Enlightens view of nature vs. nurture, could go deeper into managing strong-willed toddlers.
Encourages parents--nature plays strong role in personality; don't blame yourself for strong-willed kids.
Could offer more suggestions for alternative disciplinary tactics to take with toddlers who are strong-willed.
The Bottom Line:
If your child is unruly, difficult, unusually defiant, or "strong-willed," read this book, which differentiates a "normal" child from the unusually hard-to-raise child.
Before reading "The New Strong-Willed Child," I had listened to Dobson's book, "Bringing Up Boys," on CD. Although I am a grand fan of Focus on the Family's radio program, and respect Dr. James Dobson's work, this is the second time I have felt that his writing states much of the obvious. I might not reflect the typical American parent...I took child development classes in college, linguistics and gender studies, then read many extracurricular books dedicated to the differences between boys and girls. I am glad the general public refutes these differences less and less as the past revolutionaries have now raised their own capitol "B" and "G" boys & girls and have been hard-pressed to equalize them in ALL areas.
Dobson requires little effort to convince the reader that John Locke was wrong; we are not born as "blank slates" to be molded entirely by our experiences. Dr. Dobson shares that any mother of more than one child has experienced the uncanny understanding of their personality differences from the moment she held each for the first time. Why is this relevant to the issues of raising "Strong-Willed" children? This understanding gives an exhausted and frustrated parent the right to sigh with relief--some of who your child is was predetermined. In other words, his temper is not necessarily your "fault." There is no longer an argument of a dominant "Nature vs. Nurture;" there is an understanding that BOTH form a human being. Dobson gives many examples of people whose upbringings were less than desirable (abusive, poverty-stricken, emotionless), but who went on to achieve greatness of world renowned proportions, regardless of all expectations. We can quickly name a few American presidents in our own recent history to prove this point. Some really are "born leaders."
Perhaps it is because I am so frequent a listener to his presentations on-air that I found Dr. Dobson's book to be such a fast read. As the mother of a precocious toddler boy, my interest was piqued at the rumors I'd heard about this book's value. Apparently, my parents had received the same proclamations from here & there, so they thought this book might give me guidance with the new "No's" we hear daily at the Wentland household.
What I recognized right away was that my son is not a strong-willed child. His behaviors are more mainstream--the type expected of "every" toddler. The child addressed in this book, however, is one whose assertion of power regularly overtakes his/her parents. No amount of consistent discipline (corporal or otherwise) seems to make a difference. Defiance is the norm & compliance is rare. Desperate parents weep into their pillows after "trying everything."
My e-pinion is that Dr. Dobson defines the strong-willed child clearly. Sometimes TOO clearly! The second chapter of the book is a transcription of one of Dr. Dobson's radio interviews of mothers of strong-willed children at many stages of development. Personally, I found that interview enlightening, but sad and dry of resolve. What is truly offered to relieve the frustrations of a mom or dad who may be evaluating their child as a "wild child?"
#1) Parents must exhibit consistent, firm and real consequences for unacceptable behaviors (Dr. Phil McGraw's recent TV special on parenting supports this. He warns parents that time-outs in children's bedrooms are often the equivalent of rewards, not punishment, since their rooms are typically wired for media. He says, "It's like sending your kids to Disneyland" to send them to their rooms).
#2) Parents must not allow their children to rule the home; do not fear your children just because their screams are louder than you ever imagined humanely possible. (I recently saw an episode of "Wife Swap" that was hard to stomach. The daughter, left with her new "mommy" for 2 weeks, was calling the woman all sorts of names, and blatantly refused to follow any leadership given by this staunch Southern woman. The little girl was not used to any imposed authority, and I wondered, how will she ever work for a Boss? Her father, as it turned out, quit a job he'd been given during the experimental weeks, within a DAY of not liking the imposed rules. This is a formula for cultural break-down and anarchy. Of COURSE there are authorities in this world! Where would you be without the assurance of a local police force, fire department, or even City Treasurer to make sure your sewage is paid for and taken care of? The misunderstanding that we are all inherently "good" and just need to be protected from "bad" things and people is ridiculous. Authority is not "BAD." It is necessary for a structured society to function...and I step off my soap box...)
#3) Accept that some portion (a great portion?) of your child's personality was formed in the womb. Parents ought not carry the burden of guilt for their children's hard-headed ways...if they are following all the other parenting rules he espouses consistently in all his publications. (Dr. Dobson illustrates this fact with the biblical account of twins, Jacob & Esau, who came into this world fully-identified as unique one-from-another. Their names fit their characteristics. From page 45: "As predicted before their birth, one turned out to be rebellious and tough while the other was something of a mama's boy. They were fighting before they were born and continued in conflict through much of their lives (see Genesis 25:22-27)"
#4) Dr. Dobson advocates corporal punishment, but only after age 3, and only when applied infrequently for acts of obvious rebellion or disobedience. He uses an expression of Breaking the Will, but Protecting the Spirit. In his explanation of this differentiation, he makes clear that your will, as Parent, must be stronger than that of your child. Children look for boundaries to understand the world they are just learning, and parents have been given a Divine role to lead their children in drawing the lines where they ought to be drawn. This keeps your children SAFE!
