Month: June 2014

Addendum to Yesterday’s Post

Upon thinking some more about my post from yesterday, especially about Dobson equating strong-willed with entitled brat, plus him saying that strong-willed children don’t want parental acceptance/approval, I had some additional thoughts I wanted to share.

First off, let me reiterate that the compliant child and the strong-willed child are not coming from opposite vantage points regarding parental acceptance/approval!! They just have different emotional needs. All children, no matter what their temperament, desperately need their parents’ acceptance.

I really bristle at being told that because I was strong-willed, I was also an entitled little brat. That is NOT true. I didn’t need to be right all the time. I didn’t need to get my way every time. What I needed was to be told that I was okay the way I was born – that my talents and interests were valid. What I needed was to be listened to, to have my opinion matter, even if it wasn’t technically correct all the time. What I needed was to have some control and some sort of a say over my life. What I needed was space and freedom to pursue my passions, not forced to pursue someone else’s passions in the name of molding my will. What I needed was a little bit of autonomy and the freedom to learn from my own mistakes. (And for that to happen, I suppose I needed the freedom to make mistakes in the first place!) What I needed was some space and patience to figure things out on my own, even if my parents already knew the answer. What I needed was a creative outlet that I chose, and some genuine support in pursuing it. What I needed was a parent that trusted me and accepted that sometimes I knew what I was talking about when it came to my desires, needs and boundaries. What I needed was to have explanations given for why: why certain rules must be followed, why I couldn’t do something, etc. What I needed was, in effect, to be accepted. 

And that doesn’t mean I should get my way all the time. In fact, although I vehemently disagree with their parenting philosophy and model, I am actually quite grateful that I didn’t always get my way. I’m grateful that I learned that the world doesn’t revolve around me. I’m grateful that I was made to do chores, eat my vegetables and pick up after myself. I’m not grateful for my will being molded and shaped. Not for a minute, not one little bit.

You know, I’m still here, Mom and Dad. I’m still me. You may have crushed my spirit, but you didn’t actually break my will – because no one can do that. You may have ruined a lot of my childhood and given me lots of things to work through in therapy, but you didn’t fundamentally change who I am and my basic needs. You didn’t snuff out my creativity, though you surely tried. You didn’t rid me of my ambitious nature and my ability to dream big. You didn’t change me from an abstract thinker to a concrete one. You didn’t quell my curiosity about the world or my love of animals. You may have forced me to set it on the shelf for awhile, which made me miserable, but it was always there. You read this book and were determined that you could mold me into a compliant child who never asked questions, who didn’t care about being creative (except on your terms), who was only interested in the sorts of things you were interested in, and who only valued the things you value. But I’ve got news for you, Mom and Dad: you failed.

“The Strong-Willed Child” Chapter 1, pp. 19-25: Your Strong-Willed Child is a Defective Grocery Store Cart

We start off this section with a rarity – agreeing with something Dobson says:

“I have been watching infants and toddlers during recent years, and have become absolutely convinced that at the moment of birth there exists in children an inborn temperament which will play a role throughout life.”

This is true, and since 1978 when this book was published, numerous studies have backed this assertion up.

“Another newborn characteristic … is more interesting to me and relates to a feature which can be called ‘strength of the will.’”

Dobson will now describe in a nutshell an example of the compliant baby and then contrast that with his description of the strong-willed baby. Buckle your seatbelts.

First up we have the compliant babies:

“As infants, they don’t cry very often and they sleep through the night from the second week and they goo at the grandparents and they smile while being diapered and they’re very patient when dinner is overdue. And, of course, they never spit up on the way to church.”

He’s not done yet, but I have to give pause for a WTF moment: a baby spitting up is a sign of their temperament?!?!?! I’m not a parent myself, but I can easily imagine that spit-up is very annoying and probably happens at inopportune times. But it is a physical condition!!! I’ve heard that diaper blow-outs are horribly inconvenient as well. Should we blame a baby’s temperament for those too? I mean, basically what he is sneakily implying here to parents is that when your baby has a (usually) non-serious yet messy and inconvenient physical condition, you should assume that means they are not a compliant baby and are doing it to “get you.” I can’t even…….

Anyways, continuing on in his description of the compliant child:

“During later childhood, they love to keep their rooms clean and they especially like to do their homework and they can entertain themselves for hours. There aren’t many of these supercompliant children, I’m afraid, but they are known to exist in some households, (not my own).”

I’m not going to spend too much time on this because I really want to get to the strong-willed baby section, but this does leave me shaking my head. This hypothetical supercompliant child sounds like robot. I think it’s a wonderful thing there aren’t too many of them. God forbid children have personalities and individuality.

