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Help! I've got kids...

Getting Kids to Help

January 28, 2010

As parents, we are so crammed with our workload around the house, and we may fail to take the time to delegate chores, to teach "helping" skills to our children. We find it easier to do the job ourselves rather than spare the time and energy it takes to teach our children to do it. But if we wait until we're pushed to the wall, i.e. those tense moments before guests are due to arrive, we end up barking out the order and demanding the kids help now.

It is important to teach our children to help and share the workload. It is our job to teach them to be givers. Not only will the child's sense of accomplishment do wonders for their self-image and give them confidence to build even more skills, they will also benefit by learning hakarat hatov, to return kindness. They will learn that they are not the center of the universe, that not everything is due to them, and it'll allow you the opportunity to spend quality time together. By training your kids to help, both parties benefit.

Try to curb perfectionist tendencies and be realistic with expectation… as the well-known adage goes, "Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing." Instead, focus on creating an environment where children are happy to cooperate and ready to help. Try these suggestions from parents and experts to work out a plan.

  • Involve them. If children feel involved, they care enough to want to help you. When we are involved in each other's lives, we become a team and move forward together. They care and respect your need that the home be organized. When they are asked for advice and throw in their two cents, they are self-motivated to take up their own ideas.
  • Start them young. Since young children are not so efficient, parents often tend to discourage them. Though it is never too late to begin teaching children household jobs, it's easiest when you can capitalize on their natural eagerness to imitate you. Keep a schedule. A regular job and a routine time to do chores avoid fresh arguments from arising each time they're asked to help.
  • Request their help rather than demanding by asking, "Who is available to help?" This way they experience the pleasure of giving, instead of feeling forced.
  • Give choices. Choices make most tasks more palatable. You pick one; I'll do the other. Keep choices simple and generally not more than two for very young children.
  • Decide exactly what you want done. Does "take out the trash" refer to every wastebasket in the house or just in the kitchen? Does it include lining the basket with a new bag? Demonstrate what you expect and watch while your child does it the first few times.
  • Shower them with encouragement. Children need lots of positive strokes. Remember that encouraging even their smallest accomplishment will go a long way in helping them hone their skills.
  • Don't take anything for granted. Don't assume a child knows how to do something, even if she watches you all the time. Likewise, don't assume that once you have explained the task the child is able to do it alone. Work nearby so you are available for consultation.
  • Do not redo a child's work. Resist the temptation to smooth out the wrinkles on your child's bed after she made it. They might learn to believe that it doesn't really matter what they do and how they do it. You will end up training them that if they do it wrong, you'll fix it.
  • Teach efficiency, i.e. making one trip to the bedroom carrying four items instead of four trips carrying one item.

Critical Daughter

January 20, 2010

Dear Tzippora,

Sometimes I think my oldest daughter feels her sole purpose in life is to give me a hard time. She is openly critical of me, quick to point out my mistakes, and permanently straddles the fence between outspokenness and downright rudeness. It is hard to live with such a critical presence in the house. She is only ten, and I shudder to think what she will be like as an adolescent. She is not as critical of her father as she is of me. How can I persuade her to let up on me?

Mother of a Critical Daughter

Dear Mother of a Critical Daughter,

It is very unpleasant for anyone to live with a barrage of criticism, and it is especially inappropriate for a child, especially a preadolescent, to be allowed to be so openly critical of a parent.

This pattern was not formed overnight. I wonder why you have allowed her to be so critical of you until now. It is important to ask this question of yourself. Once a particular pattern of interaction becomes established within a family, it takes tremendous patience and persistence to undo it.

Your letter reminds me of an interaction I once witnessed between a woman and her daughter. The woman mistakenly greeted her daughter's friend by the wrong name, whereupon the daughter lashed out at her mother for her mistake. The woman turned to her daughter and very firmly put her in place. She told her "I may be mistaken in this case, but I am still your mother; I expect to be addressed with respect at all times." Her message to her daughter was clear.

I share this story with you because I believe it illustrates the message you must transmit to your own daughter. The message is that "As your mother I do not have to earn your respect by being foolproof. I am allowed to make mistakes, and you are obligated to respect me nonetheless."

Your daughter will initially resist being asked to change her manner of speaking to you. You will need to believe that you are truly entitled to the respect you demand from her in order to persevere in the face of her opposition. Your husband will be a crucial player in breaking this dynamic as well. He should support the new rules, and be ready to enforce consequences for disobedience and chutzpah.

Expect your daughter to be particularly sullen and sulky while she adjusts to your new expectations for her. Expect her to slip back into the old pattern when she is particularly tired, frustrated, or upset. People do not change their habits overnight. However, with time, she will come to understand what is expected of her and begin to express herself more appropriately.

Learning how to express oneself is a valuable life skill, and one that your daughter will certainly require as the lady of her own home. You can be confident that despite the initial pain and discomfort you will cause her by forcing her to adopt a more respectful attitude towards you, in the long run, it will help her build stronger and healthier relationships with those around her.

