TTUAC: Booty Camp, Crying as “Manipulation,” and Switching Babies

To Train Up A Child, pp. 7—9

These pages contain story after story about how to “train” infants. If that kind of thing bothers you, you might want to skip this post.


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’d like to tell you all that the biting thing is simple. Sadly, I can’t. Sally only bit twice, and each time I jumped and yelped and that was enough to frighten her into not trying that again. With Bobby, things were different. I nursed Sally until she was over two, but I stopped nursing Bobby before he turned one—because he bit. I read and researched and asked for advice, and I got lots of suggestions. I tried simply taking him off the breast every time so that he would realize that if he bit his feeding would end. He responded by waiting until he was full to bite. I jumped and yelped as I had with Sally, and he found it hilarious. I tried responding by pulling his face in to my breast so that he couldn’t breath and would release my nipple, and while that worked it didn’t dissuade him from biting again in the future and still left me with sore, painful, and even bleeding nipples (which is probably more than you wanted to know!). I never tried pulling his hair or slapping him (likely Michael’s “alternative”), but I highly doubt this would have worked either. I really think what works or doesn’t work to get a nursing baby to stop biting depends on the child. The one thing I would emphasize is that babies don’t bite out of malice. As for Bobby, I ended the battle by weaning him. He was just shy of 12 months old.

One thing I would point out here is Michael’s continued insistence that this isn’t punishment, it’s conditioning. And that’s just the thing: I don’t want to condition my children. They’re people. People aren’t supposed to be conditioned. People are supposed to be communicated with, taught, and interacted with. People are supposed to learn, grow in understanding, and exhibit a fascination with the world around them. Anyway, the promotion of “conditioning” children, especially small children, is a continuing theme in these pages of the book.


The mother clumsily holds her cereal bowl at arms length as she wrestles her infant for supremacy.

If you see a mother working to keep her bowl of cereal out of her baby’s reach as a struggle for “supremacy,” the problem is with you, not with the baby (or the mother).

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.

And that is exactly why you do things like childproofing the house. You want the baby to know that what is at his level and in his reach is his for exploring. The things that will get broken or spilled you put 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.

Yay. Conditioning a baby to be scared of a bowl of cereal. So when you put a bowl of cereal on the baby’s tray the next morning, are you going to expect the baby to actually eat it, or to recoil in fear?

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.

And do you know why that “no” becomes sufficient to “mold behavior”? Not because the baby is learning anything. It’s because the baby hears the word “no” and immediately is afraid of pain, and shuts down. “No” becomes stultifying and the baby’s curiosity becomes stunted. Again, I want my own baby’s home to be one where he feels safe to explore and learn, not one where the fear of pain follows every “no.” I don’t want to condition my children so that they will do just as I say, jumping when I say jump. Instead, I want to be their guides as they explore and learn about the world they live in. 


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.

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 when called. As long as the parents remain consistent, the child will consistently obey. This “obedience training” is conducted with quiet patience. The spanking is not punishment and is not very painful. It merely gives weight to your words.

Oh gosh, so much here. First, Michael is getting repetitive. He’s described this “booty camp” type situation before, first with the coffee table, then with the glasses, and then with the cereal bowl. This is really just more of the same thing—tell the child to do something or not do it, and if they disobey respond verbally and physically. Continue until they obey what you say, no questions asked, instantly and with a smile. Next, note that Michael says that “until the child leaves home, he is expected to drop everything and come upon the first call.” This would mean even when a child was 17, or even when a child was 20 if he or she was still living at home. How does Michael think this is practical? What if the 17 year old daughter is bathing one of her smallest siblings, say aged 1, and her father calls her? Does she leave the baby in the bath and scurry to her father? What if a son, aged 20, is metalworking and the project can’t just be stopped without ruining the piece? Should he come anyway? What about the basic human ability to develop into an independent person?

As for Sally (she’s four), I require her to respond if I call her, but she is totally allowed to say “what mom?” or “I need to finish this!” If she’s in the middle of something and I really need to tell her something or ask her something, I can always go to her. Or, if I really need her to come anyway, I can call again and tell her that and add why I need her right then and can’t wait. In many ways I approach it similarly to how I approach my husband Sean—if I call him I would expect him to answer me out of common curtesy (as I would answer him if he called me), but not necessarily to come when called (because he’s his own person and not my servant or slave). If I really need him, I’ll let him know that, whether by going to him to see what he’s doing and if he can spare a moment or by hollering that, say, Bobby’s diaper is leaking but I have the stove on and can’t leave the kitchen to get a diaper. But for Michael, treating other people like people is just too much to ask for.


The parents who put off training until the child is old enough to discuss issues or receive explanations find their child a terror long before he understands the meaning of the word. A newborn soon needs training. The child needs holding, loving and lots of attention, but the mother often has other duties.

As the mother, holding her child, leans over the crib and begins the swing downward, the infant stiffens, takes a deep breath and bellows. The battle for control has begun in earnest. Someone is going to be conditioned. Either the tender-hearted mother will cave in to this self-centered demand (thus training the child to get his way by crying) or the infant is allowed to cry (learning that crying is counterproductive). Crying because of genuine physical need is simply the infant’s only voice to the outside world, but crying in order to manipulate the adults into constant servitude should never be rewarded. Otherwise, you will reinforce the child’s growing self-centeredness, which will eventually become socially intolerable.

(I should note that the underlining is Michael’s, not mine.)

Michael is wrong that “parents who put off training until the child is old enough to discuss issues or receive explanations find their child a terror long before he understands the meaning of the word.” Except for a brief period when Sally was about 10 months old when I attempted to implement the Pearls’ teachings, I haven’t laid a finger to her and I certainly haven’t tried to condition her. Instead, I’ve always tried to see things from her perspective. And do you know what? That goes a very, very long way! Sally’s melting down on a shopping trip? Well good heavens, what was I thinking taking her shopping when I new she was tired! Or, good heavens, of course she’s having a meltdown, I’m picking all these things to buy and and I’m in a hurry so I’m giving her no say in the decision-making, so it’s totally boring and trying for her! Or, good heavens, what was I thinking going shopping before feeding her supper, she’s probably starving! And so on. Seriously, Michael should try it. Trying to see things from a kid’s perspective instead of just judging a kid from an adult’s perspective is huge. And now that Sally’s old enough to reason with and explain things to, she’s actually very, very amenable to listening and considering the needs of others around her (probably because that’s what she’s seen modeled.)

