My little girl, Tara, is sometimes sugar-sweet and other times she is unbearably irritating. How can I get her out of a bad mood when she has not really done anything to deserve punishment?
I would suggest that you take her in your arms and talk to her in this manner:
"I don't know whether you've noticed it or not, Tara, but you have two personalities. A personality is a way of acting and talking and behaving. One of your personalities is sweet and loving. No one could possibly be more lovable and happy when this personality is in control. It likes to work and looks for ways to make the rest of the family happy.
"But all you have to do is press a little red button, 'ding,' and out comes another personality. It is cranky and noisy and silly. It wants to fight with your brother and disobey your mom. It gets up grouchy in the morning and complains all day.
"Now Tara, I know that you can press the button for the neat personality or you can call up the unpleasant one. Sometimes you need help to make you want to press the right button. That's where I come in. If you keep on pressing the wrong button, like you have been today, then I'm going to make you uncomfortable one way or the other. I'm tired of the cranky character, and I want to see the grinny one. Can we make a deal?"
When discipline becomes a game, as in a conversation such as this, then you've achieved your purpose without conflict and animosity.
Many of our friends have begun to home-school their children with seemingly positive results. My wife and I are considering this possibility as well, but aren't quite sure. What are your views on this educational option? What would you do in my shoes?
This is a subject on which my mind has changed dramatically over the years. There was a time when I subscribed wholeheartedly to the notion that early formal childhood education was vital to the child's intellectual well-being. That was widely believed in the '60s and '70s. I no longer accept that idea and favor keeping children with their parents for a longer time.
Dr. Raymond Moore, author of "School Can Wait" and an early leader of the home-schooling movement, had a great influence on me in this regard. The research now validates the wisdom of keeping boys and girls in a protected environment until they have achieved a greater degree of maturity.
Not only do they benefit emotionally from that delay, but they typically make better progress academically.
That's why home-schooled individuals often gain entrance to the most prestigious universities and colleges in the country. What their parents can teach young children in informal one-on-one interactions surpasses what their little minds can absorb sitting among 25 age mates in a classroom.
You asked what I would do in your shoes? If Shirley and I were raising our children again, we would home-school them at least for the first few years.
Would you speak to the impact of what has been called "the absentee father" especially during the tougher years of adolescence?
It is stating the obvious, I suppose, to say that fathers are desperately needed at home during the teen years. In their absence, mothers are left to handle disciplinary problems alone.
This is occurring in millions of families headed by single mothers today, and heaven only knows how difficult their task has become. Not only are they doing a job that should have been shouldered by two; they must also deal with behavioral problems that fathers are more ideally suited to handle. It is generally understood that a man's larger size, deeper voice and masculine demeanor make it easier for him to deal with defiance in the younger generation.
Many mothers raise their teen-agers alone and do the job with excellence, but it is a challenging assignment.
Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903; or www.family.org.