Alright, now we get to the strong-willed, or defiant baby:

“…there are others (children) who seem to be defiant upon exit from the womb. They come into the world smoking a cigar and yelling about the temperature in the delivery room and the incompetence of the nursing staff and the way things are run by the administrator of the hospital. They expect meals to be served the instant they are ordered, and they demand every moment of mother’s time. As the months unfold, their expression of willfulness becomes even more apparent, the winds reaching hurricane force during toddlerhood.”

Okay, I was initially a tad confused upon reading this section. I mean, I have a very low opinion of Dobson, but even I do not believe he literally thinks any newborn has the wherewithal to locate and properly light up a cigar. So what’s going on here?

My conclusion is that this is a little priming trick Dobson is playing on the parents reading his book. What he’s describing isn’t literal newborn behavior, which everyone knows, but he is describing an attitude of entitlement and self-centeredness. Basically, what he is sneakily doing is conveying the idea that strong-willed children are entitled little brats, but by being light-hearted and using hyperbole, he avoids having to come out and say it.

My take? Yes, self-absorbed, entitled, bratty behavior and attitudes do exist, in children and adults; but being strong-willed and being entitled are not remotely the same things!!! Conflating the two is so patently absurd and incredibly unfair, not to mention just plain inaccurate! In fact, they have nothing to do with one another!!

But, now we get to the really good part: comparing children to grocery store shopping carts. Oh yes. This section is extremely wordy, but suffice it to say that Dobson goes into great detail comparing a smooth shopping cart (the compliant child) that flows freely and steers correctly to a shopping cart with crooked wheels that won’t turn when you need it to and is difficult to control and frustrates everyone to no end. First of all, I agree that “crooked wheel” shopping carts are annoying. They are defective carts. See, grocery carts are designed with a specific purpose in mind, and if they cannot fulfill that purpose, then they are defective. So me personally, what I do when I encounter a defective shopping cart, is that I return it and get a new cart, instead of attempting to push it around the store and throwing a hissy fit the whole time. Revolutionary, I know. But here’s the real gem to this analogy:

            “We might as well face it, some kids have ‘crooked wheels’!”

And there you go. There it is, in plain and literal print. Your strong-willed child is a defective grocery store cart. Ergo, your strong-willed child is a defective person. (While your compliant child is a properly designed and executed grocery cart.)

Now we move on to describe a somewhat typical family occurrence, where one child is laid-back and the other is strong-willed. And of course, Dobson gets this so, so, so wrong.

“The easygoing child … spends most of his time trying to figure out what his parents want and how he can make them happy. In reality, he needs their praise and approval …. The second child is approaching life from the opposite vantage point.”

NO!!! Both those children need their parents’ love and approval! I cannot believe he just told parents that their strong-willed child doesn’t care about their acceptance and approval. That is so wrong on so many levels. Why is it so much to ask to let a child be themselves and have their parents accept them for who they are??? But no, Dobson literally, outright tells parents that their strong-willed child is defective. And trust me, parents who believe that WILL communicate that message to their kid. Not getting my parents’ acceptance for my own inborn personality has been the hardest and most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.

So now we close the section with some scare tactics.

“I honestly believe, though the assumption is difficult to prove, that the defiant youngster is in a ‘high risk’ category for antisocial behavior later in life. He is more likely to challenge his teachers in school and question the values he has been taught and shake his fist in the faces of those who would lead him. I believe he is more inclined toward sexual promiscuity and drug abuse and academic difficulties.”

So he gives no numbers, no empirical evidence, no peer-reviewed studies, no statistics, no nothing for this very strong and dire warning/assertion. This is pure fear-mongering! So it’s antisocial to challenge your teachers in school? Guess what? Teachers are human beings who make mistakes and sometimes push agendas, and occasionally it’s fine and even healthy to challenge them. And sure, there are times when such behavior may not be appropriate, but it doesn’t make a child automatically antisocial. Geez…. Secondly, everyone should question the values they are taught, even if they come around to agreeing with them in the end. If you don’t, you are not thinking for yourself and you don’t truly know what you think and believe. Your parents, like your teachers, are just humans who are wrong sometimes. I’m very glad I questioned the values I was raised with, thank you very much. And if my parents had bothered to question the values they were raised with, maybe things would have gone a lot smoother in our household. And the third example, the fist-shaking at leaders, is frankly just too vague and ridiculous to say much about. Who is doing the leading and where to? Seriously, Dobson, provide some context just once in your life. And the last sentence should hold no water because he doesn’t back it up with anything and freely admits that it’s just his belief. But, by all means parents, beat your kids with a belt to try and avoid the outcome of Dobson’s guesswork…

Next, we get to the end of this chapter, where there is a Q&A session. Stay tuned…

“The Strong-Willed Child” Chapter 1, pp. 18-19: Comically Absurd Examples of ‘Willful Defiance’

And now Dobson shall whine about “the experts” again.

