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2009-08-20 digital edition

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2009-08-20 / Church

Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson

Disorganization Makes for Unfocused, Failing Students

Question: Our junior higher is the most disorganized kid I've ever seen. His life is a jumble of forgotten assignments and missed deadlines. What can I do to help him?

Dr. Dobson: You'll have no trouble believing what educational consultant Cheri Fuller considers to be the most common cause of school failure. She says it is not laziness or poor study skills. The primary problem is what you see in your son — massive disorganization. Show me a student's notebook, Fuller says, and I'll tell you whether that individual is a B student or a D student. An achieving student's notebook is arranged neatly with dividers and folders for handouts and assignments. A failing student's notebook is usually a jumbled mess and may not even be used at all.

Some children are naturally sloppy, but most of them can learn to be better organized. Fuller says this skill should be taught in the elementary school years. Once they enter junior high, students may have as many as five teachers, each assigning different textbooks, workbooks, handouts and requirements from various classroom subjects. It is foolish to assume that kids who have never had any organizational training will be able to keep such detail straight and accessible. If we want them to function in this system, we need to give them the tools that are critical to success.

You might consider having your child evaluated to see if he has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or some temperamental characteristic that makes it difficult for him to organize. When you've determined what he is capable of doing, work with an educational consultant or a school psychologist to design a system that will teach him how to live a more structured life.

Question: My six-year-old has suddenly become sassy and disrespectful in her manner at home. She told me to "buzz off" when I asked her to take out the trash, and she calls me names when she gets angry. I feel it is important to permit this emotional outlet, so I haven't tried to suppress it. Do you agree?

Dr. Dobson: I'm afraid I don't. Your daughter is aware of her sudden defiance, and she's waiting to see how far you will let her go. If you don't discourage disrespectful behavior now, you can expect some wild experiences during the adolescent years to come.

With regard to your concern about emotional ventilation, you are right in saying your daughter needs to express her anger. She should be free to say anything to you provided it is said in a respectful manner. It is acceptable to say, "I think you love my brother more than me," or "You weren't fair with me, Mommy."

There is a thin line between what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior at this point. The child's expression of strong frustration, even resentment and anger, should be encouraged if it exists. You certainly don't want her to bottle it inside. On the other hand, you should not permit your daughter to resort to name-calling and open rebellion. "Mom, you hurt my feelings in front of my friends" is an acceptable statement. "You stupid idiot, why didn't you shut up when my friends were here?!" is obviously unacceptable.

If approached rationally, as described in the first statement, it would be wise for the mother to sit down and try to understand the child's viewpoint. She should be big enough to apologize to the child if she was wrong. If she feels she was right, however, she should calmly explain why she reacted as she did and tell the child how he or she can avoid a collision next time. It is possible to ventilate feelings without sacrificing parental respect, and the child should be taught how to do it. This communicative tool will be very useful later in life, especially in a possible future marriage.

Dr. Dobson is founder and Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80995

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