THE 10 WORST MISTAKES PARENTS MAKE and how to avoid them

BY RABBI SHLOMO COHEN

www.hiqjew.com

Look around you.

Secular society is falling apart at the seams and for all that, the Frum world says that they are maintaining their standards against the tide, it appears that there are major breaches in our defenses. Get a realistic view of what goes on in our schools. It’s downright frightening. Speak to those who are involved in counseling. Be prepared to hear horror stories.

We are the first society in the history of the world in which dogs are sent to obedience school and children run free in the streets!

If you run a stop sign there will generally be some immediate feedback. Someone will honk or you’ll narrowly avoid an accident. If you put salt in the cake recipe instead of sugar there will be immediate feedback. YECHH! If you make a mistake in child rearing you won’t find out for ten or fifteen years – and then it is far too late to undo the damage.

Where have we gone wrong? I firmly believe that a compounded series of historical events have literally changed our collective mindset when it comes to rearing our children. Many Holocaust survivors came to America after the war. They set about rebuilding shattered lives. Many were able to (re)marry and have children. Having been beaten, starved and tortured, many could not bring themselves to inflict corporal punishment on their own very precious jewels. The children were given the best of everything, in part, as a way of the parents vicariously living the childhood and adolescence they never had. This was paired, however with a very powerful guilt trip. If the child misbehaved, he heard a resounding, “For this I survived?”

These children married, and had children of their own. As they were raised, so they raised their own, no spanking and the best that money could buy. However, there was no guilt in this system. No checks and balances These children, are now in turn, raising families of their own and the error has been compounded for the second generation. For some reason, most likely societal, this system has spread even into families of people who have no survivors as parents or grandparents.

The yeshivos have picked up on this, mostly due to parental pressure. This has resulted in a situation where there are no consequences in the home or in the school. In fact, the more right wing the homes and yeshivos, the worse the problem becomes. In a group that claims to keep all outside influences away, we have chosen the very worst practices that a secular leftist liberal agenda espouses as proper child rearing.

It has fostered an unmitigated disaster!

Lots of Yeshiva children from ‘good’ families doing drugs!

Widespread pre-marital (and extra-marital) sex in ‘Frum’ circles!

A soaring divorce rate!

A large contingent of ‘ Bnei Torah’ in prison!

Untold numbers of desperately unhappy people!

Were our Great-grandparents to see us today they would tear their clothes in shame at the widespread moral turpitude and the brazen pride we have in our lack of values!!!

At the most fundamental level, Yiddishkeit is family based. A family must operate as a unit on several different levels simultaneously. It must function as a reproducing unit, an economic entity, a support group maintaining its values as well as a training ground for the next generation. This last is wherein the problem doeth lie.

What follows is the result of several different classes given to different groups over the course of a decade and a half, coupled with thirty years experience in schools of all kinds, seasoned with hundreds of questions regarding problems with children, at home or in school, asked of me over the years.

1-    With no Rav to ask She’alos or advice parents are unguided. Having no Rav increases the chances of falling into the contemporary nonsense trap.

2-    Inconsistency – Too many or too few rules. Arbitrary rules for different times and different places. Blurring of authority.

3-    Inability to maintain perspective– Screaming

4-    Lack of consequences. Reward and punishment.

5-    Inability to say NO. Spoiling children.

6-    Not keeping pace with child’s growth.

7-    Too defensive. Brilliant angel syndrome. Not facing reality or assuming nobody else has this problem.

8-    “Do as I say, not as I do”. Promulgating honesty and good Middos.

9-    Giving from yourself, not of yourself. Unconditional love, conditional like.

10- Lack of standards – Misplaced priorities. Abrogating parental responsibilities. Accepting chutzpa. Pushing the child too fast / not pushing at all. Achieving balance.

With no Rav to ask She’alos or advice parents are unguided. Having no Rav increases the chances of falling into the contemporary nonsense trap. 

Not that having a Rav is a failsafe method. Far too many Rabbonim have, themselves, fallen into the selfsame trap. When asking advice, listen carefully. If it sounds permissive, you’re getting extremely poor advice. I’ve even heard of Gedolim who espouse permissive approaches. It is very unlikely that their own children were raised that way. Although, looking around the Yeshivos and Shuls, it appears that the children of Rabbonim are often the worst behaved and have the poorest Middos and the most arrogant attitudes as if the rules don’t apply to them. Find a Rav who has successfully raised fine children. Speak with the Rebbitzen, as well.

We need only look at secular society to see that permissiveness doesn’t work. The vaunted Dr. Spock, whose child rearing books have been perennial best-sellers since the 1940’s, publicly apologized during the ’80’s for destroying a generation through, what he belatedly recognized was, terribly bad advice. He realized that his approach of being too permissive had backfired badly. While the fault lies not only at his doorstep, a good case can be made that many of our current societal ills would not had developed had the strong parental strictures of previous generations still been in place.

