August 31, 2008

Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson

Dr. James Dobson


QUESTION: Schools are asked to accomplish many things on behalf of our kids today. They are even expected to teach them how to have sex without spreading disease. What part of the curriculum would you give the greatest priority?

DR. DOBSON: Schools that try to do everything may wind up doing very little. That's why I believe we should give priority to the academic fundamentals -- what used to be called "readin', writin', and 'rithmetic." Of those three, the most important is basic literacy. An appalling number of students graduating from high school can't even read the employment page of the newspaper or comprehend an elementary book. Every one of those young men and women will suffer years of pain and embarrassment because of our failure. That misery starts at a very young age.

A tenth grade boy was once referred to me because he was dropping out of school. I asked why he was quitting and he said with great passion, "I've been miserable since first grade. I've felt embarrassed and stupid every year. I've had to stand up and read, but I can't even understand a second grade book. You people have had your last laugh at me. I'm getting out." I told him I didn't blame him for the way he felt; his suffering was our responsibility.

Teaching children to read should be "Job One" for educators. Giving boys and girls that basic skill is the foundation on which other learning is built. Unfortunately, millions of young people are still functionally illiterate after completing 12 years of schooling and receiving high school diplomas. There is no excuse for this failure.

Research shows that every student, with very few exceptions, can be taught to read if the task is approached creatively and individually. Admittedly, some can't learn in group settings because their minds wander and they don't ask questions as readily. They require one-on-one instruction from trained reading specialists. It is expensive for schools to support these remedial teachers, but no expenditure would be more helpful. Special techniques, teaching machines, and behavior modification techniques can work in individual cases. Whatever is required, we must provide it.

Furthermore, the sooner this help can be given, the better for the emotional and academic well-being of the child. By the fourth or fifth grades, he or she has already suffered the humiliation of reading failure.

QUESTION: My older child is a great student and earns straight A's year after year. Her younger sister, now in the sixth grade, is completely bored in school and won't even try. The frustrating thing is that the younger girl is probably brighter than her older sister. Why would she refuse to apply her ability like this?

DR. DOBSON: There could be many reasons for her academic disinterest, but let me suggest the most probable explanation. Children will often refuse to compete when they think they are likely to place second instead of first. Therefore, a younger child may avoid challenging an older sibling in his area of greatest strength. If Son Number One is a great athlete, then Son Number Two may be more interested in collecting butterflies. If Daughter Number One is an accomplished pianist, then Daughter Number Two may be a boy-crazy goof-off.

This rule does not always hold true, of course, depending on the child's fear of failure and the way he estimates his chances of successful competition. If his confidence is high, he may blatantly wade into the territory owned by big brother, determined to do even better. However, the more typical response is to seek new areas of compensation which are not yet dominated by a family superstar.

If this explanation fits the behavior of your younger daughter, then it would be wise to accept something less than perfection from her school performance. Every child need not fit the same mold -- nor can we force them to do so.

Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995( Questions and answers are excerpted from "Solid Answers" and "Bringing Up Boys," both published by Tyndale House.

August 24, 2008

Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson

Dr. James Dobson


QUESTION: My teenage son is becoming increasingly difficult to get along with. Isn't there some way to avoid this blackout period and the other stresses associated with the adolescent voyage?

DR. DOBSON: Not with some teenagers, perhaps not with the majority. Tension occurs in the most loving and intelligent of families. Why? Because it is driven by powerful hormonal forces that overtake and possess boys and girls in the early pubescent years. I believe parents and even some behavioral scientists have underestimated the impact of the biochemical changes occurring in puberty. We can see the effect of these hormones on the physical body, but something equally dynamic is occurring in the brain. How else can we explain why a happy, contented, cooperative twelve-year-old suddenly becomes a sullen, angry, depressed thirteen-year-old? Some authorities would contend that social pressure alone accounts for this transformation. I simply don't believe that.

The emotional characteristics of a suddenly rebellious teenager are rather like the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome or severe menopause in women, or perhaps a tumultuous mid-life crisis in men. Obviously, dramatic changes are going on inside! Furthermore, if the upheaval were caused entirely by environmental factors, its onset would not be so predictable in puberty. The emotional changes I have described arrive right on schedule, timed to coincide precisely with the arrival of sexual maturation. Both characteristics, I contend, are driven by a common hormonal assault. Human chemistry apparently goes haywire for a few years, in some more than others, affecting mind as much as body.

