Psychologist and author John Rosemond offers parents sound, biblically-based advice on disciplining children.
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John Fuller: Are your children driving you crazy? Maybe you’re constantly battling with discipline issues and you’re just really frustrated. Well, if so, stay tuned. Today’s “Focus on the Family” is just for you, as we talk about some good old-fashioned discipline that can really work. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Today we’ll hear a conversation with psychologist, John Rosemond, that we recorded with an audience in Asheville, North Carolina. I always appreciate what John has to say. He’s so very practical and he’s encouraging, too. He’s written 17 best-selling books, including The Well-Behaved Child. And he says his grandmother could’ve written that book because discipline really hasn’t changed all that much. And he’ll explain that as we begin. Here’s Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, we’re seeing evidence of a real lack of disciplined training, if we want to call it that. It may be true that the style of discipline hasn’t changed, but the application seems to have changed. So, what’s goin’ on in the culture? Are we just disciplining less? Are we disciplining with weaker tools?
John Rosemond: Well, I think one of the things is, that parents used to intuitively understand the discipling of a child was a leadership function and that you did it through leadership, the enactment of leadership principles.
And what has happened over the last 45 to 50 years in America, ever since what I call the “psychological parenting revolution” occurred in the late 60s and early 70s, is we have substituted the attempt to form relationships with children for leadership of children.
And one of the things that I say all the time, is look, the idea, the goal of having a wonderful relationship with your children’s a fine thing. But the fact of the matter is, that you have to put leadership first. Leadership is the horse that pulls the cart.
And the problem in America today is, all too many parents are putting the cart out in front of the horse, with good intentions, but it’s blowing up culturally in our faces in the form of behaviors on the part of children today that you just didn’t see 50 plus years ago.
Jim: Let’s pull this out a little bit, because I’m thinking of Josh McDowell, who talks about this idea that rules without relationship lead to rebellion. (Laughter) And I like that statement, but you’re saying, don’t go overboard with that. Am I hearing you right?
John R.: Well, I don’t want to, you know, contradict Josh. I think he and I would probably, if we sat down and talked about this, we would probably come to some sort of a—
John F.: Understanding.
John R.: –understanding, yes. I was trying to think of the French word.
Jim: I would know that word.
John R.: Yeah, uh …
John F.: Is that détente?
John R.: Obviously, yeah, Détente, yeah, that’s the word. (Laughter) But you know, I even wrote a newspaper column about this, saying that the alliteration, “rules without relationship leads to rebellion,” and it’s very seductive as an author to think up alliterative catchy kinds of things. And when you think them up, to begin believing that they’re really true. And I think if Josh and I talked, he would agree that you just, you know, you need leadership before you can form a really viable relationship with your children.
Jim: I was just gonna add to that, that it seems to me one of the great difficulties is, for us in the Christian community, it tends to be a switch. We’re usually all this way or all that way. We don’t like to live in ambiguity, in the middle somewhere. It sounds like what you’re saying is, keep leadership at the forefront, but certainly develop a relationship with your children.
John R.: Well, you know, and that’s a good point, Jim, because people misunderstand, that we’ve drifted away from this understanding in our culture. And so, people misunderstand this and they you know, they’ll say, well, are you saying I shouldn’t have fun with my children? I shouldn’t, you know, do recreational things with my kids? I shouldn’t take my son out in the backyard and throw a baseball back and forth?
And I’m saying, no, no, no. You can have fun, but there just needs to be the understanding that you are not seeking your son’s approval, that you are a discipler in this relationship. And I think that, that … these understandings that I talk about used to be implicit to parenting in America. And I think we have fallen away from these understandings and I think we’ve done so largely because of propaganda emanating from my profession and from—
John R.:–propaganda that’s been emanating from my profession for the last 40 years—
Jim: When you look at it, at its core, what does that look like? How have they been so successful in changing the mind of a culture that kinda knew what the nose on their face looked like when it came to discipline? Now it’s, where’s my nose?
John R.: Yeah. Well, they’ve been very successful because of the capital letters after their name and the media rallied behind them, as they were emerging, these voices, these expert parenting voices in the mid-60s, late 60s.
And I happen to believe and I am a psychologist, you know, I hold a license from the North Carolina Psychology Board and I say this with no irony whatsoever, that they regret the day they ever gave me a license. (Laughter) Because I go around the country and I tell what I believe is the truth, which is, my profession has created, caused more problems for the American family and the American child than we even know how to solve.