Next, on to the bit about training infants. Michael looks at a mother trying to settle an infant to sleep and sees a “battle for control.” Again, it’s Michael who is the problem here. Parenting is not supposed to be a battle for control. It really really isn’t. Parenthood is not supposed to be one huge game of “whose kid is the most obedientest of all.” It’s supposed to be cooperative, it’s supposed to involve listening and communication, it’s supposed to be about a parent lovingly guiding a child toward adulthood. It’s not a contest. It’s not a war.

What’s with this idea that a baby crying when being put down is that baby making a “self-centered demand”? Crying is how babies communicate their needs, and one of their needs is to be held. Sure, a parent can’t hold an infant all the time, and sure, an infant may cry when set down, but to call a baby communicating her desire to be held the only way she knows how a “self-centered demand”—really? And it gets worse: Michael wants mothers to teach their infants that crying is “counterproductive.” Michael immediately follows this by admitting that crying is the only way infants have of communicating, and that leaves me scratching my head. Babies don’t know the difference between a reasonable demand and an unreasonable demand. If you purpose to teach an infant that crying is counterproductive, do you really think they’re going to put it together that it’s only “unreasonable” crying that is counterproductive? Or, are you going to teach that infant that she can’t depend on her caregivers and that the adults in her life are capricious and uncaring? And what is this about infants crying “in order to manipulate the adults into constant servitude”? I swear, for the amount of evil Michael imputes onto toddlers and babies, you really have to wonder about the man’s mental state.

But for all of my revulsion at this section, I did grow up in a Pearl-following home. My mother used to talk about how she would “train a baby out of crying.” She would refuse to get the baby as long as he was crying, waiting for him to be quiet and calm before she would get him out of his crib. She said that this taught the baby that it was cheerfulness that would be rewarded, not crying. It’s almost like she couldn’t see that the baby might instead end up feeling abandoned, unwanted, and ignored.


One of our girls who developed mobility early had a fascination with crawling up the stairs. At four months she was too unknowing to be punished for disobedience. But for her own good, we attempted to train her not to climb the stairs by coordinating the voice command of “No” with little spats on the bare legs. The switch was a twelve-inch long, one-eighth-inch diameter sprig from a willow tree.

Such was her fascination with climbing that four or five sessions had not made her stop. The thought of further spankings was disconcerting, so I conceived an alternative. After one more spanking, I laid the switch on the bottom step. We later observed her crawl to the stairs and start the ascent, only to halt at the first step and stare at the switch. She backed off and never again attempted to climb the stairs, even after the switch was removed.

Again, this is getting repetitive. However, we do learn a few things here. First, we learn that when Michael says to start training early (and switching a child with an actual implement, in this case a 12 inch long rod), he means as early as four months old. Second, we learn that Michael can get to a place where he finds additional spankings “disconcerting.” It’s not surprising that switching a four-month-old didn’t have its desired effect, and it’s unfortunate that Michael couldn’t just admit that. I don’t know for sure why Michael’s daughter wouldn’t go up the step once Michael put the switch on it—it could have been that, being an infant, she couldn’t figure out a way to get past it, or it could have been that she associated the object with the pain her father inflicted on her and was afraid of it. But it’s interesting that Michael only found a solution here when he stopped switching (because it wasn’t working) and tried something else instead. As we’ll see as we continue through the book, he never tells parents that they should learn to watch for when spanking isn’t working and respond by trying something else. I begin to wonder if Michael himself actually completely followed the advice he lays out here in his book.

As for the babe “never again” attempting to climb the stairs, I rather hope that’s no the case, because it would be weird if Rebekah, Shalom, or Soshanna (whichever of them it was) never learned to climb stairs (and I would think that would make their lives today a bit difficult). Yes, this is sarcasm, but I think my point stands—Michael’s focus is on getting his children to obey him no matter what, not on helping them learn how to do things themselves (yes I know that four months old is too young to learn to climb the stairs—or to be crawling, actually, which makes this kind of weird—but is it that hard to put a baby gate up until she’s old enough to learn to climb the stairs rather than making her afraid of them?), and he seems to forget that they will eventually grow older and need to learn to do those things. And I feel like his statement here that his daughter “never again” attempted to climb the stairs is reflexive of that blind spot.

And here we come to an end for this week. The first of the sections we will deal with next week is titled “Excessive Discipline,” so stay tuned!

Steve Is a Man: On Minecraft and Gender
Nine-Year-Old Sluts and Masturbating Dinner Guests
TTUAC: Bad Attitudes Are a Disease
TTUAC: Bed Wetting, Cold Hoses, and Hana Williams
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.

  • Lyric

    As the mother, holding her child, leans over the crib and begins the
    swing downward, the infant stiffens, takes a deep breath and bellows.

    *deep calming breath which doesn’t seem to be working* Newborns are afraid of falling.

    Seriously. It’s built in. Newborns are afraid of falling, except that they don’t actually know what falling is yet, so they react to any situation where their balance seems to be in jeopardy. Mine were initially frightened by the changing table. They seemed to think it was some way for falling to sneak up on them, perhaps because the surface was like nothing else in the house.

    The way I handled that was to grasp their lower arm firmly when I laid them on the changing table and say, “Shh, you’re not falling, you’re not falling, it’s fine,” in a soothing and confident tone of voice. And they got over it.

    Likewise with a mother putting a baby in a crib. The baby is probably not sure of the distinction between falling and descending, so they cry just in case. To soothe them, move slowly and gently and perhaps talk them through it, so that they know Mommy/Daddy/Grandma/etc is in charge and the situation is under control. No punitive measures necessary.