#5) The biggest mistake parents make with their children, says Dr. Dobson, is to yell at them and cower over them. This type of response to children's misbehavior has the opposite effect of the desired outcome. Children learn to yell, scream and fear their parents, but not how to deal with anger in responsible ways. Anger is a normal human emotion, but control must be demonstrated, taught, and learned. From pages 86 & 87: "When a forty-five pound bundle of trouble can deliberately reduce his powerful mother and father to a trembling, snarling mass of frustration, then something changes in the relationship. Something precious is lost. The child develops an attitude of contempt that is certain to erupt in the stormy adolescent years to come."
#6) Pray consistently for your children, that they might walk in strength, righteousness and integrity as adults, and that God would give you the ability to deal with the frustrations of childrearing with patience, grace, joy & humor!
Many who do not advocate corporal punishment might see #4 & #5 as contradicting one another, but that is because they have a misunderstanding of the use of spanking. No parent should EVER hit a child out of anger...EVER! Dr. Dobson fully stands behind that concept as a lack of control on the part of the parent, which often leads to abuse, or is, in itself abusive. Spanking, when applied using ancient, effective and consistent methods, involves love. It's like this:
Let's say I tell little 6-year-old Eloise that she is not allowed to climb all over the glass coffee table at Aunt Sophia's house, because it is fragile and could break. I teach Eloise respect for the things in Aunt Sophia's home (as at any guest's home), by also leading by example at home, where we do not allow her to climb on coffee tables, and we teach respect of the things we own. Miss Eloise knows this is a Family Rule, but today is a Hard Day for my (imagined) daughter, and she is throwing fits because she was not allowed to eat a third jelly bean from Aunt Sophia's candy jar (which has now been put out of temptation's way, thank you very much). Eloise decides to make a statement and sits squarely on Aunt Sophia's glass coffee table.
This is a Moment of Defiance (by the way, this is my example, not Dr. Dobson's). Eloise is going out of her way (perhaps with a giant "harumph" as her tushie hits the table) to prove to me that she is Master of her own Kingdom, and she will do as she darned-well pleases.
If she were an adult, she might flip me off...am I wrong?
So, she sits squarely on the glass table & I (the imagined mother, here) am certain I have heard a crack beneath her weight.
Too many people might try to "reason" with Strong-Willed Eloise, believing it is their only politically correct option, but Reason has not worked here already. Eloise is rebelling, defying, and exerting her will.
I take her firmly by the hand, look into her eyes with firmness supported by the deepest love possible, and say, "Miss Eloise! You know the rule about sitting on Aunt Sophia's glass table, and you know we do not do this at home, or in other people's homes. Please come with me."
Exit into a private place--not in anger--but with an understanding that you are the parent, protecting both Aunt Sophia's glass table, the rug over which glass shards might have been strewn, your young child's derriere, which may have been badly sliced, requiring a call to 911 for an ambulance escort to the ER...and any other number of a sundry things...you, Parent, have a responsibility to shape that child, and deliver a serious message that will be remembered--not one that is lost in a sea of other "reasonable" statements given her throughout the day for far less egregious behavioral issues.
I explain the reason for the spanking (you could have been hurt, Mommy told you '"no," we respect property in other people's homes and our own...), spank firmly, but without anger, notice that she is receiving the message, then ask her to apologize. Then I tell her I love her & want her to learn from this experience. We hug, kiss, and return to play with more age-appropriate toys after an apology to Aunt Sophia. A little tear may remain in her eye, but she has not been shamed in front of others, she has not been damaged for all of life...and it's over as quickly as it began. Forgiveness is offered swiftly; all is in the past.
OK, that's my explanation of how you can follow principles of LOVE and firm physical DISCIPLINE simultaneously.
Chapter 1 explains personality differences through the anecdotes of two of Dr. Dobson's dogs...I'm not sure if that's the wisest parallel to draw, but it is humorous.
Chapters Nine & Ten do not apply to me as a parent, as they deal with sibling rivalries and strong-willed adolescents. However, I did see my teenage self in this book--yes, I was a strong-willed child, albeit BRAT.
Research is thorough (a well-balanced use of statistics will interest, not bore you), simple graphics (6 figures & 2 photographs) are easy to follow, 5 pages of footnotes give the book validity, and Dr. Dobson's reputation proceeds him. Yes, if anyone has told you your child is unruly, difficult, unusually defiant, or "strong-willed," I highly recommend you read this book. Be careful not to label your child, using this term in his/her presence, however. We are too quick, in America, to stick a label on every child (ADHD, for example), to reason away typical childish behaviors. This book will help differentiate the "normal" child from the unusually hard-to-raise child, and in that, is highly valuable.
Scriptures throughout the book bring comfort, as well, linking to a foundation of standards that has remained for all of time (as many Old Testament references as New).
Even though I quickly discovered that mine is not a strong-willed child (not my firstborn, at least...who knows what God has in store for my future!), I still found great assistance in these pages, as wise counsel is offered for many parenting issues.
Still, as it seems the Strong-Willed Child can so quickly drain, I thought MORE alternative discipline suggestions should have been offered, and more examples of their application outlined. A workbook type of chapter that calls creative reason out of the reader to solve seemingly unresolvable problems could have been a GREAT addition. This is a revised book (from the '78 version which popularly necessitated an update), and I don't expect my suggestion to be applied any time soon; you can still glean plenty of practical advice from this book. It just feels slightly incomplete to me.