EVERYTHING — bedtime, bath time, you name it — right down to the minute. And even though it drove me crazy sometimes, I knew it was just part of being a kid — nothing else.”

      If he was calmly negotiating with you, then it sounds like he was also developing a pretty important life skill. Being able to negotiate with others, including those who have some authority over you, comes in handy A LOT.

      I did the same thing as a kid. Sometimes I was able to convince my parents I was right or strike a decent compromise. Other times I “lost,” but even then they’d usually acknowledge any good points I had made. Dad always used to joke that was going to be a great lawyer some day. I get my bar exam results back next month, so we’ll see if he was right. Either way, though, I’m pretty sure calm discussion and negotiation were much better preparation for my chosen profession (and adulthood in general) than simply learning to obey no matter what.

    • persephone

      I figured the reason my older son negotiated and questioned everything was some genetic thing that had resulted in a number of lawyers in the family.

      • TLC

        Oh, I also think it was genetic. When he was little, his father was a labor negotiator for a union, and he did a lot of work at night on the phone. I SWEAR that kid would lay awake at night and listen to his dad! And he is very laid back, also like his dad. It’s an interesting combination to have in a kid!

    • krisya0507

      I encourage negotiation. It is an important skill! I want him to be clear about his goals, I will be clear about my goals, and we will work together to try to find a way for both of us to get there, if possible. Sometimes he has to understand that as a parent, I have a bottom line that I simply can’t change, but I do try to bend when I can to model how he also often needs to compromise. This is frequently interpreted by other people as “back talk.” Ugh, I hate that phrase. It’s not disrespectful when I encourage him to do it. When we have a successful negotiation, I am proud of him for being able to calmly talk about his feelings and problem solve, he feels valued for being treated as an independent agent, and we are closer as a result.

  • emjb

    I’ve started to figure out that the times I have the most trouble with my kid is when I ask myself “what would MY parents do or think.” Well, MY parents would spank us when we were too much trouble, and didn’t think we had the right to ask questions or challenge them in any way. MY parents, in other words, were wrong. They were better than THEIR parents in a lot of ways, so I give them some credit. But I have never wanted to parent the way they did, and so why am I worried that someone like my parents would disapprove of me letting my kid argue, ask questions, and negotiate? I have learned to ask myself “What do *I* think this kid needs right now,” and it’s been a lot better. And nthing what others have said…beaten horses are not well-trained horses, anyway.

  • sylvia_rachel

    Yelling at your kids is not a good idea. (Although I confess that I sometimes do yell at mine. It’s not something I’m proud of … but at least no plumbing supply line is involved.)

    Other than that, it looks to me as though pretty much every other thing M.P. says in this section is complete and utter bollocks. Is it me, or is that a pretty low signal-to-noise ratio even for him?

  • Cassiopeia

    Vital differences between horses and children.
    1. Horses weigh several times more than the average adult and, when scared, can do serious damage. Children, generally, cannot.
    2. Horses cannot understand explanations. Children can.
    3. Horses are a prey animal, they need to be trained not to fear certain things. Children are not prey animals and shouldn’t grow up fearing things.
    4. A horse is going to do nothing more with its life than the task it has been given and then retire. Children are going to grow up and move into the world, they need different training.

    • Lyric

      3. Horses are a prey animal, they need to be trained not to fear certain things.

      This is a very important point, so thank you for bringing it up. A lot of horse training (as I understand it; I’ve never trained a horse) is about controlling a horse’s fear, or at least the fear responses. Is that a mountain lion on my back? No, that’s my human, it may seem a little weird but she belongs up there. Is that a TERRIFYING CAVE OF BEARS? No, it’s my trailer, and if I behave myself there might be a carrot.

      Michael Pearl is working to train fear into children. When in doubt, it’s probably a terrifying cave of bears, and even if it isn’t, there might be a stick.

      • The_L1985

        I love this description of horse training. I don’t own horses, but I’ve been around them just enough to appreciate how dramatically different their responses and motivations are from those of a dog.