When you search for a Rav, stay away from overly permissive approaches. Beware of the flip side as well. Many parents make the opposite error of being so strict that they foster open rebellion of a different sort. Watch for a definitive balance. Note whether the Rav has a good handle on child psychology (few do). Nor does working in a school confer any additional wisdom on an advisor. It is rare in the extreme to find anyone who rates as a Mechanech(es). For the most part they are untrained, not well read nor conversant in any area of special ed., abnormal psychology, or counseling. There are lay people giving classes in child rearing. More often than not, they are Mach’tee es HaRabim (causing people to sin). There will be a special room in Gehinom for them.  You insist that your doctor is a graduate cum laude from Harvard, your lawyer from Yale, your accountant from a top school and yet you leave your children’s education in the hands of rank amateurs.

When you do find a Rav, there are many issues that need be addressed. These issues begin immediately. How long should the child be breast-fed? When is the proper time and how should we approach toilet training? At what age should we start the child in play group or is this something that should not be considered at all based on current research? Which school should we send the child to? On what basis should a school be chosen?

What everyone else is doing with their children is not a valid decision making approach for you. The school where your other children attend may not be right for this one.  At what age should we bring the child to Shul? What is a proper approach to reward and punishment? She’alos should be asked about diets and medication. What sorts of toys and games are appropriate? How should we deal with sibling rivalry? In what way should we work to instill good Middos?

On choosing a school.

Those who live out-of-town have little option in where they can send their children. Those who live in concentrated Jewish areas often have several choices. For some reason, the choice is made on the basis of the parents’ Hashkofa rather than the child’s educational requirements. All too often, the parents appear to reach beyond their own level to what is defined as Frum. This seems to catch more Ba’alei Tshuva than FFB’s. More often than not, the choice has some very negative consequences. I have had parents who were honor graduates from Ivy League universities whose children were functionally illiterate in junior high.

What could possibly possess a non-Yiddish speaking couple to send their child to a Yiddish speaking school? The parents are simply not going to be able to help their child throughout the child’s school career.

Recently, a BT mother called me. Her child was in kindergarten. He mentioned something about dinosaurs to the Morah and got a 20-minute Mussar shmooze from her about how dinosaurs never existed. The child came home and repeated this to his mother who was flabbergasted. She had spent years synthesizing her secular education with her newfound Frumkeit. All of her Rabbonim had been open to alternative explanations. Now this! She was not at all prepared for the type of Hashkafa espoused in the Yeshiva she had chosen and not very sure that this narrow approach was what she wanted for her children.

The single biggest issue that is presented is the TV problem which, ostensibly, only exists in more ‘modern’ schools. If the charge were true, it might have some bearing on the choice. Unfortunately, the per-cent of people who have TV’s varies very little from school to school. I know of a number of parents who called the TV a radio when the kids are younger so if the Rebbe asks, “Who has a TV?” the children won’t answer that they do! 

Inconsistency – Too many or too few rules. Arbitrary rules for different times and different places. Blurring of authority. 

Two parents. Are you together on your child rearing goals? More importantly, are you of one mind on how to get there? Using two different approaches will either confuse the child, or, more likely, allow the child to manipulate one parent against the other. Single parent homes require a firm grip on what the rules are. All the more so, when the ex is in the picture and has visitation rights.

Be clear on what the rules are. Write them out if need be. Keep the list short and clear. The house rules apply all the time, everywhere. If there are to be exceptions, be clear on this point: “This is an exception to the rule, not a new rule!”

Here are several suggestions:

Honesty is required always

When you are told to do something, do it with no argument.

You are responsible for: cleaning your room, making your bed, taking out the garbage, washing dishes twice a week, setting the Shabbos table etc. (This is important even, or perhaps especially if you have a maid!)

Proper behavior will be expected in all situations

School is your full time job, all else is secondary.

Avoid arbitrariness. “Mom, can I go to Moshe’s house?” “NO!”   Why not? Did you pause to give the request reasonable thought or was the NO a knee jerk response. Even if the answer will be no, stop for a moment and at least give the appearance of taking the request seriously. Don’t allow the child to feel that you don’t even stop to consider his requests. It is, after all, important to him.

Don’t be afraid of your child, or what others are going to think. Either of these attitudes leads to treating the child differently in different settings. That is a recipe for disaster. Children have a finely tuned sense of when they can manipulate those around them. They’re good at it, and you will never even realize you’ve been manipulated.

The distinction between child and adult has become far less clear over the last two generations. To put it succinctly, two adults may have a personality clash as may two children. A child cannot have a personality clash with an adult. It’s that simple. All too often, children are raised with the attitude that their opinion counts for something. When this conflicts with the opinion of an adult, particularly an authority figure in the child’s life, the child’s opinion ceases to carry any weight. Both the parents and the school have a task. We are to prepare our children for life. In the real world, an employee does not have the right to argue with the boss. There are going to be a lot of people who are going to have major adjustment problems when they are faced with this reality.  Today’s children are not taught obedience. Without an ability to follow rules and instructions, a child is visibly handicapped. How dare a child tell his parents that he doesn’t like the teacher. The ultimate absurdity is the foolish parents taking the child’s side and demanding a class change. Whatever happened to the idea that the child needs to accommodate himself to the demands of the teacher? What life lesson is the parent teaching? That life is silver lined? That you need only make a lot of noise to get your way, correct or not?