“Let me repeat my observation that the most popular textbooks for parents and teachers fail even to acknowledge that parenthood involves a struggle or contest of wills.”

And let me repeat my observations that parenthood doesn’t involve a contest of wills unless you want it to. You do have the option to accept your child for who they are and employ more positive and constructive tools of parenting such as communication and refusal to reward bad behavior.

“Books and articles written on the subject of discipline usually relate not to willful defiance but to childish irresponsibility. There is an enormous difference between the two categories of behavior.”

Again, not really. Not unless you want there to be a huge difference. And let’s discuss his so-called examples of “willful defiance.”

1)      “A child is capable of spitting in his parent’s face”. One of my nephews actually did this to his mom as a toddler. He got a time-out and an explanation about how that behavior is not nice or respectful. He did this a few more times over the next few weeks, consistently got a time-out, and hasn’t done it since. This is a big deal how?

2)      “Running down the middle of a busy street”. Yes, children should absolutely be taught not to do this, it’s terribly unsafe. But why does Dobson think it’s an act of willful defiance? Maybe they are just excited and not thinking. Why on earth would he automatically jump to the conclusion that it’s always done out of defiance? That doesn’t even make sense.

And for a personal anecdote: I ran into a very busy street one Easter Sunday when I was around 6 or 7 years old. I was wearing a very nice outfit to Easter service at church, which included a little hat with a bow on it. The day was extremely windy, and as we’d just gotten done crossing a four-lane, one-way street with a speed limit of about 45 mph, the wind blew my hat off my head and into the street where the light had just changed to green. I felt a surge of panic and ran into the street to retrieve my hat. Why? Because my mom had made this huge deal about how special my entire outfit was, and how expensive it was, and how I should be grateful for it. I thought my parents would be horribly angry and that I’d get a spanking if I lost the hat. So, not thinking about the danger and only thinking about avoiding a spanking, I ran into oncoming traffic to get the damn hat. I moved quickly and fortunately I was not hurt. But I could have been, for sure. Of course my parents were horrified and relieved I wasn’t hurt. When we got to the car, my dad spent the entire way home berating me about how stupid I was to run into the street, and of course assumed I had done it just to scare him. THIS IS WHAT THIS STYLE OF PARENTING DOES TO KIDS. I was more worried about getting spanked than getting hit by a car. Due to the constant “contest of wills” my parents believed in, I was accustomed to being fought and berated about every tiny little thing, and it didn’t occur to me that Mom and Dad might be reasonable and realize that the wind blew my hat off and that it wasn’t my fault.

3)      “Sawing a leg off the dining room table”. I needed a minute on this one. Okay. First of all, if my (hypothetical) small child got ahold of a chainsaw and all that happened was the table losing a leg, I’d be extremely GRATEFUL. He could have cut his or someone else’s femoral artery! Secondly, this example is just utterly stupid. Um, keep power tools away from children! Keep them locked in a storage area! I’m also having a tough time even envisioning a small child who is physically and mentally capable of working a chainsaw.

4)      “Trying to flush baby brother down the toilet”. Dobson offers no context on this one. Is this two older children horsing around? When they were kids, my mother’s older sibling occasionally dangled her over the toilet and threatened to flush her down. Guess what? She’s alive and well, not rotting in a sewer somewhere. It was a joke. I get that it wasn’t funny to her, it wouldn’t be funny to me either, and were it my child doing that to a younger sibling, we’d have some firm discussions about respecting boundaries and being civilized to each other. But in that context, it is a joke, not an act of “willful defiance” (albeit an immature and inappropriate joke). Don’t make it more than it is. And if this is a child literally holding an infant over the toilet, then your child is probably feeling horribly neglected and resentful and it’s time for YOU to look in the mirror and make some changes. Or, once again, your child is possibly exhibiting early signs of having a sociopathic personality disorder – which has nothing to do with temperament!!! Also, why are you leaving a small child unsupervised with an infant?

This section concludes with this little gem,

“Responsible behavior is a noble objective for our children, but let’s admit that the heavier task is shaping the child’s will!”

