“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.

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“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…