The teacher/student relationship is not of the teachers making nor is it a 50/50 proposition. Believe it or not, the relationship is established 100% by the student. If there is a classroom problem, don’t look at the teacher, look at the child! Recently, an administrator I know expressed a wish for some good old-fashioned teachers. My retort was, “Sure. Get me some good old fashioned students and some good old fashioned parents with a good old fashioned paddle.”

Children today think of their world as a democracy. I am fond of telling them that it is a benevolent dictatorship with the stress on the dictator. Few adults recognize a child’s need for structure, authority and rules. They appear to be happy without them but are really very insecure. They really don’t feel very safe as their lives are without definitive anchors.

Inability to maintain perspective– Screaming

 Some parents accept the most appalling behavior without turning a hair yet fly off the handle for inconsequential things. We’ve all commented on the mother whose toddler is screaming their head off in the store, making the most outrageous demands and mom is either ignoring the misbehavior or trying to reason with a two year old. Get a grip. Every parent needs to sit down and determine clearly which behaviors are acceptable, which not, and what the proper response is going to be.

Screaming really doesn’t work too well. That doesn’t mean you can never scream. Just realize it isn’t helping if it’s done too often. It can be a way to forcefully make a point. Generally, it’s just one way of venting. Also, realize that your facial expression when screaming can be truly frightening. Also, realize that it very quickly loses any potency as a method of dealing with your children. As parents, you have far better and more effective means at your disposal.

Try not to confuse anger with frustration. Although they may manifest themselves in similar ways, they are very different. Anger is an emotion, and a very powerful one at that. Frustration is when you’ve reached the limits of your ability to cope with a given situation. When you’ve asked your child umpteen times to pick up their toys and the job has not been done and you begin yelling, you’re not angry- you’re frustrated. What you need is a method of having the children pick up their toys before you reach the frustration level.

This is easier than it sounds. You know what the problems are. You are also, hopefully, smarter than the children. Plan ahead. Pre-empt the problem by having a solution in place before the next time the problem occurs. Once again, the earlier you do this, the fewer problems will be encountered as the children grow older. It’s difficult to begin raising an eight year old, impossible to begin raising a fifteen year old.

Many shouting matches are the result of attempting to argue with a child. As parent, you should never brook argument from a child. Since it takes two to argue, you need simply not be one of them. Don’t take part and don’t allow yourself to be suckered in. A bright child can toss a red herring into an argument and you will find yourself in the remarkably stupid position of defending your actions to your child. By example, teach your child to be able to rationally discuss any issue without flying off the handle. In any event, the child has to know that you may yell, he may not.

Even when you’re screaming at your child, you need to remember that there are rules to follow.

Need it be said that 4 letter words are verbotin?

Anything beginning “I swear”.

Belittling the child or his efforts.

Disparaging remarks.

Dumb statements. (I wish you’d never been born)

Names like stupid, jerk, dummy, idiot, etc.

Ridiculous threats (I’m leaving, I’m going to call the dog catcher on you)

Lack of consequences. Reward and punishment.

I have heard time and again that a parent is afraid of spanking a child for one of two reasons. Either the parent is afraid that spanking is being too strict and will backfire or that Child Protective Services (CPS) will hear that the parent has spanked and take the child away because of abuse issues.

Spanking is a wonderful punishment. There is only one Sefer in Tanach which speaks about child rearing – Mishle. Shlomo HaMelech mentions children 34 times in Mishle. 17 of them, one-half, say to use corporal punishment. I had reason, recently to tell a father that he hates his children. To say he was taken aback is an understatement. The American version of a statement in Mishle is, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” The original statement was, and is, “spare the rod and hate your child”.  Nowhere is this retracted or mitigated in any way.

As with any punishment, spanking can be overdone. We are not espousing beating the child. The goal is not major physical pain. A slap across the cheek for Chutzpa, a smack or three on the bottom for infraction of a rule gets a point across. I’m afraid to say this, but unless the message is delivered forcefully to a child, it has not been delivered at all!

There is a cute story told of a man sitting in an inn boasting about his mule. “This mule is so great all you have to do is whisper in its ear and it will promptly do whatever you want it to without hitting it.” After much boasting, another fellow in the inn decides he wants this mule. He begins negotiating and finally manages to purchase the animal. He takes it home and the following morning whispers in the mule’s ear, “Let’s go plow the back 40”. The mule doesn’t move. He whispers again and yet again. After considerable whispering, he goes back to the original owner and complains. The original owner comes home with the purchaser. He promptly picks up a 2×4 and whacks the mule over the head. The purchaser says, “Hey, I thought you didn’t have to beat this mule?” “Oh, I’m not beating the mule,” replied the original owner,  “But before you whisper in its ear you have to first get its attention!”

You cannot reason with a child. You can try. They will even quickly learn the correct responses to get out of further punishment. But, it is of no lasting value. No lesson had been learned. All too often, when I call a parent about the most appalling behavior on the part of their child all I get is “Okay, I’ll talk to him.” Talking will not cut it, period. If it did, I would see real improvement in behavior, I don’t.  Most Rabbeim and teachers don’t even bother calling home anymore since they have realized that it will simply make no difference. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have taken a student to the office to call home and the student blatantly tells me, “Go ahead, I don’t care. My parents won’t do anything anyway.” The sad truth is, we both know he’s right.

