Point­ing out other par­ents faults a risky propo­si­tion

The Covington News - - RELIGION - WITH JAMES DOB­SON

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.

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