And it’s time that (Clearing throat) in American parenting, and this is what I attempt to do through what I call my ministry, is to recover the attitude that people brought to the raising of children in the pre-psychological era. And I’m a member of the last generation of American children who were raised by parents who were not thinking psychologically. They weren’t even trying to improve us. And today, it’s child improvement.
What they were doing through the raising of us and the proper discipling of us, was to try and improve America and honor God. And I think that those are the only two legitimate purposes in the raising of children in this country.
Jim: Let’s talk about what you called “old-fashioned discipline.” That’s another way to say it. What does old-fashioned discipline look like?
John R.: Old-fashioned discipline is biblically based. Our first settlers came over, carrying with them a biblical paradigm for living their lives in every area of life. And this biblical paradigm was handed from generation to generation, from the mid-1600s. And to use an analogy from a Fleetwood Mac song—I’m a (Laughter) rock aficionado—we broke the chain. [FYI: Song by Fleetwood Mac, “The Chain”} It was my generation that broke the chain.
It came time for us to take this paradigm as it applied to the raising of children, to honor our mothers and our fathers, by respecting what they had done for us. And instead, we rejected it and it lies in the dust in America today.
And this is my ministry, is to persuade people at an individual level and as a couples’ level, to pick this baton, if you will, to mix my metaphors, to pick it up and to dust it off and to begin using it once again.
It’s interesting. The fifth commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother,” but it also says, “so that you will live long in the land the Lord God has given you.” And to me, what that means is, in part I’m sure, only in part, that by transmitting these fundamental principles and these fundamental traditions from generation to generation, you stabilize culture. And you insure the longevity of culture.
And I think that this was one reason why America as a culture, is in such a state of difficulty and deterioration today. It is because we have abandoned these fundamental principles and traditions as we embraced the myth of post-modernity.
John: John Rosemond is our guest on today’s “Focus on the Family.” This was recorded earlier in Asheville, North Carolina. And John speaks with great wisdom, doesn’t he? He’s a trained psychologist. He’s a parent of two grown children and grandparent to seven grandchildren. And his book is called The Well-Behaved Child. That’s just one of many titles, but that’s the one that relates to the content today, The Well-Behaved Child. We’ll continue the discussion now and I’ll encourage you to get the download or listen to the enter broadcast at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Here again, Jim Daly.
End of Program Note:
Jim: Let’s get to some practical advice for moms and dads. We understand the backdrop. We understand we’re in a difficult culture, that society is not gonna help us the way it did years ago when our kids were outside playing. In fact, now we have to worry about all kinds of things and we don’t want ’em to be at the park at a certain time and we only let ’em go outside for a certain time, whatever it might be.
But let’s talk about how you change a culture, one family at a time. That’s what we’re all trying to do in the Christian community—live it well, let others see it, experience it, so that they might embrace Christ and also live it well. That’s what transforms culture. Talk to us about the parenting approach. What are some of the things that children are doing today that need to be reined in?
John R.: Well, here’s the thing and this is what I tell parents all over the culture, all over the country. You and I’m talking you, you parents, you believe that these problems are emanating from your children and the fact it, that the overwhelming majority of these problems are a function of your parenting style.
And if you can come to grips with that and accept that, it’s very liberating, because when you realize that you have been trying to change the wrong people, and that you’ve been making an effort. It’s very difficult to change someone else, even if the person in question is a 5-year-old child, when you understand that the person that needs to be changed in this equation is you, and that’s the easiest person for you to change, that is very, very liberating.
And so, I say to parents, you know, who tell me, I have an argumentative child, John. I say, no you don’t. You just simply provide explanations. You are justifying the decisions that you are making to your child. You are justifying the instructions and the justification, the explanation provides the child with all he needs to push back against you with.
And so, when you stop giving explanations, when you strip your instructions and you strip your decisions down to a minimum of words, you simply say what you mean, mean what you say, you’re going to find that these arguments stop.
Why do today’s children not hear the words, “Because I said so.” (Laughter) Well, we heard them because our parents did not give us explanations. And so, I’m saying “us,” we Baby Boomers, that forced us to ask, “Why?” or “Why not?” to which we were told, “Because I said so.”
Today’s children don’t hear this and people say, well, people don’t use that expression anymore. I say, no, no, no. They don’t hear it because their parents are explaining themselves up front, which causes the child to push back.
John F.: John, I’m guilty of trying to explain things to my kids, so I don’t like talking to you right now. (Laughter) So, (Laughter I’m–
Jim: Thanks for fessing up, John.
John F.: –feeling pretty guilty about that.
Jim: Get me off the hook.