    Only an abuser assumes that every inconvenient act is in fact a malicious act aimed at him.

    • Basketcase

      Also, the baby is being separated from you! And they dont have an understanding yet that you still exist when you aren’t there. That has to be unsettling as well.
      Which is why I followed advice to make the change table fun (singing songs and having toys), and bed safe (soothing in bed as often as possible, rather than “rescuing” them from that “scary place” by picking them up).
      Sure, there are times when you do need to leave a crying baby to cry, but not like this! (ie, you urgently need the bathroom yourself and it just wont wait, or they are grizzly-crying rather than “OMG the world is ending” crying)

    • The_L1985

      Fear of falling is so deeply instinctual that when experimenters put a baby on a glass surface above a drop-off, the baby would stubbornly refuse to crawl on the glass above the “cliff,” even if you made it really clear there was a surface to walk on by putting a favorite toy on the glass.

      • Basketcase

        My niece demonstrated this when she was 3. We went to a local museum, and it had a small fish tank underneath a glass walkway. She refused to walk on the glass above water. It was hilarious at the time with how she reacted, but so gorgeously innocent at the same time :)

      • Nomad

        Now you’ve got me thinking. I’ve got a pretty strong fear of heights that seems to have been inherited. I always wondered how there could be a genetic component to that. If there’s a natural fear of such things in babies that’s supposed to fade as they age, maybe there’s a way for it to be stuck on, genetically, in the same way that the lactose tolerance mutation is really a case of not losing it after infancy rather than gaining it.

      • Lyric

        I’ve heard that it could just be that your inner ear is subtly wonky. Not so much that you have trouble balancing normally, especially with visual cues all around you, but enough that when you know that balance reeeeally matters, your brain goes, “Now, hold on, wait a minute here.”

    • wmdkitty

      Gravitational insecurity, ain’t it great?

      • Lizzie

        I actually do have one of those crazy irrational fears that “hey, what if maybe, just maybe, gravity just *turns off* and then we all float away”

      • Feminerd

        Oh, we’d die long before we floated away, because our atmosphere would go away too :) Heck, it’s pretty much only gravity holding the planet together, I think.

      • wmdkitty

        Yep. Gravity and ducky-tapes.

    • Arakasi_99

      When my son was an infant, we found that he hated to be lowered onto the changing table – I’m pretty sure that it was because of that fear of falling. If, however, I held him cuddled against my chest, bent over until he was on the changing pad, pulled my arms out, and straightened up, he was perfectly happy.
      It took about a minute of thought, a small change of habit, and a willingness to adapt to his needs to come up with a solution that made everyone happy. Of course, the last of those would be completely anethama to the Pearls

    • Lucreza Borgia

      Re: putting a baby down. It’s also an experience thing on the part of a parent or childcare person. I had been taking care of babies for years by the time my friends all had children and had a knack for putting children down with almost zero reaction from the child. It amazed my friends.

  • smrnda

    The bullshit Michael spouts ignores facts about children and infants – their motor control is still developing so their actions aren’t within their control. Children are still developing cognitively as well, so obedience isn’t really possible in some situation.

    I remember a post you did a while back where some woman mentioned spanking a baby 40 times a day (or some other absurd number.) When you’re ‘conditioning’ so much it’s proof that your method of conditioning doesn’t work.

    ‘One of our girls who developed mobility early had a fascination with
    crawling up the stairs. At four months she was too unknowing to be
    punished for disobedience. But for her own good, we attempted to train
    her not to climb the stairs by coordinating the voice command of “No”
    with little spats on the bare legs. The switch was a twelve-inch long,
    one-eighth-inch diameter sprig from a willow tree.’

    Why shouldn’t the girl climb the stairs? As long as you pay attention, it isn’t that dangerous I do this with kids all the time; they’re gaining the ability to move on their own, want to try new things, and with a little help they can develop their motor skills and have a good time. This is how *education* works – you build on abilities kids already have by giving them a little bit of help when they get stuck.

    (I’m also skeptical of the 4 month old and stair climbing – I just worked with a 5 month old who couldn’t even crawl yet, which makes me think Michael made this up, or doesn’t know how old his own kids are.)

    The whole ‘obedience games’ just sounds sick and twisted and a clear sign of an adult obsessed with power and control.

    • Lizzie

      I’m not surprised Michael said a 4 month old was trying to climb the stairs. He clearly knows nothing about child development.

      • The_L1985

        Some babies start climbing before they can crawl–my brother did. But yeah, a 4-month-old crawling would be very unusual, and Michael isn’t exactly the most trustworthy source.

    • JasmynMoon

      She probably learned to crawl so early to get the hell away from him.

    • NeaDods

      He doesn’t want them having an education beyond total fear of what isn’t spoon-fed by Michael and Debi. This is early, patient, dedicated training in a life-long TERROR of the world, exploration, and autonomy. Michael will say that’s how he was trained, but look at him! Biology is destiny, nuance is emotionally devastating (his worries over the bible translations), thinking is too hard (gender roles and his glomming onto KJV-only, which he did not discover for himself), rampant insecurity that makes him challenge every other guy, physically, to the point of putting a macho threat *on the back of his book!* AND see even a child’s natural exploration and wishes as a threat directly TO HIM. He’s a monster and is minting other monsters.

    • Lyric

      (I’m also skeptical of the 4 month old and stair climbing – I just
      worked with a 5 month old who couldn’t even crawl yet, which makes me
      think Michael made this up, or doesn’t know how old his own kids are.)

