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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am the divorced father of two sons, ages 8 and 11. My ex-wife and I are both remarried and I get to see the boys quite often, as their mother and I maintain a fairly civil relationship. The boys live with their mother and her new husband.

Quite often when I call to speak to one (or both) of my sons, I am told they are being punished for some infraction, so they are not allowed to speak to anyone on the phone during this period.

Abby, I contend that I am not just "anyone" -- I am their father.

I do not call often, and I like to keep up with their activities. And if they are having some problem, I would like to speak with them about it. I might add that I have no problem with disciplining the boys. They are normally well-mannered.

I feel that I am being used as part of their punishment, which is unfair and I resent it. Am I wrong? I will abide by whatever you think. -- A LOVING FATHER

DEAR FATHER: I agree with you. Punishing your sons by refusing to allow them to speak to you on the telephone is not only unfair to you and to them, it also may backfire on your ex-wife. Children of divorced parents need access to both parents without intervention from either one of them. And if they are deprived of it, they often end up resentful of the parent who tries to enforce the separation.

DEAR ABBY: This is in response to "Pet Peeved, Martinez, Calif.," who complained because she has five cats and two dogs destroying her home. She works full time, she's pregnant and worried about her baby's safety.

Abby, she's not the victim; she's part of the problem.

I work full time, have three cats, three dogs, four children and a husband. There's romping and chasing around, but I can thankfully say none of them are destroying the house.

I have found that people with unruly pets generally have unruly children. They didn't come that way, but their parents took the shortcut. Training both children and pets takes time, but the benefits are beyond measure.

Before I married, I took my dog to obedience class. The first thing I was told was that it takes patience to teach a new behavior, consistency in what is expected, and most important -- reward the dog with praise, praise, praise for correct behavior. Either ignore the bad behavior or do a quick correction and then stop nagging.

Dog training also taught me how to raise my children. While a child or pet is learning a new behavior or task, we repeat it many times. We never attempt to make corrections when we are stressed or short-tempered. Most children, pets, husbands and wives hear only what they are doing wrong. In our house, if someone makes a mistake, there is a quick correction followed by praise for what they are doing right. No nagging, no reliving it over and over.

It's important, Abby, to save the pets and children that are running wild, not just dispose of the pets and give up on the children. -- PATIENCE, CONSISTENCY AND PRAISE IN MINNEAPOLIS

DEAR PATIENCE: Not all of us are born with the skill to be an effective parent, any more than we are put on earth with an inborn ability to train our pets. That is why classes on these subjects, which are available in almost every community, are so important. Books and videotapes are also available. There is no excuse for not learning the fundamentals. Thank you for sharing your insight.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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