John F.: But go into why we do that. I mean, I’m thinking that I’m helping my child to understand logic and to see through my lens so they can assume some level of responsibility in this process. Is that so wrong?
John R.: No, no, there are times when, you know, there’s a time for everything. And we should always understand, it just ain’t the whole time. (Laughter)
John F.: Is this an age kind of thing, where when they get older you explain less or more?
John R.: No, I think you do explain more as they become teenagers. That’s what I call “the season of mentoring,” where you begin to really actively, you know, take this worldview that you have hopefully instilled and you begin to help your child refine that worldview during his or her teenage years.
And so, it is essential that you begin explaining your worldview and your worldview is the foundation of all the decisions that you have made as a parent. That’s what anchors your worldview and makes it consistent from decision, decision to decision and instruction to instruction.
Jim: John, let me again bring it to a practical point with our parenting. What kind of behavior does a child that’s in trouble display? And why are they displaying it? Just pick it out of the top of your head there, whatever it might be—anger issues, defiance. What’s the behavior, and then what can a parent do to begin to address those behaviors?
John R.: Well, I think it’s all sorts of behaviors. It can be tantrums at the age of 4. It can be defiance at the age of 4 or 5. It can be social issues that the child is having.
Jim: Let’s take defiance and work that one through. Let’s say you have that 4-, 5-, 6-year-old, who is what many in your profession call “strong-willed.” And you know, they’re showing that and they’re confronting you at every turn. What should a parent do to get ahold of their strong-willed child?
John R.: You know, and I tend to answer questions in terms of anecdotes. A mother came up to me in Easley, South Caroline a few years ago. And she said, “John, I’ve got a 5-year-old who won’t do what he’s told.”
John R.: And this was the actual conversation. I said, “Well, I don’t believe that.” (Laughter) And she said, “What are you talking about?” And I said, ” I’ve never heard of a 5-year-old who wouldn’t do what he was told.” “Well, then you’ve never heard of my son, ’cause he won’t do anything I tell him to do; (Laughter) about anything and ever …”
I said, “No, I’ve never heard of your son, but you’ve told me an awful lot about you without really meaning to.” She said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, you’ve told me you don’t tell you son to do anything, because my experience is, that if children are told, they do what they’re told.” But what today’s parents are doing is not telling; they’re pleading, bargaining, bribing. I’ve got this memorized, so it comes out very smoothly and I’m a public speaker. (Laughter)
Pleading, bargaining, bribing, cajoling, reasoning, explaining, encouraging, suggesting and promising. And when none of that works, then they threaten and then they scream and then they feel bad and then they do something special for the child and make up for their guilt and then they go right back to pleading, bargaining, bribing, you know, and so on and so forth. (Laughter)
And you know, I said to this woman, “When you start telling your child, your child will begin doing what he is told.” It’s a function of your leadership style. And this is not complicated; if you understand it that way, it’s very, very simple. And the problems become clear and the solutions become clear.
We’re hooked on methods. It started with time out. And I think today’s parents are following that theme of very short-sighted in their parenting.
My mother used to tell me what her mission was. (Laughter) John Rosemond, it’s my job to help you learn to stand on your own two feet. And you won’t learn to stand on yours if I let you stand on mine. (Laughter) And I heard it, you know, often, I mean often enough that the words are sort of burned into my memory. And you know, as a kid you hear stuff like that and you go, “What in the world is she talking about?” You know, but you become an adult and you suddenly in retrospect realize the gift that you were given.
Jim: John, let me ask you though, sometimes you’re talking about that cycle. Did you feel guilty about that, John?
John F.: I feel guilty pretty much (Laughter) every time we talk. I’m—
Jim: I’m as guilty as you are.
John F.: –I’m learnin’, Jim.
Jim: Yeah. But you talk about that cycle. How does a parent stop? Cynthia Tobias, who we’ve had on the broadcast many times, you know, she was a school teacher and police officer, a great combo to know authority. And that’s her big thing. She says, when you speak to your children, speak with authority and you’ll begin to see that response. Okay, I’ll do it. But so often today parents are moving right to anger or bursting out against their children, which does great damage to a child.
John R.: One of the problems in American culture today and American parenting culture is what I call “The Good Mommy Club.” And the rules of The Good Mommy Club, the rules of membership in The Good Mommy Club are such that they make inevitable that the female parent is going to experience a tremendous amount of stress in the raising of children and the stress is going to be expressed on some frequency in the form of cerebral meltdowns.
