John Rosemond July 2018 Columns
Copyright 2018, John K. Rosemond
I Spy Toilet-Training Atrocities
Strolling through my go-to grocery store the other day, I happened down the Baby Products aisle where I spied packages of toilet-training pants featuring pictures of happy children who looked at least three, some as old as five. The first question that came to mind: Why would a five-year-old who is continuing to eliminate on himself be happy? Perhaps a spokesperson for the unnamed manufacturer of said diabolical apparel will answer that question for me.
In the mid-1950s, a study done by researchers from Harvard, Stanford, Yale and Princeton determined that close to 90 percent of 24-month-old American children were accident-free and had been for at least one month. That means 9 out of 10 children were completely toilet trained by no later than 23 months. And then, in the 1960s, along came the Mr. Rogers of pediatrics, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, who claimed, without a shred of scientifically-obtained evidence, that the attempt to toilet train a child under age 24 months requires “force” and is therefore psychologically damaging.
In addition, Brazelton fabricated a wholly fictitious set of ten or so behavioral “readiness signs” that he insisted be present before toilet training is attempted. Mind you, the only readiness sign to which mothers in the pre-psychological parenting era (pre-1960s) paid attention was their own readiness to stop changing and washing diapers. Almost instantly, Brazelton’s “child-centered” approach to toilet training became the gold standard in the pediatric community. As pediatricians began advising mothers to hold off training until 30 to 36 months lest they wreak psychological havoc on their kids, a process that had taken 3 days to a week, on average, began taking months, even years. Likewise, mothers went from being fairly nonchalant about the entire affair to being toilet-training basket cases.
The problem rapidly expanded to the point where some psychologists began specializing in toilet training. In Charlotte, North Carolina, in the 1970s, a psychologist advertised an in-home toilet training service. Yes, he would come to someone’s home and either toilet train the child in question or walk the parents through the process. Books on how to toilet train began to proliferate. (I even wrote one in which I simply described how it was done before Brazelton threw his monkey wrench into the matter.) After all, where children are concerned, there is nothing new under the sun (despite propaganda to the contrary).
Do parents need specialized professional training to properly teach children to feed themselves? No, they do not. Thankfully, no one with capital letters after his or her name has ever claimed that improper spoon training will begin a child’s descent into psychological pandemonium, even criminality. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time. There must be a market there, somewhere.
After all, there are several similarities between spoon training and toilet training. First, they both involve the digestive system. Second, they both involve messes. Third, said messes must be taken care of by parents (or nannies, as the case may be). Surely someone smarter than myself can make a case for waiting to teach children to feed themselves until they are at least five, lest an emotional apocalypse ensue. Said someone – a Ph.D. psychologist, of course – could come up with spoon-training readiness signs, as in, “child shows no significant anxiety at being handed a small spoon covered in soft rubber.”
Then the recommendation that “child be allowed to handle and chew on rubber-coated spoon for at least a week before training in self-feeding actually begins.”
Within five years, we will have therapy and medication for “self-feeding anxiety disorder.”
I’m being a tad, but only a tad, facetious. Nonetheless, history strongly suggests that if a child-rearing problem doesn’t yet exist, the professional community can be counted upon to remedy the situation.
Let’s Revisit ‘Psychological Thinking’
I call it “psychological thinking,” referring to the tendency among parents of the last fifty years or so to attribute bad behavior on the part of a child to so-called “issues” that are thought to be causing emotional tensions of one sort or another. That is, in fact, precisely what my graduate school professors taught; to wit, that misbehavior was nothing more than a symptom of such tension, and for that reason, punishment would only make matters worse.
As psychological theory oozed into popular culture, this imaginary notion went, in contemporary terms, viral. During my private practice years, the typical parent(s) who solicited my advice concerning an ill-behaved child seemed to think that knowing the hypothetical source of the problem in question was tantamount to solving it and that discovering said source required a highly-trained psychologist – me! It pains me to admit that for more than a few years I believed I was capable of deep-diving into a child’s psyche and bringing up such buried treasure – or trash, as the case may be.
It slowly dawned on me that I was pulling this stuff out of thin air, that there was no empirical means by which such speculations could be verified; therefore, they bordered on delusional. I further realized that these delusions absolved ill-behaved children of responsibility for their various anti-social outbursts and projected said responsibility on the parents. By such pseudo-intellectual alchemy, the misbehaving child was transformed from a perpetrator into a victim deserving not of discipline but great understanding and sympathy.