        Dogs also want to avoid danger, but because they’re descended from wild carnivores, they also have strong drives to chase things, to hear a prey animal’s death squeak, and to eat meaty things and gnaw on bones. You will never see a horse go for a squeaky toy.

      • Ismenia

        I’ve never trained a horse but I used to ride. You have to be prepared whilst riding that anything irregular can terrify them especially loud noises. I once had a horse shy away from a newly painted garage door because the brightness was irregular. You have to be prepared to use reassurance and firmness when they are nervous about something harmless. If they spook, as a horse I was riding did when a local youth detonated a firework next to the paddock, you need to both stop them quickly and then stroke them and talk to them soothingly to help calm them down.

      • Ismenia

        Needless to say when dealing with my nephew I do not use the same tactics. When he is scared of harmless things I can tell him they are not dangerous and encourage him to approach (when he was scared of the hoover as a toddler we encouraged him to touch it when it was switched off). Since he does not panic and bolt at loud noises we don’t need to put a bridle on him and pull on his mouth in order to make him stop.

      • lollardheretic

        I don’t know why, but your examples totally made me laugh. Like there’s this terrified, hysterical horse out there that ALWAYS imagines the worst. There’s a noise in the barn! It must be the MOUNTAIN LIONS OF DOOM. Oh, no, it’s the guy with the feed bag. huh. Maybe next time it will be the LIONS OF DOOM!

      • Lyric

        *g* Glad you enjoyed! Humor aside, I think that your image is actually somewhat relevant to horse psychology, at least when it comes to approaching new things. The horse Ismenia wrote about, shying away from the garage door—it wasn’t moving, it wasn’t making alarming noises, but it was irregularly bright—LIONS OF DOOM! Oh, okay, well, the human isn’t upset about it, maybe it isn’t lions, then—this time.

    • persephone

      Having had horses, number 3 came instantly to mind. You train a horse differently than a dog, and definitely differently than a child. The mental capacity is also quite different.

      I think from the other books by the Pearls, it’s become obvious that they function on the level of immature 13-year-olds. I may like some 13-year-olds, some 13-year-olds have the occasional good insight, some 13-year-olds are better than most adults, but most of the time I’m not taking advice on life from 13-year-olds, especially in regard to my relationships and my children.

    • KristinMuH

      Ha, I have two dogs and a toddler and my MIL has a horse. Yep, all very different creatures with different capacities and needs.

      That isn’t to say that there aren’t strong parallels between toddler and dog behaviour (the random destructiveness, need for attention, tendency to eat things that aren’t food, inconvenient toilet habits). Fortunately toddlers grow up to be adult humans and generally get over these things!

      Also my MIL used positive training methods to train her horse to do a number of tricks, like dunking a Nerf basketball and playing a little keyboard with his nose. So you can make horses do complicated things without breaking their will! Who knew?

  • Silver

    There are several examples in the little house series of Laura disobeying her parents too, such as when she and Mary brought in wood when they were told not to venture out in a storm, because their parents were not home and they wanted to make sure they didn’t freeze. Once their parents came home they both admitted Laura and Mary were right to disobey in that case. I have to wonder if the Pearl kids after being “trained” would have had the gumption to do the same, and if so would they have been beaten for it.

    • persephone

      I’m guessing the Pearls would be happier if the kids became martyrs of obedience.

  • Alice

    Geez, is there any animal he hasn’t compared children to?!

    • Christine

      I bet cats. Everyone knows if you treat a cat like this, it will move out.

      • Hilary

        My cat tries to train me to come to bed at about 10:30 – 11 pm every night. Almost every night, I’m finishing washing dishes (no dishwasher, old school hand washing) or seting something up for tomorrow.