      Weirdly enough, this is something I’ve seen in my father, who was also abusive: a total obliviousness to what age children are able to do things. He boasted that I could hold my head up an hour after I was born (unlike all those other, not-so-advanced babies? I have no idea), and also held me accountable for things far beyond my age level. (Such as his total lack of sympathy when I drank something which, in poor light, looked like grape juice. It turned out to be dipping sauce for jiaozi, made of white vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil, and let me tell you, getting a mouthful of that when you think you’re getting something sweet is enough to startle the hell out of a three-year-old. His view was that if I was stupid enough to drink unknown fluids I deserved what I got, and maybe a pop on the butt for touching something that didn’t belong to me—my mom talked him out of the latter idea, but not before he said some fairly scathing things.) You can see it, not only in this crawling four-month-old tale, but in his idea that babies are capable of conceiving of defiance.

      Or, for that matter, cause and effect.

      • j.lup

        I was thinking the same thing, that there’s no way a 4 month-old would be trying to crawl up steps.

      • Christine

        My daughter actually could hold her head up pretty much as soon as she was born, so he might actually be telling the truth on that one (a stopped clock is right twice a day and all that).

      • Lyric

        Oh, it might be possible. But I think it’s unlikely, because (when he wasn’t down on me) he always exaggerated my capabilities.

      • The_L1985

        My father seemed to think that being spanked when I wet myself or spilled my drink would cause me to develop muscle control faster.

        I still remember a specific instance of thinking “Do I have to go potty?” *tinkle* then not being able to think of anything at all except the puddle on the living-room rug and Daddy yelling and spanking me. I was 3 years old.

        We were also called clumsy whenever we spilled our drinks and told to be more careful–while also being spanked. At age 5 or thereabouts, when kids still have trouble getting a drink without spilling it.

    • Basketcase

      Yeah, my 5 month old isn’t even rolling over yet.
      The most advanced 5 month old I know was sitting and rolling with ease, and had a good bum shuffle going on. She started crawling before 7 months.

    • The_L1985

      My brother was climbing out of his crib at 8 weeks–long before most babies are capable of it. So I certainly believe it!

      ETA: He’s my younger brother, so my parents certainly knew that this was abnormally young–and they came from big enough families that they certainly knew what is and isn’t normal in a baby! But that didn’t change the fact that climbing was taking place, so to keep my brother from hurting himself, they quickly learned to not have long drapes on windows and to convert that crib into a trundle bed post-haste!

    • KristinMuH

      Mine was rolling at 4 months, and he rolled ALL over the place, so he had some mobility by then. I know a kid who was a very efficient crawler by 6 months. It’s not inconceivable that a small, energetic baby could crawl by the end of her fourth month, but it’s not very likely either.

      ( Mine went from rolling to the bum shuffle to a weird commando-style belly crawl to an equally weird one-leg-up orangutan lope to walking. Never crawled properly.)

    • Gillianren

      Mine is just barely two months old and is starting to inch along during tummy time. But I know how early it is and how unusual he is.

      • Monika Tillsley

        I feel a tiny bit of involuntary sympathy for Michael on the 4 month thing. He is probably wrong about the date but maybe he has a poor memory? My little girl is four now and at some point between birth and now there was a period of crawling but that is about all I can tell you.

        Of course I am not publishing books claiming she did anything at ages I am not sure of so perhaps sympathy isn’t warranted after all!

      • Gillianren

        After all, how hard is “when she was very young”?

  • Beutelratti

    You really have to find a lot of pleasure in hurting people that are weaker than you, if the only thing you ever think of is thumping, switching, spanking and beating them.

  • Janosha

    I read the whole post waiting to get to the part about switching babies, which I imagined as something like a nurse accidentally giving the wrong baby to the wrong family to take home. It took me awhile to realize you meant switching as in hitting, because I would never use that word in that way, but babies being switched at the hospital and given to the wrong families is a rarity I have heard of using that phrase.

    • Kate Monster

      I know what you mean–switched-at-birth was my first thought too, until I saw that it was another Pearl excerpt. Then I knew.

      I feel so lucky to have grown up in an environment where I read “switching babies” as an urban-legend hospital mistake rather than an instance of child abuse. But I feel awful knowing that there are people all over the nation, and the world, who would see that title and know instantly that it referred not to the beginning of a cheesy Disney Channel movie but to the story of a grown man–considered a spiritual leader and an authority on raising children–hitting an infant with a wooden whip to stop her expanding her curiosity in a way inconvenient to him.

      • Rilian Sharp

        Hey, switched at birth is the name of a show I watch, and it’s not cheesy at all >:(
        It was also the name of a movie I saw on lifetime. The movie was really stupid. Of *course* one of the families was abusive. Otherwise they couldn’t have a perfectly happy ending where both kids go with the main character.

    • The_L1985

      The only reason I know is because my mom told me that when she was growing up, her grandmother would make her “pick a switch” from the back yard. She decided a long time ago that she’d never DARE use a “switch” on her children, because the humiliation of picking the branch just made the spanking that much worse.

  • onamission5

    It hurts me right in my gut that a baby’s only means of communication is being framed here in terms of a power struggle in which the baby is always evil and therefore should always lose, and the parents are infallible and therefore should always win. I can’t tell you how many times one of my kids, as infants, cried because they were hurt or stuck. By the Pearl’s methods, I ought to have left the baby’s arm wedged in the crib slats because that would teach them not to stick their elbow through the crib slats while sleeping? Or maybe I ought to have taken a willow switch and beaten the baby for being so carless as to allow their favorite comfort object to slip between crib and wall, and for being so selfish that they used their only means of communication to ask me to get it for them?
    This is all basically an extreme take on the (Victorian, I think?) principals which stated that showing affection toward infants would turn them into spoiled children. AHEM! Pearls? Child development experts would beg to differ!

    • Renee

      They think child development experts are a tool of the states, and satan, there to push a humanist and liberal agenda.

  • AlisonCummins

    Conditioning is done with positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment or negative punishment. Saying “it’s not punishment, it’s conditioning” is a little like saying, “it’s not a mammal, it’s a vertebrate.”

    If he means it’s not conditioning using punishment, it’s conditioning using reward, that doesn’t make sense. Inflicting pain is positive punishment. It’s not even negative reward unless the child is living with constant aversive stimuli that only stop when the desired action is performed.

