Many of us who have read Dr. Dobson’s books, or have been parented by those who’ve read them feel deeply that his attitude toward discipline is wrong. We are also clearly at a loss to explain or articulate why. I have been making an effort to put into words and down on paper (erm…as it were) what is wrong about Dobson’s stance, and why.
Positive Parenting and Permissiveness Are Not Alike- Positive Parenting and Parental Authority Are Not Opposites
One of the points Dr. D loves to try to make, is that outside of demanding parental control- all parenting must be permissive. He actually says that he promotes an authoritative parental role instead of authoritarian, but I have found his distinction between the two to be so fine as to be no distinction at all.
To illustrate, I will take a quote from his book, The Strong-Willed Child, where after equating the dangerously permissive thoughts of John Caldwell Holt with a Positive Discipline statement from the Oklahoma State DOH web page, he says this;
“Here’s yet another example of bad parental advice, reflecting the positive discipline philosophy. Lina Kabada, writing for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, relayed this advice:
[Karen] Gatewood once spanked and called “time-out.” Now she talks about her children’s feelings. When the girls act up, she sweetly and calmly suggests alternative activities and offers support (“I know you’re sad”) in the midst of tantrums, a touchy-feely technique known as “time-in.”
Ms. Gatewood. . . allows what positive parenting attitudes call “natural and logical consequences” of behavior to flow. For example, [her daughter] Amanda recently wanted to take a favorite piece of string on an outing. Ms. Gatewood warned that she might lose it, but didn’t argue with the child. She allowed the natural and logical consequences to unfold. Sure enough, Amanda lost the string and she cried.
Ms Gatewood didn’t ignore Amanda’s feelings, as pediatricians suggest in the face of a tantrum. “I said, ‘That is sad. It’s horrible,’ because to her it was horrible. She said, ‘I won’t bring my toys next time.’”
How simplistic and unworkable! “
The point the good doctor is apparently trying to make here, is that this situation somehow did not work, and that somehow the fact that ‘it’ didn’t ‘work’ is a direct result of the Mom being ‘permissive’. This is defined by his example as, 1. Not spanking 2. Caring about a child’s emotions 3. Offering support, and 4. Suggesting alternatives.
We’re gonna skip not spanking for the moment. Let’s start with #2. First of all, we all have emotions. Without them we are non-functional in society because we have no empathy, and no remorse. This is why emotionless people are labeled as Psychopathic. I am sure Dr. Dobson’s aim is NOT to turn every child into a psychopath, yet he more than implies that considering a child’s feelings even in a small matter, is wimpy parenting. When exactly then, do your kids’ feelings matter? How do you decide? #3- Offering support for big feelings. Now, who of us, in the depths of sadness and pain does NOT need support? We have a whole culture built up around support groups for adults! It is plain that an adult’s feelings matter enough to create artificial frameworks within which this need is met, yet we aim to teach our children that their emotional needs are insignificant. #4- Um…this should be self explanatory. WHY is it bad to offer an alternative? If punishment is supposed to teach what NOT to do…what are you supposed to do instead? How does a child learn what TO do?
Perhaps Dr. D (as I affectionately call him) would rather the scenario had played out like this…
Momma suggests an outing to the park. Child decides she can’t part with her beloved string even to go the park. Mom says “NO”. Child throws fit. Mom says, “You calm down right now, or I’ll spank your bottom!” Child of course, does not calm down, and gets a spanking. Mom- frustrated and feeling resentful that even something fun has to be made difficult by her child- drags crying child out to the park. Maybe the daughter calms down and even has fun. Momma stays upset, and feels persecuted because she ‘had’ to spank her child to even get her out the door.
Say that the best case scenario is that the child stops crying and they go and have a decent trip to the park. Or worst case, dd doesn’t stop crying even once they get there, necessitating another spanking. Maybe that doesn’t work, and the park trip must be cancelled. What sort of tone has been set for the day?
Whoa, this is getting long! In order for the first mom to agree to the string, she had too- let go of her embarrassment over her DD carrying around a dirty piece of string, evaluate whether the string was valuable enough that it required her protection, and commit to helping her daughter through the consequences of losing something important to her. This is where parental authority comes in. The good Dr. snarkily asks whether Mom would let her daughter wear her wedding ring to the park, and pour orange juice into the VCR. No, of course not. A piece of string is not valuable. In short it makes a perfect object lesson for learning about loss for a little girl. All this Momma did was pick an appropriate circumstance for her daughter to learn this lesson. Then she helped her process it. Simple? Yes! Simplistic? No!
Please note the very last thing the little girl said, “I won’t bring my toys next time!” Hmmmm… Unworkable? Seems like it was pretty effective to me. It seems to me that the first Momma actually accomplished her mission. Did the second Momma?