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Help! I've got kids...

My Sons Are Always Fighting

September 21, 2008

Question: I have two boys, ages nine and eleven, who are constantly fighting. They bicker and quarrel, hurl insults at each other, and sometimes, I'll admit, they even resort to hitting. I feel so hurt and angry about this. Each time I see them fighting, I feel my blood pressure rising. How can I stop this terrible behavior?

Answer: Fighting between siblings is a natural and normal part of growing up. Through fighting and settling their fights, children learn a lot of important skills for life. With some guidance from us, and through their own trials and errors, children can learn how to compromise with each other, to assert themselves in a respectful way and to say what they want with words instead of with hitting or shouting.

In dealing with our kids fighting, it is important to refrain from getting emotionally involved. Shouting to our children to stop shouting will not lead to the results we desire. But it's hard to keep a calm and neutral voice when we're ourselves feeling bombarded with all sorts of emotions.

What parents can do:

In an emergency, for moments when you feel that your kids have pushed you to the breaking point and you feel ready to explode, the following "first aid care" can help:

  • Take a deep breath and count to ten.
  • Walk away from the scene for a few minutes.
  • Take time for yourself: listen to music, go for a short walk or express your feelings by jotting them down in a diary.

Preventing Sibling Rivalry:

There are many ways to work with your children that will keep sibling rivalry to a minimum. However, those ideas work very well when implemented in calmer moments and over time.

In a home were children feel calm, loved, successful, and capable, sibling rivalry is greatly diminished. These are emotional requirements that every child needs and deserves and are necessaries for them to thrive and develop to an optimal level. As parents, we have the ability and responsibility to imbue each of our children with the feeling that "you count," "you make a difference."

  • A pound of prevention is worth an ounce of cure. Look for ways to spend quality time with each child, individually. A child whose emotional needs are satisfied is a child who can more easily react in a calm manner in the face of challenges such as a toy being snatched away from him.
  • View each child as an individual. Avoid comparisons and competition.
  • Help your child succeed. Encourage each child to discover their own unique talents and find ways to use and develop them.

Teaching new attitudes:

At a time when the atmosphere in the home is calm and peaceful, the kids are playing nicely, you, the parent, are relaxed, that's a good time to teach our children good middot (character traits), such as:

  • Sharing is caring. A person doesn't feel complete pleasure if he does thing only for and by himself. Your own pleasure is enhanced when you share with others.
  • We don't always have to win. It's okay if someone else to get a chance to win and feel great.
  • We are each a precious child of G‑d. The Torah teaches us to use positive language, to talk to others politely and with love. It is forbidden to cause pain or embarrassment to a fellow Jew - even if he's your younger brother - through teasing, shaming or insulting.
  • We do not have to suffer in silence in the face of hurt. I-messages can help us communicate our feelings when we feel wronged without putting down, accusing, or attacking the other person. For instance, saying “I feel hurt to be spoken to in that way,” is more affective than, “You hurt me, you are such a critic,” which can put siblings on the defensive.
  • Make it clear – through your words and action – that Mom and Dad are here to help.

These tips are not always easy to follow, but view every little step in that direction as the major triumph which it is. There's no greater investment you can make than for peace. Peace is the vessel that holds all the blessings that G‑d showers upon us.

Can't Stand the Whining!

September 14, 2008

Dear Tzipporah,

My daughter's whining drives me crazy. When she gets going, it just makes my skin crawl. And when she doesn't get what she wants, she cries. My other children can just accept a "No," but for some reason, she can't. How can I teach her that "No means no"?

Can't Stand the Whining

Dear Can't Stand the Whining,

You are not alone on this one. Many mothers have this same complaint. Whining is truly an annoying behavior. And although it is not exclusive to girls, it does seem that girls are more prone to whining for what they want than boys are.

If you truly want to work on whining, you will have to be strong, and make sure that you don't give in to her when she whines. Otherwise, if she sees that whining is effective at wearing you down and getting her way, she will have no motivation to stop.

Whining is a form of communication. Explain to her that you don't like the whiny voice. Model for her a more appropriate form of making her requests. Talk to her about how it is hard to accept "No" when she really, really wants something, but that that is part of what being a big girl is all about.