Probably the single largest problem schools face is the lack of any really effective punishment. Can’t hit. When we keep a child after school, mom complains that we’ve punished her since she now must run out and pick up her child. Parents tell us its absurd when we hand out lines and have often told the child not to bother doing them since the parent disagrees with the method. What’s left? What we do see clearly is that, children from homes with high standards and where there are real ramifications and consequences for behavior, those children are always well-behaved and know the difference between right and wrong. It is your parental obligation to see to it that your child is in this group. Don’t assume it to be so. If you’re making that assumption, you are probably wrong.

I had taken the principalship in a school. Most of the first year I couldn’t get a handle on the eighth grade. They were actually gouging marks in the walls to keep track of the number of teachers they were going through. Finally, in March, I suspended one boy for something he did. The following day, he snuck in a back door and got one of his friends to cut class. That was the final straw. I expelled him. From that day, the rest of the class was under control. Interestingly, a father and mother came up to see me. They asked that I call their son into my office. “Rabbi,” they said, “We told this to our son last night but we want to say it to him again in your presence. Son, as long as the school didn’t care how you behaved neither did we. However, now that they are expelling boys – If you get expelled you are dead meat” (That last is an exact quote) I was floored! “If the school doesn’t care, the parents don’t.” What sort of standards are those? But hey, it worked and that’s the bottom line.

Another boy was totally out of it. Couldn’t care less. Did zero work, made no effort. I had been in touch with Mom to no avail. Finally, I demanded to see Dad, a highly successful businessman. After showing him several dismal examples of his son’s work his response was, “So, what do you want me to do about it?” I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Neither you nor I would ever hire this young man to clean our bathrooms. When he graduates, I’m done with him. You’ll be taking him into your business.” The father literally blanched. From that day on this kid had a new and improved attitude and you better believe it, and not because daddy asked him nicely.

Perhaps the toughest ‘tough love’ story occurred when a father and mother sat with me to discuss their out of control child. At the time he was in fifth grade. He came, and went and did as he pleased. Neither home nor school had any control over him. After many phone calls, many meetings with specialists, many attempts to solve the problem I called the conference with the parents to try one more time. At this point, the parents admitted that they were desperate and willing to try anything. At that, I told them that I had a plan but it would require them appear to be as mean as mean could be. I outlined the plan as follows: Establish several simple rules that you are going to insist on. Tell your son, “If these rules are kept, you will be a welcome member of our family. However, if these rules are not kept, your actions will be declaring to us that you don’t wish to be a member. As such, you need to realize that we owe you three meals a day and a roof over your head. That’s all we owe and that’s all you’ll get. The meals will be bread and water, as much as you want, but you will not eat with the family. Mom will not clean your room, wash your clothes or change your bed. You will not be chauffered anywhere in the car. Dad will put a lock on your bike. All of this takes effect immediately.” The parents, being desperate, opted to try the plan. The boy tested the program for several days but the parents stuck it out. The boy then gave in, keeping the rules a few days and then started to backslide figuring his parents wouldn’t put the draconian measures back. In fact, mom called me in a panic. He hadn’t kept a rule, what should she do? My response was to have bread and water waiting for him when he came home from school. Actually, this went back and forth over several weeks. Finally, however, the boy came to his parents and said, “You win.” That was the end of all the problems. They needed to convince him that they were in charge. They did!

CPS is another story. Unfortunately, in my role as counselor, I have had the need to work with CPS on numerous occasions. In a number of horrendous situations where there was evidence of real abuse, CPS was unable to intervene since the abuse did not fall within their guidelines. I have even asked several of their workers what the guidelines were. Things have to be really bad before they can lift a finger. Don’t forget, they see kids who’ve been beaten with baseball bats, burnt with cigarettes, been locked in closets for weeks on end and even worse.

When asked about their stance on spanking several of them told me that they are highly in favor of it. If more parents properly disciplined their children we would not be seeing the types of behavior that has become the norm. They cannot, and will not, take your children away for reasonable disciplinary measures.

So, what’s reasonable? Let me give you my guidelines on child abuse. (These are not the views of New York State.) If you’re out of control and make a face at your child, that’s abuse. If you’re in control and deliver a solid smack, that’s not abuse.

Of course, spanking is not the only effective consequence. Going to bed without supper will not harm the child at all. It can send a strong message. Taking away privileges and treats works for some children.

On the other hand, there are tried and true behavior modification techniques that really work. Determine what behaviors you wish to modify and dangle a very large carrot. Usually, these types of programs work best when there is both a large carrot as well as a heavy stick.

All in all, what is necessary is TOUGH LOVE. This is your responsibility as a parent. It is what you owe your children and it is the best thing you’ll ever do for them. Is it the easy way? No! Does it pay? Yes! As we sent one of our daughters off to seminary in Israel she gave a letter to another daughter to give to us when we came home from the airport. Aside from all the thank you’s, I love you’s and I’ll miss you’s, there was one telling statement that sticks in my mind. She wrote that while she was growing up she didn’t always appreciate our strictness. Now, seeing how many of her friends turned out, she wanted to thank us and let us know that she understands and appreciates why we did what we did.