        Ziggy: Mmroow
        Me: I have to finish this.
        Ziggy: Mmrrrow
        Me: I’m almost done, I just have to finish one more thing
        Ziggy: Mrreeow
        Me: I told you I just have to finish this then I’m coming to bed
        Ziggy: RRowwi
        Me: Ziggy, could you just chill out, we have this conversation every night, I’m almost done with the dishes and then I’ll come to bed
        Ziggy: licks paw in disgust, then slinks into bedroom.

        Conclusion: I’m falling asleep with him curled up around my pillow. I think he is a reincarnated sheep dog, who came back as a cat.

      • Conuly

        My favorite of the kittens I had two years ago was the sort I call “born feral”. Cats have to be taught to trust humans, but usually if they have a socialized, human-friendly mother they learn from her example. This one was more scared of humans than her littermates and had to be carefully taught. (And not through Pearl-endorsed beatings, which would have been super counterproductive. No, I just observed her whenever she was hiding when I could see her and made a point to say hi in a friendly and non-threatening way. If she was close enough to pet I pet her gently and then left her alone, respecting her space. Easiest thing in the world.)

        She’s actually smart once she catches on to new ideas. She learned “come” and “fetch” pretty quickly… and then rapidly realized that if I could make her come and go and drop a toy in my lap to throw again, she could probably train me to do the same things. Many times we have interspecies conversations along the lines of “you come here!” “no, you come here!” until one of us caves.

        (Actually, fetch has turned into a useful skill. Mice sometimes get in the house, and she’s a good mouser, but because she understands that “good girl, give it to me!” means she will get snuggles she DOES give it to me instead of growling fiercely when I approach. Then I can discard the poor mousie instead of having to track it down in the short period between her getting bored and the corpse getting maggots.)

      • Hilary

        Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a half-dead rodent at your feet, on your doorstep, or in your shoes. My mom’s cat once dropped a live vole down the cleavage of her nightgown when my mom was asleep. They’re wonderful creatures.

      • Conuly

        Which, voles or cats? : )

        Ah, I love every aspect of cats, even the ones I loathe.

      • Hilary

        Cats, duh. ;~P pppptttthhhh

      • wmdkitty

        Nope, my Gracie will do the same thing to Dad. When she decides it’s bedtime, she will herd him up the stairs.

      • Hilary

        BTW, how am I supposed to hear your name? For some reason I keep reading the m as an n and read wind-kitty when I see you posting around here.

      • wmdkitty

        it’s W M D Kitty, but most people just call me “Kitty”.

        Considering the origin of my handle, though, erm… “Wind Kitty” is fitting and hilarious.

      • Randomosity

        I have three cats who come when they’re called. They know that when they hear their names, they’re about to get petted, cuddled, brushed, or otherwise loved upon.

      • Gillianren

        My cat comes when he’s called if he doesn’t have something better to do. Sometimes, “something better” is just grooming, but it’s what he wants to be doing right now.

      • Randomosity

        Exactly. I generally don’t call them when they’re busy.

        I’ve noticed several mentions of kids in the middle of something being interrupted with parents telling them to come for no reason other than to show off to company or demonstrate that they are the alphas.

      • Gillianren

        I bet those parents then turn around and get mad when their kid doesn’t accomplish whatever-it-is fast enough, too.

      • sylvia_rachel

        This is a major feature of TTUAC, IIRC. Literally nothing a child could possibly be doing is allowed to be more important than dropping everything and coming when called for absolutely no reason :P :P

      • Hilary

        My three come when called as well. Mostly. I let them out but not at night, and since I know the boundaries of their outside territory I know where to look in the late evening calling for them and they come home.

        I know about 4 neigborhood cats who come for a petting when I cat-call for them (br-r-r-r-r-r-ow, kind of trilling the r at the back of my throut). I also put out food and water in a few places in my front and back yard for strays. Oddly enough, I have no problems what so ever with rabbits in my garden.

    • Whirlwitch

      Ferrets, I presume. One thing about ferrets is that they simply do not accept humans (or any other species) as being dominant over them. They’re very affectionate to humans who treat them well, and their natural tendency is to be friendly unless they learn to distrust humans through experience. But they do not do submission, and if they are treated with aggression, they will consider the aggressive human a threat, and respond with wariness and aggression in self-defence. A dog can be hurt by a human and think “I must be a bad dog”. A ferret will think “this is a bad human”.

