Parents must take on leadership role

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dear Dr. Dobson: If punishment is never recommended for an infant, what form of discipline is appropriate at that age?

Dear Reader: The answer is loving leadership. Parents should have the courage to do what is right for their babies, even if they protest vigorously. Dr. Bill Slonecker, a Nashville pediatrician and a good friend, has stressed the importance of parents taking charge right from the day of birth. Too often he has seen parents in his private practice who were afraid of their infants. They would call his office and frantically huff, "My 6-month-old baby is crying and seems very hot." The doctor would ask if the child had a fever, to which Mom would reply, "I don't know. He won't let me take his temperature." These parents had already yielded their authority to their infants. Some would never regain it.

Good parenting and loving leadership go hand in hand and should begin on day one.

Dear Dr. Dobson: I like your idea of balancing love with discipline, but I'm not sure I can do it. My parents were extremely rigid with us, and I'm determined not to make that mistake with my children. But I don't want to be a pushover, either. Can you give me some help in finding the middle ground between extremes?

Dear Reader: Maybe it would clarify the overall goal of your discipline to state it in the negative. It is not to produce perfect children. Even if you implement a flawless system of discipline at home, which no one in history has done, your children will still be children. At times they will be silly, lazy, selfish and, yes, disrespectful. Such is the nature of the human species. We as adults have the same weaknesses. The purpose of parental discipline is not to produce obedient little robots who can sit with their hands folded in the parlor thinking patriotic and noble thoughts. Even if we could pull that off, it wouldn't be wise to try.

The objective, as I see it, is to take the raw material with which our babies arrive on this earth and mold them into mature, responsible and God-fearing adults. It is a 20-year process that will bring progress, setbacks, successes and failures. When the child turns 13, you'll swear for a time he's missed everything you thought you had taught: manners, kindness, grace and style. But then maturity begins to take over, and the little green shoots from former plantings start to emerge.

Dear Dr. Dobson: I assume that you favor a highly structured curriculum that emphasizes the memorization of specific facts, which I consider to be a low level of learning. We need to teach concepts to our children and help them learn how to think -- not just fill their heads with a bunch of details.

Dear Reader: I agree that we want to teach concepts to students, but that does not occur in a vacuum. For example, we would like them to understand the concept of the solar system and how the planets are positioned in rotation around the sun. How is that done? One way is for them to learn the distances between the heavenly bodies, i.e., the sun is 93 million miles from Earth, but the moon is only 240,000. The concept of relative positions is then understood from the factual information. An understanding of the right factual information can and should lead to conceptual learning.

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.

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