QUESTION: I get very upset because my 2-year-old boy will not sit still and be quiet in church. He knows he's not supposed to be noisy, but he hits his toys on the pew and sometimes talks out loud. Should I reprimand him for being disruptive?
DR. DOBSON: With all respect, your question reveals a rather poor understanding of the nature of toddlers. Most 2-year-olds -- those who are normally active -- can no more fold their hands in church and listen to a sermon intended for adults than they could swim the Atlantic Ocean. They squirm and churn and burn because they must. You just can't hold a toddler down. All their waking hours are spent in activity, and that's normal for this stage of development.
So I do not recommend that your child be punished for this behavior. I think he should be left in the church nursery where he can shake the foundations without disturbing the worship service. If there is no nursery, I suggest, if it is possible from a financial point of view, that he be left at home with a sitter until he is at least 3 years old.
QUESTION: At what age should discipline begin?
DR. DOBSON: There should be no physical punishment for a child younger than 15 to 18 months, regardless of the circumstance. An infant is incapable of comprehending his or her "offense" or associating it with the resulting consequences.
Some parents do not agree and find themselves "swatting" a baby for wiggling while being diapered or for crying in the midnight hours.
This is a terrible mistake. Other parents will shake a child violently when they are frustrated or irritated by incessant crying. Let me warn those mothers and fathers of the dangers of that punishing response. Shaking an infant can cause serious neurological damage as the brain is slammed against the skull. Do not risk any kind of injury with a baby!
Especially during the first year, a youngster needs to be held, loved and calmed by a soothing human voice. He should be fed when hungry and kept clean, dry and warm. The foundation for emotional and physical health is laid during this six-month period, which should be characterized by security, affection and warmth.
QUESTION: My children are still in elementary school, but I want to avoid adolescent rebellion in the future if I can. What can you tell me to help me get ready for this scary time?
DR. DOBSON: I can understand why you look toward the adolescent years with some apprehension. This is a tough time to raise kids. Many youngsters sail right through that period with no unusual stresses and problems, but others get caught in a pattern of rebellion that disrupts families and scares their moms and dads to death.
I've spent several decades trying to understand that phenomenon and how to prevent it. The encouraging thing is that the most rebellious teens usually grow up to be responsible and stable adults who can't remember why they were so angry in their earlier days.
I once devoted a radio program to a panel of formerly rebellious teens that included three successful ministers, the Rev. Raul Ries, Pastor Mike MacIntosh, and the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of Dr. Billy and Ruth Graham. Each of them had been difficult adolescents who gave their parents fits. With the exception of Raul, who had been abused at home, the other two couldn't recall what motivated their misbehavior or why they didn't just go along to get along.
That is often the way with adolescence. It's like a tornado that drops unexpectedly out of a dark sky, tyrannizes a family, shakes up the community and then blows on by. Then the sun comes out and spreads its warmth again.
Even though the teen years can be challenging, they're also filled with excitement and growth. Rather than fearing that experience, I think you ought to anticipate it as a dynamic time when your kids transition from childhood to full-fledged adulthood.
Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO. 80903; or www.family.org.