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Help! I've got kids...

Too Young to Worry About Money

December 27, 2009

Dear Tzippora,

My husband and I are very concerned about money these days. The recession hit us hard, and we have had to cut back significantly. We are both worried about losing our jobs, and it feels like a gray cloud of anxiety is hanging over our house. But, recently, I watched my daughter play "store" with her friend, and she put back some of her groceries because "she just couldn't afford them." It broke my heart. She is too young to be exposed to our worries. How can I prevent her from picking up on our anxiety?

Too Young to Worry About Money

Dear Too Young to Worry About Money,

Your letter touches on an essential issue of parenthood – the challenge of establishing and maintaining the boundary between a parent's world and their child's world. Ideally, this boundary should prevent children from being prematurely exposed to adult anxieties and concerns that children are not yet equipped to handle.

However, as your letter demonstrates, often it is impossible to maintain this boundary entirely, and your child may still pick up the headlines of what is going on behind the scenes. This in itself is not a cause for concern. Children frequently imitate their parents manner of speaking, without understanding the impact of their own words. They use and discard adult expressions just as they do any other prop while playing dress-up and make-believe.

If you daughter is not demonstrating any other sign of distress or anxiety during her role-play, such as having bathroom accidents, intense anger, or regressive behaviors, it is safe to assume she is merely parroting something she once heard you say.

However, it would nevertheless be appropriate to take her words as a wake-up call, and think about how to make sure that your anxieties don't become hers. A permanent cloud of anxiety is bound to affect everyone in the home. Therefore, take practical steps to help yourself lighten up and relax, even during these tight financial times.

Here are some strategies you can use.

Work on your own anxiety level. Limit the amount of time you spend worrying about money to twenty minutes a day. The rest of the time, when you find yourself worrying, you can tell yourself that it is not the right time to think about it, and you will worry about the issue during your "worry session."

Create an atmosphere of emotional abundance by focusing on what you do have. Count your blessings regularly and aloud. Let your daughter know how blessed you feel.

Vary the reasons you give you daughter about why you are choosing not to buy something. Don't always attribute the reason to expenses. Offer alternative explanations such as having the item at home already.

Reassure your daughter that you have money for whatever you truly need. Reassure yourself as well.

Talking Too Much

I have so much wisdom I'd like to convey to my kids!

December 20, 2009

"I can't do this assignment! I can't do it! I hate that teacher. I'm quitting school. This just isn't fair. I'm not doing this. I don't care if I fail. I'm not doing it!"

If this is your teenage son, you probably want to tell him to calm down and get a grip. You want to tell him that he has to do his work and he should stop being so melodramatic. You want to tell him that he's wasting his time getting all upset and that he'd do a lot better if he'd just concentrate on the problem at hand and, anyway, he's grating on your nerves.

Of course, if you do tell him all this, he'll thank you by turning his wrath in your direction. "You don't understand. You don't care. It's no wonder I don't tell you my problems. You're never on my side…" Even if he doesn't say all that, he'll likely think it and he's certainly not likely to say, "Thanks, Mom/Dad, for the great tips. You're so right. I should really calm down."

Since the "shoot from the hip" approach isn't likely to work, why do so many parents take it? Why do so many parents walk right up to their kids and just tell them what to do, what to think, and how to feel? "You don't need more shoes in your closet. You've already got two pairs. You should be satisfied with that." "You don't have to have the same hat as everyone else. You don't need to impress anybody. Either they like you or they don't. Your hat from last year is just fine and it still fits." "You need to make some effort to call friends. You can't wait for them to call you. Even if you're not in the mood, get on that phone and make something happen. You don't want to be left alone while everyone else is out having fun."

We have so many words of wisdom to offer! And saying those words directly is the easiest approach. Why beat around the bush? And it is, after all, our job as parents to educate, guide and direct our youngsters. So shouldn't we be telling them stuff all day? Okay, they sort of indicate that they're not so interested by covering their ears with their hands sometimes. But that's just kids, isn't it? How can we not tell them how we feel about important issues? And everything is important. And, anyway, how else are they going to learn?

There are many reasons not to directly lecture kids. One is that they do, indeed, metaphorically or physically, put their hands over their ears. They learn to tune us out, to not listen. They're going to do things their own way no matter what we tell them. Their need to learn for themselves, to be independent and grown up even if this means learning everything the hard way. Unfortunately, the more we talk, the less they listen. Therefore, the more we talk, the more we lose parenting power. The Torah endorses the wisdom of using few words: "Press your lips together; do not be in a hurry to answer," (Avodah Zarah 35a), "A fool's voice is known by a multitude of words," (Ecclesiastes 5:2) and, of particular relevance, "People detest the one who talks too much," (Ecclesiastes 20:8).

Parents might also try to recall just how much they hated the lectures and mini-lectures that their own parents delivered. Although we certainly can't transverse twenty years of parenting without telling our kids some things, there are a couple of guidelines that can help minimize the amount and the damage of speaking/teaching/preaching:

  • If you absolutely must make a point, try to do it in one sentence.
  • Choose silence instead of commenting/teaching whenever possible.
  • Offer sympathy and empathy instead of advice.

In short, the less said, the better. Really.

Baffled by the Book

With so many experts and pundits on parenting, whose advice should I follow?

December 8, 2009

Dear Tzippora,

It is really important to me to be a good parent, so I try to raise my kids "by the book." But the books are driving me crazy. One day I read that parents are too lenient, and that's why their children lack self-esteem and direction. The next day I read that today's parents criticize their children too much, and need to learn how to let things go and not be so controlling. I am really confused. How can I know which advice is right for me and my family?

Baffled by the Book

Dear Baffled by the Book,

You are not alone in your confusion and bewilderment. There are many schools of thought regarding how to raise ethical and well-behaved children. The fact that so many theories exist shows that no one method has been proven to work for all parents and all children. In the absence of one perfect model, you will need to choose the parenting method that best suits your family.

Find a quiet place, and ask yourself honestly: "What is my greatest strength as a parent?" Perhaps you are consistently warm and emotionally demonstrative. If so, your kids will never doubt that you love them. Perhaps you are fun and creative, and use these skills to make chores and family routines fun. In that case, you may be able to use this strength to avoid power struggles with your children.

Once you have identified your parenting strength, recognize that this is an asset you already possess, and not where the brunt of your work lies.

Now take a deep breath, and ask yourself: "What is my biggest challenge as a parent?" Is establishing structure and routine hard for you? Is taking on the role of disciplinarian, and enforcing consistent limits difficult for you? Sit quietly and review your day. It takes courage to identify your weak spot, but this insight will help you to truly understand where you need to focus your efforts.

Once you discover which specific area you need help with, choose a book that focuses on that area of parenting, and can provide you with practical tools and ideas for how to improve.

Give yourself time to peruse several books and choose one that most appeals to you and your unique situation. Now make your selection, and put away the other parenting books. Don't read them. Don't look at them. Don't think about them. They are not relevant, and they are not worth your time.

For the next six months, stick to this one area, and try to improve. If you get discouraged, remind yourself about the unique and beautiful parenting strengths you already possess, and how much you already have to offer your children as a result.

It is not necessary to keep up with the latest and newest parenting books. Parenting is not a trend, or a fashion. Each family is unique, with its own special destiny. By setting a course based on your unique strengths and struggles, you have already established the path to success.

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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