Michael Pearl and Responding to Attention Seekers

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In yesterday’s article, I began a discussion of a very problematic piece by Michael Pearl, published on the “No Greater Joy” website. While Michael Pearl wrote this particular article nearly twenty years ago, the general tone of the Pearls’ parenting advice has not changed since that time, as publications as recent as last month’s magazine show (more on that tomorrow). While yesterday I focused mainly on the Pearls’ problematic attitudes towards children and their skewed perceptions of “childish behavior,” today I want to focus on the second part of the article, where Michael Pearl offers his solution to the “problematic behavior.”

One of the key problems with Michael Pearl’s solution is that he manufactures a problem where there isn’t one. Listen to what he says: “Though it was not outwardly visible, I knew that the mother was irritated at her child. She didn’t really feel sympathetic.” Later on, he states, “The mother, in this situation, actually doesn’t like her child.” He continues to make wild assumptions about the mother’s feelings toward her child, stating repeatedly that she is confused, irritated, disgusted, and that she feels guilty for it — so she buries her negative feelings for her little girl and “pretends to be sympathetic.” Where is Michael Pearl’s evidence that this is what was really going on? Oh, wait. He doesn’t give any.

ScoldedAfter Pearl indulges in an overwhelming amount of mind-reading, he moves on to dire predictions for the future. The mother, he says, won’t be able to contain her angry feelings toward her child for very long. They will explode later, in private, and cause damage to the mother’s relationship with her daughter. (While it is true that this can happen, there is, again, no evidence that this is actually what’s going on in this particular case.) This is also typical of the Pearls’ style of giving advice. Both in their parenting and marriage material, there is a pattern of making a host of assumptions about the unknown motives or feelings of people whose stories they exploit, in order to provide “evidence” in favor of their beliefs. A harsh critique of the parents or spouses involved almost always follows this amplified version of the story, along with predictions of the disaster that the people in the story are doomed to endure if they don’t shape up and follow the Pearls’ methods of “training” (or discipline, or submission, or whatever).

seethehurt2Michael Pearl’s verdict on the whole affair? “By the responses of the mother, this little girl has been trained to be an emotional manipulator. When she can not get her way, she will pretend to be hurt — or take a small hurt and make it into a big one.”

Forget the fact that we have no reason to suppose the child is pretending or crying out of a desire to get her way. Forget the fact that Pearl’s whole article is all a mountain of negative assumptions about a very minor situation. Let’s assume for the moment that it’s obvious that the child is practicing emotional manipulation — right there in that garden at the ripe old age of four.

The solution Michael Pearl offers is staggering.

“When the child begins to scream her defiance or hurt, the mother should just ignore her. Don’t be moved by it. Don’t pick her up. Tell her that there is no reason to cry, so go away and play. If she demands treatment, ask her if it hurts. If she says yes, then reach in your purse, pull out a terrible tasting herbal potion and give her a spoon full. After she gets through gagging on her vitamin and mineral supplement, tell her that she is now completely healed and invite her to come back for another dose if she again gets hurt. If you don’t have an herbal remedy, use something that is very unpleasant, yet good for the child — like apple cidar (sic) vinegar with garlic.”


seethehurt3So when a child falls down and runs to you crying, wanting or needing your comfort, you’re supposed to give them something that will make them gag?? and tell her that if she gets hurt again, you will give her more of the same??

And then this final paragraph:

“Don’t laugh while she is looking. Remember, you are doctoring a serious attitude problem. Three doses is guaranteed to forever cure emotional manipulators and also prevent the development of future hypochondriacs. If crying and running to mom does not advance her own agenda over others, she will learn to make her own way and accept the normal unfairness and hardships of life. Everyone will like her better, including her own brothers, sisters and parents. Furthermore, she will be happier.”

People, this is disgusting. The idea that anyone would think that this is actually funny appalls me. There are so many issues with this “solution” that it’s hard to know where to start. To say that it’s a short-sighted technique with a ridiculous guarantee of long-term success only scratches the surface. There are deep, deep problems here.

Tomorrow I will be addressing one of the most serious issues with Michael Pearl’s recommended “solution,” and with the general Pearl approach to attention-seeking children. Look for it!

3 thoughts on “Michael Pearl and Responding to Attention Seekers

  1. In all his dire predictions for the future, what about predicting that a child who cannot find tenderness and sympathy in their parent, but rather vinegar and bitter herbs, will probably look elsewhere for sympathy, and maybe in places where it is not as good for them. Shouldn’t he be worried about losing the child’s heart? I think tenderness and sympathy should be expressed even in spanking and administering hard discipline – not the cold attitude Pearl promotes – ever.
    I like conversing with your blog! :)

    • Excellent point, Alyssa, and one that I hope to elaborate on in my third post. :) Thanks for your thoughts!

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