John Rosemond June 2017 Columns
Copyright 2017, John K. Rosemond
Use Patient Guidance With Son Who Prefers Solitary Play
Q: Our 4-year-old prefers solitary play over play with other children. It’s been this way from early on when I began arranging play dates for him. When those really didn’t work, I enrolled him in pre-school but that didn’t help either. If firmly instructed to do so, he will join in and “play” with other children. I put the word in quotes because he doesn’t seem to really connect. He’s very imaginative and will spend hours in his room playing quietly on his own or even boisterously with various imaginary friends. At both home and school, he’s polite, obedient and sometimes can be very talkative with his older siblings or us. Everyone agrees that he seems happy and content. He’s in pre-K now and his teacher tells us he’s at least a year ahead of most of the kids in his class. Nonetheless, his school counselor called us in the other day and suggested he might have a mild form of autism—specifically, Asperger’s Disorder. Do you think we should have him evaluated?
A: Obviously, your son has more going for him than against him, which is my primary reason for recommending against an evaluation — for the present, at least. Based on your description, it sounds to me as though your son is on the cusp of qualifying for a diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder. Whether that occurred would depend on how liberally the therapist in question interpreted the diagnostic criteria.
In my estimation, those criteria (symptoms) should always be considered in light of the “big picture” which in this case includes the fact that your son is a happy, content, intelligent, well-behaved and imaginative little fellow who interacts well with family members—the people with whom he is most familiar. That description is more significant than his social immaturity.
Full disclosure: I don’t think autism, in its classical form, is a mental or psychological disorder. Granted, it has psychological features—specifically, significant impairment in relationship formation and communication skills along with obsessive preoccupation with certain topics or objects—but growing evidence points to the strong possibility of a physiological cause that has not yet been identified. I also doubt the diagnostic validity of autism spectrum disorder. In my heretical estimation (I am admittedly in the professional minority here), a so-called mild form of autism is not autism at all. Human beings are a peculiar species and one or two peculiarities, in and of themselves, do not necessarily justify a diagnosis.
We seem, collectively, to have forgotten that children are capable of being odd little creatures—some more than others. Most children eventually outgrow their oddness or learn the advisability of controlling it. For that reason, I’d hold off, for the time being, on an evaluation. At age four, the fact that a child is lagging in one developmental area is, in and of itself, no cause for alarm.
One thing is certain: If people treat a child as if he has something wrong with him, the child is likely to become convinced there is something wrong with him and begin acting accordingly. Your son is a smart, imaginative, happy little camper who at this early point in his life doesn’t socialize well with other children. Given the positives, I am inclined to think that the best therapy is patient guidance from the people who love him the most.
Upside-Down, Inside-Out and Backwards Parent-View Disorder
Many of today’s parents suffer (and suffer they do, albeit a good number seem to feel their suffering is a sign of conscientious parenting) from what I call “upside-down, inside-out and backwards parent-view disorder.”
First, an explanation of the term “parent-view.” Just as one’s worldview consists of beliefs concerning the meaning and purpose of human existence as well as a set of core moral understandings, so one’s parent-view consists of beliefs concerning children—one’s own and others—along with beliefs concerning one’s role and responsibilities as a parent.
A proper parent-view includes a correct understanding of children as well as a correct definition of the noun “parent.” A proper parent-view leads to correct parent behavior—relaxed, loving and authoritative. That approach, in turn, results in proper child behavior. (And yes, I am asserting that the unproven and unscientific notion that persistent improper behavior reflects some internal malfunction benefits mental health professionals and the pharmaceutical industry ONLY.)
Upside-down, inside-out and backwards parent-view disorder manifests in various ways, all of which reflect general confusion when it comes to the question “Who’s in charge here?”
Example: A father who recently told me that in response to a class assignment to draw one’s daddy doing his favorite thing, his first-grade daughter drew him taking a nap on the sofa. He assigned great meaning to this, taking it to mean that he is shirking his fatherly duties. He told me that he does not want to be seen by his daughter as a slacker dad and resolved to take no more naps when she is around.
Mind you, this father’s job is mentally, emotionally, and often physically demanding. There are times, in fact, when it is dangerous to the point of being life-threatening. Nonetheless, he was surprised when I told him that (a) his daughter’s drawing contained no deep psychological meaning and (b) he had every right to take a nap whenever he felt the need, whether his daughter was around or not. Furthermore, I told him he had every right to tell his daughter that she was not to disturb him while he was napping. That provoked a wide-eyed “Really?”
Yes, really. This father was upside-down, inside-out, and turned around backwards (note the past tense). He obviously thought it was his responsibility to rise to his daughter’s expectations of him. Au contraire, it is her responsibility to rise to his expectations (assuming they are reasonable, which they are and which should include not disturbing him when he is napping), and the earlier she learns this, the better for all concerned, including herself.
This dad’s job requires that he be away from home a good amount of time. Like many folks in that situation, he believed (again, past tense) that when he comes home his first obligation is to his kids. Not so. When he comes home, his foremost obligation is to his wife. He should re-enter his family as a husband first, a father second. Actually, by putting his marriage first, he is doing for his children the single best thing he can possibly do for them.
Children need parents who are right-side up, right-side out, and facing forward. In other words, they need parents who possess a proper parent-view and can, therefore, give a proper answer to “Who’s in charge here?”
