To Train Up a Child

To Train Up a Child

I’ve wanted to write a review on this book, To Train Up a Child, for quite some time and after reading A Beautiful Rukus‘ negative review today I realized that this was the perfect opportunity.  Although we disagree, respectfully disagree, please know that I think she is a wonderful woman, writer, and blogging friend.

Now onto the review…

I personally enjoyed this book thoroughly and I’ve read it at least five times.  My husband has even read it which, if you know my husband, is extremely rare.  We think it’s a great thought-provoking book that should be read, then the information digested and prayed about before acting upon.  As one of my college professors used to always say, “Eat the meat and spit out the bones.”

Many reviews I’ve read and comments I’ve heard about this book speak of discipline and how they don’t like the Pearl’s method.  The very first sentence of the book says, “This book is not about discipline, nor problem children.”  It’s not about discipline.  The book continues to say, “The emphasis is on the training of the child before the need to discipline arises.”  That’s good right?  It’s my goal to have a home without raised voices, contention, bad attitudes, and with as few spankings as possible.  Parents don’t like spankings either…at least I sure don’t!

Michael & Debbie Pearl continue on the first page by saying,

These truths are not new, deep insights from the professional world of research, but rather, the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn miles, the same technique God uses to train His children.  These principles are profoundly simple and extremely obvious.  After examining them with us, you will say, “I knew that all along.  Where have I been?  It’s so obvious.”

In Rebecca’s review she said,

How sad that his full grown adult children are so conditioned to be treated like animals that they don’t even question it. And yes, in his interview with Anderson Cooper, he said that children and animals have to be trained the same way.

The Pearl’s actually mention this in the first paragraph of the book.  They say, “Most parents don’t think they can train their little children.  Training doesn’t necessarily require that the trainee be capable of reason; even mice and rats can be trained to respond to stimuli.  Careful training can make a dog perfectly obedient.  If a seeing-eye dog can be trained to reliably lead a blind man through the dangers of city streets, shouldn’t a parent expect ore out of an intelligent child?  A dog can be trained not to touch a tasty morsel laid in front of him.  Can’t a child be trained not to touch?(pg.2)”  That makes perfect sense to me and I don’t see them comparing children to animals in a negative way but it’s my interpretation that they are saying that children are far superior so they should at least be able to mind as well as animals do.

One of Rebecca’s points says,

“A child can be turned back from the road to hell through proper spankings. (p.46)” While it’s true that my husband and I swat our kids, we do it entirely different than anything this guy writes in his book. I think there is a place for spankings (licking outlets, dancing on coffee tables, running into the street, inflicting bodily harm on a sibling, etc), but this guy goes WAY too far. Like so far that I can’t even put his spankings in the same camp with our spankings.

The sentence she quoted from the book is referencing Prov. 23:13,14 “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou punish him with the rod, he shall not die.  Thou shalt punish him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (death).”  I don’t see the difference between one swat and the other except that one is training and the other discipline.  God-forbid what if that was the last time that the child ran out into the road because they wouldn’t listen to instruction?  I would much rather err on the side of caution and train my child to obey.  Granted my kids won’t be perfect and they’ll make mistakes but I desire to train them the best I can.

Rebecca’s next point says,

“If you have to sit on him to spank him, then do not hesitate…Hold the resisting child in a helpless position for several minutes, or until he is totally surrendered (p.49)” Okay, first of all….what?!?! Sit on your child? The guy is recommending taking your full adult body and planting it on the kid while you strike him/her eight to ten times with a rod. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

The preface to this sentence says, “However, if you are just beginning to institute training on an already rebellious child who runs from discipline, and he is too disturbed to listen, then you must constrain him.”  The sentences after the one above says, “Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring, and are unmoved by his wailing.  Hold the resisting child in a helpless position for several minutes, or until he is totally surrendered.”

I don’t see the problem with this.  If you’ve been training your child all along then this is unnecessary but if you’re just now beginning to you need to show your child that you are in control.  I’ve seen moms countless times put their kid in time out and the child refuses to sit there so the mom will say something like, “I guess you’ve learned your lesson.  Don’t hit Mommy again.  That hurts Mommy’s feelings.”  That child learned nothing except that he could have his way.  If the mom were to hold him there or hug him until he submitted then she could “administer the rod of correction” or talk to him about his behavior and she would have his undivided attention.

Clearly, the Pearl’s are encouraging parents to constrain rebellious children and not inflict serious bodily harm by sitting on a toddler.  Rebecca also says that the Pearl’s encourage striking the kid 8-10 times.  The book says 5-10 to be precise.  For my toddler I start off soft, not wanting to hurt her, and continue a little harder each time until I can tell I have her attention.  That’s just my own personal preference but I am by no means a parenting expert!  This happens to be what works for me at her age and with her temperament.  Sometimes I can calmly tell my daughter “no” and she’ll burst into tears, other times she needs a little more persuasion.