      • dj_pomegranate

        “This is a bad human” haaaa! I love it.

      • Sylvia_rachel

        Ferrets sound like sensible folk.

  • Jolie

    Haven’t read the “Little House on the Prairie” books, so I might be off, but it sounds to me like the child instantly obeying the mother as a result of trust that she would *always* only give commands like this when necessary and (almost) always explain why- enough for the child to assume, when a command is given, that there must be a reason. Once safely in the house, presumably, mom will explain that there was a bear and the child will know to look out for bears for the rest of the holiday.

    Now, imagine a tyrannical parent who thinks it’s a good idea to instill mindless obedience through “boot camp” random orders for which a reason is never given. Now, parent sees the bear, gives the command; child has all reasons to believe this is one of those mean, random “boot camp” things.. just now, when she was enjoying herself outside. Just like yesterday, when parent called her for absolutely no reason when she was engrossed in play; and she didn’t even dare to ask why… So this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the child has a meltdown, starts screaming and arguing and is tragically eaten by the bear. Or she obeys this time… but since she’s never told why the command was given, has no idea that there is a bear around- and is still a potential vulnerable victim to it if not around the parent.

    Now, what if it’s the child who sees the bear first and not the parent? Which of the two children above will have the trust and assertiveness to tell the parent: “We’re going inside, NOW”?

    • Ruth

      Excellent point that in the authoritarian style of parenting described, there’s no difference between “put the toilet seat down” and “go inside because a bear is going to eat you.” If everything is a command, and every disobedience results in physical punishment, how does a child know when compliance is really important to his or her well-being? How does a child ever learn judgment and life skills?

      There is also the whole point of consequences to behavior. “Don’t leave your toy outside because it will get rained on” and then when the child doesn’t comply and the toy gets ruined is a really good example of how children learn to take responsibility for your own actions. In the authoritarian model, the child would be punished for not obeying the order in the first instance.

      [Just went through it this AM with getting my teenager out the door for the first day of school -- I said "you need to leave in 5 minutes if you are going to be on time" and gosh it's hard to shut up after that but as a parent, you have to. If he's late, well, next time he'll be better about time management. If this was a battle of wills and/or unthinking obedience to my every command, how will he ever learn to manage his own time commitments when I'm not there?]

      • minuteye

        I love your point about consequences. My younger brother is terrible about time management, but for some reason my parents decided to compensate for that by micromanaging, rather than by letting him screw up and decide to do it better next time. Your technique sounds a lot less stressful for everyone.

      • sylvia_rachel

        I have a theory about that. (I also have an 11-year-old.)

        When I was a kid, independent time management in relation to school really didn’t become a thing until you were at least in junior high. We rarely had homework in elementary school, and teachers were very clear about when specific elements of specific things were due and gave us time to work on them. (There was of course no Web, so everyone had to compete for the same 2 encyclopaedias in the school library.) So by the time we had to actually manage our time to complete projects outside of school, we at least had a sense of how long it took us to do things.

        These days, kindergarten kids come home with big packets of worksheets they’re supposed to complete over the course of a week, and because they’re FIVE, they can’t do the time management without help. So parents get into the habit of helping, and the result is a 12-year-old who is probably developmentally capable of doing his or her own time management, but doesn’t know how because mum and dad have always done it for him/her.

        I have, as I mentioned, an 11-year-old. She is pretty bad at time management, and at writing stuff down and remembering to bring home the things she needs to do her homework with. We try really, really hard to let her deal with the consequences herself and to not micromanage, but it’s sometimes very painful.