Inability to say NO. Spoiling children.

Children today have everything, often before they ask for it. There is simply no concept of earning something. After all, how can a man making big time money possibly refuse his child a hundred dollar toy? Big mistake! Just because they want to stay up late or go out to a friend doesn’t mean they’re entitled to do so.

Children need to hear NO now and again. It will not harm them. In fact,  delayed gratification is character building. Children should not get everything they want. It teaches very poor values. Again, parents need to sit down and carefully discuss what their children should and should not receive as gifts, as privileges or as their due. Practice TOUGH LOVE.

Face it. Our children, Boruch Hashem, don’t know the meaning of hunger, of being cold with no opportunity to get warm. They live in beautiful, spacious homes. They are given the best of everything. Good clothes, wonderful food, no responsibilities, they’re chauffeured everywhere, mom or the maid clean up their messes. Idyllic, no? Yet, there is a price to be paid. It’s known as spoiled brats. The arrogance displayed by these children is not to be believed.  They’ve gotten a message loud and clear: Everything is coming to me, no one may ignore my pettiest desire and if they do, I’ll make myself heard, over and over until I win.

This behavior is noted in children feeling perfectly comfortable interrupting any two adults who are talking be it their parents, their Rebbe or anybody else. Most often, if called on the behavior, they will look at you as if you’re the crazy one. “Me? What did I do?”

A related issue is the manner in which parents speak to their children beginning at a very tender age. “It’s time to go to bed now, Okay?” OKAY??? Are you asking the child’s permission? Are you expecting the child to maker the decision? What if the child says “NO”. Well, after all, you did ask. Don’t do this! Break yourself of the habit immediately. You are the adult. You make the decisions. You do not ask – you tell!!! If you run into problems, there are other ways to handle bedtime, bath-time, meal-time, clean up your toys or do your homework.

One simple suggestion to facilitate bed, bath etc. is to let the child know ahead of time. “Moshe, you will have to go to bed in fifteen minutes.” When the 15 is up you will need to be forceful and see to it that your word has been kept. The carrot may be that, if he does as asked, bedtime can be made 10 minutes later. If he doesn’t, then the stick is that bedtime is made 10 minutes earlier the next evening.

Not keeping pace with child’s growth. Adults are fairly static. Children are not. Very young children learn at an awesome rate. Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on your two-year-old, he’s two years and three months old and he’s changed dramatically. It takes real effort to keep up. What is he into now? What are his interests? What’s he doing in school? In my experience, most fathers really don’t know what grade their child is in or who the teachers are. I joke that fathers are there on the first day of kindergarten with their camcorders and then we don’t see them again until graduation, again with the camcorder. Kudos to those fathers who take an active interest all the way through.

Mothers would just love to drop the child off on the way home from the maternity ward and then come back just before the Bar Mitzva to pick up the child suitably attired with his Parsha and Pshetl flawlessly memorized.

Even many who take some interest do so in a funny way. If there is a problem in Kodesh, father calls the Rebbe. However, if the problem is in English ‘only’ mommy calls the teacher. Are you positive that this is the message you want to send. I hope not, but it is the message that everybody, including the child is getting.

Pushing the child too fast / not pushing at all. Achieving balance. Since when are children supposed to be making Brachos by the time they are two? Since when must they be in school by three? Since when do they have to know Shas by four?

The number of children being pushed ahead a grade, or even two, grows year by year. Few of these children are able to cope. It looks good for a while in the younger grades. Normally, as the children grow, the playing field levels off and those students who appeared so precocious in kindergarten are no longer ahead of their age, but they are now in a class with others students who are as much as two and a half years older. They can’t compete.

The flip side is the child who desperately needs to be held back a grade but the parents are concerned about devastating the poor child. They give no thought to the fact that the child will be called stupid a hundred times a day, for years to come, even though nobody actually uses the word. That’s truly devastating.

Too defensive. Brilliant angel syndrome. Not facing reality or assuming nobody else has this problem. The school is not your enemy. Teachers are trying to call the shots as they see them. All too often, parents feel under attack. What we say is, “We see a problem.” What the parent hears is, “You must be a lousy mother with poor genes and have raised your child in a barn”. Naturally, the parent gets defensive, usually to the child’s detriment. The child you see at home is not the one we have in school. We also see him in a very different setting. Behaviors that are tenable at home become untenable in a classroom setting.

We also see him within the context of a class-full of other students. Ostensibly, they are all on the same academic, emotional and maturational level. Problems tend to stand out. Sometimes these problems do not manifest themselves until later on. For instance, a child who was able to keep up in grades one and two may suddenly find problems keeping up in grades three and four. It’s not that the school missed the problem to date. More likely, that the problem is only now becoming obvious.

