QUESTION: My children are still young, and they are doing fine now, but I worry a lot about the adolescent years that lie ahead. I've seen other parents go through some pretty terrible things when their teenagers began to rebel. How can I help my sons avoid that turmoil ten years from now?
DR. DOBSON: The apprehension that you describe is well-founded, and many parents feel something similar today. The most important suggestion I can make is for you to redouble your efforts to build good relationships with your kids while they are young. That is the key to surviving the adolescent years. If they emerge from childhood with doubts about whether you really love and care for them, anything is possible during the turbulent teens. Boundaries, restrictions and threats will be no match for adolescent anger, frustration and resentment. As author Josh McDowell said, "Rules without relationship lead to rebellion." He is right. That's why parents can't afford to get preoccupied with business and other pursuits that interfere with the task of raising children. Kids are young for such a brief period. During that window of opportunity, they must be given priority.
Once you've done what you can to lay the proper foundation, I urge you to approach your parenting duties with confidence. Anxiety about the future is risky in itself. It can make parents tentative and insecure in dealing with their youngsters. They don't dare cross them or deny their wishes for fear of being hated in the teen years. Teenagers pick up those vibes intuitively, which often generates disrespect in return. Don't make that mistake. You have been placed in a position of authority over your young children. Lead them with confidence and care.
QUESTION: If it is natural for a toddler to break all the rules, should he be disciplined for routine misbehavior?
DR. DOBSON: Toddlers get into trouble most frequently because of their natural desire to touch, bite, taste, smell and break everything within their grasp. These are normal and healthy reactions that should not be inhibited. When, then, should they be subjected to mild discipline? When they openly defy their parents' very clear commands! When he runs the other way when called, purposely slams his milk glass on the floor, dashes into the street when being told to stop, screams and throws a tantrum at bedtime, or hits his friends. These behavior patterns should be discouraged. Even in these situations, however, severe punishment is unwarranted. A firm rap on the fingers or a few minutes sitting on a chair will usually convey the same message as convincingly. Spankings should be reserved for a child's moments of greatest antagonism, usually occurring after the second, third or fourth birthdays.