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Parents should use external influences to teach discipline

May 15, 1997|By James Dobson

Parents should use external influences to teach discipline

Question: Isn't it our goal to produce children with self-discipline and self-reliance? If so, how does your approach to external discipline by parents get translated into internal control?

Dr. Dobson: You've asked a provocative question. There are many authorities who suggest that parents not discipline their children for the reason implied by your question: They want their kids to discipline themselves. But since young people lack the maturity to generate that self-control, they stumble through childhood without experiencing either internal or external discipline.

They enter adult life never having completed an unpleasant assignment, or accepted an order that they disliked or yielded to the leadership of their elders. Can we expect such a person to exercise self-discipline in young adulthood? I think not.

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He doesn't even know the meaning of the word.

My concept is that parents should introduce a child to discipline and self-control by the use of external influences when he is young. By being required to behave responsibly, he gains valuable experience in controlling his own impulses and resources.

Then as he grows into the teen years, the transfer of responsibility is made year by year from the shoulders of the parent directly to the child. He is no longer forced to do what he has learned during the earlier years.

To illustrate, a child should be required to keep his room relatively neat when he is young. Then somewhere during the midteens, his own self-discipline should take over and provide the motivation to continue the task. If it does not, the parent should close the door and let him live in a dump, if necessary.

Question: I know children can be hateful and mean, especially to the handicapped child or one who is "different." Should adults intercede when a child is being attacked by his peers?

Dr. Dobson: Yes, and I am well aware of the danger you described. When I was 8 years old, I remember a visitor coming to my Sunday school class. His name was Fred, and I can still remember Fred's ears. They were curved in the shape of a reversed C and protruded noticeably.

I was fascinated by the shape of Fred's unusual ears because they reminded me of jeep fenders - we were deep into World War II at the time). Without thinking of Fred's feelings, I pointed out his strange feature to my friends, who all thought Jeep Fenders was a terribly funny name for a boy with bent ears.

Fred seemed to think it was funny, too, and he chuckled along with the rest of us. Suddenly, he stopped laughing. He jumped to his feet and rushed to the door crying. He bolted into the hall and ran from the building. Fred never returned to our class.

Looking back on the episode, I wish my teachers and parents had held me responsible for that event. They should have told me what it feels like to be laughed at ... especially for something different about your body.

James Dobson is a psychologist, author and president of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home. Write to him in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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