Wow. So it’s more important to mold your child into something convenient for you than to teach her to be responsible for herself. It’s more important that your child never talk back or ask questions than learn how to take care of himself. It’s more important that they walk around on eggshells around their parents than learn to own their own actions and behavior and mistakes and decisions. That’s just great, Dobson. 

“The Strong-Willed Child” Chapter 1, pp. 16-18: Where Children Test Limits, Egads!

A quick note on my wording: it was most cathartic to write this section sort of like it’s an open letter in part to Dobson and in part to my own parents, hence usually referring to parents with the pronoun “you”. I’m not at all speaking to the good parents out there.

This next section begins by discussing the fact that children test limits.

“They (children) will occasionally disobey parental instructions for the precise purpose of testing the determination of those in charge.”

And apparently when children do test limits, what they are really thinking is,

“’I don’t think you are tough enough to make me do what you say.”’

Yeesh. Um, yes, children test limits. Absolutely. But, newsflash! – it’s not all about you when they do so. Children are natural experimenters. They pull the cat’s tail to see what will happen. They combine milk and Kool-Aid to see what it tastes like. They unroll the toilet paper to see how it works. Limits set by parents simply fall under that experimentation. They aren’t seeing how tough you are, they usually just want to know what will happen. Geez…

Also, when you set a rule for a child, oftentimes that rule or limit sounds very arbitrary to them. So a lot of the time they go past it because it meant nothing to them in the first place. Which, again, has nothing to do with you, you, you. Yes, it is your job as a parent to consistently enforce the boundary, and no, it may not be convenient for you, and yes, it may take about forty times of saying the same damn thing to get the message across. But you know what? That’s what you signed up for when you chose to carry the pregnancy to term, Mom and Dad!!

Next there is a somewhat wordy section on the Garden of Eden, and how “original sin” explains strong-willed children. I’m not even sure what to say here. I don’t personally find the Bible to be at all authoritative in my life, so his “source” means nothing to me; but beyond that, I think explaining some kids’ temperaments as “original sin” is extremely offensive. Not that I’m terribly surprised. This is such an easy cop-out for fundie evangelical parents, and not many of them resist the temptation.

Dobson goes on,

“When a parent refuses to accept his child’s defiant challenge, something changes in their relationship. The youngster begins to look at his mother and father with disrespect;…”

Okay, no. Just, no. Backing down from a defiant challenge is not what causes children to disrespect their parents, and a lot of the time, ignoring certain behaviors in children is key to mitigating them. Look, the dynamic between parents and children isn’t all that different from the dynamic between two adults. You decide how other people treat you. If you allow someone to call you names, take advantage of you, or waste your time, then they will. And it doesn’t matter if this person is your child, your mother, your neighbor, or your boss. If you set boundaries with people and don’t reward certain behaviors, the vast majority of the time, those undesirable behaviors will stop, or not ever occur in the first place. No matter who you’re dealing with. This concept comes up in more detail later in the book.

“…(the child will determine) they (the parents) are unworthy of his allegiance.”

No. This is so incredibly wrong. This is a fundamental problem with this book and why it is so destructive. Parents always have their kids’ allegiance, no matter how many mistakes they make. Parents still have their kids’ loyalty even when they do not deserve it! Children are so incredibly vulnerable, and so incredibly dependent on their parents. Pretending otherwise is so damaging! Children will keep craving your love and affection even if you withhold it. They will keep trying to please you even if you constantly hold them to impossible standards. Even the most overly permissive parents are the first people their kids turn to when they are sick or hurt. No, you never lose your child’s allegiance, even when you should (though this can become a different matter entirely once said child is grown; lots of abused children, myself included, do sever contact with an abusive parents upon adulthood). So this fear mongering is completely inappropriate and just an outright lie!

“More important, he (the child) wonders why they (the parents) would let him do such harmful things if they really loved him.”

Ugh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Kids have no idea what is and isn’t harmful! It’s your job as a parent to teach them. We’ve all been around enough older babies, toddlers, and small children to know – sometimes their fears are completely irrational (“Daddy will run me over with the lawn mower”) and other times they are completely unafraid of something they should be afraid or at least wary of (just try and find a child who hasn’t helped himself to some ABC gum). So, this sentence is ridiculous and not remotely grounded in reality. Letting your child harm themselves is bad, yes. But children do not automatically know what is and isn’t going to be harmful. And to say that they wonder why you let them do something is ridiculous, because it presumes to read their minds, which you cannot do. Growing up, my cousins were never made to wear seatbelts or stay in their car seats as toddlers. They never knew that was dangerous. Trust me, all the other adults who knew about this wondered if they were actively trying to kill their children, but the kids never wondered that. They had no clue it was dangerous, and they were genuinely confused when they got in another adult’s car and were made to wear a seat belt. They literally didn’t know the purpose of seat belts!

