Books: The New Strong-Willed Child vs. Parenting with Love and Logic

When I was researching different methods of dealing with babies i.e., Cry It Out versus Attachment Parenting, I made an effort to read books from all sides of the sleep training spectrum. For example, see my review of The Baby Whisperer, my review of Sleeping Through The Night, and also Dr. Weiss@ss’s book Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child (which not only made me paranoid but also made me fear that my own child was a freak of nature). I also read BabyWise and The No-Cry Sleep Solution.

I am now reading books on different methods of discipline. Little Sir has started throwing fits when he doesn’t get his way. He’s still too young for us to explain things to him because he can’t understand yet, and the poor guy is also too young to tell us what is truly upsetting him. So really this is just preliminary research on how we would like to approach discipline once he becomes old enough to understand it. I have heard it could be as early as 18 months that he could understand, so it’s coming up…

I have started by read two books which turned out to be on the opposite ends of the discipline spectrum: one by Dr. James Dobson (aka “everyone should spank their children for everything”) and one by Jim and Charles Fay (a father and son team who advocate using reasoning and logic to help train children to make their own positive choices – also called “positive parenting”).

I am going to admit right now that I hated the Dobson book and I had to stop listening to it (it was on audiobook) several times to yell at the author, who wasn’t even there. On the other hand, I loved the Love and Logic book, it made so much sense to me.

The New Strong-Willed Child
by Dr. James Dobson

First of all, I grew up with my parents listening to this guy on the radio. Christian and I were given a devotional by him and his wife that we read once a few years back. I want to like him… However, as an adult I have seen some of the things he has said in public and the policies he has advocated, and I have to say that I do NOT agree with a large percentage of what he or his organization says and does politically. But I know that he is a theologian of sorts, and that my parents read this book when I was growing up, so I was willing to give it a try. Although I had heard that basically he is a huge spanking advocate.

Over and over Dr. Dobson and the guests he interviews throughout this book state, “strong-willed children LOVE conflict, they just thrive on it!”. I have a problem with this, as someone who was labeled a strong-willed child when I was young, and a strong-willed teenager when I was older… and a discipline problem and on and on and on… I did NOT love conflict, and I still do not. I hate it! I am a people pleaser, and I have always been a people pleaser. If I get passionate about things, it is only because I feel threatened in some way or misunderstood, and I have to feel threatened enough to overcome the desire to please. By that point, when I was a child, I would have lost the control needed to articulate what was upsetting me. I have never entered into conflict for “fun” or because I enjoyed it. Ever. Conflict has always given me stress and upset me, my entire life. Therefore, it made me mad when they grouped all children who don’t do exactly what they are told, right away, without any questions, as “behavioral problems”. The assumption leaves no room at all for children who might just be seeking more information or who are wanting to do something a little differently than someone else.

Dobson’s theory is basically that “these kids are just bad because they enjoy conflict and we have to beat that out of them”. Dobson is a Christian, but where is the grace in that approach? I can’t remember Jesus beating the crap out of people when he was on earth because they were doing stupid things. What I do remember is that he went to great lengths to offer logical wisdom and compassion to sinners, and He offers everyone a choice, even when that choice might hurt them. He even called the people he was reasoning with “children”, so it’s not like He was treating them more gently because they were adults and that He might have been more harsh if they were children.

I think the reason Dobson doesn’t see the need to apply grace in his discipline might be because, throughout the book, he doesn’t approach children as small human beings who might have questions and opinions. He approaches them as some kind of moldable clay, an inanimate object that must be conformed into a pleasant image that we enjoy. At one point he even states that an adult should be able to impose his or her will on a child who is doing anything the adult finds “irritating” or inconvenient, and there is no need for that adult to explain why the child should need to obey instantly and without question. He never considers that maybe the reason a child might hesitate to follow a command might be because he or she doesn’t understand the implications, or might want to know the reason behind something. In another section, he specifically mocks the idea of acknowledging a child’s emotions. Anyone who takes a child’s emotions into account is weak and doing so is “unworkable” for a parent, he says. His disregard of the child as an individual bothered me throughout the whole book.

