QUESTION: My wife and I have a strong-willed child who is incredibly difficult to handle. I honestly believe we are doing our job about as well as any parents could do under the circumstances, yet she still breaks the rules and challenges our authority. I guess I need some encouragement. First, tell me if an especially strong-willed kid can be made to smile, give, work and cooperate. If so, how is that accomplished? And second, what is my daughter's future? I see trouble ahead, but don't know if that gloomy forecast is justified.
DR. DOBSON: There is no question about it, an especially willful child such as yours can be difficult to manage even when her parents handle her with great skill and dedication. It may take several years to bring her to a point of relative obedience and cooperation within the family unit, but it will happen. While this training program is in progress, it is important not to panic. Don't try to complete the transformation overnight. Treat your child with sincere love and dignity, but require her to follow your leadership. Choose carefully the matters that are worthy of confrontation, then accept her challenge on those issues and win decisively. Reward every positive, cooperative gesture she makes by offering your attention, affection and verbal praise. Then take two aspirin and call me in the morning.
QUESTION: As an advocate of spankings as a disciplinary tool, don't you worry about the possibility that you might be contributing to the incidence of child abuse in this country?
DR. DOBSON: Yes, I do worry about that. One of my frustrations in teaching parents has been the difficulty in achieving a balance between permissiveness and oppression. The tendency is to drift toward one extreme or another. Let it never be said that I favor harshness of any kind with children. It can wound the spirit and inflict permanent scars on the psyche.
No subject distresses me more than the phenomenon of child abuse, which is so prevalent in North America today. There are millions of families out there in which crimes against children are being committed day after day. It is hard to believe just how cruel some mothers and fathers can be to defenseless, wide-eyed kids who don't understand why they are hated.
I remember the terrible father who regularly wrapped his small son's head in the sheet that the boy had wet the night before. Then he crammed the tot upside down into the toilet bowl for punishment. I also think of the disturbed mother who cut out her child's eyes with a razor blade. That little girl will be blind throughout her life, knowing that her own mother deprived her of sight!
Unthinkable acts like these are occurring every day in cities and towns around us. In fact, it is highly probable that a youngster living within a mile or two of your house is experiencing abuse in one manner or another. Brian G. Fraser, attorney for the National Center for Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, has written: "Child abuse ... once thought to be primarily a problem of the poor and downtrodden ... occurs in every segment of society and may be the country's leading cause of death in children." Let me say with the strongest emphasis that aggressive, hard-nosed, "Mommie Dearest" kinds of discipline are destructive to kids and must not be tolerated. Given the scope of the tragedy we are facing, the last thing I want to do is to provide a rationalization and justification for it. I don't believe in harsh discipline, even when it is well intentioned. Children must be given room to breathe and grow and love. But there are also harmful circumstances at the permissive end of the spectrum, and many parents fall into one trap in an earnest attempt to avoid the other.