Don't take out your anger on your children

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Dear Dr. Dobson: What advice would you give parents who recognize a tendency within themselves to abuse their children? Maybe they're afraid they'll get carried away when spanking a disobedient child. Do you think they should avoid corporal punishment as a form of discipline?

Dear Reader: That's exactly what I think. Anyone who has ever abused a child -- or has ever felt themselves losing control during a spanking -- should not expose the child to that tragedy. Anyone who has a violent temper that at times becomes unmanageable should not use that approach. Anyone who secretly "enjoys" the administration of corporal punishment should not be the one to implement it. And grandparents probably should not spank their grandchildren unless the parents have given them permission to do so.

Dear Dr. Dobson: Before our baby was born last month, our 3-year-old daughter, April, was thrilled about having a new brother or sister. Now, however, she shows signs of jealousy, sucking her thumb sullenly when I nurse the baby and getting loud and silly when friends drop by. Please suggest some ways I can ease her through this period of adjustment.

Dear Reader: Your daughter is revealing a textbook reaction to the invasion that has occurred in her private kingdom. Here's what I would suggest.

1. Bring her feelings out in the open and help her verbalize them. When she is acting silly in front of adults, take her in your arms and say, "What's the matter, April? Do you need some attention today?" Gradually, a child can be taught to use similar words when she feels excluded or rejected. "I need some attention, Dad. Will you play with me?" By verbalizing her feelings, you also help her understand herself better.

2. Don't let infantile behavior succeed. If she cries when the baby sitter arrives, leave her anyway. A temper tantrum can be greeted by firmness. However, reveal little anger and displeasure, remembering that the entire episode is motivated by a threat to your love.

3. Meet her needs in ways that grant status to her for being older. Take her to the park, making it clear that the baby is too little to go; talk "up" to her about the things she can do that the baby can't -- she can use the bathroom instead of her pants, for example. Let her help take care of the baby so she will feel she is part of the family process.

Beyond these corrective steps, give your daughter some time to adjust to her new situation. Even though it stresses her somewhat today, she should profit from the realization that she does not sit at the center of the universe.

Dear Dr. Dobson: We have a 7-year-old son who has been doing some pretty awful things to dogs and cats in the neighborhood. We've tried to stop him but not successfully. I wonder if there's anything to be more concerned about here.

Dear Reader: Cruelty to animals can be a symptom of serious emotional problems in a child, and those who do such things repeatedly are not typically just going through a phase. It should definitely be seen as a warning sign that must be checked out. I don't want to alarm you or overstate the case, but early cruelty is correlated with violent behavior as an adult. I would suggest that you take your son to a psychologist or psychiatrist for evaluation, and by all means, never tolerate any kind of unkindness to animals.

Send your questions to Dr. James Dobson, c/o Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903. Dobson is the chairman of the board for Focus on the Family.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: