CONSISTENT DISCIPLINE IS KEY TO FIXING CHILD'S ATTITUDE
QUESTION: My five-year-old is one of those rambunctious kids who gives us fits. There are times when I think he's trying to take over the entire family. I've never really understood him before but I guess he just doesn't want anyone telling him what to do.
DR. DOBSON: That is precisely how he feels. It is surprising how commonly this basic impulse of children is overlooked. Indeed, I think the really tough kids understand the struggle for control even better than their parents who are bogged down with adult responsibilities and worries. Children devote their primary effort to the power game while we grown-ups play only when we must.
Some time you might ask a group of children about the adults who lead them. They will instantly tell you, with one voice, which grown-ups are skilled in handling them and which aren't. Every schoolchild can name the teachers who are in control and those who are intimidated by kids.
One father overheard his five-year-old daughter, Laura, say to her little sister who was doing something wrong, "Mmmm, I'm going to tell Mommie on you. No! I'll tell Daddy. He's worse!" Laura had evaluated the authority of her two parents and concluded that one was more effective than the other.
This same child was observed by her father to have become especially disobedient and defiant. She was irritating other family members and looking for ways to avoid minding her parents. Her dad decided not to confront her directly but to punish her consistently for every offense until she settled down. Thus, for three or four days, he let Laura get away with nothing. She was spanked, stood in the corner and sent to her bedroom.
Near the end of the fourth day, she was sitting on the bed with her father and younger sister. Without provocation, Laura pulled the hair of the toddler who was looking at a book. Her dad promptly thumped her on the head with his large hand. Laura did not cry, but sat in silence for a moment or two, and then said, "Harrumph! All my tricks are not working!"
This is the conclusion you want your strong-willed son to draw: "It's too risky to take on Mom or Dad, so let's get with the program."
QUESTION: I am 21 and also still at home. I am very comfortable there, and I plan to stay with my parents for a long time. Why not? Tell me why you think it is unwise to go on living where it is cheaper and easier than getting out on your own.
DR. DOBSON: There are individual situations when it makes sense to live with your parents for a longer time, and maybe yours is one of them. I would caution you, however, not to overstay your welcome. That would not be in your best interests or those of your folks. Remaining too long under the parents' roof is not unlike an unborn baby who refuses to leave the womb. He has every reason to stay awhile. It is warm and cozy there. All his needs are met in that stress-free environment. He doesn't have to work or study or discipline himself.
But it would be crazy to stay beyond the nine months intended. He can't grow and learn without leaving the security of that place. His development will be arrested until he enters the cold world and takes a few whacks on his behind. It is to everyone's advantage, and especially to the welfare of his mother, that he slide on down the birth canal and get on with life.
So it is in young adulthood. Until you cut the umbilical cord and begin providing for yourself, you will remain in a state of arrested development. Remaining at home with Mom and Dad is the perpetuation of childhood. It may be time to put it behind you.
Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995(www.family.org). Questions and answers are excerpted from "Solid Answers" and "Bringing Up Boys," both published by Tyndale House.