      • Sally

        I think this is an excellent theory. I watched this happen with our next door neighbor with the huge packets (hit in 2nd grade here) and even a science fair project in 2nd grade. Umm, seriously? Call it, cavalcade of parents-did-this projects made to look somewhat like the kid did it. Even if you didn’t just do the whole thing for your child, you had to spoon feed it almost down to the sentence/graph/illustration. This mom just couldn’t let go years later and let her kid manage himself and succeed or fail and learn from that. At some point when she was so frustrated with the fact that she still had to walk him through all his homework, she said, “I have to expect him to turn in quality work, don’t I?” This was in response to the suggestion of just letting him do it on his own and see what happens. They did eventually get over the hump, but maybe at around 12 1/2 or so- well into 7th grade/middle school.
        I think the parent-dependent homework is exactly what’s behind this. -Or in some families the other extreme s the case where the child never got any help at home and gave up even trying.

  • Trollface McGee

    So, he has a rudimentary knowledge of behavioural conditioning but as with everything Michael Pearl, it’s incomplete, inaccurate and self-serving.
    Yes, you can get an animal to associate tone with your intent and that’s a good thing because animals won’t be able to communicate with you by speech. For an infant or a toddler who doesn’t speak, such a tone might be helpful in conveying things as Libby mentioned – a child will learn a parent’s fear/concern voice rather quickly.
    However, he misses the whole other part of conditioning, where you learn to filter and categorise stimuli. When people learn they first learn a general idea but go on to specify – so after a while, a young child will be able to learn that something isn’t just a loud voice but a voice of concern, anger, etc. With Michael, all you need to do is shout and hit – which is confuses the child and will prevent the child from learning and specialising. Not only will the child not be “trained” you’re also hindering their brain development.

    • sylvia_rachel

      One caveat: Michael’s position is that you should hit instead of shouting (or, possibly, that if you hit enough, you won’t need to shout).

      Not saying this is in any way better. :P

  • Mel

    “I never did learn the art of calmly saying, “Whoa” to a runaway mule pulling a twenty-five-foot white oak log with my foot hung in the trace chain. ”

    This is, in a nutshell, the root problem of Mike Pearl’s life. He’s never learned how to separate his emotions from his actions. I realize that a runaway mule when your foot is hung up is a dangerous situation, but it’s a dangerous situation that Mike caused. He put his foot in the wrong place. If he had been paying better attention, a runaway mule would be an annoyance rather than a life-threatening problem. Mike never seems to connect that the mule will only respond to calm tones even if Mike is panicky or angry. Instead of learning to control himself, Mike tries to control the rest of the universe into instant obedience.

    Reality check: The problem is you, Mike, not the children or the mule.

    • Sally

      Actually I think his message was the opposite of this. I think his point was that the mule would only respond to a calm tone and that his panicky command was ineffective (but that he couldn’t control his tone when his foot was caught). So yes, very foolish and dangerous for him.
      I in no way am supporting Michael’s training methods for children, but I think his point is to control himself while controlling the universe. If you yell, your kids will not obey until you yell. If you are calm, your kids will obey when you are calm. I think this is the one thing he got right in this section (although I also disagree with the “instant” obey angle).

