Dear Tzippora,

In all the parenting books I read, and I read a lot of them, they speak about setting limits and boundaries with my kids. But I am just such a softie, that when they start to cry and plead with me, I usually give in. Is there anything really wrong with saying "yes" all the time? Can being too nice actually hurt your kids?

Too Nice to Say No

Dear Too Nice,

Your question is such an important one. Before we indulge our children, we have to weigh the consequences of our indulgence. Sure it feels good at the time, and we feel like a "nice mommy" or the "best daddy", but are we actually helping our kids, or are we only stroking our own egos? Will staying up a little later actually give this child quality time and attention, or will it only make them cranky and overtired tomorrow?

Parenting books speak about boundaries and limits because these are actually things that children need. Acquiring the traits of self-discipline and of impulse management is a necessary part of growing up. Without self-discipline, we would eat ourselves sick. Without impulse management, an adult would throw a chair across the room when angry or frustrated just like a toddler throwing a tantrum.

But since getting our way feels so good at the time, if we are continually indulged by a loving parent, what motivation will we have to acquire these essential life skills? If crying and pleading will get us our way, or help us avoid punishment, why would we ever learn to follow the rules? And without following rules, how will we ever experience the success necessary to acquire self-confidence and independence?

Somebody lacking these traits would be unable to form mutually satisfying relationships, succeed academically, or master a career. This is because people accustomed to always getting their way eventually become dependant upon getting their own way, and cannot function in situations in which they are not indulged.

So yes, there is actually something fundamentally wrong with saying "yes" all the time.

Part of parenthood is socialization. A baby is born uncivilized, and his parents are responsible for painstakingly teaching their child how to function as a productive member of society. This is why the child's "debt of gratitude" to his parents is so great.

Furthermore, self-control and an ability to delay gratification are necessary for the performance of any kind of spiritual act, whether fasting on Yom Kippur, making Kiddush on Friday night, or even prayer. Parents who wish to nurture their child's development as a spiritual being capable of having a relationship with G‑d need to be able to withstand the pressure of giving in to their children's demands for immediate gratification because spiritual gains require patience.

When you attempt to set limits with your children, they will initially resist your efforts, since they are so accustomed to getting their way. You will need to persist, and stand up to the anxiety generated in you when they beg and plead. If they see that you will not back down, they will eventually accustom themselves to your rules. Children are amazingly adaptable.

If you find you simply cannot enforce effective discipline, then it is time to seek professional help, in order to prevent your children from developing behavioral problems at school, in the playground, or on the street.