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Help! I've got kids...

Dad's Way

April 22, 2008

Dear Tzippora,

I want my husband to help me more with the kids. The problem is that when I try and tell him how I want things done, he gets upset and says, "So do it yourself then." He says that if he is going to care for them, whether it is bedtime, bath-time, or whatever, he needs to do it his way. What do you think? Am I being controlling? Isn't it confusing for the kids if he does things differently?

Confused Mom

Dear Confused Mom,

I love your question, because it reflects a classic family struggle. Mom spends much more time with the kids, and begins to feel like she's the expert. Unfortunately, she also feels overworked and overwhelmed. But when she tries to bring dad in for re-enforcements, he is not interested in hearing her superior wisdom. He wants to do it his way.

This dynamic raises an interesting question. Is Dad just a stand-in for Mom? Or is he a parent in his own right, who will develop his own parenting style that uniquely reflects and nurtures his relationship with the kids.

The answer is that families work best when both parents function to full capacity, and that means trusting Dad and giving him free reign. Through interacting with both parents, kids learn about different styles of relating, and they catch on quickly. They learn what to expect from each parent, in turn. Bedtime with Dad means more tickling, bedtime with Mom means more stories.

The Torah itself alludes to the different relationships that fathers and mothers typically have with their children in the way it phrases the two mitzvahs of honoring parents. When commanding us in the mitzvah of kibud (honoring them through serving them), fathers are listed before mothers. When commanding us in the mitzvah of yirah (respecting them through acknowledging their authority over us), mothers are listed before fathers.

Our sages explain that these shifts in word order are designed to counteract our natural tendencies. Though children tend to be more comfortable with their mothers and therefore will more readily bring her drinks etc, this is equally important with our fathers. Though children tend to be more fearful of their fathers, and will therefore more naturally be careful about sitting in his place, this is equally important with mothers.

What becomes confusing is when Mom or Dad will overrule each other's decisions. This demeans the over-ruled parent in the eyes of the child. Which means when Mom makes a rule, Dad needs to support it, and vice versa. The key is mutual respect, and shared authority, and not identical styles.

On big issues, when Mom and Dad need to present a united front, take the time to discuss things privately. Feel free to say to your child, "Dad and I will discuss it, and I will let you know our decision."

However, when Dad is doing bath-time, and he lets the kids pour the shampoo themselves, even though they spill out half the bottle, that's the time to let go and not worry about how you would have done it. Because for the price of a bit of extra shampoo, you are giving them something priceless - the gift of a real, and truly involved father.

Thanks for writing.

My Child is Lying

April 13, 2008

Q. Dear Bracha,

Lately I've been catching my child making up stories and telling lies. When I confront him, he just gets upset and denies it. I've heard him lying to his younger sister and lying to his friends. It's gotten to the point that I really don't trust him with anything he tells me. How should I be handling this?

A. You have presented a very difficult question that is only superseded by its importance. Being truthful is a core personality trait and as such, if not developed can lead to a distortion in personality and relationships. Even though you do not tell me the age of your son, the way to handle this problem does not change very much for children under the age of 10, and can be modified for older children as the premise is still valid.

Explain this as an issue of trust. Trust can be emotionally understood at a very young age.

What has to be understood in a child with regards to telling lies is that the "logical consequences" of this behavior are not apparent and will not impress a child. Therefore explaining things in a "logical" context, or telling him it is wrong, is usually not effective. What does help is explaining this as an issue of trust. Trust can be emotionally understood at a very young age. A link between your (a parent's) ability to trust what he says and his consistency in being honest can easily be made. Give this some thought as to how you wish to work this in your family. Make it clear that a person must be honest all the time, or else he is considered untrustworthy all the time. Honesty is an all or nothing deal.

Establish a program that makes the consequences of being untrustworthy real. For example are there tasks in your home that are perceived positively such as bringing in the mail or carrying Mom's purse? Perhaps your son will have to lose privileges as he is no longer trustworthy. How could Mom be sure that her purse will be cared for properly? You would not relieve him of chores or he may feel that this is working out for the best! Instead you will take careful stock of what is going on in your house; small and large, creating your angle that will impress your son the most.

