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A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer

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One Child's Courage to Survive:

" A Child Called It "

Dave Pelzer

Angelia Mickels

Palo Verde College


This is one of the best, yet saddest books that I have ever read. There are so many bad things out there that are happening to good people. We just have no idea. You never know what is going on behind closed doors. I am so lucky not to have experienced anything like this growing up. There is so much reality in this book, but I never knew that reality was ever this awful. It brought me to a realization that I have never known before. It is extremely sad that something like this really did happen to such a sweet little boy.


A Child Called "It" is a story based on a real life little boy's tribulations with his mothers shocking abuse. The first part of Dave's life was idyllic in his memory--he says his family was "the Brady Bunch"--a loving mother and father with whom he enjoyed wonderful holidays and a happy trip to the Russian River. Everyone on the outside thought that David's family was perfect. No one in their neighborhood would have suspected anything was wrong. All that changed when Dave was in first grade. For no known reason, his mother singled him out from his siblings and began abusing him. The abuse began relatively mildly. When he and his brothers did something wrong, Dave was the one to receive punishment--at first simply banishment to the corner of a bedroom. Then, his mother began spending her days watching TV and drinking beer. Easily irritated, she yelled at Dave for the slightest reason, or sometimes for no reason at all. Soon, instead of making him go down to the basement, Mrs. Pelzer smashed Dave's face against the mirror, then made him repeat, over and over, "I'm a bad boy! I'm a bad boy!" He was forced to stand for hours staring into that mirror. Dave's father soon joined The Mother, as David called her, in her drinking. He, too, knew David was a "good boy." He did not join in the abuse, but he did not to stop it, either. David was treated like a slave in his own home. His mother treated him as if he wasn't even a member of the family like a nobody or an "It". She first referred to him as, "The Boy, then it quickly changed to It". Nobody at his school liked him, they called him "Pelzer Smelzer" because his mom never washed his clothes and made him wear the same thing every day. After school, once Dave completed his chores, he was banished to the basement where he was made to stand until he was called to clean off the dinner table and wash the dishes. If he were caught sitting or lying down, the consequences were further abuse. He had to sit on his hands at the bottom of the stairs for hours on end--always in fear of what worse would happen were he caught moving a muscle.

David's dad couldn't do anything about it either because he acted like he was afraid of the mother also. His mother did a lot of awful things to him in front of his two brothers, Ron and Stan. She told his brothers that he was a bad boy and he had to be punished. They didn't get any of their mom's wickedness or abuse.

David's mother would starve him days at a time without giving him even a scrap of food. At night as he lay in bed he would say to himself, "Maybe tomorrow I'll get dinner". He stole food from stores and the school to survive. He would go into the younger children's classrooms and steal food from their lunchboxes. He snuck into the cafeteria and stole frozen hotdogs and tater tots. When he got home his mother made him throw it all up into the toilet, scoop it out into a bowl and then eat it again. She even made David eat his baby brother Russell's feces. Another incident was when David was cleaning the kitchen floor for his mother. She all of a sudden stormed into the kitchen and started yelling at him. "You've made my life a living hell!" she said. "Now it's time I show you what hell is like!" Right after she said that she took him by the arm, turned on the gas stove, and burned the flesh on his arm. She then proceeded to make him take off his clothes and lay on top of the flames. She tortured him for no reason except for her own sick pleasure. The methods of his mother's abuse were getting really bad. Dave was forced to drink ammonia and was often locked in the bathroom with a concoction of ammonia and bleach and the resulting toxic fumes until he passed out. She would also make him wear tattered clothes, sleep on an old cot in the garage, and she even went to the extent of stabbing him and not taking him to the hospital. The last straw for his teachers was when 12-year-old Dave came to school with no skin on his arms because he had been forced to soak them in ammonia. At that point, several teachers put their jobs on the line and called the police. The day of his rescue, David said the Lord's Prayer and prayed for God to save him from his living hell. (A Child Called It, 1995, pgs.1-153)

Individual Analysis

David's parents used Authoritarian child rearing practices. Authoritarian child rearing practices mean that the parents make the rules, and expect for them to be followed by the letter, they physically punish for misbehavior, and would rather have obedience than authority (The World of Psychology 2002, p 593.)

Because of his parent's influence and neglect, David was a socially withdrawn child. He had no friends, and was probably the least liked among his classmates. His self-esteem was dramatically lowered and he felt that he was a bad boy. The irony through it all was that he still loved his mother and very much wanted to please her and make her happy.

These behaviors are some of the criteria for the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder:

a. Willing to break the law (A Child Called It, 1995 p. 61)

b. Going along with what his mother told him to do, allowing himself to be manipulated by her.

Before he had even reached his twelfth birthday he had been severely beaten, battered, and bruised. He had no other choice but to steal food being that was his only means of survival. He should have made someone listen to him. He could have gone



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