Developing respect for parents is the critical factor in child management. It is imperative that a child learns to respect his parents--not to satisfy their egos, but because his relationship with them provides the basis for his later attitude toward all other people. His early view of parental authority becomes the cornerstone of his future outlook on school authority, law enforcement officers, employers, and others with whom he will eventually live and work. The parent-child relationship is the first and most important social interaction a youngster will have, and the flaws and knots experienced there can often be seen later in life.
Respect for parents must be maintained for another equally important reason. If you want your child to accept your values when he reaches his teen years, then you must be worthy of his respect during his younger days. When a child can successfully defy his parents during his first fifteen years, laughing in their faces and stubbornly flouting their authority, he develops a natural contempt for them.
This factor is also of vital importance to Christian parents who wish to transmit their love for Jesus Christ to their sons and daughters. Why? Because young children typically identify their parents...and especially their fathers...with God. Therefore, if Mom and Dad are not worthy of respect, then neither are their morals, their country, their values and beliefs, or even their religious faith.
The issue of respect is also useful in guiding parents' interpretation of given behavior. First, they should decide whether an undesirable act represents a direct challenge to their authority...to their leadership position as the father or mother. The form of disciplinary action they take should depend on the result of that evaluation.
For example, suppose little Chris is acting silly in the living room and falls into a table, breaking many expensive china cups and other trinkets. Or suppose Wendy loses her bicycle or leaves her mother's coffeepot out in the rain. These are acts of childish irresponsibility and should be handled as such. Perhaps the parent will ignore the event or maybe have the child work to pay for the losses—depending on his age and maturity, of course.
However, these examples do not constitute direct challenges to authority. They do not emanate from willful, haughty disobedience and therefore should not result in serious discipline. In my opinion, spankings (which we will discuss later) should be reserved for the moment a child (between the age of eighteen months to ten years old) expresses to parents a defiant "I will not!" or "You shut up!" When youngsters convey this kind of stiff-necked rebellion, you must be willing to respond to the challenge immediately. When nose-to-nose confrontation occurs between you and your child, it is not the time to discuss the virtues of obedience. It is not the occasion to send him to his room to pout. Nor is it appropriate to postpone disciplinary measures until your tired spouse plods home from work.
You have drawn a line in the dirt, and the child has deliberately flopped his bony little toe across it. Who is going to win? Who has the most courage? Who is in charge here? If you do not conclusively answer these questions for your strong-willed children, they will precipitate other battles designed to ask them again and again. It is the ultimate paradox of childhood that youngsters want to be led, but insist that their parents earn the right to lead them.
My own mother had an unusually keen understanding of good disciplinary procedures, as I have indicated. She was very tolerant of my childishness, and I found her reasonable on most issues. If I was late coming home from school and I could explain what caused the delay, that was the end of the matter. If I didn't get my work done, we could sit down and reach an agreement for future action. But there was one matter on which she was absolutely rigid: She did not tolerate sassiness. She knew that backtalk and what she called "lip" were a child's most potent weapon to defiance and had to be discouraged.
I learned very early that if I was going to launch a flippant attack on her, I had better be standing at least twelve feet away. This distance was necessary to avoid an instantaneous response—usually aimed at my backside.
The day I learned the importance of staying out of reach shines like a neon light in my mind. I made the costly mistake of sassing her when I was about four feet away. I knew I had crossed the line and wondered what she would do about it. It didn't take long to find out. Mom wheeled around to grab something with which to express her displeasure, and her hand landed on a girdle. Those were the days when a girdle was lined with rivets and mysterious panels. She drew back and swung that abominable garment in my direction, and I can still hear it whistling through the air. The intended blow caught me across the chest, followed by a multitude of straps and buckles, wrapping themselves around my midsection. She gave me an entire thrashing with one blow! But from that day forward, I measured my words carefully when addressing my mother. I never spoke disrespectfully to her again, even when she was seventy-five years old.
I have shared that story many times through the years, to an interesting response. Most people found it funny and fully understood the innocuous meaning of that moment. A few others, who never met my mother and had no knowledge of her great love for me, quickly condemned her for the abusiveness of that event. One Christian psychologist even wrote a chapter in his book on the viciousness of that spanking. Another man in Wichita, Kansas, was so furious at me for telling the story that he refused to come hear me speak. Later he admitted he had misread the word girdle, thinking my mother had hit me with a griddle.
If you're inclined to agree with the critics, please hear me out. I am the only person on earth who can report accurately the impact of my mother's action. I'm the only one who lived it. And I'm here to tell you that the girdle-blow was an act of love! My mother would have laid down her life for me in a heartbeat, and I always knew it. She would not have harmed a hair on my fuzzy head. Yes, she was angry at my insolence, but her sudden reaction was a corrective maneuver. We both knew I richly deserved it. And that is why the momentary pain of that event did not assault my self-worth. Believe it or not, it made me feel loved. Take it or leave it, Dr. Psychologist, but that's the truth.
Let me emphasize that respect will not work properly as a unilateral affair; it must run both ways. Parents cannot require their children to treat them with dignity if they will not do the same in return. Parents should be gentle with their child's ego, never belittling or embarrassing him or her in front of friends. Discipline should usually be administered away from the curious eyes of gloating onlookers. Children should not be laughed at if it makes them uncomfortable. Their strong feelings and requests, even if foolish, should be given an honest appraisal. They should feel that their parents "really do care about me." Self-esteem is the most fragile attribute in human nature. It can be damaged by very minor incidents, and its reconstruction is often difficult to engineer.
Book: The New The New Dare to Discipline
By Dr. James Dobson