Another one of Rebecca’s points that I disagree with says,

“If you have duties outside the home that prevent you from properly rearing your children, give your duties back to the Devil. (p.63)” He underlined it in the book for extra emphasis. …In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, he thinks that all moms should not work outside the home without taking into consideration that some families have differing needs.

I think Rebecca is totally missing the point on this one.  The very next sentence in the book says, “I mean exactly that, even if they are church activities.”  No where in the entire paragraph did I read anything about SAHM being superior.  Nothing.  My husband is a deacon, I’m the leader of our church’s women’s ministry program, we volunteer in nursery, we’re workers in AWANA, and we cook meals for sick families.  If I found out I was having another child I would have to cut back on some of those activities.  They are all good activities but my family comes first.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

I don’t think they are saying women shouldn’t work outside of the home, clearly you have to do what has to be done but it seems to me to be a warning for all moms to not be too busy with their own things that they neglect the responsibility of rearing their own children. Trust me, I know many women who do this. One woman I know works 40+ hrs and has a pottery class, exercise class, and swim class that takes up her evenings.  She spends little time with her children.  Thankfully not all moms are like that but some busy women may need the reminder.

Another one of Rebecca’s points says,

“All children’s dolls should be BABY dolls, not “Barbie” dolls. The fantasy arising from playing with baby dolls causes the child to role-play mother. The fantasy arising from Barbie dolls causes a child to role-play a porno queen. (p.65)” Again, his emphasis. Really? I played with Barbie dolls while growing up, and I can say without a doubt that I’ve never role-played as a porno queen. Actually…this quote just makes me laugh! It’s so far out of right field, I can’t even believe it.

Now, I’m on the fence about this one.  I don’t think Barbies are inherently evil but I think the clothes these days for them are very immodest and their body shape is unrealistic.  My Barbie and Ken dolls had sex…although I wasn’t quite sure what that was at the time.

I didn’t remember this quote so I had to go back and look it up (thank you for the page number, Rebecca!).  It’s no wonder I didn’t remember this snippet of the book, it’s just a brief interjection put in parentheses…like I did above thanking Rebecca for the page number.  The paragraph wasn’t about Barbies at all.  Whether you agree or disagree with their stance on Barbies shouldn’t make that much difference about your overall view of the book.  As the saying goes, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Another one of her points says,

He flat out states that both he and his wife discipline other kids they come across, in front of the child’s parents, without asking for permission. (p.56) FYI, don’t ever try to discipline my child in front of me without my permission. If you have a problem with him/her, feel free to clue me in. I’m happy to listen and help my kids adjust their behavior to your house rules, but don’t try to be a better parent to my kids than I am. That isn’t your place.

I don’t want to type the whole out here but it was a situation where Debbie’s kids were playing with other kids.  She intervened when two kids were in a screaming fit over a toy.  Debbie sat the toy in the middle of the room and told them not to touch it or else they would have their hand swatted.  It was off limits.  If any parent’s objected at this time they could have spoke up.  The children proceeded to touch it and get swatted two or three times until they learned their lesson.  The book said they played happily together the rest of the evening.

This example story doesn’t say that both he and his wife discipline other kids.  First off, it was only Debbie. Secondly, she was training and not disciplining them for fighting.  Given that her kids were playing with the other kids makes me think that she knew the parents and had mutual parenting styles.  I even envision her nodding to one of the moms.  My friends know my thoughts on parenting and I’ve encouraged them to use the “rod” when necessary.

If she didn’t have the parent’s approval, then I totally agree with Rebecca!  I don’t think anyone should go through Walmart with a stick whacking the misbehaving children.  Nor do I want someone I don’t know correcting my child.

Here is one of Rebecca’s points that I totally agree with!  She says,

He cautions wives not to discuss the husband’s discipline techniques with him even if she thinks it’s getting out of hand. Instead, she should just teach the kids to avoid getting spanked. (p.58) That sounds like a great way to teach kids to fear their dad, and for wives to become a doormat in their marital relationship. There is clearly no partnership here, and I can easily see this becoming an abusive situation.

While I’m not a fan of parents arguing in front of kids I don’t think it’s acceptable for a wife to let a husband get “out of hand” with spanking.  Something needs to be said to be said to him.  I can understand the need to have kids behave when the husband comes in order for him to come home to a comfortable and happy home after a long day but to have kids obey because the husband is too “forceful” seems ridiculous.  I completely disregarded that four sentence paragraph.