“The ultimate paradox of childhood is that boys and girls want to be led by their parents, but insist that their mothers and fathers earn the right to lead them.”

No. For the love of god, NO. There isn’t a paradox here at all. Children are born as helpless individuals who need to be both protected and accepted for who they are. There’s nothing mutually exclusive here. Have you ever been in a parking lot and seen a child throwing a fit about getting into his car seat, but then in the next moment rushing to his mom or dad when a car drives by too fast? This is what I’m talking about. The idea that a child expressing individuality and their own personhood is somehow meant to insult Mom and Dad is patently absurd and so incredibly destructive!

When you respect your child and respect yourself, it teaches them a valuable life lesson about how to treat themselves and others. But this lesson does not get conveyed in any way when you make parenting about a “contest of wills.” The minute you do that, their childhood becomes purely about survival. Kids may obey authoritarian parents out of fear of being hit, but they have learned absolutely nothing about respecting them.

“The Strong-Willed Child”, Chapter 1, p. 16

Remember how Dobson condoned bullying behavior from children yesterday? Well, now we shall see that Dobson raises his children to at least tolerate and possibly even perpetrate such awful behavior. It begins when his (at the time) fifth grade daughter has fourteen girls (classmates) over for a slumber party.

“I met most of them (the daughter’s friends) for the first time that weekend, yet during those seventeen hours together I was able to identify every child’s position in the hierarchy of respect and strength. There was one queen bee who was the boss of the crowd.”

Hierarchy of respect and strength??? Really?? Oh geez… There may be a hierarchy, but labeling it as such is incredibly disingenuous. Okay look, queen bee is just a euphemism for mean girl. This girl is a bully and there’s no excuse for it.

“At the bottom of the list was a harassed little girl who was alienated and rejected by the entire herd. Her jokes were as clever (I thought) as those of the leader, yet no one laughed when she clowned. Her suggestions of a game or event were immediately condemned as stupid and foolish.”

It’s obvious this “harassed little girl” is not his daughter. He doesn’t specify if his daughter is the queen bee or not, but what is abundantly clear is that his daughter is either bullying this girl or standing by and tolerating it while one of her friends bullies this girl. And Dobson has no problem with that.

“Unfortunately, there is a similar outcast or loser in every group of three or more kids (or either sex). Such is the nature of childhood.”

There you go. My daughter is completely absolved of responsibility because “such is the nature of childhood.” And I as her parent am completely absolved of any responsibility here because “such is the nature of childhood.” Wow.

Just to recap, Dobson, what you describe at your daughter’s slumber party is one or two mean girls calling the shots and no one having the nerve to stand up to them. This culminates in one girl in particular experiencing the brunt of the mean girl antics. If you are such a great parent, why is your daughter even friends with such mean girls in the first place? Why isn’t she standing up for this harassed girl? I think you have some real problems on your hand. But you don’t seem to think so. You just use your daughter’s horrible behavior as an excuse to teach parents to basically be bullies in the name of respect, strength and toughness. I’ve got some news for you: no one respects bullies, and that doesn’t change whether the bully is some random kid in elementary school or your own father.

“The Strong-Willed Child”, Chapter 1, p. 15

The first paragraph of this section has left me shaking my head. We start this section by saying,

“Everyone knows that they (children) are lovers of justice and law and order and secure boundaries. The writer of the book of Hebrew in the Bible even said that an undisciplined child feels like an illegitimate son or daughter, not even belonging to his family.”

Hoo boy. Where to begin… Yes, children do appreciate justice, law and order, and secure boundaries. It’s called fairness and safety. You know what? Adults tend to like those things too. But apparently this PhD feels it is perfectly acceptable to offer the book of Hebrew as evidence for his broad assertion. Because the writer of Hebrew conducted studies of undisciplined children, interviewed them, compiled empirical evidence, and thus can tell us exactly how they feel. And this exemplifies one of the major problems I have with this book, and why I cannot fathom why so many people were taken in by it. Dobson offers no empirical evidence for anything he says. He just makes broad assertions and backs them up with “evidence” so flimsy and unconvincing as to be a joke, or not at all. I’ve done tons of reading in social sciences, both for academics and for pleasure, and NO ONE in that field gets to write a book just saying, “well, I have a doctorate from a good university, so what I say is gospel truth and must be taken at face value and never questioned.” It doesn’t work that way!! You cite credible sources, you study the existing literature on your subject, and you back up what you say with evidence.

