Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Children: Fun or Frenzy?"

Back in the 1970's, before my parents had attended any of Bill Gothard's seminars, they came upon this 24-page pamphlet which they credited with teaching them how to be Christian parents: Children: Fun or Frenzy? by Al and Pat Fabrizio. They took its instruction to heart and diligently attempted to put its principles, based on scripture, into practice.

My parents were not alone. Children: Fun or Frenzy? appeared in 1969 and, according to Bruce Narramore, was quickly published in four languages. Though controversial in some Christian circles, it was heralded in many more and continues to be marketed (under its new title) today, more than four decades later. Nowhere did it find a warmer welcome than with homeschool parents. Mothers and fathers across the country write of how this pamphlet influenced their parenting: "excellent", "helpful", "great", "one of the best resources", "a GEM".

Widely recommended by pastors and Christian schools, and highlighted by The Teaching Home, the flyer is available for download on the web. A Beka sells print copies as a "must for every parent"; homeschool groups list it on order forms alongside titles by Debi Pearl; televangelist James Robison offers a different edition, with his own grandparenting tips, on his website for a suggested donation of $5. Some companies include it with an order for free. For many years, a church in Oregon passed out the booklet to new parents, religious or not, whose names appeared next to birth announcements in the local paper. Another church handed it out to their newlyweds.

So what exactly did the Fabrizios have to say? Below are some excerpts from this instructional booklet:

The dictionary gives the meaning of the word ‘train’ – "to mold the character, instruct by exercise, drill, to make obedient to orders, to put or point in an exact direction, to prepare for a contest." This is what God wants us to do with our children. 

Do I believe that if I love my children and want to obey God concerning them that I must take a stick and physically spank them when they disobey? I do believe He means just that. 
My obedience to God to train my child requires that every time I ask him to do something, either "come here," "don't touch," "hush," "put that down" - or whatever it is, I must see that he obeys. When I have said it once in a normal tone, if he does not obey immediately, I must take up the switch and spank him enough to hurt so he will not want it repeated. Love demands this.

...Obedience must come at cost and pain. God demonstrates His special love to His sons whom He trains through suffering. "For whom the LORD loves he chastens, and he scourges every son whom he receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons" (Hebrews 12:6-7). It is put even more strongly later in this portion which says that if God does not chasten us, then we are illegitimate children.
The pain that the rod inflicts on the body delivers one from the pain his character will suffer later in life because of a selfish will. "Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inward depths of the heart" (Proverbs 20:30)."  

As I was busy getting breakfast one morning I asked our daughter to put on her shoes and socks. I am sure she intended to obey me, but she got busy playing and forgot. I told her to go in and lie across the footstool, because she did not obey me and I must correct her. I was busy in the kitchen and failed to go in immediately as I should have done. When I did, there she was lying on her tummy across the footstool, waiting for her correction, singing, and swinging her feet. She was waiting in complete rest. She accepted the switch as the inevitable result of disobedience. Each one of our children sweetly receives the switch; they realize we use it to train them, because we love them. And afterward, oh how free we are to show them our affection!

I may be settled comfortably in a chair nursing my baby when I tell my child, "Come here, please." If he disobeys, the motive to have nice well-behaved children is not enough now. It is so much easier to repeat what I said a little sharply. But then I have trained the child to know that I do not really mean what I say the first time.... [The Lord] then gives me grace to get up out of the chair, put the baby down, take up the switch, use it patiently, take my child on my lap and comfort him.

Our youngest boy has a strong temper.  It was revealed long before he could talk.  As a toddler when we crossed his will by saying, “No” to him, he would not directly disobey.  Instead he would throw himself down on the floor and kick and scream.  At first I would go over, pick him up and say, “No, no,” and set him on my lap to make him hush.  However, I realized that, though I relieved the situation for the time, I was not training him to love outside himself. 
The next time he was disappointed by a “No” and he threw himself down and screamed right in the middle of his tantrum I spanked him on his bottom. Then I went to a chair, set him on my lap, made him hush, and loved and comforted him.  He came to the place when his will was crossed, where he would throw himself down, begin to scream and right in the middle of it catch himself.  By the time I got to him with the switch, he was up, walking around, busying himself as through everything was fine.  Of course, he still got the switch because he had to learn to accept my will immediately.  