  • Sally

    Once again we have a Pearl taking something that is good and mixing it with stuff that is very bad. I agree with his point about tone. Truth is we all have a “cue.” Whether we’re conscious of it or not, there is a point at which after *this* we will take some kind of action. It might be that after X, we will pick the toddler up and carry her to bed. Or it might be that after X, we will unplug the computer. Or after X, we will say it’s too late and we’ll have to try again next time. If X is a calm voice, willing to discuss and explain for a few minutes (but not forever), then the child will cooperate when he hears X (or experience the consequence- either natural or logical, whichever is possible in the situation. If X is the 13th time the parent makes the request and this time it’s a screeching yell, then the child will cooperate when he hears that screeching yell, and often won’t do so until then.
    For example, my ds has a girlfriend whose mother has fallen into the latter situation. She speaks reasonably maybe once and then becomes almost instantly frustrated, and then as her daughter continues to give pushback, Mom goes into screeching mode and then the daughter backs down. So the way my son describes the mother is that, “she follows us around screeching at us all day.” The mom doesn’t realize she’s made screeching her “cue.” Why does the screeching work? It’s not because of the screech itself, it’s because it serves as the cue that Mom is done negotiating and what will come next is some kind of consequence.
    Who needs the training? *We* as parents do! We as parents need to discipline ourselves to choose our own cue intentionally. We can use the sentence in the parenting programs that use natural and logical consequences (Active Parenting, STEP Parenting), “Would you like to clean up your own toys or shall I bag them up and put them in the basement for a few days?” Or our cue can be counting from the book 1-2-3 Magic (a time out is used at the end … or one could choose to use a natural or logical consequence). Or it could be your polite request. Or it could be a sentence like, “We’ve talked about this for a few minutes now, and I’m going to have to stick with my original request” (which doesn’t always have to be, sometimes you can change your mind based on that discussion) Or you can ask nicely 3-4 times and then start yelling and have an adult temper tantrum which will serve as the cue.
    So I agree with Michael that the tone is up to the parent and don’t blame the child if they only respond to yelling. It’ just that he explained it in such a yucky way and that the methods around the tone issue are yucky.
    And I think people predisposed to this type of authoritarian parenting likely recognize the truth in the tone issue and then that gives credence to the rest of what he says. Unfortunately, the fact that parents should consciously choose their cue and pick one that is reasonable has nothing to do with training children like dogs and horses.

  • Carol Lynn

    I’ve watched a lot of teen-age girls “parade training” their horses. Most of them are skilled enough and can whip or force their horses to get close to fire trucks with sirens blaring and lights flashing and not panic out of control when firecrackers are set off or umbrellas are opened in their faces. The riders can be ‘in control’ of nervous, skittish horses. I’ve also seen some riders who can teach their horses that there is nothing to be afraid of in parade conditions. I’ve also noticed that those are the riders who are not themselves made nervous by the situations. They trust their horses by remaining calm and sitting still or giving them only the subtle cues that mean “it’s all right” that the horses instinctively respond to, rather than whipping or forcing their horses into submission, and the horses respond by trusting their riders in return, even in startling or dangerous situations. I know which horses and riders I’d trust more to handle the stress of crowds and strange situations.

  • Hilary

    I’ve spoken out against the Pearls in real life to someone who is very involved in Christian adoption. Through an odd sequence of internet connections I’ve met with Claudia Schaffer face to face twice, and I have her personal email. She’s adopted 12 kids out of foster care, and her husband’s a Methodist minister.

    Profile: Adoption Agency Executive Director, Adoption Worker, Clergy Spouse and Mom to 12

    She is also the president of Bethony, a Christian adoption agency. I’m not sure if she is the national president or just for the local chapter. When I asked her if she’d heard of the Pearls, she told me that she’d vaguely heard the name but didn’t know much about them. I forwarded a few links to LJF about spanking and growing up under their teaching, and a link to TTUAC itself.

    She was horrified by what she read, and considered them like what the Taliban are to regular peaceful Muslims. So for what it is worth, the head of a large Christian adoption agency has the Pearls on her radar as the Taliban of Christian parenting. She’s in the position to make sure a lot of people who set up families with vulnerable children are aware of the Pearls and can screen prosepective parents for Pearl-type training, theology and abuse.

    • Lyric

      Thank you.

      • Hilary

        You’re welcome. It was the only thing I could concretely do about them since I’m not part of their universe; I just happened to have that connection between Claudia and LJF. “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” there are so many things I can’t really change, but at least I could raise some awareness about this with a person in position to do something about it.

  • Lyric

    And another thought on the subject of horses—well, horses and control freaks. I know that extraordinarily dangerous situations can and do occur while logging, but I have to wonder if Michael was actually shrieking at his mule for doing things like idly cribbing on nearby trees during a quiet moment. He seems like the sort of person who would freak out at any evidence that a mule isn’t a robot.