Also, what did “illegitimate child” mean back in the days of the writing of Hebrews? Illegitimate child has several different colloquial definitions today (it could simply mean a child whose parents are happily together but don’t happen to be married by law, or it could mean a secret child conceived by an illicit affair between already-married people, and many things in between), so you’d think Dobson would find it necessary or at least important to go into some background here, to help us make sense of the point he’s trying to convey. But no. Dobson offers no context for this statement, which renders it somewhat meaningless.  

“Why, then, can’t parents resolve all conflicts by the use of quiet discussions and explanations and gentle pats on the head?”

Well, if you are patting your kid on the head, then you’re being very disrespectful and condescending, which they are going to find very offensive. That probably escalates the situation right there and negates the quiet discussions and explanations. If you do not patronize your child, then you probably can solve most conflicts with quiet discussions and explanations. But, Dobson has a better answer:

“The answer is found in this curious value system of children which respects strength and courage (when combined with love).”

As evidence, he cites the popularity of cartoon shows like Superman, Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman. Yup, that explains everything!

Also, there’s this:

            “Why else do children proclaim, ‘My dad can beat up your dad!’?”

Well, let’s see. I mean, there could be another reason that children say things like that… Maybe it’s said out of loyalty and love to one’s dad. Maybe it’s said in response to being bullied. Maybe it’s unhealthy and shouldn’t be said at all. Let us not forget, the dads beating each other up will both end up in jail, regardless of who wins.

We continue,

“You see, boys and girls care about the issue of ‘who’s toughest.’ Whenever a youngster moves into a new neighborhood or a new school district, he usually has to fight (either verbally or physically) to establish himself in the hierarchy of strength. Anyone who understands children knows that there is a ‘top dog’ in every group, and there is a poor little defeated pup at the bottom of the heap.”

So, basically Dobson is saying that kids bullying each other is self-evident and there’s nothing to be done about it (does he even want to do anything about it?). I cannot possibly disagree more. Um, how about we don’t accept this horrible behavior from our kids? Why don’t we start anti-bullying campaigns to bring awareness to this screwed-up social construct and take action to eliminate it or at least reduce it? Here’s an idea: why don’t teachers reprimand students they catch bullying other kids – send them to the principal’s office or something? Honestly, this book is so ass-backwards! Don’t tolerate your baby crying because he’s hungry, but if your son or daughter is bullying the kids at school, well, that’s just life. We’ll see in the next section that that is precisely how he raised his own kids.

Some additional thoughts: Dobson says that children value “toughness (when combined with love)” but then he defines that toughness as behavior that is clearly bullying and should be unacceptable in any civilized society. When these broken dynamics are occurring in schools and neighborhoods, children are generally interested in who is “top dog” to avoid getting beaten up. They don’t “value” the toughness. They may fear it, but they do not value it. Everyone hates the schoolyard bully. There is absolutely no love there. This behavior he has described is not healthy. It is not something that should be modeled or repeated at home, and yet, that is exactly what he is advocating. Sick. Utterly and completely sick.

“The Strong-Willed Child” CHAPTER 1: THE WILD AND WOOLY WILL, pp. 11-15

Warning: this section contains stories of animal abuse!!!

So Dobson starts telling us about the number of pets his family has, and then he gets to Siggie the dog. If you’re familiar with Dobson at all, you’re probably somewhat aware of this story. Here is how he describes his dachshund Siggie:

“Siggie is not only stubborn, but he doesn’t pull his own weight in the family. He won’t bring in the newspaper on cold mornings; he refuses to “chase a ball” for the children; he doesn’t keep the gophers out of the garden; and he can’t do any of the usual tricks that most cultured dogs perform.”

He continues on,

“Furthermore, Sigmund is not even a good watchdog. This suspicion was confirmed the night we were visited by a prowler who had entered our backyard at three o’clock in the morning.”

He goes on to describe hearing the prowler move on the garage and trying to send Siggie to “attack” the guy, but Siggie cowered in fear. So what have we learned about Siggie the dachshund? That he is a typical dachshund. Seriously Dobson, did it not occur to you to do any research on dog breeds before getting Siggie? Dachshunds are not naturally guard dogs. Most people already know this, but, they are small dogs. If you wanted a guard dog, you should have gotten a breed suited for such a purpose. Also, if you had done even the tiniest bit of research first, you would have KNOWN that dachshunds are naturally independent/stubborn, and tend to get an attitude and resist training. If you had wanted a docile, compliant dog, that would learn tricks and readily obey commands, they are out there. You could have gotten one.

