A mother recently asked for help in handling her defiant three-year-old daughter, Sandy. She had realized that her tiny little girl had hopelessly beaten her in a conflict of wills, and the child had become a tyrant and a dictator. On the afternoon prior to our conversation, an incident occurred which was typical of Sandy's way of doing business: the mother (I'll call her Mrs. Nichols) put the youngster down for a nap, although it was unlikely that she would stay in bed. Sandy is not accustomed to doing anything she doesn't want to do, and naptime is not on her acceptable list at the moment. On this occasion, however, the child was more interested in antagonizing her mom than in merely having her own way. Sandy began to scream. She yelled loudly enough to upset the whole neighborhood, fraying Mrs. Nichols' jangled nerves. Then she tearfully demanded various things, including a glass of water. At first Mrs. Nichols refused to comply with the orders, but she surrendered when Sandy's screaming again reached a peak of intensity. As the glass of water was delivered, the little tigress pushed it aside, refusing to drink because her mother had not brought it soon enough. Mrs. Nichols stood offering the water for a few minutes, then said she would take it back to the kitchen if Sandy did not drink by the time she counted to five. Sandy set her jaw and waited through the count. ". . , three, four, five!" As Mrs. Nichols grasped the glass and walked toward the kitchen, the child again screamed for water. Sandy dangled her harassed mom back and forth like a yo-yo until she tired of the sport.
Mrs. Nichols and her little daughter are among the many casualties of an unworkable, illogical philosophy of child management which has dominated the literature on this subject during the past twenty years. This mother had read that a child will eventually respond to patience and tolerance, ruling out the need for discipline. She had been told to encourage the child's rebellion because it offered a valuable release of hostility. She attempted to implement the recommendation of the experts who suggested that she verbalize the child's feelings in a moment of conflict: "You want the water but you're angry because I brought it too late"; "You don't want me to take the water back to the kitchen"; "You don't like me because I make you take naps"; "You wish you could flush mommie down the toilet." She has been taught that conflicts between parent and child were to be perceived as inevitable misunderstandings or differences in viewpoint. Unfortunately, Mrs. Nichols and her advisors were wrong! She and her child were involved in no simple difference of opinion; she was being challenged, mocked, and defied by her daughter. No heart-to-heart talk would resolve this nose-to-nose confrontation, because the real issue was totally unrelated to the water or the nap or other aspects of the particular circumstances. The actual meaning behind this conflict and a hundred others was simply this: Sandy was brazenly rejecting the authority of her mother. The way Mrs. Nichols handled this confrontation would determine the nature of their future relationship; she could not ignore it. To quote the dilemma posed by a television commercial, "What's a mother to do?"
Much has been written about the dangers of harsh, oppressive, unloving discipline; these warnings are valid and should be heeded. However, the consequences of excessive punishment have been cited as justification for the elimination of discipline. That is foolish. There are times when a stiff-necked child will clench his little fists and dare his parent to accept his challenge; he is not motivated by frustration or inner hostility, as is often supposed. He merely wants to know where the boundaries lie and who's available to enforce them. Many well-meaning specialists have waved the banner of tolerance, but offered no solution for defiance. They have stressed the importance of parental understanding of the child, and I concur, but we need to teach Junior that he has a few things to learn about mamma, too. Mrs. Nichols and all her contemporaries need to know when to punish, how to set limits, and what behavior to inhibit. This disciplinary activity must occur within the framework of love and affection, which is often difficult for the parent who views these roles as contradictory. Dare to Discipline is addressed, in part, to this vital aspect of raising healthy, respectful children.
The term "discipline" is not limited to the context of punishment, and neither is this book. Children also need to be taught self-discipline and responsible behavior. They need assistance in learning how to face the challenge and obligations of living. They must learn the art of self-control. They should be equipped with the personal strength needed to meet the demands imposed on them by their school, peer group, and later adult responsibilities. There are those who believe these characteristics cannot be taught— that the best we can do is send the child down the path of least resistance, sweeping aside the hurdles during his formative years. The advocates of this laissez-faire philosophy would recommend that a child be allowed to fail in school if he chooses— or maintain his bedroom like the proverbial pigpen— or let his puppy go hungry. I reject this notion, and have accumulated considerable evidence to refute it. Children thrive best in an atmosphere of genuine love, undergirded by reasonable, consistent discipline. In a day of widespread drug usage, immorality, civil disobedience, vandalism, and violence, we must not depend on hope and luck to fashion the critical attitudes we value in our children. That unstructured technique was applied during the childhood of the generation which is now in college, and the outcome has been quite discouraging. Permissiveness has not just been a failure; it's been a disaster!
The recommendations in this manuscript are not experimental or speculative. They represent an approach to child management which can be trusted. They are not based on abstruse theoretical assumptions, but rather on practical consequences. As Jack London has stated, "The best measurement of anything should be: does it work?" When properly applied, discipline works! It permits the tender affection made possible by mutual respect between a parent and child. It bridges the generation gap which otherwise separates family members who should love and trust each other. It allows the God of our fathers to be introduced to our beloved children. It permits a teacher to do the kind of job in the classroom for which she is commissioned. It encourages a child to respect his fellowman, and live as a responsible, constructive citizen. As might be expected, there is a price tag to these benefits: they require courage, consistency, conviction, diligence, and enthusiastic effort. In short, one must dare to discipline.
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