  • Theo Darling

    “blanket commands”

  • Gillianren

    So, wait. The mule is pulling him along against his will, but he can stop a horse by just holding onto its bridle?

  • bem

    So many things wrong with Michael’s horses-children comparison. First off, there are actually many ways in which horses are like children, and Michael just demonstrates that he would be just as bad at raising a good horse (maybe worse!) as he is at raising a child.

    Horses are prey animals. Much of horse training involves training the horse to trust you, not fear you, and to THINK through a situation instead of reacting! The exact opposite of what Michael says. I’ve been on my horses in precarious situations in the mountains, with slippery footing and narrow trails hugging the sides of steep mountains. I train my horses to assess the footing before proceding, to stay calm if he gets stuck while disentangle anything, and to use his own judgment as well as trusting mine. If I ask my horse to do go forward on a wooden bridge, and he refuses, you better believe I’m going to dismount and check the footing for rotten logs before reassuring him it’s fine. If an untrained horse refuses out of fear, no amount of physical punishment is going to get him across–I have to teach him that bridges are the way to get to fun places so that he accepts them.

    A big difference between a human-horse partnership and a parent-child relationship is that the horse-human partnership will not evolve into a truly even/equal partnership, but it is not a dictatorship either. In fact, the better or “higher” the training goes, the more equal the partnership becomes, because the horse and rider are communicating with each other and both listen to each other.

    Note to Michael: No bridle will control a horse that isn’t listening–a bridle is a communication tool, it is NOT equivalent to a paddle or switch. Used by a competent horse person, it does not inflict pain and suffering every time the rider picks up the reins. Furthermore, it isn’t what the horse listens to–the horse learns the most about her rider from the rider’s body language–posture and movement in and out of the saddle.

    If Michael Pearl thinks that by simply jerking, pulling, and hurting the horse is going to get him the horse’s respect and obedience, he’ll get himself killed someday on a horse that decides to teach him a lesson (which horses do–they know instantly who is on them and whether that person is worthy of respect, worth talking to, simply a benign passenger to be babysat, or a human “cougar” that deserves to be ruined).

    • Kellen Connor

      Thank you for that; something about the description of horse-training seemed off to me, but having never handled horses personally, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

    • Lyric

      Much of horse training involves training the horse to trust you, not
      fear you, and to THINK through a situation instead of reacting!

      Exactly. From the horse’s point of view, a trusted human is almost like an auxiliary brain—a calm reliable font of knowledge that can be called on when horse sense (I’m sorry, I had to) would rather default to “unknown, therefore bad.”

      Of course, a brutalized and bullied horse would probably try to cross the rotted-out bridge. You don’t actually want to teach a horse to totally disregard their own judgment in favor of a human who doesn’t listen. Which means that actually, training a horse is quite a bit like training a child. At least in part.

    • lauraleemoss

      Horses and people are not the same. When parents read the Pearls, are they not struck how their examples are devoid of common sense?

  • Kellen Connor

    I am now imagining his children growing up and wandering around listlessly like lost horses that can’t find their way home, so they just stand around and graze until a bear eats them. Seriously, where is the part of his brain that should be telling him what an idiot he’s being?

  • Amethyst Marie

    Ironically, learning to train horses by the “natural horsemanship” methods promoted by trainers like John Lyons and Monty Roberts was the biggest influence in persuading my teen fundie self that the Pearls’ teachings were bullshit. I learned that no legit horse trainer would treat an animal the way the Pearls advocate treating children. If anyone’s interested in a quick introduction to natural horsemanship, I recommend a documentary called Buck. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.

    • Sally

      Interesting. I wonder if this would be a way out for others.

  • Hilary

    Y’know, when Libby started this I was worried – we’re going through all three Pearl books, and that could get very toxic very fast. Heck, going though one Pearl book can get dangerously toxic in a hurry. But so far, the quality of comments have been worth it. That so many of us can take different pieces of their lies and hold them up to sunlight to expose how false they really are, that means something. Everybody who has real experience training animals can tear his training comparisons to shreds. Those of us with various science degrees, training and jobs can debunk any appeals for scientific authority. The parents here can offer valid child rearing advice and experience, and all of us with parents can compare what they advocate with what our parents did, and compare results.