QUESTION: I have a two-year-old boy who is as cute as a bug's ear and I love him dearly, but he nearly drives me crazy. He throws the most violent temper tantrums and gets into everything. Why is he like this and are other toddlers so difficult?

DR. DOBSON: Your description of your toddler comes right out of the child development textbooks. That time of life begins with a bang (like the crash of a lamp or a porcelain vase) at about eighteen months of age and runs hot and heavy until about the third birthday. A toddler is the most hard-nosed opponent of law and order, and he honestly believes the universe circles around him. In his cute little way, he is curious and charming and funny and lovable and exciting and selfish and demanding and rebellious and destructive. Comedian Bill Cosby must have had some personal experience with toddlers. He is quoted as saying, "Give me two hundred active two-year-olds and I could conquer the world."

Children between fifteen and thirty-six months of age do not want to be restricted or inhibited in any manner, nor are they inclined to conceal their opinions. Bedtime becomes an exhausting, dreaded ordeal each night. They want to play with everything in reach, particularly fragile and expensive ornaments. They prefer using their pants rather than the potty, and insist on eating with their hands. And most of what goes in their mouths is not food. When they break loose in a store, they run as fast as their little legs will carry them. They pick up the kitty by its ears and then scream bloody-murder when scratched. They want mommy within three feet of them all day, preferably in the role of their full-time playmate. Truly, the toddler is a tiger -- but a precious one.

I hope you won't get too distressed by the frustrations of the toddler years. It is a very brief period of development that will be over before you know it. With all its challenges, it is also a delightful time when your little boy is at his cutest. Approach him with a smile and a hug. But don't fail to establish yourself as the boss during this period. All the years to come will be influenced by the relationship you build during this 18-month window.

Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995( Questions and answers are excerpted from "Solid Answers" and "Bringing Up Boys," both published by Tyndale House.

August 21, 2008

Sylvia Rimm On Raising Kids: Bullying Is Hard To Stop

Sylvia Rimm Q. My son is 14 and going into the eighth grade. He was faced with a lot of bullying issues this past year.

Although the school has a "no tolerance" policy, we find they do not stick to their own policy and rules. If my son reported something, the incident was minimized. It was often "they didn't mean it," or "they were just fooling around; they're friends."

I called the Department of Education, and they said if the school was not following their own rules, I could file a complaint. However, I found that when I called the school, they said, "He bumped into him; he did not hit him," and "Middle school is a difficult time."

We finally told the school that we will go to the police and file charges if the bullying did not stop. I don't understand this, and it's a very stressful environment for my son to learn in. Yes, he does go to a psychologist and also to an advocate for his learning disabilities.

My son says the students quickly know who's "snitching." They chant, "Snitches are bitches, and bitches get stitches." He said students will do and say things in classes or hallways, and teachers won't do anything about it. How is this acceptable? What can he do, and what would you suggest for next year?

A. Bullying is at its worst during the middle school years, but for a school that has a "no tolerance" policy, it's important to communicate about your son's victimization and that shouldn't be considered "snitching." In light of the real violence that has taken place in schools by students who have been bullied, schools recognize the damage that bullying creates.

Schools that have anti-bullying programs are successful in reducing, but not eradicating, bullying. There are two ways to approach your son's problem. Both should take place simultaneously. One is by identifying the leader of the bullying, if there is one, and counseling that leader may help your son and others. The other approach is to teach your son appropriate responses: when to ignore, when to give back a smart response and how to find friends so he can feel supported. It's possible, from your descriptions, that your son is overreacting and reporting minor teasing, but I doubt that. When you meet with the school for your son's Individual Educational Plan (IEP), you can add learning to minimize and cope with bullying to his goals, and this can effectively bring him some support from teachers.

Your role as parent is to remind him that he's a good person and that bullies often have problems of their own and some times end up in jail. You need to keep him busy with extracurricular and family activities. When you take a trip or visit, ask your son to bring a friend along so that he starts to feel especially close to at least a couple of other kids. For more suggestions on bullying, you can read my book "Growing Up Too Fast" (Rodale, 2005).

For free newsletters about bullying or "Growing Up Too Fast," send a large self-addressed, stamped envelope to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094, or visit for more parenting information.

Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

August 16, 2008

Daughter and Deadbeat Dad
John K. Rosemond

Question: My 13-year-old daughter's father is irresponsible, to say the least. In addition to being a lousy co-parent, he frequently cancels visits and is often obviously lying about the reasons. Nonetheless, I've told her never to speak badly of him to or even around other people. There are times when I even end up defending him, sort of. When she questions his love, I tell her that of course he loves her. When he misses a visit, I tell her that if he gave things more thought, he'd do better. I tell her to talk to him about all this stuff and she says she can't. Sometimes her venting is rather sarcastic and ridiculing. I fear her power in relationships with males will suffer from her experience with bio-dad. Should I listen and say nothing or insist she speak respectfully of him if at all?

Answer: First, I caution you against trying to predict the future, especially your daughter's psychological future. Whether her dad straightens out his act or not, her adult relationships with men may be fine. Then again, girls grow up in healthy families with very adequate fathers and for reasons unknown fall into very dysfunctional relationships as adults. Today's parents seem to think that parenting produces the child. The fact is, parenting is an influence on how a child turns out, but it is just one of many influences. That's why some kids from healthy families go astray as adults, and some kids from very unhealthy families do just fine as adults. Keep focused on now -- not the hypothetical later.

You've obviously had numerous conversations with your daughter concerning her father's lack of parental responsibility and her very legitimate feeling that she's been betrayed. I applaud you for doing your best to keep his image as tarnish-free as possible, but she's old enough now to know that you're just saying what you feel you have to say. With the best of intentions, you are unwittingly feeding fuel to the fire of her anger and resentment. So, I think it's time to have what I refer to as the "final conversation."

Sit down with her when the proverbial iron is cold, when the issue of her dad's unreliability is not ablaze, and say words along these lines: "Over the years, you and I have had many, many conversations about your dad's behavior and your feelings about him. It has occurred to me that in the course of all these talks, we have talked about everything concerning your dad that we can possibly talk about. So, I've made an executive decision. I've decided that we are not ever going to talk about your dad again. The only exception would be if he does something he's never done before, like he spell s your name wrong on your birthday card. Otherwise, if you come to me wanting to talk about your dad, and it's same-old same-old, I'm simply going to tell you that we've had that conversation before, and I have nothing new to say. And you're going to have to deal with it, which is what you're eventually going to have to do anyway." And I'd let that be the end of it.

More than anything, your daughter needs to begin moving on. That process will begin with her accepting that her dad is considerably less than what she hoped for, that he probably will never step up to the plate of parenthood in any sort of adequate fashion, and that complaining about him is accomplishing nothing. She needs someone to help her get "unstuck," and you're that person.

Copyright 2008, John K. Rosemond

August 13, 2008

Sylvia Rimm On Raising Kids: More Than A Potty Training Problem

Sylvia Rimm Q. We are at our wits' end as to what to do regarding our son's pooping issues. Our son is 9, and STILL cannot manage to make it to the toilet. His underwear is always dirty with poop. This has been an issue since he was a toddler. These cycles come and go and do not seem to be related to events in his life. The times with and without poop issues are not consistent either, so we never know when an "accident" will happen. When he is having trouble pooping in the toilet we have tried various reward and punishment systems. We have discussed it with numerous pediatricians and all have said it is a behavior issue. I consulted a child psychologist when he was age 6 and was told he would grow out of it. Well, he is 9, and it's still an issue. This is a source of embarrassment for him. When asked why he does it, he replies with "I don't know" or "I was playing" or "I forgot." It seems he is trying to tell us what we want to hear. What more can we do to get this under control? I am so sick and tired of washing poopy underwear and having my kid be the smelly one on the block.

A. Your 9-year-old son has more than a potty training problem. If his pediatrician is still saying it's not physical, you need to try a new child psychologist. Growing out of it may have been an appropriate prediction by the first psychologist when your son was 6, but by age 9, there are likely to be other issues. There may be family dynamics, peer pressure or anxiety issues related to his persistent problem. Certainly no 9-year-old wants to be known for his bad smells.

Bowel movements usually happen very regularly at approximately the same time of day, thus making it easier to teach a child to be sensitive to "forgetting" or "playing." The child psychologist will have to try to get beyond the "I don't know." If your son's on a no-problem cycle, don't even bring the topic up, but if another difficult cycle begins, get in to see a psychologist immediately.

