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Whodunit?!

Whodunit?!

Do you really need to know?

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Do all questions need to be asked? Do parents really need to know all the information all the time?

Doors left open, milk left out on the counter, and spilled Lego pieces are all frustrating inconveniences that parents have to deal with. No one likes to enter a recently cleaned room only to discover that a little tornado has efficiently left his mark. But is it Do parents really need to know all the information all the time?worth it to assign blame? When there is more than one child who is potentially involved with the “crime,” is it worth it to ask who did it? Let’s face it, it doesn’t really matter.

Consider the following scenario: It’s a hectic morning. You dash into the kitchen and see the cereal left out and spilled milk on the counter. In your moment of exasperation, you turn to the children sitting at the table and demand, “Who did this?” The children provide a knee-jerk, wide-eyed response of “Not me!” Now, if all of your children are sitting at the table, then you know that one of them did it.

As the parent, you now have a different problem. You not only have the mess left in the kitchen, but the issue of the fib as well. Verbally attacking the children resulted in their fear, embarrassment, and subsequent response. The fib can’t be ignored, but you should realize that with this line of questioning you have backed yourself into a corner by changing the issue from the breakfast mess to figuring out whodunit.

At this point, whatever message you wanted to give across to your children about neatness and responsibility is now lost somewhere in the depths of the intent to assign blame. Children are much more likely to tune out a lecture that sounds like a verbal attack. The situation could have been better handled if you had just walked into the room and had either: 1) randomly chosen a child to put everything away; or 2) taken care of it yourself. The axiom “actions speak louder than words” is so true in parenting.

While we Children are much more likely to tune out a lecture that sounds like a verbal attack.need to keep in mind the mitzvah of tochachah, “rebuke” (helping someone improve), we also have a commandment to not embarrass anyone. While we may pride ourselves on being careful with this mitzvah with neighbors, friends and coworkers, I believe that this is paramount when it comes to childrearing. Take the milk spill, for example. If it was the oldest child, he or she may be quite embarrassed at the mistake. What if it was one of your children who tends to be a bit clumsy: is it really necessary to cause potential teasing from other siblings? By just assigning one child to help, or taking care of it ourselves, we are showing our children that when one encounters a problem, it’s more important to just get it taken care of.

Think of what your ultimate goal is: the milk cleaned up, the toy put away or the door closed. As you keep that ultimate goal in mind, you can forget about the culprit and work on getting the task done. Everyone will be happier for it.

Beryl Tritel, MSW, is a therapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ramat Bet Shemesh. She has been living in Israel for over 10 years with her husband and their 5 kids. She also offers Skype sessions. She can be reached at BerylTritel.com.
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Alan S. Long Island December 15, 2013

As the (proverbial) milk is already spilled, the true goal of these situations should be one of learning. As Susan and Ilana commented, the parent can simply tell the group that one or more or all of the group must simply clean up the mess. If the parent needs to leave the room to make the situation more comfortable, so be it.
The learning part is the goal of #1 -- trying to be extra careful when doing an activity that can make a big mess, such as pouring milk. Of course, accidents happen to everyone regardless of how careful one is. And #2, just take responsibility and clean up. Reply

Susan December 11, 2013

Group discipline? I was told that my great-grandmother, who lived in a Russian shtetl with her family, had a great way of making sure kids got their chores done. (She had 8 kids). When someone transgressed around the house she'd line all the kids up, explain the situation, tell them how she wanted it fixed and that all of them were responsible for getting it done. In this way no single child was embarrassed or singled out and the kids learned to discipline themselves! Reply

Ilana Jerusalem December 11, 2013

Alternate Solution What about saying "I don't need know who spilled the milk, but please clean it up before I come back in 2 minutes" and go into a different room for 2 minutes. Is that a good way to deal with the situation? Reply

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