Children want to be led by their parents

May 22, 1997|By James Dobson

Question: Everyone tells me that children love justice and order. If that is true, why doesn't my little son respond better when I talk to him about his misbehavior? Why do I have to resort to some form of discipline to make him listen?

Dr. Dobson: The answer is found in a curious value system of children that respects strength and courage when combined with love. What better explanation can be given for the popularity of comic book heroes like Superman or Wonder Woman in the folklore of children? Why else do children proclaim, "My dad can beat up your dad?"

You see, boys and girls care about the issue of "who's toughest." Whenever a youngster moves into a new neighborhood or a new school district, he usually has to fight - either verbally or physically - to establish himself in the hierarchy of strength.

Anyone who understands children knows that there is a "top dog" in every group, and there is a poor little defeated pup at the bottom of the heap. And every child between those extremes knows where he stands in relation to the others.


This respect for strength and courage also makes children want to know how "tough" their leaders are. They occasionally will disobey parental instructions for the precise purpose of testing the determination of those in charge. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, Boy Scout leader, bus driver, Brownie leader or schoolteacher, I can guarantee that sooner or later, one of the children under your authority will clench his little fist and challenge your leadership.

This defiant game, called "Challenge the Chief," can be played with surprising skill by very young children. A father told me of taking his 3-year-old daughter to a basketball game. The child was, of course, interested in everything in the gym except the athletic contest. The father permitted her to roam free and climb on the bleachers, but he set definite limits regarding how far she could stray.

He took her by the hand and walked with her to a stripe painted on the gym floor.

"You can play all around the building, Janie, but don't go past this line," he instructed her. He had no sooner returned to his seat than the toddler scurried in the direction of the forbidden territory. She stopped at the border for a moment, then flashed a grin over her shoulder to her father, and deliberately placed one foot over the line as if to say, "Whatcha gonna do about it?" Virtually every parent the world over has been asked the same question at one time or another.

The entire human race is afflicted with this tendency toward willful defiance. And I place such stress on the proper response to willful defiance during childhood because the rebellion can plant seeds of personal disaster. The thorny weed which it produces may grow into a tangled brier patch during the troubled days of adolescence.

When a parent refuses to accept this child's defiant challenge, something changes in their relationship. The youngster begins to look at his mother and father with disrespect; they are unworthy of his allegiance. More importantly, he wonders why they would let him do such harmful things if they really loved him. The ultimate paradox of childhood is that boys and girls want to be led by their parents, but insist that their mothers and fathers earn the right to lead them.

Question: Is it inevitable that sexual desire must diminish later in life?

Dr. Dobson: The sexual appetite depends more on a state of mind and emotional attitudes than on one's chronological age. If a husband and wife see themselves as old and unattractive, they might lose interest in sex for reasons only secondary to their age. But from a physical point of view, it is a myth that menopausal men and women must be sexually apathetic.

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, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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