Rebecca’s last point says,

In his chapter, Homeschool Makes No Fools, he says, “Never even consider sending your children to private Christian schools, much less the public, automation factories. (p.101)” He goes on to say in that chapter, “…if you want a son or daughter of God, you will have to do it God’s way and in God’s choice of location—the home. (p.102)” For the record, I’ve come across plenty of foolish homeschoolers, so I took issue with the title immediately. I, myself, was homeschooled, and statements like this just embarrass the heck out of me. No wonder the world at large thinks that homeschoolers are a bunch of half-wits! For the record, I haven’t seen anything in the Bible which says not to go to public or private school. For this man to announce what God wants when there is no scripture to back it up is outright arrogant. Plus, my hubby went to public and private school, and I hardly think he was going against God’s way.

I agree with you, Rebecca, sort of.   This chapter is short but I think a necessary one.  I took from it the dangers of public schools and the importance of teaching your child at home.  We haven’t decided a schooling plan because my kiddo is still too young but I guarantee you I won’t be homeschooling past the first grade because I don’t think I could do a good enough job.  I think teaching inside the home is important regardless what schooling your child attends but I think they go to far to say, “Never even consider…”

Rebecca begins wrapping up her post with these statements:

This book is a perfect recipe for physical and emotional abuse under the guise of raising good Christian children. Will you raise outwardly good Christian children using this method? Undoubtedly, because they will be so terrified and so conditioned that they won’t be able to do anything else. There is no room for grace, individual situations, personalities, or childish explorations with this method. That is very sad indeed.

Abuse?  I don’t think so.  The book has a chapter on Parental Anger and on page 51 it discusses Forms of Abuse.  He explains that the rod should never be a vent for parent’s anger.  It shouldn’t be “administered at the end of an intolerance curve.(pg 51)”  I know one mom who doesn’t spank her children because she says that if she started she doesn’t think she would be able to stop.  This same mom has locked her kids in a closet.  She could have really benefited from training her children.  If people take the words of this book and ignore their urges to pray about spanking and pray before spanking then yes, it could get out of hand but that is in no way what this book is encouraging.

No room for grace?  Grace is getting something you don’t deserve.  Mercy is not getting something you deserve.  If anything, I think Rebecca would be referring to mercy and not grace.

Childish exploration is covered in this book and it openly discusses how a toddler exploring their word is a good thing and isn’t bad unless their curiosity could harm themselves.

One part of the book I loved says,

Training certainly must consider the actions, but discipline should be concerned only with the child’s attitude.  It is embarrassing to see a parent upset at a child for spilling milk or acting his normal, clumsy self.  Judge them as God judges us – by the heart.

The book clearly and repeatedly talks about training the child’s heart as they mature.  The goal is for an obedient heart and not just outward conformity.

The truth of the matter is, it’s all about balance.  Life is all about balance.  I personally think that this book has a lot of good advice, with sound Biblical bases, and a few personal examples thrown in that I could take or leave.

If you haven’t read this book yet and want to, I encourage you to read it with a grain of salt.  Try and see the writer’s heart and love for children in it and don’t nit pick the details you might disagree with.

Thank you, Rebecca for an interesting discussion!

*I encourage comments.  If you disagree with me, that’s fine but please just attack my ideas and not me.  I’m a real person too.  Thank you!*

About Ashley

Ashley is very happily married and the mother to a beautiful little girl and sweet baby boy, and she is the main voice behind Embracing Marriage.


  1. Daniel Lawrence says:


    Thank you for expressing your views, and I appreciate that you disagree respectfully.

    One point of Rebecca’s that I noticed you didn’t address is the following:

    “He cautions wives not to discuss the husband’s discipline techniques with him even if she thinks it’s getting out of hand. Instead, she should just teach the kids to avoid getting spanked. ”

    In the edition of the Pearl’s book that my family has, it explicitly teaches that a parent should support an injustice against the child for the sake of not questioning the other’s judgment in front of the child. While parental arguments may not be wise to do in front of a child, that is no excuse whatsoever to allow an abusive or unjust situation to occur.

    The other main problem I have with the Pearls is that they teach that one should discipline until the child “submits.” This could potentially lead to physical injury or abuse, and there have been stories in the news of parents who followed the teachings of the Pearls and their children wound up seriously injured or even dead. While one could say that the Pearls are not responsible for how the parents use their teachings, some things in their teachings could lead to abuse.

    • AshleyWalkup says:

      Oh yes, yes, yes!! I meant to include that! I definitely agree with Rebecca on the point! Wives should speak up for sure! I’m about to run out the door but I’ll have to add that tonight.

      I agree with you, I think God-given wisdom should be used along with their advice. I think the thinking behind that is if they are trained properly then discipline shouldn’t take excessive force. I’m curious though, I’ll have to look up the exact place you’re referring to.

      Thank you for your comment!

  2. Louly McButter says:

    It is nice to see a very well thought-out written review on a book, even if you respectfully disagree. So many reviews are like cheerleaders and I appreciate the differing viewpoint & support of it.

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