Thanks for writing,

Tzippora Price, M.Sc.

Unlikeable Kids

January 14, 2010

Although parents don't like to say this aloud, it's a fact that they sometimes don't like their children. It can be a particular child, or a particular child at particular times. However it happens, parents usually feel ashamed for having such negative feelings about their own offspring.

And yet, it makes sense that parents may find unlikable traits in their youngsters; kids are not solely the products of parental input but are, to a large extent, ready-made packages of personality delivered at birth. That's precisely why the Talmud advises parents to "educate a child according to his way" – his way, his inborn, G‑d-given way. Find parenting techniques that will work well with his personality, the way he was born.

And of course, the way he was born can be anything at all: easy-going, flexible, happy, generous, delightful, moody, needy, demanding, aggressive, sneaky, selfish, etc., etc. It is totally feasible that the child has inherited traits of family members that you don't like! It is, therefore, entirely feasible that you may not like the child, or at least, may not like her sometimes.

But what can you do about it? How do you parent a child who, frankly, turns you off? Rabbi Dessler, in his book, Strive for Truth, tells us that the more love you show a person, the more love you will feel for them. This means that even if you don't like or love the person, you will eventually have warm feelings for them just because you are exercising your "love muscle." By talking nicely, giving treats and compliments, showing warmth and patience, and all the rest, you can eventually feel positively about the recipient of all your love overtures.

You don't have to worry about the fact that this is all phony at first. G‑d doesn't expect you to like unlikable kids. There are good reasons why you can't like the child right now. However, the more you give to the child, the more likable the child will become over time. Over time. Don't expect overnight results. However, if you can hang in there, giving tons of positive attention and limiting your negative attention for months on end, you should notice that the unlikable child starts becoming more likable. Then you can continue showing lots of love but it will be so much easier to do than before. Although you can't necessarily change the child's entire personality, you may be able to remove some of those rough edges.

This may be one of the greatest gifts you can give the youngster. Your child will be able to go from strength to strength in life because you were able to set your feelings aside in order to give her what she needed. So, you see, a good parent doesn't necessarily have to like her child!

How to Drug-Proof Your Kids

January 7, 2010

A mother who had been in my parenting classes years ago called with good news. "Miriam," she enthused, "I just want to thank you for teaching me the Victory Technique. You promised that we would reap great rewards with our teens if we implemented the technique when they were small, and you were right… My 15-year-old ADHD son went to a party recently… The next day, he told me that there had been drugs and alcohol circulating, but that he hadn't partaken. I asked him if the work we had done on victories while he was growing up had helped him resist the temptation. He looked at me intently and said, 'That's the only thing that helped! I told myself that it's no victory to smoke dope or get drunk!' I was so proud of him. When my children were young, I spent a lot of time talking about their victories, and my own, but I never knew how much he internalized until that moment!"

What is this "magical" Victory Technique? All you need to do is notice and cheer your smallest victories throughout the day. A victory is the term used when we resist our "animal" urges, like the urge to be mean, vengeful, lazy, greedy, jealous or selfish. It can be as simple as not eating junk food, doing a small kindness for a neighbor or giving charity. We all have hundreds of victories a day. If you start mentioning them when your children are young, they eventually start to think, "I'm a responsible, trustworthy person who can resist temptation and stand up to pressure." Focusing on our positive actions is the only drug-free way to fight addictions, including "mood addictions" such as anxiety, depression and anger.

Self-discipline is the basis for self-respect. Our ability to choose thoughts and actions is the preeminent sign of our Divine essence. A dog cannot choose not to bark. A cat cannot choose not to chase a mouse. Only humans have the wondrous gift of free will. True, it is not always easy to exercise this gift. We often feel like helpless victims of irresistible and uncontrollable urges. Moods descend on us. People insult and betray us. We experience endless frustrations, irritations and losses. If we focus on our victories – on the faith and fortitude required to get through the rough spots – we will gain more faith and more fortitude.

Research shows that 80% of children enter first grade with a sense of self-worth, and twelve years later, 80% leave high school feeling defective and inferior. The Victory Technique is the only way to "immunize" our children against the attacks they will inevitably sustain to their sense of self-worth and competency. By cheering our children for "doing the difficult," whether it is studying for a test or not insulting a sibling, they develop faith, in themselves and G‑d. A person controlled by his moods or urges cannot have faith in G‑d, for he lacks faith in himself. Each victory strengthens our connection to our Divine essence.

You are never too old to start this process. If you think of yourself as inferior or incapable of self-control, you can change your brain patterns now. Yes, it takes time to alter deeply engrained beliefs, but you can do it! Start now. It is a victory to read this article! You had victories when you got up on time this morning, brushed your teeth, showered, paid your bills, spoke politely, made hundreds of decisions about what to say, eat and buy. It is this awareness – not beauty, awards, money or grades – that is the source of true self-worth.

