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Want Your Kids to Listen? Then Read This

Want Your Kids to Listen? Then Read This


Parents often want to teach their children how to behave: to speak respectfully, clean up after themselves, share toys, get organized, be responsible, take care of their bodies and much, much more. Parents are often so intent on teaching that they overlook a critical aspect of education: the teaching strategy.

For example, some parents will yell, scream and shove their Parents are often so intent on teaching that they overlook the teaching strategy children in order to get them to brush their teeth or stop hurting the baby. The intention is obviously good—children need to learn how to brush their teeth and stop hurting the baby! However, when the lesson is taught via the wrong strategy, an altogether different kind of learning occurs. In this example, the parent is hoping to teach hygiene and interpersonal skills, but actually ends up teaching rudeness, aggression, insensitivity, impulsivity and emotional disregulation. In fact, in most cases, a parent uses the yell-scream-shove strategy precisely because he or she learned it so well from his or her own parents, while his or her own parents were trying to teach something else!

What Children Learn

The lesson here is that children learn what you show them. As it states in Menorat Hamaor:1 “Parents must set a good example for their children. They must be careful not to make any improper remarks in front of them, and certainly not to do anything improper in front of them.” Why? Because children learn from their parents’ example.

Children learn how to argue from a parent who argues with them. They can also learn it from listening to their parents argue with each other. Considering that children are watching their parents for 20 developmental years—a time when their neural wiring is being laid down, creating pathways that will determine their brains’ programming for the rest of their lives—it is understandable that parents need to provide the most appropriate material for imprinting.

Understanding that children learn more from what we do than from what we preach, teach or say, we can appreciate the value of self-improvement. A parent might get further by improving himself than by investing heavily in directing his child. For example, a parent might be very directive, always telling a child to do this or that. The child might learn to be similarly bossy, controlling, anxious and overbearing—a great cost to pay for the child’s cooperation. (Interestingly, more pleasant parents can often gain the cooperation of their children without having to resort to minute-by-minute commands; children want to please a pleasant parent.)

Think of how you’d like your child to turn out. If you are hoping that she’ll be respectful, always use a respectful tone when speaking to her. This means, of course, that you’ll need to be respectful even when you are displeased with her or when you’re frustrated, upset, disappointed or overwhelmed in your own life. If you are hoping that your child will clean up after herself or develop routines for organization and a productive workflow, then consistently do these things yourself. Do you want her to love Judaism? Then be sure to demonstrate your own joy in observance and your own love of G‑d.

Anxious parents often worry that their personal model will not be enough. They are right to a certain extent. Teaching and boundary-setting must also occur sometimes. But the personal model of a warm, loving parent is the most powerful instructor. Children want to be like that parent. Although individual inborn personality traits and genetic qualities ensure that a child will not be a carbon copy of his parents, he will manifest their lessons in his own unique way.

What Children Don’t Learn

There is another reason that self-improvement is so important for parents. Deficiencies in a parent’s behavior leaves gaps in a child’s education. For example, suppose a parent uses the yell-scream-shove method to gain compliance. We’ve already seen what the child does learn from the parent’s behavior. However there is another problem: the child also fails to learn what to do instead. When a child hears parents “fighting”—using bad language, saying hurtful things, slamming doors and so on—she learns the elements of escalation and drama. However, she also fails to learn how one works out differences of opinion, talks about difficult issues or handles herself when feeling criticized. How should that conversation about the expensive car repair have sounded?

The more skilled parents are at communication, the more The more skilled parents are at communication, the more skills their children can learn from themskills their children can learn from them. When parents themselves are lacking self-control, self-awareness, patience, respectful communication skills and other essential relationship skills, their children cannot learn these things from them. Although they may see other healthy models, the parental model is the most potent of all. What one learns from one’s parents is deeply embedded in a child’s conscious and unconscious mind.

To be fair, most young parents—those of the childrearing age—have not finished growing up themselves. Their own parents left gaps in their education. Nonetheless, any improvement they make can positively impact their children at any age, and even if they improve the most when their children are in their 20s (which often happens), children can then learn that growth is possible throughout one’s lifespan, and that people can always change, grow and improve.

This, in fact, is G‑d’s message to us. Even at 80 or 90 years old, we are expected to continue our process of personal evolution, doing teshuvah, repairing ourselves. No one should ever say, “This is the way I am; deal with it!” We are here to grow. And although we may think that we’re here to help our children grow, the truth is that they are here to help us grow.

A classic Jewish text written in the 14th century by Rabbi Yitzchak Abohav.
Sarah Chana Radcliffe is the author of The Fear Fix, Make Yourself at Home and Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice. Sign up for her Daily Parenting Posts.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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TallyK December 2, 2016

Great but incomplete This idea has truth to it, but it needs further development. If we download our parents' behavior and the recommendation of the 80/20 rule as described in the author's book, then we must honestly address any misunderstandings in how we learn the torah narrative. What programming are we downloading from how G-d responds to us and the world? 80/20? 50/50? 20/80? If we fail to come to terms with this, this is a potential obstacle for parents to actually implement that which may be correct in concept. in addition to our parents' gaps, we now have to contend with how our teachers taught us about our heavenly father's parenting gaps. i expect the classic responses defending G-d's gaps but not defending our parents' gaps. Reply

Anonymous Florida July 13, 2016

That is an amazing article. Reply

Anonymous Canada July 12, 2016

What is one to do if I am in counselling to improve our marriage, and my husband leaves me to live with another woman ? It is so difficult to put into practice the good helpful changes I am making for the better for me and my family in the middle of this crisis. I am trying to focus on my daughter and my career/studies and cope with the stress of it all. Reply

Chinenye Nigeria July 10, 2016

Appreciations Keep the good work going. More strength to your spines. Reply

Devorie Nyman London July 6, 2016

Fantastic!!! Reply

Ana Maria Zumaran Peru July 3, 2016

Great advice, full of love and wisdom. Thank you. Miss Chana.

Blessings, Ana Maria Reply

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