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Do You Hear What You Sound Like?

December 29, 2008

Do you have a tape recording device handy? If so, try turning it on at 8a.m., 5p.m. and 8p.m. for a few days. Leave it on long enough to get a good sample of your voice at those times. What do you sound like? Musical, harmonious and melodious? Or is that tone kind of harried, harsh or shrill? Maybe it's a little of everything, depending on when you last had sleep.

Your children are tape recorders too. Your voice gets programmed into their little brains. About twenty years from now, it will pop out as they deal with their kids in the morning, after school and at bed time. They'll sound like you. Will that be a good thing?

Voice Sends a Message

Tone and volume of voice communicates all kinds of things. A soft murmur can communicate contentedness or affection. It is, at least, peaceful. A loud, sharply punctuated voice can communicate anger, panic, hysteria, excitement or glee – depending on pitch, rhythm and, of course, content.

When the content of a message is critical ("I don't like it when you pour your cereal on the table") and it is delivered in a stern, cold voice ("I don't like it when you POUR your cereal on the table!") then a subtext is also delivered. It may sound – to the child's ears – something like "…and I don't like YOU when you do that." Harsh tone of voice carries rejection and insult along with it. Ideally, it should be used only a rare occasions during the parenting journey, times that involve extremely serious misdemeanors such as life-threatening, illegal, immoral or otherwise outrageous behavior. For regular, everyday misbehavior such as not listening, fighting with siblings, disobeying and so on, a regular, business-like tone of voice can be used. Limits can be set, expectations established and discipline enforced using this cool but serious tone of voice. As King Solomon teaches, "The words of the wise are gently heard." (Ecclesiastes 9:17). Whining, crying, screaming and other "fits" conveyed vocally should be allocated to the toddlers in the family until they learn to communicate with words.

Using a Child's Name

A child's self-concept is tied up with his or her name. Therefore, it is most important to use a pleasant tone of voice when using the child's name. However, it is tempting for parents to snarl, shout or scream a child's name when the youngster isn't listening or cooperating. "LEAH! How many times do I have to tell you not to stand on that chair!" Indeed, the more times a parent calls a child, the more likely it is that the parent will soon be shouting the child's name in a most unpleasant tone of voice. Multiply the experience by many times a day or week and you may end up with a child who hates hearing the sound of his or her name. That sound comes to mean displeasure, punishment and/or rejection. It's enough, sometimes, to make a person want to change his name. A preventative measure that parents can take to avoid shouting a child's name, is to employ the 2-Times Rule: Never allow yourself to call a child more than two times. This alone prevents the type of frustration that leads to an unpleasant voice. Another trick is to go right up to the child who is uncooperative and speak close to his or her face. You won't need to use a name at all. A third idea is just to follow the rule that you must NEVER use an unpleasant voice when speaking your child's name.

So, practice your nice voice (as you tell your whining toddler). It will make you and everyone else in the house feel so much better.

Chanukah on a Dime

December 21, 2008

“Mom, can I have an iPhone for Chanukah?”

Like it or not, Chanukah gifts are one of the main ways that many Jewish families try to counteract society’s attractions at this time of year. But in this year’s economic situation, buying mega-gifts for the kids is difficult, if not impossible, for many Jewish families.

So what are Jewish parents to do?

The basic approach I share with parents is to remember that the greatest thing we can give our children is ourselves. Children need and want our time and attention. When they get good quality time with us, the lack of material things and toys is a minor issue, if one at all. When they don’t get the love and attention they crave, they need more toys and material acquisitions to help fill their emotional holes. Not getting the mega-toys then becomes a real sticking point.

Of course the kids should still get some presents—and something they like—but gift-giving shouldn’t be the focus of your Chanukah this year—or any year, for that matter.

Practically, this means getting home from work earlier to light the Chanukah candles with the kids, planning out Chanukah activities, and canceling or minimizing any adult commitments in order to focus on the kids. Most kids are in school for Chanukah, or most of it, but don’t let the week be like any other week. Each day should be special in some way.

Here are some low-cost or no-cost activities to help you get started. I suggest different activity nights, but certain activities can be combined and some evenings can be just “hang out with the family” nights. Don’t stick to the list—figure out what is right for your family. Please post any additional ideas you have in the comment section below.

Spinning Dreidels can be a whole evening’s activity. Get a bunch of cheap and fun dreidels and tops. Buy a large pack of chocolate coins, jelly beans, toffees or whatever. Get down on the floor and play with the kids. Some families organize tournaments such as a Dreidel World Series. Don’t forget to let the kids win.

Outdoor Chanukah Lightings are organized by Chabad Houses around the world, and are a favorite with children and parents alike.

Frying Latkes is fun. Make it into a family affair, and watch the oil.

Make Your Own Apple Sauce: It is fun and easy. Peel and chop and boil. (Fill pot halfway with apples, the rest is water. Add something sweet.)

Family Party: Designate one evening for a family get-together. Include as many relatives as you can. This can become a looked-forward-to family tradition.

