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Living with Kids

by Miriam Adahan

  

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[One day], I decided to cut my sons' hair. My 4-year-old sat happily until I finished with his hair; however, when it was the 6-year-old's turn he pulled away defiantly. I started to chase after him; his hair had to be cut! Since he's a lot more agile than I am, I could see it was a losing battle. Although I could have forced him to sit still, by threatening or bribing him, I chose not to. Instead, I said, "I'll tell you what. You stand on a stool by the mirror and I'll only cut where you tell me to." He thought it was a great idea.

From totally defying me and refusing to have me touch his head, he stood proudly while directing me where to cut. Now, this may sound like psychological nonsense to many. Some people may think: "I would have taken the little brat and walloped him!" True, I could have done that. I could have beaten him with a strap and tied him to a chair and then slapped his face each time he moved his head until he held still, and I would have gotten his hair cut. But I would have lost my relationship with the child, which is far more important to me.

I believe that parents should be sensitive to their children's need for two very important elements for which we all strive: love and power
I don't believe in parents giving in to children, patronizing or indulging them, whether out of fear of the children's rejection or because it's often just easier to let them have their way instead of getting into a power struggle. I do believe that parents should be sensitive to their children's need for two very important elements for which we all strive: love and power. My 6-year-old needed to feel a sense of power. And to get it, he was willing to give up my love for the moment.

What I tried to show him was that he could get both at the same time, which is something very few children know how to do. They either give up on power and become "goody-goodies" with no sense of their own strengths or worth, unable to be assertive or express their own views, always seeking other people's approval and terrified of rejection; or they become domineering little tyrants, not caring what others think, focusing on force to get whatever they want. We see these patterns in many adults: passive doormats or insensitive bullies.
* * *

LOOK AT MY FACE

As parents, we can help prevent these patterns by showing our children how to be caring, yet assertive, achievement-oriented, yet feeling. When I discipline my children, I try not to take away their sense of power and self-esteem. I try to awaken sensitivity rather than force it upon them.

For example, a friend was over with her four young children. One of them started playing with a toy, which my 4-year-old promptly grabbed away. I didn't scold my son. Instead, I said, "Look at Chaim's face. How does he feel now that you've taken the toy away?" My son looked at Chaim's face intently and immediately returned the toy. I didn't have to tell him to do so. On his own initiative, he experienced what the other child was experiencing, which is a quality that makes us feel powerful as well as compassionate.


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Mitzvot » Education

Miriam
Older sister of Moses and Aaron, and a prophetess in her own right.