Q. We recently moved to Virginia from another state and are having a problem.

My daughter is a high-school sophomore and is taking her first year of physical education, which she hates. To her horror, her adviser scratched chemistry from her schedule next year and replaced it with PE because the state requires two years of gym to graduate. My daughter considers this a punishment for transferring from another school and absolutely refuses to take it.

I made what seemed like a reasonable compromise--that the school give her a credit in PE for the strenuous dance class she took for a semester last year. Then she would have one semester to make up, which she might be persuaded to do in summer school. The guidance counselor made a vague promise to "look into it," but nothing came of it.

I find it hard to think of arguments to persuade my daughter to take PE; certainly her academic education won't suffer if she doesn't. She says she would rather not graduate than take another year of it, and yet she wants to go to college.

A. Somehow parents are conditioned to think that the law is more important than the child. That isn't so. In a conflict with the authorities, it's the child who matters most.

Even if she had committed a crime, your daughter needs to know you're on her side--and if it's a crime to hate high-school gym, it certainly is a common one.

However, when the dislike is this intense, it usually is inspired by more than calisthenics or volley ball. It may be that your daughter feels awkward; that she has been teased by the teacher or other students; that her body has developed more--or less--than others and she's embarrassed to change in front of her classmates, or that perhaps someone made a homosexual pass at her or a suggestive gesture and she's afraid you'd make a scene if you knew.

Your daughter not only needs to know that you will keep her confidence but that you will defend her whether she wants to talk about the problem or not. It's a parent's job to protect her child.

Don't bother with the guidance counselor. If he didn't take her needs seriously before, nor pursue the underlying reasons for her horror of gym, you will want to talk with someone more understanding and more responsible. Ask to see the principal or whomever you think is the most empathic person on the school staff, preferably a woman, who might be more familiar with the problem and embarrass your child less.

Your daughter not only should be at this conference but she should have the chance to make her case for herself, in as measured a way as possible. You are with her to present a united front; to hold her hand (literally) and to speak for her when she gets shaky, just as she will step in to correct any misperceptions you might have. And if that doesn't work, you would be wise to talk with someone in the superintendent's office or a member of the board.

Your suggestion that the school might accept the earlier dance class for a semester's credit is good; many schools make this exception.

You also should insist that your daughter take chemistry next year and postpone her other year of PE until she's a senior. By then the underlying problem may have disappeared; the school may have okayed dance or swim classes to replace the classic PE course, or she may have transferred to another school that does. This is the old "We'll see" gambit you used when she was young, and you did it because it worked so well. Many crises don't develop simply because they've been postponed.

In any case, she will be a year older, and probably will have enough maturity to know that first you buck the law and then you try to change the law. When that doesn't work, you grit your teeth and live with it.

Reader Reponse: I read with great pleasure and amusement about The Happy Wanderer--the 3-year-old who goes off on his own. My son is now 13 and he seems to have been a wanderer since he was born. No matter what precautions I took or in whose trust I placed him, I could expect to lose him once or twice during an outing. When he was little we told him that his wandering upset us because we were afraid of losing him, and that if he realized we weren't around, he should stay where he was until we found him. We had other procedures too, which that child's mother might like to know about.

1. Dead-bolt locks on the doors leading out of the house and out of his reach.

2. A piece of paper in his pocket with his name, our names and a location to find us if we were at an amusement park or a mall.

3. A designated spot at a park in case we got separated, a system we started when he was 5 or 6.

4. Instructions to return to the car or camper if he got lost, which worked when he got a little older, and usually when he ran out of money.