By Dr. James Dobson
Question: I have spanked my children for their disobedience and it didn't seem to help. Does this approach fail with some children?
Answer: Children are so tremendously variable that it is sometimes hard to believe they are all members of the same human family. Some boys and girls feel crushed from nothing more than a stern look, while others seem to require strong and even painful disciplinary measures to make a vivid impression. This difference usually results from the degree to which a child needs adult approval and acceptance. As I said earlier, the primary parental task is to get behind the eyes of the child, thereby tailoring the discipline to his unique perception.
In a direct answer to the question, it is generally not this individual variation that causes spanking to be ineffectual. When disciplinary measures fail, it is usually because of fundamental errors in their application. It is possible for twice the amount of punishment to yield half the results. I have made a study of situations where parents have told me their child ignores spankings and violates the same rule.
There are five basic reasons for the lack of success.
1. The most recurring problem results from infrequent, whimsical discipline. Half the time the child is not disciplined for a particular act of defiance; the other half he is. Children need to know the certainty of justice. If there is a chance of beating the system, some will repeatedly try it.
2. The child may be more strong-willed than the parent, and they both know it. If he can outlast a temporary conflict, he has won a major battle, eliminating discipline as a tool in the parent's repertoire. The strongest of youngsters are tough enough to comprehend, intuitively, that the spanking must not be allowed to succeed. Thus, they stiffen their necks and gut it out. The solution is to outlast him and win, even if it takes a few rounds. The experience will be painful for both participants, but the benefits will come tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
3. The parent suddenly employs a form of discipline after doing nothing for a year or two prior to that time. It takes a child a while to respond to a new procedure, and parents might get discouraged during the adjustment period. But take heart in knowing that discipline will be effective over time if consistently applied.
4. The spanking may be too gentle. If it doesn't hurt it isn't worth avoiding next time. A slap with the hand on the bottom of a multi-diapered thirty-month old is not a deterrent to anything. While being careful not to go too far, you should ensure he feels the message.
5. For a few children, this technique is simply not appropriate. The neurologically handicapped child who is hyperactive, for example, may be made more wild and unmanageable by corporal punishment. The child who has been abused may identify loving discipline with the hatred of the past. And, the very sensitive child might need a different approach. Once more, there is no substitute for knowledge and understanding of a particular boy or girl.
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Dr. James Dobson is the Founder and President of Family Talk, a nonprofit organization that produces his radio program, “Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk.” He is the author of more than 30 books dedicated to the preservation of the family, including The New Dare to Discipline; Love for a Lifetime; Life on the Edge; Love Must Be Tough; The New Strong-Willed Child; When God Doesn’t Make Sense; Bringing Up Boys; Marriage Under Fire; Bringing Up Girls; and, most recently, Head Over Heels.
Dr. Dobson served as an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine for 14 years and on the attending staff of Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles for 17 years. He has been active in governmental affairs and has advised three U.S. presidents on family matters. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California (1967) in the field of child development. He holds 17 honorary doctoral degrees, and was inducted in 2008 into The National Radio Hall of Fame. Dr. Dobson recently received the “Great American Award” from The Awakening.
Dr. Dobson is married to Shirley and they have two grown children, Danae and Ryan, and two grandchildren. The Dobsons reside in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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