    He either doesn’t know what he’s talking about or he’s lying.

    • Hilary

      Or he doesn’t care, or he’s playing another round of gas lighting vocab.

    • Alix

      He’s deliberately being disingenuous here. He knows damn good and well most of his method sounds like punishment to most people (because that’s what it IS!), so he’s trying to redefine it as “conditioning so you don’t need to punish” and “discipline” so that it sounds more biblical and sells better.

      It’s a marketing gag.

      • Renee

        No, I think he really believes there is a difference! I read the whole book, and taken as a whole, you can see that he really believed this stuff about training/conditioning. Fundies have to do so many mental gymnastics every day as it is, so that he redefines and abuses language here to make himself feel superior is really no surprise.

      • Alix

        I wonder, then, if this is how it was taught to him.

    • Trollface McGee

      Because “Train up a child” sounds better than “Beat your baby into submission.”
      Though I wouldn’t count out him being too dense to understand the distinctions, the Pearls don’t strike me as bastions of intellectual achievement.

  • Squire Bramble

    “Otherwise, you will reinforce the child’s growing self-centeredness, which will eventually become socially intolerable.”

    So in the Pearl books on married life we’ve witnessed the following examples of Michael’s behavior.

    1. Chucked a tanty on his honeymoon because his wife had difficulties cooking the crabs he had forced her to help gather earlier while he napped in another room. Resorted to name-calling when she voiced reasonable concerns.

    2. Had another tantrum when he failed to place a bag of rubbish in a bin. Projected his feelings of inadequacy onto his wife, sulking like a dowager duchess until appeased with sex.

    3. Self-reporting (in the previous post) of inability to master basic life skills unless his wife is present to cajole him with promises of sex.

    So what’s Mikey’s excuse for being a self-centered, socially intolerable person? I’m beginning to understand why CP advocates men running their own businesses, because if they’re anything like this guy they’re essentially unemployable. Can you imagine someone showing up to the office reeking, caked in dirt – only to wave it off with the excuse that his wife is away for a few days? He’s not even fit to join the army. He’s a coddled toddler whose mummy panders to him by giving him sex rather than treats from the grocery store.

    • smrnda

      I’m suspecting that he entered ‘ministry’ since it’s a way for someone with zero skills except a lack of shame to earn a living.

      • Theo Darling

        My sleazy cousin freely admits he became a pastor because he thinks he’s too good to work, so.

      • Alix

        And as any halfway decent religious leader will tell you (or, rather, your sleazy cousin), being a real pastor is actually hard work. Of course, that assumes one is bothering to actually attempt to do the job.

        …I’m not even Christian, and I’m insulted on their behalf. >.>

  • Abby Normal

    I never made it all the way through “Brave New World”, but there’s a part in there about “conditioning” babies in a similar manner.

    • Squire Bramble

      I posted the conditioning episode from chapter 2 in last week’s TTUAC analysis. The Director’s words at the end really encapsulate the end result of Pearl’s training philosophy: “They’ll be safe from books and botany all their lives.” Note, too, that in “Brave New World” the Pearl method is applied to produce Delta, or lower-caste children for menial work in factories.

      • Conuly

        It’s used to produce every caste, it’s just that not all castes are trained to avoid books or dislike nature.

  • Hilary

    I wonder what he is so afraid of? We’ve all had occasion to comment how insecure he is, and great insecurity usually overlays a lot of fear. Consider how much being in control is at the heart of every interaction we’ve observed in this family – I wonder if he is deeply afraid of being ignored, like pathologically afraid of being ignored so much so that he can’t even see it in himself? Libby, what you said about teaching your daughter to respond when you call made a lot of sense. It’s good communication that you know she heard you, and that she is not ignoring you. That’s what made me wonder if Michael just can’t stand to be ignored, even for a minute, even by a baby.

    I wonder what his bogart would be?

    • Lyric

      I wonder what he is so afraid of?

      Being unmanly. If you miss an opportunity to show how tough you are, your nuts drop off. Truefax.

      I think his bogart would probably be some visual representation of himself being made small and helpless. After all, people whack small and helpless beings, don’t they? And they enjoy doing it.

      • David Kopp

        Aye. For all his posturing as an alpha male, he’s not really much of one. Someone truly confident and in control doesn’t need to demonstrate it and talk about it to everyone he can find.

    • Lyssa D

      His boggart would his wife or one of his daughters developing a mind and will of her own, perhaps represented as her saying no to her husband, or agreeing with a feminist, or voting.

    • JasmynMoon

      Rosie the Riveter.

    • NeaDods

      I think he was raised just this way himself and now he’s trying to make up for all the neglect and insecurity he felt by making himself the king who must be obeyed.

    • Trollface McGee

      His bogart? Someone in a position of authority actually making him do stuff without being able to get his wife to do it for him, and to make him do it correctly. The man can’t even throw out a bag of rubbish.

    • wmdkitty

      His boggart? A strong, independent woman.

  • Hilary

    Also, if he comes anywhere near my godson, I’ll tear his heart out with a spoon.

    “Why a spoon, cousin?”

    “It’s dull, it hurts more.”

  • Nomad

    I’m trying to decode what he considers to be the difference between punishment and conditioning. It seems clear that inflicting physical pain can be both. My only guess is that punishment is for self aware children, and conditioning is where you treat the child as an animal. You tell one that they’ve been bad and then beat them, you just beat the other because it wouldn’t understand the words anyway. I stress, I’m guessing that these are his definitions.

    I have two side comments. Number one, I’m *so* creeped out by the way he takes time to describe the specific implement that he’s using to beat his children, implying that he has a whole closet full of them. He sounds like my dad talking about finding the perfect tool at the store for a task he needs to perform, except with Michael his tools are all meant to inflict pain. And the whole leaving the beating stick out thing, how many S&M fantasies does this guy harbor, seriously? I think he desires to be a Master in more than one way, although given his terrible impulse control I think he needs a Mistress even more.

