QUESTION: I like your idea of balancing love with discipline, but I'm not sure I can do it. My parents were extremely rigid with me, and I'm determined not to make that mistake with my kids. But I don't want to be a pushover, either. Can you give me some help in finding the middle ground between extremes?
DR. DOBSON: Maybe it would clarify the overall goal of your discipline to state it in the negative. It is not to produce perfect kids. Even if you implement a flawless system of discipline at home, which no one in history has done, your children will still be children. At times they will be silly, lazy, selfish and, yes, disrespectful. Such is the nature of the human species. We as adults have the same weaknesses.
Furthermore, when it comes to kids, that's how it should be. Boys and girls are like clocks: You have to let them run. My point is that the purpose of parental discipline is not to produce obedient little robots who can sit with their hands folded in the parlor thinking patriotic and noble thoughts! Even if we could pull that off, it wouldn't be wise to try.
The objective, as I see it, is to take the raw material with which our babies arrive on this Earth, and then gradually mold them into mature, responsible and God-fearing adults. It is a 20-year process that will bring progress, setbacks, successes and failures. When the child turns 13, you'll swear for a time that he's missed everything you thought you had taught -- manners, kindness, grace and style.
But then maturity begins to take over, and the little green shoots from former plantings start to emerge. It is one of the richest experiences in living to watch that blossoming at the latter end of childhood.
QUESTION: You place great emphasis on instilling respect during the developmental years. Why is that so important? Do you just want adults to feel powerful and in control of these little people?
DR. DOBSON: Certainly not. Respect is important for several very specific reasons. First, a child's relationship with his parents provides the basis for his attitude toward every other form of authority he will encounter. It becomes the cornerstone for his later outlook on school officials, law enforcement officers, future employers, and the people with whom he will eventually live and work.
Teachers, for example, can tell very quickly when a boy or girl has been allowed to be defiant at home, because those attitudes are brought straight into the classroom. Again, relationships at home are the first and most important social encounters a youngster will have, and the problems experienced there often carry over into adult life.
Second, if you want your child to accept your values when she reaches her teen years, then you must be worthy of her respect during her younger days. When a child can successfully defy your authority during her first 15 years, laughing in your face and stubbornly flouting your leadership, she develops a natural contempt for everything you stand for. ''Stupid old Mom and Dad!'' she thinks. ''I've got them wound around my little finger. Sure they love me, but I really think they're afraid of me.'' A child may not utter these words, but she feels them each time she wins the confrontations with her mom or dad.
Third, and related to the second, respect is critical to the transmission of faith from one generation to the next. The child who disdains his or her mother and father is less likely to emulate them on the things that matter most. If Mom and Dad are not worthy of respect, then neither are their morals, their country, or even their most deeply held convictions.
Dr. James Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903; or www.family.org. Questions and answers are excerpted from books written by Dr. Dobson and published by Tyndale House.
COPYRIGHT 2000 JAMES DOBSON INC.
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