Strong-Willed Child: Where Dobson Almost Gives Good Advice

Strong-Willed Child: Where Dobson Almost Gives Good Advice August 24, 2014

By Victoria

Originally posted on Saving Victoria Strong

The Strong-Willed Child, chapter 1, pp. 26-28


If you’ll recall, we’re in the middle of the end of chapter Q&A session. Here’s the next question:

            “Should my child be permitted to say ‘I hate you!’ when he is angry?”

To me, there are two issues with this question. First, the “I hate you” part, and secondly, the word “permitted.”

Here’s the start of Dobson’s answer:

“Not in my opinion. Other writers will tell you that all children hate their parents occasionally and should be permitted to vent that hostility. I believe it is possible (and far more healthy) to encourage the expression of negative feelings without reinforcing temper tantrums and violent behavior.”

Had he stopped there, this blog post might be really, really short. I will agree here that the phrase “I hate you” is incredibly destructive and really doesn’t have any place in a loving relationship. It can be apologized for, but never truly unheard. It is simply not a good or constructive tool to have in one’s arsenal of conflict resolution tricks. But I said IF Dobson had stopped there. He didn’t…

“If my child screamed his hatred at me for the first time in a moment of red-faced anger, I would probably wait until his passion had cooled and then convey this message in a loving, sincere manner:

‘Charlie, I know you were very upset earlier today when we had our disagreement, and I think we should talk about what you were feeling. All children get angry at their parents now and then, especially when they feel unfairly treated. I understand your frustration and I’m sorry we got into such a hassle. But that does not excuse you for saying, ‘I hate you!’ You’ll learn that no matter how upset I become over something you’ve done, I’ll never tell you that I hate you. And I can’t permit you to talk that way to me. When people love each other, as you and I do, they don’t want to hurt one another. It hurt me for you to say that you hated me, just as you would be hurt if I said something like that to you. You can, however, tell me what angers you, and I will listen carefully. If I am wrong, I will do my best to change the things you dislike. So I want you to understand that you are free to say anything you wish to me as always, even if your feelings are not very pleasant. But you will never be permitted to scream and call names and throw temper tantrums. If you behave in those childish ways, I will have to punish you as I would a little child. Is there anything you need to say to me now? (If not, then put your arms around my neck because I love you!).’”

This really brings me to the second part of all this, the word “permit.” Basically, Dobson is advocating making “no saying ‘I hate you’” a house rule. I think this is a huge mistake. Now, to be clear, I’m personally okay with setting some rules, even if they may be arbitrary or come off as such to a child. I do think it’s more effective to explain your thinking behind why bedtime is at 8:30 pm sharp, or why video game time is limited to thirty minutes a day, or what have you. But I do not think setting such rules in the first place is wrong or abusive. Setting this other kind of rule, about not saying certain things in anger, well, this is different. Saying “I hate you” is destructive, yes, but just saying, “that’s against the rules and you’ll be punished for saying it” doesn’t at all convey to a kid WHY that phrase is so hurtful. If that’s all you do, trust me, he’ll still be thinking it, which really didn’t teach him anything about human interaction at all.

Rather than banning the phrase, I’d much rather kids be taught and modeled respect, communication skills, and constructive conflict resolution. I would hope my (hypothetical) kid wouldn’t say “I hate you” to me because he/she respects me and has learned and internalized that that phrase is destructive and hurtful, not because I banned it with an iron fist. And I’m not even remotely going to sit here and pretend that I wouldn’t be very hurt to hear such a thing from my child. But I think that is what would be important to communicate – that I do have feelings, that I am a human being, that you the kid are capable of hurting people with your words and actions, and then let that sink in. And I don’t think it would sink in if I just hauled off and hit the child for saying it.

For a personal note here: a few years ago, my mom commented to me that as a teenager I rarely back-talked my parents. My immediate response was, “well, not out loud.” She looked genuinely surprised and taken aback. Honestly, I don’t know why…

Another part of this little speech I have to touch on is the part where Dobson prattles on about how he as a parent would never say “I hate you” to his child. My parents never said those exact words to me. They never did, I don’t think even once. But they did communicate that idea to me, over and over and over, even if they never said it outright. I guess my overall point is, when you (Dobson) are writing entire books instructing parents to infer a ton of nasty intent on their kids’ actions, and beat them with belts, it’s pretty rich to turn around and put a little halo on your head because you never actually utter the phrase, “I hate you.”

Also, is it just me, or did Dobson’s little speech to his hypothetical kid Charlie remind anyone else of O-Ren Ishii’s speech to the Japanese mafia in Kill Bill: Volume 1 after she “deals with” Boss Tanaka? I swear….

And of course, this ends on a very creepy, totally icky note – ordering a kid to give you a hug – which really doesn’t surprise me, unfortunately. I mean, if you’re advocating hitting kids with belts, how can you suddenly respect their boundaries when it comes to affectionate touch?

The last Q&A is about whether parents should apologize to their kids when they mess up, and surprisingly, Dobson says they should. He keeps this section very short, and there’s not that much to say about what he wrote.

And this concludes chapter 1! Stay tuned…


Browse Our Archives