And you know, the rules of The Good Mommy Club, the good mommy pays as much attention to her children as she possibly can. So, my mother expected me to pay attention to her. The good mommy does as much for her children as she possibly can. My mother expected me to do for myself and on a daily basis, was for my benefit dedicating herself to doing as little for me as she possibly could.
And what I am saying to American women all over the country is, look, all of the rules have turned 180 degrees in the last 50 years. Your mother, your grandmother especially, didn’t go through her parenting career screaming on a regular basis at her children. Why is this happening today?
And these are things that are problems that are embedded in our parenting culture today, that you know, I go around the country and I say, “Look, my mission is two-fold. It’s mother liberation from the constraints of The Good Mommy Club and marriage restoration.”
Jim: And both those things happen if you’re parenting well usually.
John R.: I think both of those things happen if you’re following biblical principle in your parenting, which begins with mom and dad being one flesh. That’s where the relationship is. And there’s and in my estimation and I think it’s not arguable, 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 committed, not perfect, but a committed relationship.
Jim: John, we’re wrappin’ up and I want to give hope to that mom and I want to give hope to that mom or that dad or both of them, because they’re dealing with a child (Chuckling) that they have created (Laughter), I guess is the best way to say it. You gotta think about your words as you’re talkin’ to John here. (Laughter) It’s not in their DNA perhaps, but we have created this monster. And what do they do today? How do they stop from thinking that and start readdressing their own parenting styles? What are one or two, three things they could do right now as they hear this program, rather than fight with your child tonight around the supper table, what can they do to turn the tide?
John R.: Well, I am absolutely convinced that we have become a nation of child-focused families. And it is undeniable that in the typical American family, the parents are talking more to the children on a weekly basis than they are talking to one another. They are acting more interested in the children and what they’re doing than they are in what each other have done during the day while they were apart from one another.
They are more considerate, they are more courteous toward the children. They are more careful in how they speak to the children. And it goes on and on and on and on. And all of this is very well-intentioned, but it’s out of whack.
We need and our children need more than anything else I think in America and this will strengthen the family, strengthen childrearing, strengthen children, but perhaps most importantly, it will strengthen America, if we can restore the primacy of the marriage to the America family. You know, I’m a member of the last generation that prefaced things that way. I’m a member of the last generation of American children who grew up in homes where it was clear that your parents were married.
Now they may not have had a wonderful marriage, but they were married. And I think that today’s kids are not seeing marriages. They are seeing two people who are oftentimes not even working together very well, who are totally focused on them.
And I think this. in and of itself, because God wants husband and wife to be one flesh. That’s clear. And when you do not obey God in any area of your life, you are going to bring down problems on your head. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are. Intentions do not determine outcome. And so, the one thing I say to people all over the country is, get yourself back together.
How do you do that? Just ask yourself 10 times a day, what can I do for him or what can I do for her? Because a strong marriage is all about service. It’s all about being a servant.
Jim: Well, and they talk about the idea that if you want to be the best parent you can be, then love your spouse.
John R.: Exactly.
Jim: That’s a full statement.
John R.: Charlie Shedd said that, I believe.
Jim: Well, it’s well-said. It’s so good to have you with us and again, we’ll post some of these thoughts and ideas on the website, so folks can access them. John, it’s great to have you with us here in Asheville, North Carolina.
John R.: It’s been my honor–
Jim: And let me say—
John R.: –Jim and John. Thank you.
Jim: –it’s been great to have all of you with us, as well. God bless you.
John R.: God bless you all.
John F.: You could tell that Jim and I and the audience enjoyed the conversation with psychologist, John Rosemond and we’re very glad to have featured him a number of times over the years on “Focus on the Family.” As I said earlier, this was a recorded conversation. We had an audience in Asheville, North Carolina and it was a very informative and helpful time.
John’s book that really relates to what we’ve talked about today is The Well-Behaved Childand as you can tell, his foundation is the Scripture and he’ll walk you through some very practical steps to parenting effectively in this book. Ask for it when you get in touch with us here at Focus on the Family.
And we’re a not-for-profit ministry. We rely on the generous support of friends like you to keep doing the work that we do of coming alongside parents and encouraging them and offering helpful advice to strengthen marriages. And we need your assistance and so, when you make a gift of any amount today to the ministry, we’ll send John Rosemond’s book to you. It’s our way of saying thanks and also putting a good practical resource into your hands. Donate today when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or atwww.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time. We’ll hear from Mrs. Bo Stern and she’ll share about her husband’s battle with ALS. It’ll inspire you to draw closer to God and it’ll help you and your family thrive.
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