John Rosemond March 2017 Columns
Copyright 2017, John K. Rosemond
Make American Parenting Great Again!
The problem in American parenting is the 1960s. Among other things that defined that very interesting decade was the replacement of rationality by emotionality. It was during the 1960s that the media, various self-appointed spiritual gurus, and the mental health professional community urged people to “get in touch with their feelings.” And it was during the 1960s that parents were told by mental health professionals that children had a right to express their feelings freely.
I was in graduate school at the time. My professors taught that (a) feelings—especially children’s feelings—held deep meaning, (b) therapy was all about helping people recover the feelings their parents had made them repress, and (c) getting in touch with one’s feelings was the key to happiness. To be polite about it, a crock if there ever was one.
I now know—and beyond a shadow of doubt—that with rare exception, one’s feelings are more apt to deceive than promote good decisions. I also know that pre-psychological (pre-1960s) parents insisted that their children control the expression of emotion for the good of those children (as well as the good of everyone who were ever in contact with those children). I also know that people who are ruled by their emotions—people who cannot think straight, in other words—are not happy people. In their own enslaved minds, they are perpetual victims. Furthermore, the undisciplined nature of their emotions is destructive both to themselves and others. Undisciplined emotions destroy relationships, property, and spiritual health.
Fifty years later, America is paying a terrible price for having ever believed that when it came to children (and most other things), mental health professionals knew what they were talking about. They claimed, without evidence, that insisting upon emotional control was repressive and authoritarian (and therefore harmful). They claimed, without evidence, that enforcing shame upon a child who had behaved anti-socially—they named it “shame-based parenting”—would result in psychological problems (when the opposite is true).
Granted, shame can be taken to extremes, but shame is essential to the formation of a conscience, which is essential to responsible self-government. Children are not naturally disposed to shame. It must be trained into them by loving parents who are not supposed to enjoy what they must do. A child so trained is destined to become a compassionate, responsible human being, not an emotional basket case.
Happiness is not a matter of letting “it” all hang out. Quite the contrary, it is all about holding most of “it” in. It is about self-control, respect for others, and responsibility. It is about a value system that places others before self. A certain amount of repression is a good thing.
America needs a “Make American Parenting Great Again!” movement. When all is said and done concerning the many political concerns of the day, one indisputable fact remains: a culture’s strength ultimately depends on the strength of its child-rearing practices. Building a strong infrastructure is fine and dandy, but building emotionally resilient and responsible future citizens is even more fine and dandy. In fact, it is the most important thing there is.
Send Toddler to Designated Tantrum Spot
Q: My 30-month-old has started throwing tantrums when I do not give her or do for her what she wants. During her fits, she cries, screams, tries to hit and even bite me, and then, if I prevent her from hitting me, will hit herself. My mother says this needs to be nipped in the bud. She recommends spanking. I say my daughter really doesn’t know what she’s doing and is too young to be disciplined for this. I’m also concerned about her self-hitting. What do you say?
A: I say your mother is right. But then again, I disagree with her concerning her recommendation that you spank your daughter when she has a tantrum. By the way, I prefer to call them “high self-esteem seizures” because they are the rage of the naturally narcissistic child at having someone—a parent, usually—refuse to immediately satisfy his or her unquenchable lust for entitlement.
First, your daughter’s tantrums are knee-jerk reactions; nonetheless, she is a highly intelligent member of a self-aware species. Don’t confuse “she cannot explain what she is doing” with “she does not know what she is doing.” Believe me, she knows what she is doing. She is trying to get her way and she believes that becoming an emotional volcano will accomplish that objective. You’ve probably given in a time or two, haven’t you? Yes, you have! Fact: If a parent gives in to one tantrum out of twenty, twenty more are instantly loaded into the clip.
Second, you would do well to nip these seizures in the bud, or bloom, whatever the case may now be. As I said, however, I do not recommend spanking. I have no problem with spankings per se (research done by objective people does not find psychological harm—and even finds benefit—when spankings are infrequent and hand-administered by loving parents), but when the issue is a toddler’s tantrums they are not likely to accomplish anything.
Third, your daughter’s self-hitting does not merit concern. As you make clear, she does not hit herself randomly but only when you prevent her from hitting you. Under the circumstances, her self-abuse is what is known as a “displacement.” Also, she probably saw that hitting herself provoked a reaction from you, so she persists. She is, as I said, highly intelligent.
Fourth, the most effective means of nipping these seizures in the bud or bloom is to assign them to a designated tantrum place. When our daughter Amy was this age and her sense of entitlement got the best of her, my wife and/or I simply directed her or dragged her kicking and screaming to her very special tantrum room—the downstairs half-bath. We put her in, told her that this was the only room in the home where tantrums were allowed, encouraged her to scream to her little heart’s content, closed the door, and walked away.
For what usually was less than a minute, Amy would scream, shriek, kick and pound the door, and otherwise go completely berserk. Then she would become silent and, we assumed, sulk. Then she would emerge, go straight to her room and begin entertaining herself as if nothing had happened. We even invented tantrum places on the spot if they occurred in public. One time, for example, I confined Amy to a display bedroom in J. C. Penney’s until her tantrum over wanting a Dracula Colorforms set had subsided, during which time I simply sat in a nearby recliner, dreaming of a life in Tahiti without children.
In short, tantrums are no big deal unless allowed to become a big deal. With that in mind, nip away! Now, be a good daughter and go tell your mother she was right…mostly.
