The mother of a 5-year-old girl tells her to dress for school. The child replies, insolence abounding, “No! I don’t want to, and I’m not going to!” Mom tells her that if she doesn’t dress, she will go to school in her pajamas. The child dresses. And that’s the end of it. Or is it?
“Did I do the right thing?” Mom asks.
“Was her defiance on that occasion a one-off?”
“Oh, no,” Mom replies. “She defies me about most things.”
“Then you achieved getting her to put on her clothes,” I answer, “but you made no dent in the real problem.”
The real problem is this little girl’s defiance of her mother’s authority. In this case, Mom won a skirmish, but the war goes on. And it will go on and on and on until Mom “nukes” this little girl and puts an end to the war, once and for all.
The problem is, the longer this war goes on, the worse it’s going to get. A 5-year-old who tells her mother she’s not going to dress for school may well become a 14-year-old who tells her mother to go jump in a lake and take a deep breath.
Research into parenting outcomes finds what common sense affirms: the best-behaved children are also the most well-adjusted children. Needless to point out, the parents of said kids love them unconditionally and discipline them with power and purpose.
The reason, then, that children should be disciplined well, and therefore well-behaved, is not because it’s easier to raise a well-behaved child (although it certainly is). The reason is that it is in the child’s best interest, both in the short- and long terms, to be well-behaved.
Mom handled the immediate situation in a proper fashion. To that point, she and I are on the same page. However, I would not have issued a threat. At the point of defiance, I would have put said child and her clothes in the back seat of the car and set off for school, telling her that when we arrived, she was going in whether she was still in her pajamas or properly dressed. She would also have suffered confinement to her room after school and early bedtime, as in, immediately after dinner.
And I would have looked her in the eye and said, “And this is the way it’s going to be, my love. When you defy me, it will not matter whether you ultimately do what I tell you to do or not. You will be punished.”
This little girl needs to know, as do many American children, that obedience is more than simply doing what one is told; it is doing what one is told without even the slightest display of defiance.
Some people think this is too much to ask of a child, especially a child as young as 5. We know, however, that most children born before the 1960s (during which traditional parenting was demonized and replaced with “postmodern psychological parenting”) were obedient by age 3.
Even today, in underdeveloped countries that have not imported our dysfunctional parenting practices, children are obedient by age 3. In fact, it is too little, and too vital to the child’s social and emotional health, not to ask.
[Family psychologist John Rosemond: parentguru.com, johnrosemond.com. Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]