In addition, it would be good to keep a diary to list the foods your son eats daily. Sometimes strange bowel habits are at least temporarily allergy-related. Dairy products and orange juice are occasional problems. Because his problem comes and goes, it is less likely to be anything he eats regularly. Of course, there could also be stressors like tests or sports or peer issues that he doesn't discuss, so add potential activities or problems to your diary of possible causes. Try not to talk about the issue a lot to your son or your attention and concern may cause him to lose confidence in his ability to control his problem.

For free newsletters about raising amazing boys, or about the principles of parenting, send a large self-addressed, stamped envelope to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094, or read "Raising Amazing Boys" at

August 06, 2008

Sylvia Rimm On Raising Kids: Don’t Fight This One

Sylvia Rimm Q. My daughter is a junior and a talented trumpet player. The high school she attends has a big music performance/drama/dinner production. She was told she had to pull all her hair back and put it in a bun because there weren't any girls in bands during the 1930s and '40s (the time frame of the production) and that was why she had to wear her hair that way. I'd like to know if you think I am crazy to fight this. It takes away the girls' femininity and they all look like homely, old men in the huge white tux jackets they have to wear. I am fighting about this for all the girls, not just my daughter. If the singers and dancers and other girls in the performance can wear their hair nicely why can't the girls in the band? What do you think about this issue? Thanks for your comments.

A. Your daughter may be disappointed in her part in this show, but I can assure you there were no girl trumpet players in bands in the '30s and '40s. And if a band let one in as a temporary substitute, she had to wear pants and hide her hair in order not to embarrass the band.

If your daughter were in a play about signing the Declaration of Independence, you would expect her to dress as a man, because women didn’t sign the Declaration of Independence. Times have changed, but this performance is not only a musical performance. It's also a drama and an educational performance; thus, authentic costumes that represent that era are required. There’s much to be learned from this experience. It seems like an excellent opportunity for students, and even their audience, to understand how far women have come and to appreciate an earlier period in history. You should applaud the teachers for their creativity. Perhaps as a final note, as the band does its bows, the girls in the band could let their hair down with a smile and a sign that says "Progress for Women." I do hope the program describes the difference in the times to its audience and that your daughter can celebrate her performance with the entire cast afterward and return to her more feminine attire.

In my research on the childhoods of successful women, women in symphony orchestras described how when they first began playing for orchestras, they had to sit on inside chairs, tie their hair back and wear pants so audiences would not realize that the orchestra had to stoop so low as having to admit women. It wasn’t until blind auditions behind curtains were initiated that women received fair opportunities to play in orchestras. Please share that story with your daughter as well and shout, "Bravo" for women’s progress.

For free newsletters about See Jane Win®, How Jane Won, and See Jane Win® for Girls, send a large self-addressed, stamped envelope to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094, or go to for more information.

Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

August 03, 2008

Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson

Dr. James Dobson


QUESTION: Our school psychologist said she thinks our son is suffering from childhood depression. My goodness! The kid is only nine years old. Is it reasonable that this could be his problem?

DR. DOBSON: We used to believe that depression was exclusively an adult problem, but that understanding is changing. Now we're seeing signs of serious despondency in children as young as five years old.

Symptoms of depression in an elementary school child may include general lethargy, a lack of interest in things that used to excite him or her, sleep disturbances, chewed finger nails, loss of appetite, and violent emotional outbursts. Other common reactions are stomach complaints and low tolerance to frustration of any kind.

If depression is a problem for your child, it is only symptomatic of something else that is bothering him. Help him or her verbalize feelings. Try to anticipate the explanation for sadness and lead the youngster into conversations that provide an opportunity to ventilate. Make yourself available to listen, without judging or belittling the feelings expressed. Simply being understood is soothing for children and adults, alike.

If the symptoms are severe or if they last more than two weeks, I urge you to take the advice of the school psychologist or seek professional help for your son. Prolonged depression can be destructive for human beings of any age and is especially dangerous to children.

QUESTION: As an advocate of spankings as a disciplinary tool, don't you worry about the possibility that you might be contributing to the incidence of child abuse in this country?

DR. DOBSON: Yes, I do worry about that. One of my frustrations in teaching parents has been the difficulty in achieving a balance between permissiveness and oppression. The tendency is to drift toward one extreme or another. Let it never be said that I favor harshness of any kind with children. It can wound the spirit and inflict permanent scars on the psyche.

