Thoughts About John Rosemond’s
Old School Approach to Discipline (Short Version)
John Rosemond’s book The New Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy, Children is quite interesting and quite provocative. Rosemond is a psychologist who has been around a while, who says he doesn’t believe in psychology, who has done a lot of work with parents, and who has published numerous other books, including: Teen-Proofing; Because I Said So!; Parent Power: A Common-Sense Approach to Parenting in the 90’s and Beyond; John Rosemond’s New Parent Power; and others.
Rosemond’s Six-Point Pla
Here are the chapter headings of his six-point plan: 1) The Parent-Centered Family; 2) The Voice of Authority; 3) The Roots of Responsibility; 4) The Fruits of Frustration (the child’s frustration–CA); 5) Toys and Play–The Right Stuff; and 6) Television, Computers, and Video Games–More Than Meets the Eye. Point number seven is Love ‘Em Enough to Do the First Six!
He also presents, in an afterword, Rosemond’s Bill of Rights for Children, which are, essentially, that children have the right to be bossed around by their parents.
Old School Is Not Necessarily Bad or Wrong
I have said from the start of my talking and writing about New and Old School parenting that the Old School methods aren’t necessarily bad, but that they are not working so well with many of today’s savvy, autonomous, well-connected, and even defiant children–of all ages. For some of those kids, on the “defiant” end of the “compliant-defiant continuum,” the Old School methods just make things worse.
Positives about the Old School Approach
I actually agree with much of what Rosemond writes. I think there can be lots of positive benefits from Old School parenting methods, especially for more or less compliant kids, and for some resistive toddlers. It’s possible that for most of these children, there are no “right” or “wrong” approaches to parenting, and t hat many of these children will do well with any approach, as long as their parents are consistent and decisive (an idea I agree with Rosemond and countless others on).
Rosemond describes an incident with his own seven-year-old grandson, who refused to eat the spaghetti grandpa had prepared. Rosemond told him in no uncertain terms that spaghetti was what was being served, and he didn’t have to eat it if he didn’t want to, but that nothing else would be prepared for him. Plus, ice cream was coming for dessert, but only for those who ate their whole meal. The grandson ate the spaghetti and announced that he liked it, and would eat it again. Rosemond comments that this is a story about the power of speaking with authority, and telling the child “the way it was, and the way it was going to be.” It was also a story about teaching a child manners and to be thankful for everything we have. “Effective discipline,” he says, “accomplishes something in the short term and the long term, and it’s the long term that truly matters.” (p. 56)
Effective, authoritative speech–what I call “alpha speech”–will take care of many of those misbehaviors, but it will not take care of all of them. Punishment will sometimes be necessary. When it is required, the object should be to instill a permanent memory in the child, a memory that will deter repetitions of the same misbehavior. Unfortunately, the most popular punishment of the postmodern parenting age, the one most recommended by professionals, is the least effective at instilling such memories. In fact, it has caused more problems than it has solved. I’m talking about time-out. (p.57)
What about listening?
I have no problem with any of the ideas in the previous two paragraphs about the grandson and “alpha talk.” What I question is why Rosemond leaves listening out of the formula for effective communication. As a matter of fact, he says very little about listening to children throughout the book, and when he does he takes a position similar to most controlling parents–namely, “I better not listen too much, or I’ll be giving in to my child.” I (CA) value listening to children very highly, and consider it the “magic wand” in parenting.
The “delusion of control”
But mainly, I’d say, Rosemond’s methods operate under the single most common mistake that characterizes the Old School approach to parenting and discipline, and that is the “delusion of control.” By that I mean the idea that parents can–or should–control their children’s behavior, which I consider a “belief falsely held” (Webster’s definition of delusion.)
Rosemond approaches control the way most of the Old Schoolers do: parents need to be in charge, and this means controlling their children’s behavior. For example, he says (p. 85), “When previously inconsistent parents finally take control away from a misbehaving child, that child experiences an immense sense of relief and security. The trick to never having to wrestle control away from a misbehaving child is to expect obedience in the first place.”
Believing parents should be in control of children’s behavior, Rosemond is all for pressuring these children with a power and control approach to parental authority that makes the parent a “benevolent dictator.” He doesn’t have any use at all for the methods and authors I highly respect–for example, Thomas Gordon, and his technique of active listening. On the first page of the chapter on discipline, Rosemond criticizes “postmodern parenting experts,” who, he says, believe the family should be a democracy, and don’t believe that parents should “pull rank” on their children regarding rules, chores, privileges, and so on.
Rather, these authors prescribe compromise, thus maintaining the assumption that in a democratic family no one is more powerful than anyone else. In that regard, they market what is called “the art of active listening,” which essentially prohibits parents from telling children what to do. Instead, parents should listen nonjudgmentally to a child’s point of view, calmly communicate their opinions, and leave it to the child to assume responsibility for his own actions. Sounds good, eh? Unfortunately, the democratic family is a fiction. (p. 47)
Parent as benevolent dictator
In his chapter on discipline (The Voice of Authority), Rosemond touts the value of the parent(s) as “benevolent dictator(s).” The parents are always and clearly in charge. They are the boss. They make the rules. They expect and demand obedience. They enforce the rules through punishment for misbehavior and disobedience. “Because I said so!” is their motto and standard. But their approach is always guided by decisiveness and consistency in a loving, nurturing parent-child relationship.
When parental authority is weak, love becomes indulgent and possessive, overly protective. Similarly, without the tempering effect of love, parental authority becomes harsh, severe. Love provides meaning and a sense of belonging to a child. Love gives a child reason to strive. Authority provides direction to the child’s strivings. Love and authority are not opposite poles, but two sides of the same coin. The clue to proper parenting is to be both authoritatively loving and lovingly authoritative. (p.49)
Decisive and consistent more important than being right
“A child’s sense of security is founded upon parental love and authority, and parents’ indecisiveness causes children to feel insecure. That insecurity is likely to be expressed in the form of behavior problems. Do you see? The more you try to avoid making mistakes that could cause problems, the more problems you cause.”
“Immediately after every visit, we held a transitional conversation with the kids, reminding them of our expectations. If they still had difficulty with self-control, we sent them to their rooms with instructions to remain there until they felt settled. It wasn’t long before we were truly enjoying our visits with the folks, and the kids were making the transition without difficulty.” (p. 117-118)
Two parents admit to being too indecisive and inconsistent with their six-year-old, and ask how he is likely to react if they suddenly transform themselves from being “parent wimps” by becoming benevolent dictators. Rosemond responds by saying that the child won’t like it because he’ll have to give up a certain amount of control within the family.
Unresolved disciplinary issues impede communications and expressions of affection between parent and child, and resolving the issues removes the impediments. It’s impossible for parent and child to have truly good communication with each other until the child completely trusts and feels he can rely upon the parent’s authority…In the long run, the happiest children are obedient children and the happiest parents are benevolent dictators. Obviously, one can’t exist without the other. So, for everyone’s sake, go for it! (p. 118-119)
enhance trust of the parent’s authority through forceful displays of power and control.
In spite of the fact that children will do well under different systems of parenting (as long as the parents are strong, clear, consistent, and decisive), different approaches can have different effects on children, and can address different needs that children have. I think New School approaches are better suited to today’s complex society and to addressing the needs of today’s savvy, autonomous, well-connected, and oftentimes overdefiant kids who often appear to be on a mission to prove to their parents (and teachers) that they cannot–and will not–be controlled.