Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson
Question: I have very little time to spend with my children these days, but I make sure the hours we do get to spend together are meaningful. Do you agree that the quality of time you are with your kids is more important than the quantity?
Dr. Dobson: I’m afraid the logic of that concept is flawed to me. The question is: Why do we have to choose between the virtues of quantity versus quality? We won’t accept that forced choice in any other area of our lives. So why is it only relevant to our children?
Let me illustrate my point. Let’s suppose you’ve looked forward all day to eating at one of the finest restaurants in town. The waiter brings you a menu, and you order the most expensive steak in the house. But when the meal arrives, you see a tiny piece of meat about one-inch square in the center of the plate. When you complain about the size of the steak, the waiter says, “Sir, I recognize that the portion is small, but that’s the finest corn-fed beef money can buy. You’ll never find a better bite of meat than we’ve served you tonight. As to the portion, I hope you understand that it’s not the quantity that matters, it’s the quality that counts.”
You would object, and for good reason. Why? Because both quality and quantity are important in many areas of our lives, including how we relate to children. They need our time and the best we have to give them.
My concern is that the quantityversus quality argument might be a poorly disguised rationalization for giving our children — neither.
Question: My wife and I have two very strong-willed kids who are hard to handle. They seem to need to test us, and they’re the happiest and most contented when we are the toughest on them. Why do they insist on making us growl at them and even punish them more than we’d like to?
Dr. Dobson: It is curious, isn’t it, that some children seem to enjoy fighting with their parents. It’s a function of the pugnacious temperament with which they are born. Many kids just like to run things and seem to enjoy picking fights.
There is another factor that is related to a child’s sense of security. Let me illustrate it this way. Imagine you’re driving a car over the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado, which is suspended hundreds of feet above the canyon floor. As a first-time traveler, you’re pretty tense as you drive across. It is a scary experience. I knew one little fellow who was so awed by the view over the side of the bridge that he said, “Wow, Daddy! If you fell off of here, it’d kill you constantly!”
Now suppose there were no guardrails on the side of the bridge. Where would you steer the car? Right down the middle of the road. Even though you don’t plan to hit those protective railings along the side, you just feel more secure knowing that they’re there.
It’s the same way with children. There is security in defined limits. They need to know precisely what the rules are and who’s available to enforce them. Whenever a strong-willed child senses that the boundaries may have moved, or that his or her parents may have lost their nerve, he or she will often precipitate a fight just to test the limits again. They may not admit that they want you to be the boss, but they breathe easier when you prove that you are.
Question: What do you think of the phrase “Children should be seen and not heard”?
Dr. Dobson: That statement reveals a profound ignorance of children and their needs. I can’t imagine how any loving adult could raise a vulnerable little boy or girl by that philosophy. Children are like clocks, they must be allowed to run!
Dr. Dobson is founder and Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80995 (www.focusonthefamily.org).