An example is the single mother who recently sought my help regarding a young teenage boy who was behaving disrespectfully toward her. She believed her son was “angry” at her for divorcing his father who just happened to be verbally abusive. Mom wanted to know how she could help the boy resolve his “anger issues.” It did not help that another therapist had told her that her son’s verbal abuse was indicative of depression. Psychobabble knows no limits.
The inevitable consequence to a parent of psychological thinking is what I call “disciplinary paralysis.” As was the case with the mother in this example, parents who engage in psychological thinking are unable to discipline firmly. They believe, after all, that THEY are to blame for their children’s misbehavior. They believe, therefore, that THEY are the parties in need of correction. It’s as if they went to graduate school with me.
And so, the problem in question – whatever it might be – just keeps on getting worse. A disrespectful teen becomes more disrespectful. An anxious five-year-old who demands that her parents cater to her anxieties becomes more anxious and demanding. A ten-year-old who throws tantrums becomes a completely out-of-control thirteen-year-old.
All too often, these kids receive diagnoses of one sort or another – ADHD, oppositional-defiant disorder, bipolar disorder and so on – and wind up on medication. By the way, none of these diagnoses can be verified empirically and none of the medications used to “treat” them reliably outperform placebos.
Back to the aforementioned single mom: When she stopped absolving her son of responsibility for his disrespect, stopped thinking he was a victim with “anger issues,” stopped her unwitting enabling and responded to his abuse by confiscating all of his electronic gear and suspending all discretionary driving privileges until he was disrespect-free for two months…guess what? Right! After the shock wore off, his anger issues abruptly “resolved” and he became the model of a dutiful son.
Firm, loving authority is hard to beat.
Kids Acting Up? Relax, It's Normal
Most of the stuff today's parents worry about - and let's face facts...the worrier in question, the worrier supreme, is almost always the mother (not because of some weakness, but simply because she consumes parenting media that, as a rule, generate lots of worry) - is not worth the emotional energy. Left alone, it will "come out in the wash," as they say, "they" being parents who understand that children are odd.
Yes, children are odd. Sometimes, they are even weird. They do odd, strange, weird, bizarre, inexplicable things that, in most cases, concerning most kids, have no meaning at all in the sense of being indicators of deep, dark problems embedded in their supposedly delicate psyches. Furthermore, most of the odd, etc. things they do are completely unrelated to and disconnected from the manner in which they have been raised. "You are not the cue ball in your child's life," I tell my audiences around the USA. "Your child was born with free will – both a blessing and a curse."
Fifty-plus years ago, before professional parenting experts (Who, me?) began muddying up America's parenting waters with psycho-garbage, there existed a parenting vernacular that is no longer in common use. It consisted of pithy phrases like "Children should be seen and not heard" and "You made this bed, so YOU are going to lie in it." One such pithiness was "Every child has a mind of his own." In eight words, that expressed what I used more than fifty to express in the above paragraph. My mother, her mother, her mother's mother, and so on down the line knew that no matter how "good" their parenting was by any standard, their children were still capable, on any given day, of despicable. And no matter how smart their children were, they were capable, on any given day, of moronic behavior. So are yours. You are not your child's personal savior, put in his life to save him from the wages of sin, to insure his admission to Heaven or his passage into perpetual Nirvana, whatever your tastes may be.
So, back to the point. Have you ever noticed that the parents who seem to have the most well-behaved children tend to be, as a rule, very laid back? They're not worrying about much, if anything. That's because worry is self-fulfilling. When you worry about something, the something in question becomes more likely. Worry is also paralyzing, meaning that if the something you worry about does happen, your head is filled with so much confusion that you don't know what to do about it. Parents who don't worry, when worrisome things happen, simply deal with them...one at a time. Because they don't worry, they are capable of acting effectively when their kids confuse free will with freedom. They don’t think that every stupid, odd, sociopathic thing their kids do predicts some future apocalypse. They just deal, one thing at a time.
In this dealing, they have but one goal: to make the child fully responsible for what he or she did or didn’t do. They mete out consequences such that the child bears the full emotional weight of the problem. The rule is: When a child does something bad, the child, and only the child, should feel bad about it. With some kids, the ones with especially hard heads, getting the message across makes the average mental health professional gasp.
The typical parent who is reading this is a good parent. You are doing your best. People who don't fit that description don't read stuff like this. So, relax. Take a load off. Let the chips in your child's life fall where they may and deal with the resulting messes one at a time with the calm conviction that you're doing what you should and that it's high time your child started doing what HE should.