Book Review – The Well-Behaved Child

Any parent of a child older than 12 months old knows that children have a mind of their own and many times, that mind tells them to rebel against all social mores known to the civilized world.  It is the goal of most, if not all parents to be able to train their child in a way that teaches the child obedience, respect, and self-confidence.  Unfortunately, many parents are simply at their wit’s end in knowing how to effectively train their children.

Family psychologist and syndicated columnist John Rosemond all but guarantees phenomenal results in even the most devilish of children in his newest book, The Well-Behaved Child.  His basic premise is that, contrary to modern-day “psychobabble” (he uses this and other similar terms throughout the book), children are, in a word, bad.  And it is solely the parents’ responsibility to “exorcise those demons that can be pried loose and help their child learn to control those that refuse to let go” (p.5).  To this end, Rosemond outlines “seven fundamentals of effective discipline” and “seven discipline tools you can’t do without.”

Rosemond’s fundamentals of effective discipline rest entirely on the assertion that parents have ultimate authority in the family and until they learn to talk (“Alpha Speech”) and act like it, their children simply won’t be bothered to listen or obey.  Parents should use phrases like “Because I said so” frequently and with gusto.  Closely following this is the need to nip disobedience in the bud by requiring first time obedience and administering punishment that more severe than the crime warrants in order to prevent the crime from occurring again.

Some of the discipline tools include “tickets,” “strikes,” or “charts.”  Each of these follow a similar theme in that the child is given a set number of chances in a given time period to obey before punishment is administered.  The first two or three are allowed to pass without punishment, but once those are gone, the child then begins losing privileges for a set period of time.  Punishments include things like taking away toys, video games, and privileges.  The harshest punishment that Rosemond seems to consider is a child being confined to his room for the rest of the day no matter what time the punishment is administered.  At the end of the period, the child will supposedly either be reformed or in need of another hearty dose of one or another of these discipline tools.

Anyone familiar with Rosemond’s column on parenting will know exactly what to expect.  For those unfamiliar with him, Rosemond is his usual sarcastic, sometimes-humorous, caustic, condescending self who insists that previous generations all had enough common sense to know exactly how to deal with these “Demon Spawn[s] of Satan.”  Many of today’s parenting problems would not exist if only today’s parents took advice from their grandparents.  From the start, Rosemond is quite clear that he has no tolerance for modern-day “psychobabble” that labels misbehaving children with some psychological ailment of one stripe or another.  According to Rosemond, most if not all “ailments” are curable by implementing strict discipline.

While Rosemond is careful to insist that his methods are not guaranteed to change a child, it seems like he is only trying to add a disclaimer after repeatedly using language that shows he thinks otherwise.  For example, he states that “one does not accomplish the successful discipline of a child by manipulating the consequences” (p.22), yet every disciplinary tool he recommends incorporates some consequence as a result of a child’s misbehavior.

There are several good things that Rosemond discusses in his book.  I believe he is absolutely correct when he says that children are born bad and that it is the parents’ responsibility to train their children.  This lines up with the Biblical teaching of the depravity of man and the authority of the parents.  First time obedience should indeed be expected of and trained in our children.  Some of the tools and principles he suggests seem to be at least worth trying.

At the same time, there are several issues that I have with what Rosemond has written.  First, Rosemond has an extremely authoritarian view of parenting.  Children are not to be reasoned with or given explanations, but are to simply obey what has been told them.  As Rosemond says, “When a child is old enough to be successfully reasoned with, he is no longer a child.  He’s ready to leave home—and he should” (p.6).  This kind of thinking leaves me scratching my head and wondering why Rosemond would not see the wisdom in giving explanations to their children in order to help the children understand what has been told them.  I’m not talking about arguing with a toddler, but simply explaining things to a child who has developed the ability to understand things.  This kind of discipline seems to only tend toward making a person completely dependent on the parents’ beliefs, only to have the child rebel at the first possible opportunity.

Additionally, the one “tool” I disagree with the most is what Rosemond refers to as “the Doctor.”  Essentially, the parents convince a child that, according to “the Doctor” his or her obedience issues aren’t the child’s fault because the child is simply too tired, too over-stimulated, etc. and simply needs more rest.  The child can’t really argue with the parents since it’s not their call, but rather “the Doctor’s.”  Rosemond attempts to justify this lie by saying it isn’t really a lie since it is in the child’s best interest.  What perplexes me the most about this “tool” is that it seems to contradict what Rosemond has just spent pages trying to establish – that every issue of disobedience IS the child’s problem and that final authority rests on the parents.  Instead, the fictitious “Doctor” is given final authority and the problem is converted into one that the child supposedly has no control over except to rest more.

Lastly, Rosemond constantly refers to research that has been done that proves without a doubt his point of view.  For example, he says “Research into parenting outcomes is clear that the best-behaved children are also the happiest, most well-adjusted children” (p.148).  However, this research is never cited in the endnotes section.  I realize that this isn’t necessarily a professional psychological paper, but if he’s going to have an endnotes section (in which he cites himself in 7 out of 11 endnotes), it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to include some reference as to where this research comes from.  Or maybe Rosemond is simply pulling his own version of “the Doctor” on his readers.

Overall, the Rosemond has some good principles to give concerning parenting and even some helpful tools.  But the reader should take everything with a grain of salt and more than just a little discernment.  3/5 stars

(Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing a review copy of this book.)

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