Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson
DR. DOBSON: Sometimes it helps to redefine the boundaries at the beginning of your time together. Let the children know exactly what you’re doing and what’s expected of them. If they still misbehave, respond with good, loving discipline right from the start.
No parent wants to be an ogre on vacation, but it helps to show a little firmness at the outset that can make the rest of the time together fun for the entire family.
QUESTION: We have always laughed a lot in our family, sometimes at each other. Is that good or bad?
DR. DOBSON: It is healthy to be able to laugh together in a family. We ought to be able to tease and joke with each other without having to worry about getting an angry overreaction in response. But when the laughter is always at the expense of the most vulnerable member of the family, it can be destructive.
Even innocent humor is painful when it’s the same child who is the object of ridicule. Unfortunately, that’s the way it often happens. When one youngster has an embarrassing characteristic, such as bedwetting, or thumb sucking, or stuttering, the other members of the family should be encouraged to tread very softly on the exposed nerves thereabouts. And a child should never be ridiculed for his or her size, whether he’s a small boy or a large girl.
This is the guiding principle: It’s wise not to tease a child about the features that he or she is also defending outside the home. If that youngster is hearing about some obvious flaw all day long, he or she certainly doesn’t need more flak from the family. And when that child asks for a joke to end, the request should be honored.
Being the butt of everyone’s ridicule is a formula for lifelong resentment, and there’s just nothing funny about that happening.
QUESTION: My children love to do things for themselves, but they make such messes that it’s easier for me to do things for them. I just don’t have the patience to see them fumble with stuff. Do you think I’m wrong to step in and do things for them?
DR. DOBSON: I think you are wrong, even though I understand how you feel. I heard a story about a mother who was sick in bed with the flu. Her darling daughter wanted so much to be a good nurse. She fluffed the pillows and brought a magazine to read. And then she even showed up with a surprise cup of tea.
“Why, you’re such a sweetheart,” the mother said as she drank the tea. “I didn’t know you even knew how to make tea.”
“Oh, yes,” the little girl replied. “I learned by watching you. I put the tealeaves in the pan and then I put in the water, and I boiled it and then I strained it into a cup. But I couldn’t find a strainer, so I used the fly swatter instead.”
“You what?” the mother screamed.
And the little girl said, “Oh, don’t worry, Mom, I didn’t use the new fly swatter. I used the old one.”
Well, when kids try their hardest and they get it all wrong in spite of themselves, what’s a parent to do? What mothers and fathers often do is prevent their children from carrying any responsibility that could result in a mess or a mistake. It’s just easier to do everything for them than to clean up afterwards. But, I urge parents not to fall into that trap.
Your child needs her mistakes. That’s how she learns. So, go along with the game every now and then — even if the tea you drink tastes a little strange.