Do the stories above make you shudder? It would appear from these paragraphs that the Fabrizios would be right at home in the company of Bill Gothard's principle of authorityMichael Pearl's philosophy of spanking, and Larry Tomczak's "art of loving correction".

In one example Pat gives, her husband was convicted of his reluctance to discipline a tearful child, who had gone to bed without giving in to his parents' coaxing. [Coaxing to do what? We are not told.] Mr. Fabrizio went to the child's room, took him out of bed, spanked him, then put him back to bed. We are assured the son slept "more secure in Daddy's love".

Author Zenon Lotufo, Jr. expresses concern about the effect of such "training" on the child:
"He learned to 'live above his emotions'. That is, the fear of punishment surpassed every other emotion, even spontaneous and legitimate ones, that contradicted his parents' will. It is likely that under these conditions, a child not only stops expressing his feelings but also stops staying in touch with his feelings; he begins to want what authorities want, to like what he is demanded to like; his most authentic feelings cause him anxiety and are quickly repressed. There you have an example of 'reverse pinocchization', that is, how a healthy young boy is transformed into a wooden doll..." [emphasis added]   (Source: Cruel God, Kind God: How Images of God Shape Belief, Attitude and Outlook)
As a child raised in such an environment, I could not have expressed it better.

Pat Fabrizio was the primary author of the piece, but her husband Al contributed his thoughts and endorsement. Sometime before 1983, she released what was described as "a more wholesome revision" under the name Why Daddy Loves to Come Home. That title is no longer in print.

I was curious to find out what became of the Fabrizio family of Palo Alto, CA but my Internet search yielded very little.

A contributor on this forum, Lynn Heidebrecht, left the following information for a questioner in 2010:
"Al & Pat Fabrizio are no longer married. Al lives in Mountain View, California, and can be readily found online (he is a musician and owns a publishing business). He has remarried. I'm not sure whether Pat has remarried. Of their four children, I have not heard an update in some time. Last I knew, when the Fabrizios switched their faith from Christianity to Judaism, they moved to Israel and their children served in the Israeli military. One of them died of a snake bite at some point. I could not tell you whether either Al or Pat still espouse the same principles of disciplining children (these came from Pat, mostly). If I were you, I would look to the Bible yourself directly for guidance on raising children, and more to the New Testament than the Old Testament, because Jesus fulfilled the Law, and brought the Grace we all badly need. The Fabrizios method was based on the Old Testament alone, which is not the whole picture."
A musician in the San Francisco Bay Area, Al (Anselmo) Fabrizio of Heartstrings Music, has reconnected with his Italian family roots and now performs the most cheerful and romantic songs on the mandolin. He makes no mention of children. I contacted him via email to inquire if he was the co-author of the parenting pamphlet, but have not yet received a response.

I was steeped in these philosophies of child training for many years. But I am glad to say that my husband and I have broken free and are able to espouse a kinder view of parenting that allows us to teach respect, self-control, and non-violent communication by modeling those traits. Obedience is not a primary value in our home; rather, we aim to raise compassionate and thoughtful individuals who evaluate a claim before they act on it and follow only those who have proven themselves worthy of their trust.


  1. Did you ever get in contact with the author? I was just given this pamphlet, and the first think I wanted to know is who in the world wrote it and what qualifies him to try to teach these principles to others?! It is an extreme view of parenting to say the least.

    1. I never did. I have, however, heard from other adults who were raised under that method. It does *not* make for healthy parent-child relationships.

