Question: Last week you said Dr. Woodward’s philosophy of child-rearing was rather typical of the advice given to parents a generation ago.
Apart from the specific example you cited, how do your views differ?
What is the basic distinction between your perspective and those of more permissive advice-givers?
Dobson: I never met the man, but I would think from his writings that Woodward and I perceive human nature very differently.
He apparently believed in the “innate goodness” of children, which means they will turn out fine if adults will simply leave them alone.
Most of Woodward’s contemporaries believed just that.
It is my conviction, by contrast, that boys and girls learn (and become) what they are taught. Thus, it is our task as parents to “civilize” them — to introduce them to manners and morals and proper behaviour.
If it is desirable for children to be kind, appreciative and pleasant, those qualities should be instilled in them — not simply hoped for. If we want to see honesty, truthfulness and unselfishness in our offspring, then these characteristics should be the conscious objectives of our early instructional process.
If it is important to produce respectful, responsible young citizens then we should teach them first to respect us as their parents.
In short, heredity does not equip a child with proper attitudes; we must build the foundations of character ourselves.
If that assumption is doubted, take a good look at adults whose parents did not do their homework — those who were raised on the streets with very little parental instruction.
A large percentage of them have prison records today.
Question : My six-year-old son has always been an energetic child with some of the symptoms of hyperactivity. He has a short attention span and flits from one activity to another. I took him to his pediatrician, who said he did not have attention deficit disorder. However, he’s beginning to have learning problems in school because he can’t stay in his seat and concentrate on his lessons. What should I do?
Dobson: It sounds like your son is immature in comparison with his age-mates and could profit from being retained in the first grade next year. If his birthday is late in the school’s eligibility-entrance date, I would ask the school psychologist to evaluate his readiness to learn.
Retaining an immature boy during his early school career (kindergarten or first grade) can give him a social and academic advantage throughout the remaining years of elementary school.
However, it is very important to help him “save face” with his peers. If possible, he should change schools for at least a year to avoid embarrassing questions and ridicule from his former classmates.
You have very little to lose by holding back an immature boy, since males tend to be about six months behind females in development at that time.
The age of a child is the worst criterion on which to base a decision regarding when to begin a school career. That determination should be made according to specific neurological, psychosocial and pediatric variables.
Let me add one other suggestion that you might consider. Your son appears to be a good candidate for home schooling. Keep him in the safety of your care until he matures a bit, and then if you choose, place him in school one year behind where he would have been otherwise. He will not suffer academically and will be more secure for the experience.
Home schooling is especially helpful for the immature child — usually a boy — who is just not ready for the social competition and rejection often experienced within large groups. It is also beneficial to children who do not have this problem, if the parent is committed to it. That’s why home schooling is the fastest growing educational movement in the United States today.
James Dobson is founder and Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80995 (www.family.org). Questions and answers are excerpted from Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide and Bringing Up Boys, both published by Tyndale House.