    Secondly, does anyone else see the garden of eden parallel with this business of tempting a child with something they like and then punishing them for not leaving it alone when told? I still think Michael is a horrible person, but amazingly he’s actually less horrible than god in this one. In the garden god put the forbidden fruit tree there and just said “no”. Michael at least states that he believes that the child has been taught the reason to do what he was being told first, before beating him. God puts two ignorant people into temptation and then punishes them and all their offspring for all eternity for doing what they didn’t know any better about.

    So, eh, he’s still a terrible person. But in at least one way he’s managed to rise above the example of the abusive god that he worships in one area.

    • Alix

      I suspect that if he honestly sees a distinction between punishment and conditioning/training (and I’m not convinced he really does; I think it’s at least partly a marketing ploy), I suspect it boils down to intent, and that he’s branded punishment as being all about negative intent on the part of the punisher, anger, the parents losing control, etc., while conditioning is proactive, calm, with the intent to teach the child, etc. It’s his authoritarianism coming through: intent matters more than the effect.

      • Nomad

        Okay, yeah, I get the point. The thing that threw me was the stair baby story, where he said the baby was too young for punishment. He seemed to imply that punishment would have been what he’d use, but since the baby was too young he’d just condition it instead.

        I can see that I could have misinterpreted that, and the intent could have been “see, punishment can’t even be used here, but my totally superior totally not abusive and totally not the same thing method of conditioning can”.

      • Alix

        I also think, though – and the stair story is a good example of this – that he almost comes close sometimes to realizing what he’s doing. Then he promptly rationalizes his own behavior, of course, and so I’m left a little unsure whether he knows this amounts to punishment but is rebranding it, so to speak, or whether or not he buys his own rhetoric.

        He’s justifying switching babies to someone, I’m just not sure who.

    • Christine

      It’s like the parents who would “never punish” their kids, but are still ok with enforcing time outs or consequences. As long as there is another purpose, you can pretend that the punitive aspect doesn’t exist.

  • Ahab

    Have I mentioned lately how sociopathic the Pearls sound in all of their books?

  • Miss_Beara

    but crying in order to manipulate the adults into constant servitude should never be rewarded. Otherwise, you will reinforce the child’s growing self-centeredness

    I am not a mother or a child behaviorist but I am pretty sure a newborn does not have the capacity to think “wah, i am not getting what i want so i am going to cry wah wah! i am going to manipulate this big people by crying WAH!”

    • smrnda

      Object permanence is something babies are not born with. They don’t quite understand that when you leave the room, you’re still *out there*, let alone coming back. Responding to them when they cry is what teaches them that they are being cared for by responsible adults who won’t abandon them.

      • The_L1985

        Indeed. I’ve read that it generally takes *10 months* to learn object permanence.

  • Ms Morlowe

    There’s an ad for the RSPCC, I think, that shows a baby around 2 years old standing silently in a crib. The voiceover says that the child no longer cries because he has learnt that no-one will come if he does. It is creepy and heartbreaking, and absolutely terrifying that this article reminding me of that ad.

    • Hilary

      What’s RSPCC?

      • attackfish

        Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

      • The_L1985

        I figured that was probably it, based on what ASPCA stands for. Sadly, since we all come from different places here, there’s no guarantee that people will automatically understand abbreviations that are common knowledge to the person posting.

      • Conuly

        Which gives us all a chance to learn something new, either by asking or using google.

        Interesting fact: the first successful child abuse case was prosecuted using laws designed to protect animals.

      • Gillianren

        Or by someone’s being polite and spelling out abbreviations on first usage?

      • Conuly

        Not spelling out commonly known abbreviations isn’t impolite, just as its not impolite not to define commonly used words.

        Yes, it may happen that you use an abbreviation or word that the other party doesn’t know, either because it is more regionall than you think or because they don’t have a terribly large vocabulary, but expecting people to define themselves with every word they use is asking a LOT.

        That’s like asking us all to define NASA or FDA or 911 every time we use those terms because the analogous meanings in other countries might be mapped to different terms.

      • The_L1985

        Except that much of TV and movies are from, and set in, the US, so NASA, FDA, and 911 are well-known in other countries.

      • Conuly

        CPS, then, which isn’t even consistently used in this country.

    • TLC

      Babies who are left crying in their cribs and ignored WILL quit crying because they develop infant depression. It happens in homes where children are being abused. It also happens in places like orphanages because there aren’t enough people to take care of the babies.

      • NeaDods

        Yet this is the stated goal of the Pearls, to have a child with all of these signs of abuse.

      • Renee

        Yep, this was me. Between the hospital and my adoption, I went to a Catholic Charities “nursery”, where I laid in a crib all day, save to eat, alone and untouched. I guess I quit crying or responding, as by the time I went home to my new family, they thought I was mentally retarded or something. Nope. I was neglected.

        I guess that my bio mom had wanted to see me, and they told her NO, I had gone to my new home and was happy. In reality I was there 10 weeks. When I told her this she was devastated, I guess she always regretted the decision not to go back.

        I do not remember this, but just hearing it retold makes me very sad for my baby self.

      • TLC

        Amazing. Thanks for sharing that. How did you recover? Did your adoptive parents know what was wrong, and get you help? Or did you have to wait until you were an adult to get help? (If you don’t mind answering, of course.)

    • Christine

      It’s actually reassuring, when you’re freaked out that you’re doing a horrible job of taking care of your newborn, to remind yourself that neglected babies don’t cry, and if you were really screwing up, she wouldn’t be bawling all this time.

    • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

      Yes, and these children can develop attachment disorders. Kids with attachment disorder can seem easier to deal with – they don’t fuss, and don’t object to being left by the parent, or to being handed to strangers. They are like little angels! Except that inside they are disturbed – they have iternalized the fact that their caregivers do not care about them, and that they must survive on their own. They often become skilled manipulators, and lack a sense of right and wrong.