    I can only imagine* what this must be like for someone who was raised with this type of parenting. Over and over again the lies and abuse advocated by the Pearls are being refuted, and whatever scraps of good advice that can be salvaged are put in context.

    *I say imagine because I did not grow up in an abusive home, and the people I am close to who did grow up in dysfunctional families, it wasn’t religious athoritarianism. I have enough imagination to know that a sympathetic imagination =/= actual experience. Even when I’m just commenting online, I feel it is disrespectful to people who really are abuse survivors to to imply I know what that’s like when that’s not something I’ve directly experienced. Instead I try for empathy, compassion and support, and respectful boundaries.

    • Sally

      Nicely said.

      • Hilary

        Thanks. I was worried I would just sound pretentious but I really wanted to say all that for the people here. Libby’s great, but 3/4 of what I come to this site for are the commentators.

  • Christine

    Once again, I have to question his stated goals. Perhaps one of the horse people here can correct me, but I didn’t think that “submissive” was a goal with horses. Obedient maybe (and this would be a difference between horses and children), but submissive?

  • Ursula L

    It’s worth noting that Ma did explain the nature of the danger.

    She just didn’t do it while the danger was immediate and ongoing.

    There is a time and place to explain that there is a bear in the cattle yard, and it is dangerous. And that time and place is not right in front of the bear. The same as if your child runs into a busy street, you first pick them up and carry them someplace safe, and then explain, rather than letting them remain in danger until you’ve explained and convinced them of what they should do.

    In the moment, Ma’s attention needed to be 100% on keeping her and Laura safe from immediate harm. She was probably quite frightened herself, and working not to panic. How much of that even tone was not to frighten the bear, and how much was Ma struggling not to let her fear into her voice? How much of that instruction is being kept brief because Ma is telling Laura to retreat to safety while Ma has the bear’s attention, as Ma’s mind is racing trying to figure out how she’ll get to safety herself, once she knows Laura is safe?

    The story is told tightly from Laura’s point of view, and as a child, she didn’t fully see her mother’s emotions and needs in the situation.

    The story we hear, Laura’s experience, is:

    1. Ma said go inside
    2. Laura goes inside
    3. Ma later explains that there was a bear, and it was dangerous.

    From Ma’s perspective, the story might be

    1. Touch the cow, realize it is a bear!
    2. Don’t Panic!!!!!
    3. Stay still, tell Laura to go inside. Don’t let Laura see how terrified Ma is, as Laura needs to stay calm, not become frightened by her mother’s fear.
    4. Try not to panic and figure out how to get inside herself.
    5. Carefully back away, go to house, go in.
    6. Have a very quiet breakdown, get through the shakes and hyperventilation that comes after a horrible fright. Try not to scare the kids in the process.
    7. Once she’s pulled herself together, explain what happened to Laura, and let her know that she did well, and everything is okay.

    While the story is told from a child’s point of view, and for children, as adults we can infer what Ma was going through, and recognize that proper handling of the situation need to be, not about perfect parenting in a teaching moment about danger, but about a woman struggling to contain her own fear, keep her child safe, and keep herself safe. Ma’s needs, for safety and to manage her own fear, have to be met before she can spare energy for a teachable moment.

    If something is powerfully emotional for a parent, the parent can’t always put the needs of ideal parenting first. And they shouldn’t be expected to. A parent’s fear, frustration and anger are all real emotions that they have a right to. And an obligation to take the time to process before addressing a difficult issue with a child, if the emotions are interfering with the parent’s self-control.

    Good parenting can be as much about finding tools to handle your own emotions as it is about how you interact with your child. If you haven’t taken care of your own emotional needs, your stress will interfere with any ability to think through things and present things well to your child.