A few weeks ago, I hosted two families with three young children, aged 2, 4 and 5. One of the husbands suffered from depression and was barely able to move. On Friday night, I announced that we would have a "Victory Shabbat," and explained that throughout the Shabbat, whenever anyone said they were doing something difficult, I would put a raffle ticket in a box I prepared.

Throughout Shabbat, we all had fun mentioning our victories, each vastly different from another's. One thing that bothered the father was the thumb-sucking of his four-year-old. I told the child I'd put a ticket in the box each time he wanted to suck his thumb but refrained. He got 84 raffle tickets! The father was astounded that instead of having to scold his son for sucking his thumb, the child took the initiative to stop on his own.

Both parents said they found little need to scold or admonish the children all Shabbat. All they had to do was say, "Can you achieve this victory?" And the depressed husband, who had not gone to synagogue Friday night, said that his victory was to go Shabbat morning. As the day went on, he actually smiled a few times and became more involved in what was going on around him!

Each of my children always had a "Victory Notebook," and to this day, I keep one for myself.

The Victory Technique proves that we can feel pleasure when we resist temptation, instead of feeling deprived. When children internalize a victory mindset, parents do not have to hover obsessively to make sure that they act properly. They learn to act appropriately on their own because doing so makes them proud!

The Railing on the Boat

How to Discipline by Setting Limits

January 4, 2010

Q. I have two lively and spirited boys, ages seven and nine. I'm having a difficult time disciplining them. I can scold them until I'm blue in the face, but all they do is laugh at me. I'm becoming a joke of a mother, and my house is a wreck. They take stuff without permission, they take apart electronics, they tear through my garden, they do anything they please. I'm at a total loss.

A. A boat was sailing smoothly over the ocean's waves. The sun shone from the blue sky and there was nary a cloud in sight. Yet not one of the passengers strolled along the deck to enjoy the beautiful day. The reason: This particular boat lacked a railing along the periphery of the deck. No one would risk falling into the depths of the ocean.

I will discuss several points that'll help you discipline your children better, and make your home a more peaceful and productive place.

In raising children, setting limits provides security.

When a child knows that there are certain boundaries he cannot trespass, he feels safe to explore the world. Nevertheless, as the apt expression goes, disciplining children is like holding a wet bar of soap. Either a grip that is too firm or one that is too gentle will cause the bar of soap – or a child – to slip through your hands. As parents, it's vital to find a balance between being too strict and too lenient.

The essence of discipline is to train a child to learn self-control and to recognize limits. Disciplining a child is instructive not destructive; it is not about punishing a child. Punishment sews anger in the heart of a child, implanting inside him grudges and thoughts of revenge that can fester for years. As a matter of fact, discipline is about finding alternatives to punishment. This means that in lieu of punishing – as in blaming, shaming, reproaching, lecturing, threatening, hitting – discipline is about getting a child to realize that his actions have consequences. Punishment does not necessarily prevent the misbehavior from repeating itself, rather it spurs the child to refine his tactics so that he can escape your watchful eye the next time around.

Needs and feelings are the driving force behind a child's behavior.

Their actions are the language they use to convey these needs. By addressing those underlying needs and feelings, we remove the necessity for them to act out in negative ways. Direct and open communication is always the best approach. Actually, by remaining calm and composed rather than becoming emotionally involved, disciplining problems can become opportunities for communicating values, providing insight and strengthening self esteem.

Encourage cooperation.

Find ways to fill them up with the warm glow of your love and affection. Ten minutes of dancing with your child will save you two hours of discipline. A child who's aware of his greatness is a child who will seek to act in great ways.

Values such as self-control, responsibility, respect, honesty cannot be forced.

They can only be absorbed by watching the actions of those we love and admire. Children quickly learn to tune out from long, drawn out lectures. Excessive Criticism soon turns into self-criticism, ripping apart the child's self-respect and leads him to give up. Out of despair he begins to act upon the image he's now acquired.

Authority calls for brevity.

A concise one minute scolding is enough. Label the misdeed, not the person ("That's a lie", not "You're a liar"). Be technical, focus on the solution not on your emotions (Let's wipe the window, not I feel so mad that he smudged the window) This approach avoids fault finding, guilt producing and the meting out of punishment.

Children crave discipline.

Begging a child to behave, pleading for their agreement on every step you take, living in terror lest the child will be unhappy, all chip away at the railing of their little life-cruising boats. The child may never tell you, but he needs you to be firm, he needs you to be a disciplinarian, but he needs you to be a loving disciplinarian.

Just about every career requires prior course training, and often some work-related experience.

Becoming a parent can be one of the most responsible positions we undertake, yet most of us do so unprepared and without any prior knowledge.

What makes your child tick? How can you learn to communicate better so your child will listen? Dealing with bedtime fights? Teaching gentleness? Arranging allowances and chores?

With a rotating roster of parenting and educational experts, these and more issues will be covered in this hands-on parenting blog.



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