To Control a Child

October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

At the end of this post, I am reprinting an article from Gentle Christian Mothers about Michael and Debi Perl’s child “training” techniques.  Their “ministry”, No Greater Joy, is one that has been recommended to Matt and me by some friends, but I have been alarmed by various things I have read.

A few years ago, I took issue with Debi Perl’s book, Created to Be His Helpmeet. I felt she had a tendency to twist scripture to her own perspective, rather than allowing scripture to speak for itself.  This was especially apparent with her treatment of the issue of headcoverings when she quite blatantly reasoned contrary to what the Bible actually says. Granted, it’s been years since I read it, so I am going on impressions I had at reading it, and therefore cannot give direct quotes or examples, but overall, I felt her attitude came across as haughty and abrasive.

Now, I have been re-introduced to the Perl’s with their No Greater Joy Ministries, and once again was smacked in the face with this attitude which lacked grace and gentleness, and even more so, I recognized a prevailing attitude of controlling children rather than raising them.

I was especially disturbed to read their blog post regarding infant potty training.  Let me be clear, we practice attachment parenting and Elimination Communication with Ella.  The idea is that we allow her to express her biological needs, and we respond appropriately.  If she indicates that she wishes to nurse, I breastfeed her, if she indicates she has to go potty, I put her over the toilet. It is possible to “toilet train” your child from birth– many cultures do all around the world. But what they (and we) do is vastly different from what is being prescribed at NGJM.

There is nothing coercive about what we do– she either has to go, or she doesn’t, and sometimes she does, and sometimes she doesn’t. I don’t decide when she has to go, but I do try to take advantage of when she communicates that she does need to, and we try to have regular opportunities for habit training. But according to Shalom Brand, who wrote the article,

…choose a word or expression that means, “Go potty!” It does not matter what word you use, but it is important to have one discernible word you always use for “Go potty”. Even when we are out where I cannot easily or quickly take her to go potty, and I get the signals that she is near to relieving herself, I still use the word, giving her permission to “go.” In so doing, I am reinforcing the fact that Mom is in charge and knows that she is going potty in her diaper. (emphasis mine)

The whole idea that as parents we are in control of our children’s biological functions is absolutely ludicrous! But this is just a glaring example of what I find so offensive about the Perls.  I do no merely disagree with them; I find their methods, attitudes and blatant misuse of scripture abhorrent and repugnant.

But beyond that, their methods have led to the mistreatment and even death of children; at least two have come to light in recent years, but who knows how many more go unnoticed?  They give permission to parents to manipulate their children’s behavior through strong-arm tactics and coercion, completely disregarding the fact that a child is a human being, a person, made in the image of God, and precious to Him.

Their methods do not take into account that we are raising up a soul, with its own preferences, strengths and weaknesses, with opportunity for good as much as for evil.  We are training up little minds that aren’t buckets into which we dump rules and expectations, but rather grow like flowers that need to be gently given light, water and nourishment. We are responsible for tiny hearts that can be easily broken, so we must tread gently and carefully, making sure to keep them clean and pure. Their little bodies are so much weaker than ours, and we should not rule them through fear and force.  This is not how God treats His children, and neither is it how we should treat ours.

And they fail to recognize that they are putting a loaded weapon into the hands of parents who may not have much discipline and self-control themselves. By assuming an adversarial relationship between parent and child, they are flying directly in the face of Paul’s exhortation to fathers, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

I have chosen to re-print the article from GCM here, because I believe it is important for Christians to speak out against the damaging and even deadly child rearing methods of folks like the Perls, and the Babywise methods of the Gary Ezzo, which have been documented to cause physical, emotional and psychological harm over and over again.  The spiritual damage of these pervasive programs in our churches is unquantifiable, but I would imagine it is great indeed.

If we want to know how to raise our children, I believe we have the best example set forth by Jesus himself in how He treated the children who were brought to Him, and even more so in how He trained His disciples.  He is a gentle Master, and kind.  Strict to be sure, but His discipline is never harsh, heavy handed, arbitrary or unwarranted.  If Christ has commanded us to not even raise our hand against our attackers, what sense does it make to strike our children, who are weak, and not our adversaries?  If we are to love and show kindness to our enemies, how much more should we show gentleness to our precious children, whom we love and for whom we are personally responsible?

We must speak up for our children.  Jesus warns us that for anyone who would harm one of these little ones, it would be better to have a millstone tied around one’s neck and cast into the sea.  Let’s make sure we are not causing them to sin in an effort to raise them “right.”

A GCM Statement: It is Time to Speak Out Against the Teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl

by flowermama

The admins of Gentle Christian Mothers (GCM) have felt led at this time, as we mourn the loss of seven year old Lydia Shatz[1], to issue a statement of disagreement with Michael and Debi Pearl and their child rearing methods. Not only are their methods extreme and outside the realm of normal and healthy child rearing practices, but the doctrinal foundation for these methods contain a level of heresy, including denial of the Christian doctrine of original sin[2][3], which leave them without biblical basis and at odds with the truth that all are in need of salvation which has been provided through Jesus alone[4].

Though the Pearls affirm the value of relationships in parenting in their attractive “tying heartstrings” message, their harsh teachings are in diametric contrast to building healthy relationships. They advocate “training” and “chastisement” of children, starting in infancy[5][6], using methods and means not described in Scripture — including using ¼ inch plumber’s supply line as a spanking instrument[7] and claiming that a “proper spanking leaves children without breath to complain”[8] — for stated purposes of absolving guilt and cleansing the child’s soul[9].

The combination of an adversarial us vs. them mindset where the parents must “win,” physically “disciplining” children until they surrender their will and show total submission, and false doctrine makes the Pearls’ methods dangerous. They present a very distorted picture to the world of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and a Christian parent in the world today. It is time for Michael and Debi Pearl to be held accountable for their teachings. We urge other Christians to join us in speaking out against what Michael and Debi Pearl have been teaching for far too long.

This statement may be re-posted in it’s entirety as long as this notice is also included.


1. Godly discipline turned deadly: A controversial child “training” practice comes under fire — this time from Christians themselves, Lynn Harris, Feb. 22, 2010
2. Second Council of Orange (529)
3. Teaching tape on Romans 5:12-21 by M. Pearl
4. Michael Pearl on Original Sin: An Analysis, Catez Stevens, October 11, 2005
5. To Train Up a Child, M. Pearl, D. Pearl, chapter 1
6. “In Defense of Biblical Chastisement Part 2,” M. Pearl, October 2001
7. Ibid.
8. “Angry Child,” M. Pearl, August 1998
9. “In Defense of Biblical Chastisement Part 1,” M. Pearl, May 2001

Links about Babywise/Ezzo (via Peaceful Parenting)

Dr. William Sears on Growing Kids God’s Way/Babywise

Confessions of a Failed Babywiser

Pediatric Nurse & Former Ezzo Parent

Adventures in Ezzoland

Ezzo Information Website

Become Wise to Babywise

The Case for Cue Feeding (rather than PDF – “parent directed feeding”)

Taking Down Babywise: A Hero

Resources on Baby Sleep

Resources on Sleep Training, CIO, controlled crying

Resources for Breastfeeding Mothers

Resources on Babywearing


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