  • krisya0507

    The part about coming immediately when called got to me the most. Letting a child of that age get engrossed and interested in something, and them deliberately calling him away for no reason except to test obedience, is selfish and shows no respect for the child. I know how I feel when I’m right at the end of an engrossing book or in the middle of a project and somebody interrupts me. I get irrationally annoyed, and I’m an adult. I think Libby’s rule about responding but not necessarily coming immediately is good. It’s basically how things go at our house, too. If I’m in the middle of something and Connor asks me for something, if it’s not an emergency I’ll often tell him to please wait just a moment and try to give him a timeframe. I think it would be hypocritical of me not to show him the same courtesy. The bridge he is building out of blocks may not seem like a big deal to an adult, but to him, it is and if it’s not an emergency, I always want to show respect for his time just as I expect him to respect mine.

    • wanderer

      also a baby of 10 months very likely gets SO engrossed that they basically don’t even hear their name being called. I’ve seen it happen. It doesn’t mean they are being rebellious. For those moments, their whole world is that toy, it’s all that exists to them. It’s called curiosity.

      • Alix

        Hell, that still happens to me. I still get so engrossed in stuff I don’t even remember to do basic things like eat and sleep – hence my setting a very loud timer on my computer to make sure I do.

      • wanderer

        I’m actually wondering if you treat a kid this way if they could develop hypervigilance even as a baby. What a horrible way to live.

    • Rilian Sharp

      It’s preparation for class periods in school. Bell rings, you must instantly stop what you’re doing and go to a different room and work on something different. <__> – eyerolling and sarcasm -

      • Gillianren

        That’s for a reason and you know it’s coming. This? This is just being obnoxious and self-centered. And the whole point is that you don’t know when it’s coming.

    • David Kopp

      That’s not irrationally annoyed. That’s completely rationally annoyed, IMO ;) Especially if the person calling you knows you’re busy… that’s them explicitly prioritizing their wants above yours. If it’s an actual need, I don’t think either of us would have a problem dropping what we’re doing to go help (pot boiling over, someone fell and got hurt, etc.). But if I’m busy reading and someone interrupts me and needs me right now because they just want me to amuse them? That’s the height of rudeness.

  • TLC

    You teach babies not to bite while nursing by pulling their hair?!? Wouldn’t that “condition” them to be afraid of eating? And to be afraid of their primary caregiver?

    May any baby within a 10-mile radius of this couple be bald. For at least two years.

    • Lyric

      Remember, if the kid’s bald, they want the mother to find some other way to hurt them. Probably pinching or something.

      • j.lup

        I had a friend whose baby daughter had started to pinch her with her little fingers while nursing, and the only thing that she found that worked was pinching the baby back once on her arm. It was enough to get the message through that pinching hurt. It wasn’t a punishment or a conditioning tool, it was simply demonstrative.

      • kecks

        this is not demonstrating anything to such a young baby. the baby can not yet process conecept like “me”, “mother” or “pinching hurts” yet alone “if i pinch mama it is going to hurt her since it hurts me so i will no longer pinch her”. it can process “pain” (“get away or stop what you are doing and do it fast”), it can process pleasure (“get there, fast, get there”), it can get angry, it can be happy and so on. pinching the baby when it is pinching mama just conditions the baby via positive punishment (something undesirable is added to the experience) to associate the pinching movement with pain. over time or after some repetitions it will learn to avoid the pinching movement because it hurts to do it. every mammal even worms and fish would learn that. perhaps your friend framed her actions as “simply demonstrative” for herself, but they still worked as a simple conditioning to the baby. not saying this is totally unacceptable all the time but it is what it is, not much different form the hair pulling idea of mr. “i switch babies”. i would try yelping very loud and stop the nursing immediatly and just restart after a minute or so every time the baby does the pinching?! or just bundle the baby during nursing? i don’t know but pinching back is definitly negative punishment to the baby’s mind.

      • j.lup

        You clearly didn’t read my comment. On ONE occasion only, after her daughter pinched her, she pinched her back, and that was the end of the pinching. This was a topic of conversation because it was so striking that it was one pinch on that ONE occasion that did the trick. There was no conditioning.

      • kecks

        well, “conditioning” can also take place when it is experienced just one single time if the stimulus is strong enough. if it worked, the baby probably associated something bad with the biting and thuse stopped the biting. also the startling effect of some pain (like pinching or a small slapp or a loud noise when mum makes a load and high sound because of the pain of the biting) can work, since it stops the biting behaviour instantly – baby is just to engrossed by what just happened (little pain, loud noise…) to continue biting at the moment (same procedure used by many trainers for dogs learning to stop execessive barking for example – startle them by noise, then redirect animal; can be cruel depending on the dog). babies can not process empathy, just some sort of synchronisation (they take up emotions of their loved ones and feel kind of the same; like fighting parents, baby starts crying; happy parents and laughter, baby smiles back and giggles and the like.) we of course like to frame our actions toward the small ones like they are already able to think like we do (“he does not want to hurt me, so he stopped the biting”), but they are clearly not able to do that yet. (Which does not mean we should treat them the way mr. pearl talks about of course!)

      • j.lup

        Again, I think you’re confused. My friend’s baby wasn’t biting her (which is something that nursing babies do accidentally as a result of having new teeth), she was pinching her with her tiny fingers. And conditioning by its very definition is the result of repeated, identical experiences. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if her daughter was cognitively advanced enough to have empathy – she was speaking in full sentences at 10 months.

  • Trollface McGee

    See.. the people at the evil librul mind camps have been studying this child development thing for quite a while and there’s pretty good evidence (yeah I know.. who needs evidence) that kids take time to develop things like awareness, moral reasoning, etc.

    Even the ability to categorise and generalise is something that takes a child a while to develop. So if you are beating a child with no physical ability to understand and make the connections, you’re just beating up a little kid.. which should make you feel all manly (not that beating up a child who is developmentally able to understand is ok but this is just that much more evil).