Ideas and direct quotes from this book that made me stop the audiobook and yell at the author:

  • The child is looking for a fight, and the parent would be wise to give him exactly that. (direct quote)
  • It is extremely important for the parent to “win”. (direct quote)
  • If you “lose” a “battle” (explaining reasons or giving choices is “losing”, apparently), your child will lose all respect for you, forever.
  • A child’s bad temperment leads them to oppose anything that anyone tells them to do, and that should be expected and assumed.
  • He says “Harshness, sternness, and gruffness are not the way to treat a child”. BUT spanking is OK. For any reason. At any time. Just don’t be grumpy about it. (WHAT?)
  • By the time an infant is a few days old, he or she is capable of manipulating a parent to do what he or she needs. (That is a QUOTE, again. OMG like this is bad? that my baby is able to get me to feed him when he is helpless and hungry? I guess that means I need to spank him! I nearly peed myself when I read this)
  • He recommends physical punishment as early as 15 months, and states in the same chapter that there is no need for a parent to explain why they are giving a command, using physical enforcement should BE the explanation.
  • He blames all the issues of teenage angst on MTV. “It is determined to send your kids to hell” (that is a QUOTE)

Overall, the idea of Dobson’s disciplinary approach is that respect must be FORCED into a child by a parent who 1) imposes his or her will onto the child without any explanation, and 2) if that does not work immediately, uses physical punishment. For Dobson, respect is forced, not earned.

Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood: Practical Parenting from Birth to Six Years
by Jim Fay, Charles Fay

I felt a lot better about this book. Jim and Charles Fay talk a lot about how parents can provide children with small choices in things that don’t actually matter (“would you like to wear the blue shoes or the red shoes?”) and that are structured so that either choice is acceptable to the parent (“would you like to put on your coat now, or take it with us and put it on later” – not giving in to a child who doesn’t want to put on the coat, but realizing that it really isn’t necessary to put on the coat NOW, giving the child the opportunity to realize that he/she is cold later and then decide on their own that they want the coat, which we brought with us, for that reason).

In the Strong-Willed Child book, Dobson actually attacks this method of parenting by saying it is “wimp parenting”. He bases that statement on the assumption that the child will be given a choice in every situation and that the parent will be giving up all his or her authority forever, dooming everyone to a life of children leading the parents. However, if he had read this particular book he would have seen that this book does not advocate giving choices in every situation. The idea is that you, the parent, decide in which situations you will enforce authority and when you can be flexible in order to use the situation for learning. When it comes to a situation that is not negotiable, such as “stay out of the street”, the idea is that you will remind the child that he or she is given choices in a lot of other things but in this area, they are not given a choice – instead, the parent is “cashing in” on the relational trust that previous choices have built. Of course, there are going to be situations when the child still doesn’t agree and disobeys, and that’s probably where alternative forms of discipline come in. This book advocates a natural consequence related to the disobedience, such as not being able to go outside if you won’t stay out of the street, rather than spanking.

To me, it seems that this is a very involved and strong version of parenting because it puts the parent in the same situation as a manager at work – the parent is constantly evaluating what is happening and deciding whether this situation can be “delegated” to let the child have a fun choice or a learning opportunity, or if it is situation where the parent must be firm.

The essence of this approach is that you will sometimes allow a child to suffer the natural consequences of bad choices in situations where the choices aren’t really that important, so that you foster the ability for the child to think ahead and make better choices in the future. Also, that disciplinary action can be related to the actual disobedience to help the child learn a lesson. I think that is the issue I have with spanking – I don’t have a problem with spanking per se (I was spanked) – but that I could see when it might be difficult for a child to connect the spanking with what they did that was wrong. Spanking might indeed have it’s place, but I don’t think it is the answer to every single time a child does something wrong. The punishment should fit the crime, if that makes sense. Which is what I liked about what this book is suggesting.

Another reason I like this book’s approach is because it helps a parent practice being less controlling in the smaller things, within reasonable guidelines. I have issues with wanting to control too many things, and I think it would be helpful for me to step back and think, “is this really worth a battle to enforce my will on my child, or could I let go of some control and allow them to choose, and therefore provide them with a lesson they can learn from?”.

Overall, the idea of the Fray’s book is that the parent earns the respect of the child through teaching and communication, not by force.


As we did with the baby and sleep-training books, I am sure we will take something from each book we read and use a little bit of it, and a little bit of things we find elsewhere. Those are my thoughts on the books we’ve read so far. Any other suggestions for books?