Methods and philosophies of discipline have been the subject of discussions and debates through the years. Psychologists and paediatricians have been providing suggestions and expertise; often contradicting one another.
On the one end of the continuum is the harsh and aggressive control and on the other end is the unstructured permissiveness. Both extremes leave their characteristic scars in the lives of young children. If both extremes are harmful, how do we find the safety of the middle ground?
Dr James Dobson the Founder of Focus on the Family has 5 suggestions to common-sense child rearing.
1. Developing respect for parents is the critical factor in child rearing.
2. The best opportunity to communicate often occurs after a disciplinary event.
3. Control without nagging. Yelling and nagging at children can become an ineffective habit.
4. Do not saturate the child with materialism.
5. Establish a balance between love and discipline.
This is the foundational understanding on which the entire parent-child relationship rests. When a child is not adored by at least one parent, they wither like a plant without water. While love is an important ingredient to proper discipline, the symbols of authority and respect are also just as essential for children to understand.
Again, the middle ground of love and control must be sought if we are to produce healthy and responsible children. For children to respect our discipline we must ensure there are both rules and relationship because rules without relationship would lead to rebellion.
When the child asks, "Who is in-charge?" tell him. When he mutters, ‘Who loves me?' take him in your arms and surround him with affection. Treat him with respect and dignity and expect the same from him.
Question 1: We have a beautiful baby boy who is now fourteen months of age. He is just wonderful. He is cute, and he is smart, and he is strong. We just can't help but love him. But he has been very demanding.
The thing that made it hardest for me was last month Jean was taking some college classed two nights a week, and I took care of Rob. He cried and sobbed the whole time and eventually cried himself to sleep. Then I would either hold him because he would awaken and continue crying, or if I did get to put him down, I wouldn't make any noise because I was afraid I would wake him up.
I am used to being able to pay bills, work on the budget, read and file mail, answer letters, type papers, etc., in the evening. But all this must be postponed to a time when Jean is here.
That's why it has been such a depressing time for me. I just can't handle all that crying. It was even worse when Jean was breast-feeding Rob. That woke me up too, and I got very tired and had a great deal of trouble getting up in the morning to go to work. I was sick a lot at that time.
I love our baby a lot ant wouldn't trade him for anything in the world, but I don't understand why I'm so depressed. Sure, Jean gets tired too because we can't seem to get Rob to go down for the night before eleven or twelve midnight, and he wakes up twice every night.
Another thing that has been a constant struggle is leaving Rob in the nursery while we are out for a short while each week. He isn't content to be away from us very long, so the workers end up having to track Jean down almost every week. And this has been going on for several months!
We have all the things we would ever dream of at our age – our own neat little house in a good neighbourhood, a good job that I enjoy.
I have no reason to be depressed and to be so tired all the time. I come home from work so exhausted that I'm in no frame of mind to take Rob out of his mother's hair so she can fix dinner. He hangs on her all the time. I just don't know how she stands it. She must have a higher tolerance for frustration than I do.
Answer: It might be difficult for parents of "easy babies" to believe that a fourteen-month-old child could take charge of two mature adults, but your description of Rob has a familiar ring to it. What is occurring is an interaction between his touchy temperament and what he has learned about how to get his way. There's nothing sinister in how Rob is behaving.
The problem, in fact, is not primarily his – it is yours. In your well-intentioned zeal to make him happy and maintain a little peace and quiet in the house, you've allowed yourselves to he tyrannised by tears. It is simply not necessary for you to hold your child every moment or to be unable to leave him in the care of others. Nor should you have to tiptoe around the house to avoid disturbing his sleep. By quickly satisfying Rob's noisy demands, you are actually reinforcing his crying and teaching him how to make you dance. It's time to pull the plug on that game.
To change the pattern, you have to be convinced first that Rob's crying will not hurt him. As long as you're sure he doesn't have a fever and he isn't wet or in some kind of discomfort, no long-term damage will be done by a tearful session. Having made that point, I recommend that this evening you and Jean feed and diaper Rob. Play with him and hold him close.
Then when bedtime comes, place him in his crib, pat him on the back two or three times, and quietly walk away. He'll scream bloody murder, of course, but you must not pick him up. Even if he cries for an hour or two, you need to get across the idea that he's down for the night.
Screaming is not only unpleasant for parents to hear – it is also very hard work for the screamer. As he becomes convinced that his protest is not going to bring those big, loving people to his bed, the behaviour will gradually disappear. Stay with the program for as long as necessary to change the pattern. Be sure you're giving Rob plenty of love and attention before leaving him on each occasion. He'll get the message in time.
This probably won't be the last struggle you'll have with little Rob. If he is a bona fide strong-willed child, as I suspect, you and Jean can anticipate a few hundred thousand more clashes on other battlefields in the years to come. The great satisfaction in parenting, however, is to take a challenging child like Rob and turn him into a self-disciplined, well-adjusted, and productive adult about twenty years later. You can do it!
By the way, let nothing I have said simply that you or other parents should allow newborns to "cry it out." During the first few months of life, crying is the only way the baby can alert parents that something is wrong. It is only later when they learn to "use" this technique that we must not let it succeed.
Question 2: My baby is only a year old, and she is a joy to my husband and me. But your description of toddlerhood is kind of scary. It's just around the corner. Are the "terrible twos" really so terrible?
Answer: I think the toddler years are delightful. It is a period of dynamic blossoming and unfolding. New words are being learned daily, and the cute verbal expression of that age will be remembered for half a century. It is a time of excitement over fairy stories and furry animals. And most important, it is a precious time of love and warmth that will scurry by all too quickly and will never return.
Admittedly, the toddler years can also be quite challenging to a busy mother. Not the least of her frustrations is the negativism of that period of development. It has been said that all human beings can be classified into two broad categories: Those who would vote yes to the various propositions of life, and those who would be inclined to vote no. I can tell you with confidence that each toddler around the world would definitely cast a negative vote!
It there is one word that characterises the period between fifteen and twenty-four months of age, it is no! No, he doesn't want to eat his cereal. No, he doesn't want to play with his dump truck. No, he doesn't want to take his bath. And you can be sure, no, he doesn't want to go to bed anytime at all. It is easy to see why this period of life has been called "the first adolescence," because of the negatives, conflict, and independence of the age.
Perhaps the most irritating aspect of the "terrible twos" is the tendency of kids to spill things, destroy things, eat horrible things, fall off things, flush things, kill things, and get into things. They also have a knack for doing embarrassing things, like sneezing on a nearby man at a lunch counter. During these toddler years, any unexplained silence of more than thirty seconds can throw an adult into a sudden state of panic.
What mother has not had the shock of opening the bedroom door to find Tony Tornado covered with lipstick from the top of his pink head to the carpet on which he stands? On the wall is his own artistic creation with a red handprint in the centre, and throughout the room is the aroma of Channel No. 5, with which he has anointed his baby brother. Wouldn't it be interesting to hold a national convention sometime, bringing together all the mothers who have experienced that exact trauma?
Yes, toddlerhood is challenging, but it is also a wonderful time of life. It will last but a brief moment in time. There are millions of older parents today with grown children, who would give all they possess to relive those bubbly days with their toddlers. Enjoy these years to the full.
This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia and extracted from "The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide" by Dr. James Dobson with permission.
Focus on the Family 90-second commentaries is aired over TRAXX FM at 7.30 am Monday to Friday.