America Needs a Parenting Retro-Revolution
I was honored to be a guest on my good friend Dennis Prager’s syndicated radio program the other day and as anyone who is familiar with my point-of-view on parenting matters will appreciate, much of the conversation centered on the need for children to obey.
Children should obey, I maintain, because—and solid research confirms common sense on this point—obedient children are happy children. The reader does not know a disobedient child who is truly happy. A child’s happiness reflects an optimistic view of life, an optimistic view of his or her ability to endure and even (perhaps) overcome obstacles, and for those reasons, an overall sense of well-being. In other words, while certain benefit accrues to parents as the result of having an obedient child, the most significant benefit is to the child.
Unbeknownst to them, today’s parents are their children’s worst enemies when it comes to obedience. They are generally uncomfortable with the idea that just as it is their job to provide unconditional love, it is also their job to provide unequivocal authority. That is why they yell. They want their children to do what they tell them to do, but they assume a pleading posture when they talk to their kids and beat around the bush when it comes to conveying decisions and instructions. So, their kids don’t obey. So, they end up yelling.
Making matters worse, most of the parents I talk to around the country (I think it’s safe to say that I talk to more parents on an annual basis than anyone else in the USA) tell me they want their kids to cooperate. No, you don’t, I tell them. Cooperation is possible between mutually-respecting peers. You are not your child’s peer. You are the superior in the relationship and you need to embrace that fact for your child’s sake.
Authority is conveyed naturally by parents who accept that responsibility. That mindset enables relaxed but straightforward and unequivocal communication. The parents in question say what they mean and mean what they say. No means no. Their children obey simply because obedience is a child’s natural response to the proper conveyance of authority. Thus, these parents do not have to rely on consequences much, if at all.
Toward the end of the show, a fellow named Marvin—he identified himself as an educator—called in to say that he disagreed with everything I was saying. Adults should collaborate with children, not coerce them, he said. I had never used the word coercion, by the way, but Marvin heard what his ideological filters allowed him to hear.
“Instead of saying ‘no’ to a child,” Marvin said, “you should say ‘not yet.’”
Why? Because that is more pleasing to the child’s ears. And adults must, above all else, be pleasing to children. I’m being sarcastic. To be fair, collaborative discipline is the method du jour in American education. It goes hand-in-hand with parents wanting children to cooperate. Collaboration and cooperation presume that children are rational, which they are not. They are, instead, self-centered (it is possible, therefore, for a chronological adult to be a phenomenological child). Without realizing it, Marvin gave Dennis’ audience a glimpse into why the adult-child relationship is so often upside-down in today’s schools (including many colleges) and homes.
Marvin is an example of why America desperately needs a retro-revolution in parenting.
Parenting Magazine's Time-Out Technique 'Even Worse Than Before'
For several reasons, I am not a fan of parenting magazines. First, they reinforce the impression that child-rearing is a very complicated affair, requiring consulting with “experts” on a regular basis (and yes, I am fully aware of the irony of that statement). Second, with every issue, said publications raise the Good Mommy Bar by giving women (their nearly exclusive consumers) more things to think about and more things to do. Third, they often render conflicting information and advice. Fourth, the advice they dispense is often just downright bad.
Regarding the latter, a case in point: An article in the April 2017, issue of Parents magazine purporting to tell parents how to properly use time-out. To put my remarks in perspective, I was one of the primary popularizers of time-out. During the early years of this syndicated column (1976 – 1990, roughly), I often recommended it and even hold the dubious distinction of coming up with the “one minute of time out for every year of a child’s age” formula.
Much to my chagrin, however, I eventually concluded that time-out worked only with children who were already well-behaved—obedient, respectful, responsible, and so on. Said children only need occasional and relatively minor “adjustments,” which can include time-out. In and of itself, however, time-out is simply too weak a consequence to have significant impact on a child who does not fit that description—assuming that said child would even cooperate in sitting still for several minutes without being physically restrained (more on that shortly).
Using psychologists, psychiatrists, and pediatricians as its expert sources, Parents makes the same recommendations I was making some 35 years ago—with one exception. Parents cites a study done by researchers at Oklahoma State University that found that the need for time-out is reduced if parents issue warnings, as in, “Billy, if you do that again, I’m going to put you in time-out.” I don’t doubt that, but it’s misleading. The goal of any disciplinary consequence is the elimination of misbehavior. At best, warnings result in nothing more than a temporary abatement (which is what the study measured) and usually make matters worse over time.
For the most part, the “New and Improved Time-Out Technique” that Parents magazine describes echoes my pro-time out columns from the 1980s, before I concluded that when it came to “difficult” children, time-out was akin to trying to stop a charging elephant with a flyswatter. By adding warnings into the mix, however, “New and Improved” becomes “Even Worse Than Before.”
But by far the article’s most absurd recommendations are highlighted in a sidebar titled “What If My Child Refuses to Go to Time-Out?” In that event, parents are advised to negotiate (“If you don’t go to time-out, then you lose television for the rest of the day”), negotiate even harder (“If you go to time-out now and sit quietly, I will reduce your time from three minutes to two”), or put themselves in time-out. Yes, if your child refuses to go to time-out, go to your own room, saying something along the lines of “I’m not going to talk to you for three minutes because you hit your brother.”
Don’t laugh. Some parents who read said article are going to do exactly that and wind up feeling even more wracked with frustration and guilt. Like I said: “Even Worse Than Before.”