- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2007

I am moved occasionally to bestow Rosemond’s Awfully Ludicrous Parenting Honor — my uncoveted RALPH award — upon some hapless person or entity who has done something truly nonsensical concerning children. As in the present case, potential recipients are often nominated by readers.

In its August 2007 issue, Parents Magazine spoke out against the practice of labeling children (Page 127). I am not generally a fan of grouping children in categories according to intellectual or behavioral characteristics, but the editors of Parents Magazine apparently feel that children should never be described by adjectives that carry even the slightest negative connotation.

Referring to words like “shy” and “fussy,” Parents Magazineproposes substitute labels that can “go a long way toward making your child feel that he’s great.”

In the first place, I fail to understand why it is necessary, or even desirable, for a child to feel he or she is great. I don’t think I’m great. Most people, if asked, “Do you think you’re great?” would answer that though they might feel physically and emotionally great at that moment, “great” does not apply to their persons. (If you are one of those who feel otherwise, I simply will point out that there are therapists who specialize in helping people rid themselves of delusions and live normal lives.)

As a child, I never felt that I was great, yet I had a happy childhood, and since attaining adulthood, I have managed to live a happy, productive life without feeling likewise. I think I’m typical in that respect, especially in my generation. The advantage of a child feeling that he or she is great is questionable, therefore, but let’s face it: The field of child-rearing advice is replete with banalities that, upon close examination, fail any test of common sense, much less logic.

The authors advocate replacing “shy” with “careful.” That’s fascinating. A friend of mine was painfully shy as a child. When I suggested that he wasn’t really shy — rather, he was careful — he laughed. No, he insisted, the prospect of having to talk to people scared him to death.

Let’s move on to “fussy,” which, the authors contend, “connotes crabbiness and pickiness.” They recommend substituting “selective” because that means the child won’t settle for anything less than the best. The child is insufferable, in other words.

The “stubborn” child is “tenacious.” I don’t think so. Tenacious means determined to try and try and try again until one succeeds. Stubborn means obstinate, immovable. My oldest child was both stubborn and tenacious, but those qualities were not one and the same. His stubbornness was infuriating, but his tenacity was the source of much paternal pride.

Parents Magazineengages in silly wordplay. One cannot change a thorn into a rose by calling it a rose. In like fashion, the authors suggest that a “slowpoke” is actually just being thoughtful. I conclude that they have very little experience with children. In my experience, the slowpoke child is devoting great thought to only one thing: how to avoid doing what he has been told to do.

I have saved the best for last. “A defiant child refuses to do anything that’s asked of him,” the authors say, “while a courageous one sticks up for what he believes in.” I take it this applies to the defiant child’s intractable belief that no authority supersedes his own and no one has a right to tell him what to do.

Going back to that “great” thing, the problem is that fussy, stubborn, defiant children already think they are great. They are anything but charming, and the attributes in question, regardless of what one calls them, are anything but functional. If such children are allowed to wallow in their dysfunction, they stand a strong likelihood of growing up to be malcontents, burdened with the perpetual conviction that life is fair to everyone but them.

The subtext of this harebrained article is that children do not misbehave; their “problems” are merely a matter of mischaracterization by adults who are impatient at best but more likely mean-spirited. The further implication is that the children in question (excluding those who are shy) do not need discipline. They need understanding. Isn’t that sweet?

Being the easily outraged — or should I say principled? — guy that I am (I’m feeling greater already) I feel compelled to dispense a warm, fuzzy RALPH to Parents Magazine. May its editors spend eternity locked in a room with 100 children who think they’re great.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).