No subject distresses me more than the phenomenon of child abuse which is so prevalent in North America today. There are millions of families out there in which crimes against children are being committed day after day. It is hard to believe just how cruel some mothers and fathers can be to defenseless, wide-eyed kids who don't understand why they are hated. I remember the terrible father who regularly wrapped his small son's head in the sheet that the boy had wet the night before. Then he crammed the tot upside down into the toilet bowl for punishment. I also think of the disturbed mother who cut out her child's eyes with a razor blade. That little girl will be blind throughout her life, knowing that her own mother deprived her of sight!

Unthinkable acts like these are occurring every day in cities and towns around us. In fact, it is highly probable that a youngster living within a mile or two of your house is experiencing abuse in one manner or another.

Brian G. Fraser, attorney for the National Center for Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, has written: "Child abuse ... once thought to be primarily a problem of the poor and downtrodden ... occurs in every segment of society and may be the country's leading cause of death in children."

Let me say with the strongest emphasis that aggressive, hard-nosed, "Mommie Dearest" kinds of discipline are destructive to kids and must not be tolerated. Given the scope of the tragedy we are facing, the last thing I want to do is to provide a rationalization and justification for it. I don't believe in harsh discipline, even when it is well-intentioned. Children must be given room to breathe and grow and love. But there are also harmful circumstances at the permissive end of the spectrum, and many parents fall into one trap in an earnest attempt to avoid the other.

Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995( Questions and answers are excerpted from "Solid Answers" and "Bringing Up Boys," both published by Tyndale House.

August 02, 2008

John Rosemond

Is it odd for a child to play with a much younger boy?

John Rosemond

Question: My 6th-grade son sometimes plays with a neighbor boy who is nearly four years younger and in the 2nd grade. In past years when they were younger they played almost daily, sometimes along with my 8-year-old daughter. I have been feeling increasingly uneasy about the relationship. Wouldn't it be better for them to play with children who their own ages? Should I step in, or should I let the kids make the decision?

Answer: I don't believe that it is necessarily inappropriate or risky for a preadolescent child to have a play relationship with a child three or four years younger, especially when the friendship is several years in the making. Relationships of this nature should be judged individually, not on the basis of the age difference alone. The likelihood is that these two boys will begin to drift apart over the next few years. In the meantime, I encourage you to be watchful, but to leave well enough alone.

Question: Despite the fact that our 5-year-old daughter has an end of July birthday, my husband and I decided she was ready for kindergarten. The first week went great. She happily skipped to school. By the end of the second week, however, she is crying in the morning, showing much anxiety about school, and insisting that I walk her into her classroom. At her request I am also having lunch with her. At lunch she seems fine, and her teacher says she is doing just fine. How do I handle this morning behavior and should I not promise to come for lunch?

Answer: It would seem that as is the case with most kids who are apprehensive about going to school in the morning, your daughter's anxiety quickly disappears as soon as she is in the classroom. The problem is not school but the transition between home and school. As soon as she's in the security of the classroom, with an adult she trusts, she's fine. In that light, I'd recommend that you arrange to have the teacher meet you at the car and escort your daughter from there. I would predict that within a few weeks your daughter will again be skipping happily into school on her own. As regards lunch, I'd tell her that you and the teacher have decided that you can come one or two days a week, but not every day. Decide what days those will be at the beginning of the week. By the way, I don't think that your daughter's anxiety is indication that you made a mistake sending her to kindergarten this year. The research is clear that late-birthday boys have much more difficulty in school than late-birthday girls

Question: The other day, a large moving van was parked at the entrance to the school my two children attend. The people unloading the van were inmates from the county jail, and the person supervising them was not armed! Am I just being overprotective or am I right to be shocked and concerned?

Answer: First, the statistics indicate that children are more likely to be harmed by someone they know and trust-a kindly neighbor-than a complete stranger. Second, there is no evidence that the average criminal is sent into a frenzy at the sight of young children. Third, the rare person is in jail because of child molestation; most inmates are in the slammer for things like stealing cars or dealing drugs. Fourth, I'd be reasonably certain that your county law enforcement people would have more sense than to put a child molester in close proximity to children. So, yes, I think you're making a mountain out of a molehill. Feel better now?

*About the Author: John Rosemond has written nine best-selling parenting books and is one of America's busiest and most popular speakers, known for his sound advice, humor and easy, relaxed, engaging style. In the past few years, John has appeared on numerous national television programs including 20/20, Good Morning America, The View, Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect, Public Eye, The Today Show, CNN, and CBS Later Today.

Click here to visit Rosemond's Web site,