Then there is the problem of psychology. For many years, it was viewed as Apikorsis and no Frum parent would have dreamed of taking their precious jewel in to be destroyed by the psychologist. B”H, this is no longer the case. Unfortunately, the same parent who runs the child to top medical specialists every time he coughs, balks at the idea that anything could possibly be wrong intellectually, emotionally or psychologically. I dislike medicating children. Nonetheless, we don’t hesitate medicating for physical ailments. Yet, we don’t often view other problems as real physical imbalances. ADD, ADHD, hyperactivity and a host of other issues are very controllable with medication. All too often, parents rule it out without doing any homework. They are hurting their children in a misguided attempt to protect them. They are also hurting the rest of the class, the Rebbe, the teachers, the administrators and the parents of all the other students in the class.

More to the point; parents tend to forget that the school is merely an agent acting on their behalf. The ultimate responsibility is the parents’, not the schools. My favorite court case was one from California a number of years ago. A woman sued the Los Angeles school district for graduating her son from high school although he was clearly unable to read. The judge threw her case out of court asking, “Where have you been for the past 12 years?”

There is another area deserving discussion.  There is an unfortunate tendency, today, to grant a child credibility. While many children are to be believed when they say something, their credibility should never supersede that of an adult. Not only does Halacha not grant a child under bar/bas Mitzva with any credibility but, experience shows that children are very self-serving. Without even needing to accuse them of lying, it is clear that they will generally put a positive spin on events in their own favor. As the principal, a professional with over 30 years experience, I have been told on more than one occasion when there was some discrepancy in a school incident, “Rabbi Cohen, I hardly know you but I do know my child and I’m going to believe my child over you.” The extreme nature of the insult is not even the point. The real point is that that parent has made a severe error in judgement. Look at the message being delivered to the child. It’s no wonder that the students walk around with the attitude they do. A life lesson is being missed here. To function in a group, the individual must be subservient to that group and to the authority figure of that group. Today, everybody is a chief, there are no more indians. The only way a school will operate properly is when the child, and the parents, recognize the need to conform to the group’s needs. When I was growing up the rules were:

A-   The teacher is always right

B-   If the teacher is wrong, see A.

It may sound ludicrous in today’s climate but it did teach us respect for authority.

When a child is being ‘picked on’ in school, the tendency is for parents to want to protect their child, as well they should. There are really two issues involved here:

First, you cannot protect your child from life. Don’t try. Overly protected children are never able to develop their own defenses. The world is not a nice place. They’ll need to learn that lesson sooner or later and, more importantly, learn how to cope with it. Children also want things to be fair and things usually aren’t. The child has no contract for ‘fair’, nobody owes him fair, life just ain’t fair!

Secondly, children who are ‘picked on’ generally are doing something that brings on the ‘picking’. While you definitely should contact the teacher and/or administrator, don’t assume that there is no reason for these occurrences. Chances are that your child is at least partially at fault. That is not to say that this is a reason that other children should be allowed to pick on him or that that they are in any way right. Children have names for those they perceive as different. Wimps, nerds and geeks are a few of the nicer ones. They are social misfits. They will be picked on.

Years ago, as part of a government program to mainstream handicapped children a young boy named Roy was put into my class. He had Spina bifida, walked on crutches, wore a urine bag that often leaked and I figured that I was in for a rough year. Surprisingly, the class took to him beautifully. He was accepted, included and the other children were super-helpful. Not one other student made fun, called him names or mistreated him in any way – until they realized that he was not a very nice kid. That’s where we all ran into problems.

What you’ll need to do is determine what behaviors is your child exhibiting which cause the others to view him as different. Then, either help the child to curb those behaviors or get professional help to give him coping strategies.

“Do as I say, not as I do”. Promulgating honesty and good Middos.

Given what our children are exposed to, it is not particularly surprising that honesty and solid values are not in evidence to a large extent. I’m not referring to the abysmal conditions prevalent in secular society. I’m talking about our own circles. The most respected people discuss the fact that prisons today have multiple Minyonim and several Daf Yomi Shiurim and this is said with a smile and a wink. When those people get out of prison they return to their homes, families and Shuls and are welcomed back as if nothing happened. You can’t imagine the message received by the youngsters looking on. There is simply nothing wrong going on here. These people have been found guilty of lying, stealing, fraud, deceit and conspiracy and they are not shunned. The dichotomy between what is taught in Yeshiva and the reality simply tells children that Torah is a nice intellectual exercise but it’s not how we do things in the real world.

Compare this to the story told by Rav Weismandel zt’l, the Nitra Rosh Yeshiva. After WWII he found himself in a Jewish community in North Africa for Succos. When seeking Daled Minim he was told not to worry. On Succos morning, a man walked into Shul with a bag over his shoulder, which he unceremoniously dumped onto the table. Each man casually reached over and took an Esrog. Rav Weismandel was chagrined. “These are the people I’m spending Yom Tov with? They have so little regard for Mitzvos.” Later he noticed one man standing alone in back of the Shul whom nobody talked to. He asked about this, and was told that the man was being shunned by the community because he told a lie. That’s when Rav Weismandel knew that these were people who had their priorities straight.

Many children are aware that their parents cheat on taxes. They see minor infractions of dishonesty regularly. I plainly recall the disillusionment of a friend of mine in Yeshiva when he realized that the Yeshiva was playing games with federal funds, and literally demanded that he sign a paper so they could collect more using his name.