Friends Party: Let the kids invite over their friends one evening. This can be combined with one of the activities mentioned here, or doing something else the kids want to do.

Crafts Night: Look online for a variety of craft ideas for Chanukah. Choose a few and have fun!

Star Gazing: What is more appropriate on the Festival of Lights than to watch the stars? Most city folk today rarely see a sky full of stars. Wait for a clear evening and drive into the countryside. Bring a blanket and lie down to look up at the stars. Alternatively, or in addition to this, go to the planetarium.

Edible Chanukah Shapes: Make menorahs and dreidels out of cookies. You can find cookie-cutters in the shape of the Star of David, or combine two triangles.

Book Reading Night: Go to the Jewish bookstore or library and choose a few Chanukah- or general-Jewish-themed story books. Hundreds exist, and many are quite good.

Movie Night: Get the popcorn, pillows and blankets, and cuddle up together as you watch one of your favorite series of Itche Kadoozy together.

Children’s Museum: Visit a children’s museum or science museum that you haven’t been to for a while.

City Activities: Scan your local newspaper for fun winter activities.

Chanukah Snowball Fight: Depending on the weather and temperature in your location, use the cold to your advantage. Make a Greek soldier out of cardboard, stand him in the yard, and have the kids be the Maccabees and throw snowballs at him until he gets knocked down.

Greek Bowling: Each pin they knock down is a Greek soldier. For each soldier they get a chocolate coin, etc.

Chesed Night: Chesed means kindness. Choose an evening and go do a family activity of caring. Pack food for the homeless. Visit an old age home or hospital to bring Chanukah cheer. Do something for others and let the kids see that being Jewish is about giving, not taking.

These are, of course, only some of the ideas out there. Look online for more. Ask the kids what they want to do, emphasizing that the activities should be free or low-cost.

And make sure to emphasize to the kids how happy you are that Chanukah has arrived so you can spend more time with them.

Teaching Children Assertiveness

December 7, 2008

Q. I have a ten your old son who is a very timid by nature. He's always anxious to please his friends and is overly nice to them; he will go to great lengths to avoid any unpleasant situation with them. That's why I'm surprised that he has social problems in school and that he's the butts of his friends' insults and practical jokes. How can I help him?

A. The Torah does not obligate a person to be like a stone when someone hurts him or her. We are encouraged to speak out to protect our own dignity and prevent others from hurting us. In the same verse where it's written "lo tikom," do not take revenge, it also says "lo tisna et achicha bilvavecha," you shall not hate your brother in your heart. This means that although we may not take revenge, we are also enjoined not to harbor bottled up feelings of resentment against others—and to take the necessary actions to remedy the situation.

Encourage your son to approach the child who hurts him and openly and assertively let him know how he hurt him. In a dignified manner he can try to put a stop to this behavior, by saying something like, "I cannot allow you to hurt me. The next time you insult me, I will tell someone about it. This is not in order to hurt you back, but to protect myself and make you aware that this is not acceptable."

Not all children are naturally able to speak up, express their opinions, or stand up for their rights. A child's inability to be assertive may often result in passive behavior. He or she learns to live with the pain of unexpressed needs and suffers in silence, frequently causing headaches, stomachaches and even unexpected bouts of aggressive behavior when the resentment and frustration becomes too much to bear.

Yet assertiveness is a skill that all children can learn. As parents it is our duty to teach our children the art of standing up for their personal rights. We can guide them towards learning how to communicate their ideas, feelings and needs in a direct, honest and confident manner without fear and without being disrespectful of another person's rights. Assertive communication includes words (i.e. respectful, kind, sticking to your point), body language (i.e. making eye contact, upright posture), and tone of voice (i.e. clear, firm and audible).

The benefits are many:

  • A child who knows how to express his needs and assert his rights is less likely to bottle up his hurt feelings. Neither does he feel the need to resort to aggressive behavior—he has better tools at his disposal.
  • The more children trust and value their own feelings, the more likely they will be to value the feelings of friends and to be respectful to adults.
  • They will find it easier to resist negative peer pressure and know how to say no to drugs, tobacco and alcohol.

The ability to express themselves will help them embrace life with confidence and succeed in achieving their personal goals.

What parents can do:

  • Infuse your child with a healthy self esteem by frequently reminding him of your love and respect for him. Give him your time and patience and your listening ear. Show him that his opinions count.
  • Remind him that he has a G‑dly soul. He was created in the image of G‑d and, like every human being, he has a right to be spoken to with respect.
  • Be a role model. Practice assertive behavior yourself so that your child can learn from your example.
  • Teach your child to use honest statements of feelings and "I-messages" to express his rights in a firm, respectful and confident manner.
  • Have your child visualize assertive responses to common situations he faces with his friends. Role-play imaginary situations and have him practice standing up for himself. This will give him the confidence to respond assertively in a real life situation.
  • Have him practice assertiveness by complimenting someone, or asking a new friend to join him for a walk

Assertiveness is a skill that may take a lifetime to master, but as parents it's essential to get our children off on a right start.

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?

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