  2. Others of course would strongly disagree with this post - and all the while recognize that everything needs to be read with discernment. Many Christian parenting books, rightly, in my opinion, continue to teach parents that consistency and clarity about obeying the first time a child is given a clear command is a major aspect of faithful, Christian parenting. In the excellent book, "Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting" by William (Bill) Farley, there's a footnote in chapter 9 that refers to Pat Fabrizio's booklet, Bill writes,

    "'Under Loving Command' - This booklet had a tremendous impact on Judy and me when our children were young, If read with an attitude of grace, it is highly recommended!"

    I would give the same recommendations for Richard Fugate's, "What the Bible Says About Child Training;" Bruce Ray's, "Withhold Not Correction" - and the best overall book that advocates this same philosophy of spanking, "Shepherding a Child's Heart" by Tedd Tripp. (Books, by the way, recommended by David Powlison, John MacArthur, Ed Welch, Elisabeth Elliott, R. Kent Hughes, Art Azurdia, etc.)

    It's easy to isolate this single aspect of faithful, loving parenting and present a distorted view of what the Bible is very clear about - the rod of correction. There is great danger in over-reacting, over-correcting to perceived errors. You can't lump all this together with a-guilt-by-association link to all things Bill Gothard - of course there have been misguided and evil men and women who have justified their actions by appeals to Scripture and Christian books. Pick up these newer and better, more balanced books on parenting - but don't throw the baby, the rod, out with the dirty bath-water, the perceived excesses of some bad examples. Those who out-of-hand (pun intended) reject the Bible's clear teaching about the use of the rod of correction have to that degree rejected the word of God and presumed an authority wiser than our faithful, disciplining God (Heb. 12).

    1. Actually, I most certainly do throw this baby out with the bathwater. Spanking children is linked to more aggression and a higher risk of mental illness. My children are grateful that I don't hit them anymore.

  3. Do you know how I can get one of these pamphlets? My parents read it and raised me under its teaching.

    1. I'm sorry you experienced that kind of parenting.

      The original text can be downloaded from:

  4. I have had to apologize to my children for following the teachings in that pamphlet. It seemed good at the time, but after several children, I came to realize it is extreme, and extremely damaging. I still believe in correction, but not the way Children - Fun or Frenzy teaches. Parenting is difficult - you have to follow your heart and do your best.

  5. My husband and I read this booklet when our kids were young, and found it to be extremely helpful. However, we learned over time that we couldn't implement this discipline concept (after one command) without also using sensitivity and grace. E.g., if the child was tired, or unusually distracted by something, or troubled, etc., we learned not to be legalistic about the discipline. A wise parent will discern what's going on when the child doesn't obey, and will minister to the true need. If self-will is at play, then the discipline is necessary, and obviously, spanking is a Scriptural command when training our children. But if we can see that the issue is something else, then grace tempers the tendency toward legalism.

    1. Whyever would you want to remove or punish a child's self-will? It would be like taking away their sex drive!

      Many christians believe god commands them to spank their children. However, the evidence is piling up to show that spanking children is likely to do them psychological harm.

  6. I was raised with this booklet. My mom recommended it to a lot of people. I hated it, but thought it was Gods way, so felt conflicted.

  7. I was raised on the teaching in this booklet. I hated the book. My mom recommended it to many.

  8. I do not believe in breaking a child's will. I believe in enforcing it, so that when they are adults they are capable of making their own decisions. I have six children, three adult sons, two teenager daughters, and an 11 yr old son. I have never made the older ones watch the younger ones unless they were paid for doing so, and that was only after the younger ones were in elementary. I refused to allow my boys to have the responsibility of taking care of babies. They weren't THEIR babies to take care of. They were mine. I have raised them to be independent, free-thinkers, outspoken, sarcastic, hard workers, and I encourage all of them to have a wicked sense of humor. We rarely take anything seriously. I have deliberately NOT raised them the way I was raised, especially my girls. They are not to be submissive, since I am most definitely not. Two words I left out of my marriage vows were "To Obey". I am equal to my husband, and he listens to my opinions and frequently obeys them, because I have plenty of opinions. I cannot imagine my children with their wills broken. That carefree life extinguished from their eyes. My children will never know what that is like.