This is a book about children and those who love them. The first edition was
written in the early 1970s when I was a professor of pediatrics at the
University of Southern California School of Medicine. Our own children were
still pre-schoolers, which made it risky to offer advice about parenting
techniques. Thats like a coach bragging in the first quarter about how he
expects to win the game. Nevertheless, I had seen enough academically and
professionally to have developed some firm convictions about how children should
be raised and what they needed from their parents.
More than twenty years and 2 million copies of Dare to Discipline have
come and gone since I first sat down to write. That passage of time has
broadened my horizon and, hopefully, sharpened my vision. Ive worked with
thousands of families and Ive considered the child-rearing views of many
authorities and colleagues. My kids have paddled through adolescence and have
established homes of their own. Thus, it is a special privilege for me to roll
back the clock now and revisit the themes with which I first grappled so many
One might expect my views of child development and parenting to have evolved
significantly within the intervening years. Such is not the case. Admittedly,
the social backdrop for the original Dare to Discipline has changed
dramatically, which is why this book needed to be revised and expanded. The
student revolution that raged through the late sixties and early seventies has
subsided. Woodstock and the Viet Nam War are distant memories, and university
campuses are again quieter and less rebellious. But children havent changed,
nor will they ever. Im even more convinced now that the principles of good
parenting are eternal, having originated with the Creator of families. The
inspired concepts in Scripture have been handed down generation after generation
and are just as valid for the twenty-first century as they were for our
ancestors. Unfortunately, many of todays parents have never heard those
time-honored ideas and have no clue about what theyre trying to accomplish at home.
Ill never forget a mother in that predicament who asked for my help in handling
her defiant three-year-old daughter, Sandy. She realized that her tiny little
girl had hopelessly beaten her in a contest of wills, and the child had become a
tyrant and a dictator. On the afternoon prior to our conversation, an incident
occurred which was typical of Sandys way of doing business. The mother (Ill
call her Mrs. Nichols) put the youngster down for a nap, but knew it was
unlikely she would stay in bed. Sandy was not accustomed to doing anything she
didnt fancy, and naptime was not on her list of fun things to do in the
On this occasion, however, the child was more interested in antagonizing her mom
than in merely having her own way. Sandy began to scream. She yelled loudly
enough to upset the whole neighborhood, fraying Mrs. Nichols jangled nerves.
Then she tearfully demanded various things, including a glass of water.
At first Mrs. Nichols refused to comply with the orders, but she surrendered
when Sandys screaming again reached a peak of intensity. As the glass of water
was delivered, the mischievous child pushed it aside, refusing to drink because
her mother had not brought it soon enough. Mrs. Nichols stood offering the water
for a few minutes, then said she would take it back to the kitchen if Sandy did
not drink by the time she counted to five.
Sandy set her jaw and waited through the count: three . . . four
. . . five! As Mrs. Nichols grasped the glass and walked toward the
kitchen, the child screamed for the water. Sandy dangled her harassed mom back
and forth like a yo-yo until she tired of the sport.
Mrs. Nichols and her little daughter are among the many casualties of an
unworkable, illogical philosophy of child management which has long dominated
the literature on this subject. This mother had read that a child will
eventually respond to reason and forbearance, ruling out the need for firm
leadership. She had been told to encourage the childs rebellion because it
offered a valuable release of hostility. She attempted to implement the
recommendations of the experts who suggested that she verbalize the childs
feelings in a moment of conflict: You want the water but youre angry because I
brought it too late . . . You dont want me to take the water back
to the kitchen . . . You dont like me because I make you take
naps. She had also been taught that conflicts between parent and child were to
be perceived as misunderstandings or differences in viewpoint.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Nichols and her advisors were wrong! She and her child were
involved in no simple difference of opinion: she was being challenged, mocked,
and defied by her daughter. No heart-to-heart talk would resolve this nose-to-nose
confrontation, because the real issue was totally unrelated to water or the
nap or other aspects of the particular circumstances. The actual meaning behind
this conflict and a hundred others was simply this: Sandy was brazenly rejecting
the authority of her mother. The way Mrs. Nichols handled these confrontations
would determine the nature of their future relationship, especially during the
Much has been written about the dangers of harsh, oppressive, unloving
discipline; these warnings are valid and should be heeded. However, the
consequences of oppressive discipline have been cited as justification for the
abdication of leadership. That is foolish. There are times when a strong-willed
child will clench his little fists and dare his parents to accept his
challenges. He is not motivated by frustration or inner hostility, as it is
often supposed. He merely wants to know where the boundaries lie and whos
available to enforce them.
Many well-meaning specialists have waved the banner of tolerance, but offered no
solution for defiance. They have stressed the importance of parental
understanding of the child, and I concur. But we need to teach children that
they have a few things to learn about their parents, too!
Mrs. Nichols and all her contemporaries need to know how to set limits, and what
to do when defiant behavior occurs. This disciplinary activity must take place
within the framework of love and affection, which is often difficult for parents
who view these roles as contradictory. Dare to Discipline is addressed,
in part, to this vital aspect of raising healthy, respectful, happy children.
The term discipline is not limited to the context of confrontation, and
neither is this book. Children also need to be taught self-discipline
and responsible behavior. They need assistance in learning how to handle the
challenges and obligations of living. They must learn the art of self-control.
They should be equipped with the personal strength needed to meet the demands
imposed on them by their school, peer group, and later adult responsibilities.
There are those who believe these characteristics cannot be taughtthat the best
we can do is send children down the path of least resistance, sweeping aside the
hurdles during their formative years. The advocates of this laissez-faire
philosophy would recommend that youngsters be allowed to fail in school if they
choose . . . or maintain their bedrooms like proverbial pigpens
. . . or let their puppies go hungry.
I reject this notion and have accumulated considerable evidence to refute it.
Children thrive best in an atmosphere of genuine love, undergirded by
reasonable, consistent discipline. In a day of widespread drug usage,
immorality, sexually transmitted diseases, vandalism, and violence, we must not
depend on hope and luck to fashion the critical attitudes we value in our
children. Permissiveness has not simply failed as an approach to child rearing.
Its been a disaster for those who have tried it.
When properly applied, loving discipline works! It stimulates tender affection,
made possible by mutual respect between a parent and a child. It bridges
the gap which otherwise separates family members who should love and trust each
other. It allows the God of our ancestors to be introduced to our beloved
children. It permits teachers to do the kind of job in classrooms for which they
are commissioned. It encourages a child to respect other people and live as a
responsible, constructive citizen.
As might be expected, there is a price tag on these benefits: they require
courage, consistency, conviction, diligence, and enthusiastic effort. In short,
one must dare to discipline in an environment of unmitigated love. Well
discuss the methods by which that can be accomplished in subsequent chapters.