    And punishment is the same thing as negative conditioning. They can use all the sanitised language they want, and use Bible verses to justify their actions but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re encouraging people to beat children and that’s horrific.

    • Kate Monster

      I think we all know that “evidence” of all kinds is just a fasci-communistic liberal plot to kill Jesus and force all good Christians into gay hippie encampments.

      All joking aside, the Pearls don’t seem to give a damn about evidence. If something goes wrong–see the Hana Williams case, or other abuse cases–it’s not a failure of the method, but of the practitioner, or of society, or of some other outside source. All the “successes” confirm that the Pearls are Right, all the failures just go to show how terrible people who aren’t the Pearls are.

      We’re talking about a man who rejected studying the Bible in anything approaching its original form because that would be too confusing and might lead to doubts. Michael Pearl’s approach to evidence is that any benefit it can give him is outweighed by the risk that it might in any way alter his abiding faith in himself. He probably looks at child development stats and information the same way as he looks at ancient Greek-language gospels–as something that other, lesser people might be mislead into looking at, but that he, as God’s special friend, doesn’t need because it would complicate things. Better not to rock the boat.

  • Trollface McGee

    Having an abortion or using birth control or not having kids because you don’t want/can’t afford/can’t have them is “selfish.”
    Beating a baby you voluntarily brought into this world because it’s inconveniencing you by being a baby somehow isn’t.

    • Alix

      Honest to god, if the choice was between aborting a baby and turning them over to the Pearls/people who follow this shit to the letter, I’d abort the kid. It’d be far more merciful.

    • Kate Monster

      And it’s remarkable how birth marks the transition from “innocent, pure gift from the Lord” to “screaming bundle of wickedness, sin, and rebellion”.

  • AztecQueen2000

    To train a child to respond when called, why not (here’s a radical idea) cuddle and kiss the child for responding, rather than beating them when they don’t?
    The Pearls are sick, sick people.

    • The_L1985

      Indeed. When your advice for teaching a child to come when called is less humane than how you teach a dog to come when called, something is very, very wrong!

    • Alix

      Yeah, but then you don’t get to feel all “superior” and “manly.”

    • Monala

      Not to mention, cuddling and kissing are needs for infants and young children. (for all people, actually). Feeding and diaper changing aren’t their only legitimate needs. Babies will fail to thrive if they’re not held enough. And they’ll fail to have adequate brain development, speech and other learning if other people don’t interact with them enough.

  • Richter_DL

    Those pesky children and everybody else should just KNOW that to act against whatever whim and interest Michael Pearl has is incredibly selfish and they need to be conditioned out of it. Michael is the Alpha Male. That is just a fact. It’s in the bible!

  • Donsie

    Ignoring a crying child is a great way to encourage the formation of maladaptive schemas and set the kid on the road to a personality disorder or other mental health problem.

    • Ahab

      That, plus the unending physical abuse, makes me fear for the mental health of the Pearls’ children.

      • The_L1985

        I wasn’t even hit with anything other than a hand until I was 12, and I still developed anxiety disorders at an early age.

        I’m told that when I was 3 and first met my cousin of the same age, that the first thing I said to her was, “Does your daddy spank you when you pee-pee in your pants?” I’m pretty sure that’s not the first thing most toddlers think to ask!

      • NeaDods

        I certainly think,we’re seeing the negative results of the approach in Michael himself, much less the kids. He says he was raised that way, and to look how he turned out. Well, I’m looking, but I’m not impressed by what I see.

  • guest

    Can this guy not be sued by somebody for his terrible, awful advice?
    I mean, thumping a baby because it’s reaching for something? That’s child abuse!

  • Mira

    This just makes me (even more so) not want to have kids. I just don’t want to deal with evil people telling me that I should beat a child to get it to obey.
    And these people reproduce like rabbits!

  • Rilian Sharp

    Crawling at 4 months of age is surely rare. I’ve never known anyone who did it. But my friend Missy said that she walked at 6 months. If that’s true, then I suppose it’s possible for there to be a few people who crawl at 4 months.

  • luckyducky

    So, baby #1 bit once. I jumped and cried out — not planned — and scared her so badly that she went on a nursing strike for 2 days — we were both miserable.

  • Gillianren

    Our son can’t communicate his needs, because he is two months old. The only method of communication that he has is crying. Once we get beyond feeding him and checking his diaper, we’re at guesswork. So we’re going to teach him baby-sign as soon as he’s able to do it. We’ve already started signing “food” and “diaper,” so that when he’s capable of making the signs himself, he’ll be able to tell us what’s wrong. As he gets older, we’ll teach him more signs. He gets what he needs, and we get what we want–he won’t cry as often. Makes a lot more sense to me than hitting him until he’s afraid of us.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    And I was thinking Booty Camp had something to do with twerking lessons.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    When my daughter was little I got pressure to not put up with behaviors like her fearfulness, her emotional reactiveness, her tendency to whine about irritations. For the most part I ignored the pressure. She was easily upset, and much more easily frightened and overwhelmed than the average child. Some in my circle thought it was bad behavior, or that she was trying to control me. I felt in my gut she was responding to the fact that she was highly sensitive to stimuli. I did everything I could to stay connected to her, help her process. Now she is 14, and I am so glad I didn’t try to discipline her out of being herself. I have a great relationship with her, and she is at this point less fearful than most. It’s like she worked through the intense feelings and came through to the other side.

  • Renee

    The thing is, this shit simply does not work. I cannot imagine how much you would have to do to make it effective. Shudder.

  • Caroline Galwey


    Someone ought to give this horrible excuse for a human being Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ to read. In it, lower-class babies are ‘conditioned’ with electric shocks to steer clear of things that they have no business being interested in, like books and flowers. If this author knew that his method had earlier been satirized as part of the apparatus of an atheistic state that keeps its subjects in line with porn, drugs and instant gratification, it might possibly put him off it…?

  • Saraquill

    To his goal of making the child stop whatever they’re doing and come to the parent, I say, what if the child is having a bowel movement?