Pointing out other parents faults a risky proposition
Question: I have a friend whose children drive me crazy. They are the most undisciplined brats I’ve ever seen. We can’t even talk when they are around. I would love to help my friend with a few disciplinary tips. How can I do this without offending her?
Dobson: When you want to point out a flaw or shortcoming in someone else’s behavior or character, you do it the way porcupines make love: very, very carefully. Otherwise, you’re likely to lose a friend.
Pointing out parenting mistakes in others is even riskier. You’re liable to get your ears pinned back for trying it — even when your motives are honorable and you have a child’s interest at heart. That’s why I never offer unsolicited advice about other people’s children, no matter how badly I think it is needed.
If you insist on telling the other mother what she doesn’t want to hear, let me suggest that you first invest some time and effort in your friend. When a relationship of confidence has been carefully constructed, you’ll have earned the right to offer her some gentle advice.
There are no shortcuts to this process.
Question: If it is natural for a toddler to break all the rules, should he be disciplined for routine misbehavior?
Dobson: Everything depends on how misbehavior is defined. Toddlers get in trouble most frequently because of their natural desire to touch, bite, taste, smell and break everything within their grasp. However, this “reaching out” behavior is a valuable means of learning and should not be inhibited.
I have seen parents punish their 2-year-olds throughout the day for simply investigating their world. This squelching of normal curiosity is not fair to the youngster. It seems foolish to leave an expensive trinket where it will tempt him and then scold him for taking the bait. If “little fatfingers” insists on handling the china cups on the lower shelf, it is much wiser to distract him with something else than to discipline him for his persistence. Toddlers can’t resist the offer of a new plaything. They are easy to interest in less fragile toys, and parents should keep a few alternatives available for use when needed.
When, then, should the toddler be subjected to mild discipline? When he openly defies his parents’ very clear commands. If he runs the other way when called, purposely slams his milk glass on the floor, dashes in the street when being told to stop, screams and throws a tantrum at bedtime, hits his friends — these behavior patterns should be discouraged.
Even in these situations, however, harsh punishment is unwarranted. It is never appropriate. A few minutes sitting on a chair will usually convey the same message as convincingly.
Without watering down anything I have written about discipline, it should also be understood that I am a firm believer in the judicious use of grace (and humor) in parent-child relationships. In a world in which children are often pushed to grow up too fast, their spirits can dry out like prunes beneath the constant gaze of critical eyes. It is refreshing to see parents temper their harshness with a measure of “unmerited favor.” Likewise, there’s nothing that buoys every member of a family quite like when laughter and a light-hearted spirit pervades the home.