The next couple of pages tell an extremely disturbing story of animal abuse. We start out with,

“The greatest confrontation (between Dobson and Siggie) occurred a few years ago when I had been in Miami for a three day conference. I returned to observe that Siggie had become the boss of the house while I was gone.”

Do you know what this means, Dobson? It means that while you were gone, your wife and kids didn’t enforce any rules and let the dog do whatever he wanted. This is a conversation you should be having with your wife and kids, not beating the hell out of a small dog. It is not the dog’s fault that your wife and kids fell down on the job.

It now takes Dobson two full paragraphs to convey that Siggie has a designated spot in the house where he is supposed to sleep, but at bedtime on this night he was curled up on the toilet seat, which had a fuzzy cover. When Dobson commanded him to go to his room, he refused and growled at him, which I suspect is a sign that Siggie already does not like this man.

 “I had seen this defiant mood before, and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The only way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me “reason” with Mr. Freud.”

Aha! Suspicion confirmed.

We’re not even to the worst part of the story and my stomach is already churning. What a vile person. This is NOT how you treat a pet dog! We continue, after Dobson tells Siggie once more to go to his room and Siggie refuses again.

“…I gave him a firm swat across the rear end, and he tried to bite the belt. I hit him again and he tried to bite me.”

Um, yeah. You were surprised at this because…….

“What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast.”

Ever staged??? This situation wasn’t staged – you had a choice of how to react and behave! Stop wording it like someone else or some other unexplained force made you do this. Secondly, your pet dog is not a beast. He’s 12 pounds, by your admission. Seriously. Pick him up and throw him in his room and shut the door quickly. I have a 15 pound cat and I can manage to do this. Geez…

“I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt.”

Well, in fairness only one of you had a belt…

            “I am embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene.”

You should be, Dobson. You absolutely, positively should be embarrassed. This entire incident should have prompted you to get your ass to a therapist’s office stat, to figure out what the hell is wrong with you that you would have such an extreme overreaction to something that is really not that big of a deal. Instead, you decided to write a book about basically treating children the same way. Lovely…

And yes, Dobson pats himself on the back for eventually getting Siggie into his room that night, and everything he already believed about this poor dog and all children is “confirmed” because apparently, Siggie never disobeyed the command to go to his room at night again. He even says,

“…there is an important moral to my story which is highly relevant to the world of children. Just as surely as a dog will occasionally challenge the authority of his leaders, a little child is inclined to do the same thing, only more so.

Dobson gives zero evidence or proof of this assertion, and furthermore, comparing all children to a dog you find to be a pain in the ass is really telling. Red flag, people, red flag.

The last paragraph of this section finds Dobson whining about how the “experts” don’t recognize or admit this “characteristic of human nature.”

“I have yet to find a text for parents or teachers which acknowledges the struggle – the exhausting confrontation of wills – which most parents and teachers experience regularly with their children.”

Um, maybe because those experts you deride see children as human beings rather than pain in the ass dogs. Maybe those experts value building a relationship with children and treating them with respect and dignity, and they realize that that becomes impossible if parents make everything all about me, me, me and my authority. Maybe those experts are way ahead of you in realizing that if you use communication as your primary tool for raising all children, it doesn’t have to be so exhausting, and that when you are willing to hear your child out, it stops being a battle. Maybe those experts realize that if a child is acting up out of the blue, there is often an underlying reason, and parents have a moral responsibility to figure out what is going on.

Honestly, I can’t even do the math on this whole section. It is so utterly disturbing and disgusting. And this is at the beginning of the book. Why on earth would anyone in their right mind keep reading after he admits all this? The other part that disturbs me so much is that he could not even be bothered to consider that maybe Siggie doesn’t like his room. Maybe he doesn’t have adequate fuzzy things to lie on and he needs a better pillow or something. Maybe the room is cold and that’s why he wanted to stay elsewhere. But Dobson can’t even consider any of this. He just has to get his way, no matter what the cost. He has arbitrarily decided where the dog should sleep and that is the end of the story, and if the dog refuses, then it must be because the dog is being “against him.” And that is exactly how my parents parented me after reading your book.

“The Strong-Willed Child” — THE INTRODUCTION, pp. 7-10

The intro is rather wordy, so I’m not going to reproduce much of it verbatim. He waxes on about how difficult parenting is, but about how it’s insanely rewarding and speaks of his own children and how much he loves them. He does use the phrase “the thrill of procreation” which made me snicker a little.

Anyways. Then he describes this so-called “strong-willed child” and here is where the book starts to become disturbing. I’ll go through it line by line.