One Friday morning, on a secular holiday weekend, I was in the bakery purchasing Challos as were several fathers who were off work that day, with their young children. Two of the fathers were reminiscing together about the good old days in Yeshiva. Each of their reminisces centered on fooling the Rebbe, mistreating the English teachers, destroying the substitutes, and cheating on tests. All this in front of their impressionable children!!! What great Chinuch.

In any place where there is a large concentration of Frum people, children are continuously exposed to the fact that many are unscrupulously collecting welfare, Section 8 housing, food stamps and Medicaid. They are all too well aware that the beautiful stories about the Chofetz Chaim really don’t apply today.

Unless you’re delivering a strong message in your home to counteract this trend you need to be aware that your children will be affected.

When can you deliver this message. Three times a week, at the Shabbos table, we say Divrei Torah. Stop trying to impress everyone with the MaHaRitz Chayos that you saw on a Tosfos in Krisus. Forget wowing the guests with your erudition. Use this time, and your Divrei Torah, to speak directly to your children about values, morals, what’s important to you, what you expect from them.

One of the most powerful parenting tools I’ve run across is a take off on an extremely effective propaganda tool. In propaganda it’s called “The Big Lie “. Tell a lie loud enough and repeat it often enough and people will start to believe it. In this context we need not lie. We do need to repeat our expectations loudly and often. I put this to my own children as, “You are a Cohen.” (We are not Cohanim) “Do you know what that means? It means that you are not one of the riff-raff. It means that you are special. Not special in privilege – special in responsibilities. It means that we have the highest expectations of you in all areas of life, everywhere, all the time.” Repeat this often, every opportunity you get. It works!

Giving from yourself, not of yourself. This is linked to spoiling children. They are too astute to be bought off. They know exactly how you regard them. They can tell when money was spent on them to make up for the fact that time was not spent with them.

Most parents today spend for more time and energy on buying a new car then they spend on their children. Which make? Which model? What color? Sun-roof, moon-roof, convertible? Standard, automatic, four-on-the-floor? SUV, minivan, Jeep, sedan red, blue, green, power windows, surround sound etc etc etc ad nauseum. When was the last time you spent that much time discussing any decision concerning your child???

Over and over, we see families where Tatty is off on business, leaving early in the morning, returning late at night and falling asleep for most of Shabbos. Mommy is busy with Chesed, with running to the mall, on the phone for hours with everyone else’s business. Their children are orphans…and the children know it!

I was at a Bar Mitzva of a child from a very special family. In his Pshetl, the child thanked his parents for taking a walk together every day. “We know what you’re talking about on those walks,“ he said, “Us.” The pride and feeling in his words were felt by everyone there.

Unconditional love, conditional like. Don’t confuse the two. Your child requires your unconditional love. It must be manifested 24/7/365. There can be no conditions on love. Love is all or nothing. The child has no option. This even gets tied up in the child’s mind during the confusion of a divorce. They blame themselves that Mommy doesn’t love Tatty anymore. Always make sure that the child understands he’s loved.

You can put conditions on like.  I don’t like your behavior.” ” I don’t like what you just did.” Even, “I don’t like you when you behave like this.” This is conditional. The child is empowered to make a change that removes the stigma.

Lack of standards – Misplaced priorities. Abrogating parental responsibilities. Accepting chutzpa.

Any human endeavor is begun with an eye to success. Whether it in fact succeeds will depend on many variables, many beyond the control of the person involved. One of the factors within our control is the style in which it’s done. When high standards are established, it shows up as good taste and great style.  Low standards result in sloppy results.

What are the standards in your family? Are they set high across the board? Are your expectations consistent in all areas? Keep in mind that these standards will also be an indicator of your Hashkofos as well.

Do you accept behaviors from your children that are not in keeping with a serious set of ‘house rules’? Are you aware of how your child behaves in different social settings? Do you enforce your standards?

One of my children was doing homework. I passed by and saw that the paper was sloppy. It was ripped up and the child was told to redo it. Of course, I got the usual, “The teacher says it’s okay.” My response was that I didn’t think that was true, but even if the teacher says it’s okay, it’s not okay with me. Where the teacher’s standards are higher than mine, we’ll need to adjust to them. Where mine are higher, you (the child) will need to meet my standards. In June the teacher will forget your name, you’ll be my child forever.

I constantly see children coming to school unprepared. Where’s mom in the morning or the evening before, for that matter?

Many children come to school in torn and dirty clothing. Their shirts are not tucked in, their shoes are untied. What sort of message are they sending? What do you suppose others think of the parents of these children?

They often exhibit poor behavior and when asked if that’s permitted at home, the answer is, “Yes.” Why shouldn’t they throw garbage on the floor in school? At home, mom or the maid will clean up after them. Why shouldn’t they abuse school property. At home if something breaks, well, we’ll just by a new one.

Chutzpa is an ongoing problem. I used to think it was directed at me. I stopped taking it personally when I noticed how they respond to everybody. You cannot imagine the manner in which I’ve heard children speak to their own parents. The worst imaginable, and the parents accept it!!!  I’ve had to tell children that the amount of respect they show their Rebbes they really owe to the bus driver. If they had an inkling of what they really owed their Rebbes they would be ashamed of themselves.