Above all, make it clear that you have caught him being untruthful and he, himself is responsible for the loss of trust and must earn it back. You should also give consequences when he is caught lying, such as immediately cancelling computer privileges for that day, when caught in a lie. Having to do a chore that his sister was suppose to do that day, because he lied to her. Immediate consequences being most effective. Talk it over with your spouse and decide on a plan of action, but what ever you decide stick with it and don't back down.

Decrease the interaction with your children when they are displaying negative behavior.

There is one more thing I wish to mention, children get reward through negative behavior by means of the increased attention that they receive from their parents. That means to decrease reward for that behavior you must decrease the interaction with your children when they are displaying negative behavior. So, in this case you have already explained to him that lying is wrong, he doesn't need to hear it again. Keep all communication and anything that acts as attention to a minimum when interacting with him over his lying. In other words as far as possible no touch, eye contact or talking with him other than a very short (5 words) instructional phrase.

It is not always clear how these things start, what is clear is that when something like this happens our children need us to give them strong guide lines and stand firm until they develop positive habits and traits. Wishing you and all your family the best!

Bedtime Troubles

April 6, 2008

Question:

I dread bedtime. As the late afternoon arrives, I already tense up for the long struggle ahead. My kids hate going to sleep. They dance around, and run away when it is time to put their pajamas on. I try all sorts of threats and bribes, but even after I get them into bed, it's still not over. They keep popping out–for a drink of water, a trip to the bathroom, or to retrieve a favorite toy. Bedtime always ends the same way, when I lose it and start screaming. I hate it when they cry themselves to sleep, but by then I am so worn out that my self-restraint is low. I know lots of parents complain about bedtime, but I feel like it's not really as bad in other people's homes as it is in mine.

Sincerely

5:00 o'clock blues

Dear 5:00 o'clock blues,

I am sure many readers are identifying with your bedtime struggle. Bedtime is indeed a tense time in many families, for exactly the reason you describe. Parents also get tired after the long day, and by the time bedtime arrives, many parents are even more tired than their kids seem to be. Nevertheless, the tension you describe, and particularly the anticipatory dread you are feeling is not a healthy dynamic, and for that reason alone it is worth addressing.

It is interesting to note that you feel your children "hate going to sleep" as much as you hate putting them to sleep. I wonder if your children really hate this daily struggle as much as you do. For them, it might be one of the most fun and exciting times of the day. How far can they push you? How long can they drag this out? You describe needing to catch them and wrestle them into pajamas. I would suggest taking yourself out of the picture, and making them accountable for their own behavior. In other words, you will establish a system in which anyone who behaves undesirably faces undesirable consequences.

You can start by announcing that from tonight on, you will be reading bedtime stories on the couch to everyone in pajamas. Those who don't put on their pajamas and return to the couch within two minutes will miss the goodnight story. Of course, you need to change any child who is too young to change themselves. Change this child on the couch, away from the others. You can even make it more fun by setting a timer, so that your children must race against the clock. The key is that they will not be racing against you, but rather against an external arbitrator. Perhaps the first one into pajamas can choose a bedtime story.

A child who continues to resist putting on their pajamas and opts instead to miss out on the story may get a consequence such as having to put on pajamas before dinner, rather than after dinner with the others. Simply explain that this is because "it takes them so long to change." Base your actions on facts, rather than emotions.

Now for you. Tell yourself that it's hard now, but it is going to change. You have a plan to end the struggle and make bedtime more pleasant. But in the meantime, acknowledge that bedtime is a tense time for you, and schedule yourself a break before bedtime. Have a coffee, take a shower, or even spend ten minutes alone in your room. Often bedtime struggles are exacerbated by the parent's need to finally get a break and some time for themselves. To guarantee that this won't be a factor for you, make time for yourself so you won't feel that your kids are taking that away from you.

Good luck and Sweet Dreams,

Tzippora Price, M.Sc.

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