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To prevent mental blocks, try to increase your child's self-esteem

June 06, 1997

Dr. James Dobson

Question: What can I do to help my 12-year-old son recite a poem at a school function?

Dr. Dobson: Actually, it is not unusual for a 12-year-old to "choke" in front of a crowd. I once stood before 300 fellow teenagers with my words stuck in my throat and my mind totally out to lunch.

As your child matures, he probably will overcome the problem, if he can experience a few successes to build his confidence.

Anything that raises self-esteem will reduce the frequency of mental blocking for children and adults alike.

Question: My wife and I have a strong-willed child who is incredibly difficult to handle. I honestly believe we are doing our job about as well as any parents would do, yet she still breaks the rules and challenges our authority. I guess I need some encouragement. First, tell me if an especially strong-willed child can be made to smile and give and work and cooperate. If so, how is that accomplished? And secondly, what is my daughter's future? I see trouble ahead, but I don't know if that gloomy forecast is justified.

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Dr. Dobson: There is no question about it: A willful child such as yours can be difficult to control even when her parents handle her with great skill and dedication. It may take several years to bring her to a point of relative obedience and cooperation within the family unit.

While this training program is in progress, it is important not to panic. Don't try to complete the transformation overnight.

Treat your child with sincere love and dignity, but require her to follow your leadership. Choose carefully the matters that are worthy of confrontation, then accept her challenge on those issues and win decisively. Reward every positive, cooperative gesture she makes by offering your attention, affection and verbal praise.

Concerning the second half of your question, I must admit that your daughter, if not properly disciplined, would be in a "high risk" category for antisocial behavior later in life. Such a child is more likely to challenge her teachers in school, question the values she has been taught and shake her fist in the faces of those who would lead her. I believe that youngster is more inclined toward sexual promiscuity, drug abuse and academic difficulties.

This is not an inevitable prediction because the complexities of human personality make it impossible to forecast behavior with complete accuracy.

On the other hand, the dangers I have described are can be minimized by parents who actively seek to shape the will of the child during the early years. That's why the future of your daughter is not a negative one.

It is my belief that a strong-willed child like yours typically possesses more character and has greater potential for a productive life than her compliant counterpart.

Dr. Dobson is a psychologist, author and president of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home. Write to him in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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