QUESTION: All right, so my kid feels disrespected and hostile. I still have to impose some limits and discipline on him, don’t I?

DR. DOBSON: Yes, but it is possible to lead teenagers without insulting and antagonizing them unnecessarily. I learned this lesson when I was a junior high school teacher. It became clear to me very early that I could impose all manner of discipline and strict behavioural requirements, provided I treat each young person with genuine dignity and respect.

I earned their friendship before and after school, during lunch and through classroom encounters. I was tough, especially when challenged, but never discourteous, mean or insulting. I defended the underdog and tenaciously tried to build each child’s confidence and self-respect.

However, I never compromised my standards of deportment. Students entered my classroom without talking each day. They did not chew gum, behave disrespectfully, curse or stab one another with ball point pens. I was clearly the captain of the ship, and I directed it with military zeal.

The result of this combination of kindness and firm discipline stands as one of the most pleasant memories of my professional life. I loved my students, and I had every reason to believe that I was loved in return. I actually missed them on weekends (a fact my wife never quite understood).

At the end of my final year when I was packing my books and saying goodbye, 25 or 30 teary-eyed kids hung around my gloomy room for several hours and finally stood sobbing in the parking lot as I drove away. And yes, I shed a few tears of my own that day.

(Please forgive this self-congratulatory paragraph. I haven’t bothered to tell you about my failures, which are far less interesting).

Question: My 4-year-old frequently comes running home in tears because she has been hit by one of her little friends. I have taught her that it is not right to hit others, but now they are making life miserable for her. What should I tell her about defending herself?

DR. DOBSON: When youngsters play together, they each want to have the best toys and determine the ground rules to their advantage. If they find they can predominate by simply flinging a well-aimed fist at the nose of their playmate, someone is likely to get hurt.

I’m sure there are people who disagree with me on this issue, but I believe you should teach your child to defend himself or herself when attacked. Later, they can be taught to “turn the other cheek,” which even mature adults find difficult to implement.

I recently consulted with a mother who was worried about her small daughter’s inability to protect herself from aggression. There was one child in the neighbourhood who would crack 3-year-old Ann in the face at the slightest provocation. This little bully, named Joan, was very small and feminine, but she never felt the sting of retaliation, because Ann had been taught not to fight back.

I recommended that Ann’s mother tell her to return Joan’s attack if Joan hit first. Several days later, the mother heard a loud altercation outside, followed by a brief scuffle. Then Joan began crying and went home.

Ann walked into the house with her hands in her pockets, and casually explained, “Joan socked me, so I had to help her remember not to hit me again.” She and Joan have played much more peacefully since that time.

Generally speaking, a parent should emphasize the foolishness of fighting. But to force a child to stand passively while being clobbered is to leave him at the mercy of his cold-blooded peers.