You will need to expect that when she is hungry, or tired, or otherwise worn out, she will revert back to whining. However, every time she is able to make a request appropriately, or accept a "No" graciously, let her know that you noticed her progress by praising her for it.

Whining is an irritating and childish behavior, but it is not a disobedient one. All children whine to some extent, although some are naturally whinier than others. Also some children's whining is more annoying than others due to their voice, a fact over which they have no control. To a certain extent, you will need to just tolerate her whining until she outgrows it. When you have said "No" and she continues to whine, just tune her out, and ignore her whining completely. You can tell her the conversation is over now, and walk away. If she continues to whine, simply don't respond.

Our primary focus in educating our children is to teach them to behave with the desirable behaviors and to refrain from the undesirable behaviors that they wouldn't normally learn in the course of growing up. Focusing our attention on the fundamental behaviors that our children require our assistance with will help us to tolerate those that we just need to put up with until they outgrow them.

Nature and Nurture

September 7, 2008

Your Child's Personality

The Torah tells us to "educate the child according to his way." That is, find educational strategies that work well with the child's inherent personality. The Torah acknowledges that kids are born with personalities intact and in fact, all parents have observed this for themselves. One child is born with a pleasant, relaxed temperament. Another is born feisty and fidgety. One is sociable, another timid and withdrawn. Inborn traits and temperaments may last a lifetime. Twin studies have verified that identical twins reared in radically different environments turn out to be very similar in terms of many traits such as their preferences, temperaments and inclinations. If so, what is the role of a parent? What difference does "good" or "bad" parenting make?

Factors Influencing Personality

The truth is that the environment of a person does have some impact on the developing personality. One's unique experiences impact on one's genetic make-up, yielding an effect that is actually an interaction between nature and nurture. Recent research coins the term "epigenetic" to describe this interaction. Genes can be turned on and turned off as they are exposed to different environmental factors.

So what are the environmental factors in question? The birth order of a child impacts on that youngster as does the city he is raised in, the community and culture he is exposed to, the quality of his parents' marriage, his extra-curricular and social activities, his experiences at school with peers, teachers and the academic curriculum and many other external factors – including the style of parenting you employ with him. The child's personal traumatic experiences (being chased by a dog or bullied by a classmate) and physical history (having a disability, disease or injury, experiencing medical interventions) will all affect his development. And let's not forget the child's own free will! His own thought and feeling process affects the workings of his genes!

Parental Guilt

Considering how many factors impact on the child's outcome and the fact that genes play such a major role, it is amazing that parents take full credit or full blame for the way their child turns out! For example, a child who has Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) who has negative experiences with teachers and learning, who is picked on and teased because of his social deficits (part of the disorder) and who suffers from chronic insomnia, anxiety and mood disorders (also part of the syndrome for many sufferers), may grow up to have low self-esteem, social issues, trouble functioning at work and troubles with the law (due to poor judgment and lack of ability to link actions to consequences (also part of the syndrome for some). His parents may have done a very good job of parenting and still the child may have many issues and challenges throughout his lifetime. His genes, his experiences inside and outside the home and his own free will come together to create his adult persona. Many parents, unfortunately, will blame themselves for their child's difficulties instead of realizing that theirs is only one part of the equation.

Similarly, a child born clever, ambitious and extroverted, who because of these strengths experiences many successes in all aspects of life and who, as the oldest in the family, receives tremendous parental attention and affection, may turn out to be valedictorian, popular and successful in every way in adult life. Her parent's pride in her accomplishments may be tinted with pride in their own parental practices. However, the truth is that their own contributions are only a part of a very complicated set of factors that determine adult outcomes. Parents plant seeds, weed and water them. G‑d determines whether the rain will fall and if so, whether the plant will prosper. G‑d can allow a plant to grow even while depriving it of every resource. Finished products are not in our domain.

Do the Best You Can

The job of a parent is not to "make a person." This is, as we have seen, is too ambitious, simply not possible for ordinary human beings. However, good parenting is always possible. Good parenting will help give the most positive impact to the gene picture and help mitigate the effects of negative experiences that the child will encounter growing up. Good parenting can only help. Parenting and prayer are in our department. We must do our part. Growing and learning are in the child's department. He must do his part. G‑d's individual guidance will provide a person with all of the experiences and conditions necessary for his ultimate development.

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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