Children Need Adults Who Are Worthy of Being Paid Attention
Once again, a reader proves that parenting must be added to religion and politics as verboten subjects for polite conversation. A column I published back in December of 2016 went viral recently—yes, three months later (such things are mysteries to me). In it, I proposed that parents, not children, are the most important people in a family and that the husband-wife relationship, not the parent-child relationship, should be first and foremost.
That is the natural state of affairs, after all. Families were parent- or marriage-centered for thousands of years. Then, in the 1960s, America suffered a parenting revolution in which psychological theory began to dominate and eventually all but extinguish common sense. Out of this revolution came the child-centered family, which is now the norm. Ironically, it also initiated a significant downturn in child and teen mental health which continues to this day.
My critic responded to said column with vitriol that is not suitable for anyone, no matter how crass. I am, she said, a bleeping bleep who should be bleeped out of bleeping existence. Use your imagination. Or, better yet, don’t.
It will not matter to said reader or anyone of her ilk, but parenting outcome research confirms my proposition. Except during infancy, early toddlerhood and critical illness, it is not in a child’s best interest to be at the center of attention in his/her family. The child may like and enjoy that state of affairs, but then children also prefer ice cream over broccoli. Rational people do not generally care what children like and don’t like.
Another way of saying this is to propose that the roles parents should occupy, primarily speaking, are husband and wife; or, in the case of a single parent (as was my mother for most of the first seven years of my life), an adult whose life, from her child’s vantage, is interesting and therefore worth emulating.
You are not interesting to a child who is the focal point of your attention. Instead, the child will take you for granted. He will express his sense of entitlement by being demanding, ungrateful, disrespectful, and often obnoxious in ways perhaps your tunnel vision does not allow you to see (but others readily can).
A child-centered family is one in which the adults occupy the roles of daddy and mommy more than they occupy the roles of husband and wife. When you are daddy and mommy, you are paying attention to and doing things for your kids. When you are husband and wife, you are paying attention to first things and your kids, quite naturally, will pay attention to you. That condition is essential to establishing parent authority, effective discipline and successful emancipation. Contrary to the post-1960s myth, children (again, excepting the very young) do not need a lot of attention. They need, instead, adults in their lives who are worthy of being paid attention. Respect for others is worth far more than high self-esteem.
There is nothing that puts a more solid foundation of security and well-being under a child’s feet than the knowledge that his parents are in a permanent relationship. To pre-empt the knee-jerk: That is not to say that a child raised by a single parent is insecure. If you are single, then please and by all means be an interesting person, a person who lives a full, rich life right in front of your kids. My mother did exactly that. And she was most definitely not at my beck-and-call. She even occasionally said to me “John Rosemond, you do not need a mother right now and I am not going to be one.”
It’s impossible to develop a sense of entitlement under those circumstances.
The Fundamental Rules of Parenting
Q: You seem to blame all of America’s parenting woes on mental health professionals and imply that if parents still raised kids as did people in the 1950s and before, they wouldn’t be having the problems they’re having today. But times have changed, John. Is it realistic to think that children can still be raised like their grandparents were raised?
A: Times have always changed. Since America’s colonial beginnings in the 17th Century, every generation has put their own stamp on culture. Demographics, technology, politics, economics…you name it, it has changed, and constantly so. But through it all, the fundamental understandings that informed child-rearing remained unchanged, the simple reason being that children, unlike the “times,” do not change from one generation to another. That’s why my parents approached the responsibility of raising children pretty much the same way as had their parents, who had raised their kids the way they themselves had been raised, and so on.
In the 1960s, mental health professionals claimed that traditional child rearing was psychologically harmful. They proposed a radically new approach based on equally radical understandings and principles. Psychologists like best-selling author Thomas Gordon (“Parent Effectiveness Training”) proposed that families should be child-centered, children’s emotions contained deep meaning, and the parent-child relationship was a relationship between equals; ergo, children should be given equal sway when it came to making family decisions.
The results of this paradigm shift have been disastrous. Child mental health has plummeted. The raising of children, once regarded as a straightforward process guided by common sense and traditional principles, has become the single most stressful thing a woman will attempt in her entire life. And yes, I blame the mental health professional community – my colleagues – for this debacle because they were its architects. Ironically, they have also profited greatly from it. If one shrinks from the political incorrectness of “blame,” then insert “hold responsible.”
To raise children the way children were raised before the psychological parenting revolution of the late 1960s means to adhere to a short list of fundamental principles of fact:
1. The family operates best when parents, not children, are the center of attention; when parents run the show.
2. For the most part (95 percent, by my estimate), a child’s feelings meaning nothing except that his feelings, like his behavior, are in need of outside discipline.
3. Obedience to parental authority improves the mental and emotional health of children. That is confirmed by both research and common sense.
4. Proper child-rearing is not all about the child in question; rather, it is an act of love for one’s neighbors, broadly defined.
5. The ultimate purpose of raising a child is not to produce a high achiever; rather, it is to produce a person of character, a good citizen. Grades are less important than manners. Making America a better place is more important than turning out a brain surgeon.
Those principles are based on the unassailable understanding that children do not know what they need; they only know what they want. The adults in their lives are responsible for giving them everything they need and very little of what they want, thus properly preparing them for adulthood.
Those understandings are timeless; they did not expire upon non-renewal by my generation. There are better and worse ways of expressing them, but they are as valid today as they were sixty-plus years ago. Per the title of my latest book, it turns out that Grandma was right after all.