How should you teach respect. Determine what behaviors, tone of voice, facial expressions, or responses are acceptable and which not. Punish when they are unacceptable. The younger you start and the more forceful you are the easier it is.

When told they are being Chutzpadig, most children will look at you as if you don’t know what you’re talking about. They certainly don’t! The following was developed to give to a class to define what I meant by Chutzpa. If you make these parameters clear, then you will be in a position to tell the child, “Now you can’t say you don’t know what I mean.” 

Chutzpa shall be defined as:

  • Lack of Kavod for parents
  • Lack of Kavod for Rebbeim
  • Lack of Derech Eretz for any adult (This includes English teachers and subs)
  • Lack of Kavod HaBrios for any person. (This includes janitors, bus drivers, maids, waiters, etc.) 

In theory Kavode, Derech Eretz and Kavod HaBrios are three totally different levels of the same concept. In practice, for a child, there is almost no difference in the behaviors that need to be manifested.

The lack may be shown in any of the following manners:

1-    Contradicting an adult

2-    Being argumentative

3-    Answering back, getting in “the last word”

4-    Refusing to do what you are told (active)

5-    Not doing what you were told, when you’re told (passive)

6-    Continuing an argument, discussion or action after you’ve been told to stop. Getting the last word.

7-    Telling, rather than asking, what you can / can’t, will or won’t do

8-    Demanding anything of an adult rather than asking politely

9-    Slamming a door, throwing back a chair, stomping feet etc. in response to anything an adult has said

10- Laughing at inappropriate times, inappropriate facial expressions (e.g. rolling your eyes, sneering, smirking) in response to an adult

11- Making fun of any adult, calling any adult names whether it is ‘jerk’ or ‘stupid’ or calling an adult by a disparaging nickname, making disparaging remarks or referring to the adult without titles (Rabbi, Dr.) or honorifics (Mr., Mrs., Morah). Calling an adult by their first name.

12- Use of hands on any adult, pushing, hitting etc.

13- Physical resistance to an adult

14- Spiteful non-cooperation (e.g. when told to hurry the child purposefully dawdles)

All of the above apply all the time, even when;

  • You think it’s not fair
  • You’re very angry
  • You are in a bad mood or are having a bad day
  • You’re words or actions were not intended to be Chutzpa. 

If you, dear parent, feel this is somewhat harsh you’re fooling only yourself and hurting your children. Nobody else is going to teach them proper behavior. Maseches Succa ends with the admonition,” that which a child says in the street is only a repetition of what he has heard from his father and mother.” The exact same thing is true of behavior. Your child is an open window into your home. When I get to know a child well, I know more about the home than parents would ever want anyone to know. The above guidelines are straight to the point. Any lower standards and your child may very well be thought of as a boor by his teachers, and others who see him in action.

Just recently, on a Friday morning, in a local grocery store, I was waiting on line with one young boy ahead of me and several other people behind me. Each of us had only several small items to pay for. A seventeen or eighteen year old Yeshiva boy, complete with Tzitzis dangling from his untucked shirt, pushed to the head of the line, waved his can of soda at the busy clerk,, demanding to know the price and waving a couple of dollars in her face. I politely told him to wait on line like the rest of us. He simply sneered at me and continued to harry the clerk. I asked him why his time was more valuable than anyone else’s. He ignored me. I then called him a boor whose Torah learning has been a total waste – an idiot who reflects very poorly on his family and Yeshiva. He looked at me as if I was the crazy person. What is even more frightening is that no one else in the store said a thing! He paid and walked off thinking that he had every right to do what he did.

Establish the pecking order. Do your children stand up for you? Most parents have a difficult time with this. On the basis of a Shiur I heard from Rav Sheinberg I had to rethink my priorities. A woman asked a question and expressed reservations about the Rosh Yeshiva’s answer that her children stand up for her. The Rosh Yeshiva’s rejoinder was, “If the child isn’t to stand up for you, who should he stand up for? You’re his mother!”  I decided, when my children were very young, that nobody else was going to teach them this. It was up to me. To have them jump up every time my wife or I came into a room was overmuch and would have probably been resented. My solution was to have the children wash first after Kiddush. When we walked in to the dining room after washing the children were taught to stand. It amounts to three times a week (and Yom Tov). It established, early on, the nature of our relationship and to this day has made a difference. JUST DO IT! You need not be a big Rosh Yeshiva. The Torah puts no such constraints on Kibud Av V’Em.

When Westinghouse Corporation goes to make a refrigerator, they do not simply plop a bunch of parts on the assembly line and have the workers do whatever they want. In fact, they begin backwards. They tell an engineer exactly what they want. He, in turn, starts from the end product and determines what steps are needed to achieve the desired product. When the assembly line starts up, the company knows exactly what the result will be. Our Yeshivos certainly do not develop their curriculum in this manner. That does not mean that you need to run your home in some haphazard, meaningless way. Sit down, determine what you want and figure out what is necessary to get there.

 

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