“Even in infancy, he fairly bristles when his dinner is late and he insists that someone hold him during every waking hour.”

First of all, ALL babies cry when they are hungry. This has nothing to do with temperament, this is basic human survival. Secondly, if a baby “insists” that someone hold him at all times, then one of two things is going on: either this baby is young enough that this is a legitimate need, or, assuming this baby is old enough to self-soothe, this could be a parenting mistake. I don’t care what the temperament of a baby is, if you give a child no opportunity to learn how to self-soothe, they will not ever learn to self-soothe. This is not rocket science. But, hey, blame a baby for a parent’s mistake. That’s great. And to add a caveat here: I fully realize that some babies will be ready to learn self-soothing at different ages than others, and that’s fine. The point is that Dobson is blaming either legitimate needs or parenting mistakes on a child have a strong-willed temperament. And that’s not remotely okay.

“Later, during toddlerhood he declares total war on all forms of authority, at home or abroad, and his greatest thrill comes from drawing on the walls and flushing kitties down the toilet.”

First of all, what exactly does it mean for a toddler to “declare total war on all forms of authority?” Dobson doesn’t say, and spoiler alert! This kind of thing occurs frequently throughout the book. So now we move to drawing on the walls. Ironically enough, I never did that, but my very compliant, non-strong-willed sister did. Hmm… Maybe some kids just like to draw and at toddlerhood aren’t yet mature enough to realize the damage that can result from drawing on walls? And, as was the case of my parents, maybe you weren’t watching the toddler closely enough if they get more than a few strokes in?

Okay, this brings us to the most disturbing part: flushing kitties down the toilet. This isn’t describing a strong-willed child, this is describing a possible and potential sociopath!!!  Extreme cruelty to animals is a major red flag that the VAST majority of children do not exhibit. What the hell??? I’ll revise a little. The child that would even THINK about flushing a kitten down a toilet is either sociopathic, or has not been told ANYTHING about how life works. I’m sorry, but even the most permissive parents out there would tell a child to be gentle with a kitten, or simply keep the kittens away from the child. This. Is. Ridiculous. And I cannot believe anyone, ANYONE, kept reading this book after that little gem.

“His parents are often guilt-ridden and frustrated people who wonder where they’ve gone wrong and why their home life is so different than they were led to expect.”

Well, if your child kills baby animals, then yes, you absolutely should be guilt-ridden. You should also be getting yourselves and your child to a psychiatrist, stat.

This is not describing the strong-willed child!!! This is describing normal babies, followed by potential sociopathic children. And if a parent reading this doesn’t happen to make that distinction, then no wonder my parents always thought so little of me. They were primed, in a way. Ugh…

“The Strong-Willed Child” — Dedication

I will be reviewing the original print of this book. I know it has been updated and republished several times over the years (shudder) but my mother read the original, so that is what I will do. I bought this book used for literally 1 cent on Amazon. Upon reading it, I’ve concluded that I paid too much for this drivel. But let’s begin, shall we? The book’s text is centered and bolded; my text is left-aligned and non-bolded, for ease of reading.

Wow. Perhaps it’s naïve of me to be surprised by this, but the first red flag comes in the book’s dedication. The dedication! I reproduce it for you:

“This book is affectionately dedicated to my own mother, who was blessed with a brilliant understanding of children. She intuitively grasped the meaning of discipline and taught me many of the principles which I’ve described on the following pages. And, of course, she did an incredible job of raising me, as everyone can plainly see.”

 Whoa, nelly! Look, it’s fine to love your parents, to think they were great, to think they did a great job raising you. But to say “as everyone can plainly see”? I … I … Ego, much? Holy hubris, Batman! Anyway, moving on…

“But I’ve always been puzzled by one troubling question: why did my fearless mother become such a permissive pushover the moment we made her a grandmother?” 

I’m sure he means this to be light-hearted and funny, but as someone who was raised on his toxic books and now sees my own mom as a grandmother, I don’t find this funny. I find it triggering. My own mother has the hugest pair of grandma blinders I’ve ever seen in my life. My nieces and nephew can literally do no wrong. She CONSTANTLY makes excuses for them when they misbehave. “He was tired.” “Her asthma was acting up.” And while I want to make it abundantly clear that I would never in a million years wish what I went through as a child on my nieces and nephew, or any other child for that matter, when she gushes over how good they are, when they behave exactly like I did as a child, it really hits a trigger. I was punished in some form for every tiny little thing I did from about nine months onward, and believe me, NOBODY cared if I was tired or sick.

Stay tuned…