Mrs. Sori Block of Melbourne, Australia shares tips for creating healthy boundaries and raising well-adjusted children.
by Mrs. Sori Block, reprinted with permission from Young Yeshivah Magazine
A while ago, my friend recounted to me something troubling that had occurred while she was babysitting some children. When it was time to get ready for bed, she asked one of the children to start cleaning up the toys, and the child responded to her in an overly threatening manner. A ten-year-old threatening my friend! Not ok.
Were this an isolated event, I would not be putting pen to paper for this article. The increasing prevalence of these kinds of incidents serve as a wakeup call for all of us. The more we sit up and take notice of the problem of lack of respect, the more we can work together on a solution.
Although my childhood was thirty years ago, and many things have changed since then – some for the good and some for the opposite – there are some basics that need not change. Honoring one’s parents is one of the ten commandments, and one gets long life for doing it. Let’s not mess with Hashem’s commandment!
Here are some tips of mine to raise your children in kind:
1. Reclaim your power!
Thirty years ago, when your mother asked you to help her, you didn’t argue about who was the boss. Parents had expectations of their children, and we had to do what we were asked to do – no ifs and no buts. There were dishes that needed washing, laundry that needed folding, bedrooms that needed tidying, help in preparing for Shabbos, going to the grocery store and sweeping the floor at night. Sometimes it was a nightly chore, and sometimes you were randomly chosen. Our parents worked hard and helping was normal.
Having children help around the house fosters responsibility, teamwork and care, and the fact is that this is how a family operates. Telling parents “I can’t”, or “I don’t want to”, wasn’t an option; they were in charge, and we listened.
If we wanted to use the phone, we needed permission. Today, I see children take out their mother’s phone, ignoring her when she says she doesn’t want them to use it.
“No” should be a firm “No.”
2. Less attention makes better mentschen.
Thirty years ago, we were never asked if we were happy. We were given toys, arts & crafts, crayons, bikes – and lots of love, but we often had to play by ourselves. Boredom wasn’t a word we were allowed to use… if we did, we were quickly given a chore. We learned to entertain ourselves by playing with our friends and siblings, climbing trees, chatting with the neighbor, riding our bikes and even recording our voices on tape recorders.
It’s ok for kids to figure out how to entertain themselves.
3. Kids need boundaries.
We all thrive on rules and regulations, but children need it even more. We put kids to bed early because they need it, and we need the peace and quiet too! Letting children go onto the computer for too long, or letting them go overboard with social media, is detrimental to them and they don’t have the discipline or maturity to stop themselves. Hold discussions on what you will allow them to do and what you expect from them.
4. Teach resilience.
If I failed my math test (which happened often), my mother would say, “It’s ok. Next time you will work harder”. It wasn’t the end of the world, but neither was I mollycoddled. I just had to work harder.
There were no free rides. If I wanted to do an activity, or visit a friend, I had to figure out on my own how I would get there and back – I might ask a brother to take me, or as we got older, there was my bike and public transport. If I wanted extras, I had to purchase it with my babysitting money. I would feel immense joy and pride working hard, saving up and paying for it myself. I learnt about delayed gratification. Love doesn’t mean giving your children whatever they want. It is ok to say no, and it is also ok to go halves. Teaching them to work hard for something is a great life lesson to prepare them for adulthood.
5. Communicate and Connect!
Listen to your children. Really care to listen as they often have honest refreshing ideas and opinions. Be honest with them, be vulnerable and real. You can tell them when you’ve failed in life and teach them how you learned from those mistakes.
Children must feel heard, seen, secure, safe and soothed. Only you can do that job. Give your children attention and affection. They learn how to love by seeing how you go about it.
Some people invest a lot of energy into their jobs, students or community. Still, you need to give the very best of yourself to your children. Try to say as many Yes’s as you can. Yes, you can have a dance party. Yes, you can have a sleepover. Yes, you can go out with friends. When they see you trust them, they have less reason to rebel or keep secrets from you. Connection is everything. Be present with your children and connect with them by getting off your device and looking into their eyes when talking to them. Have fun with your children so they will grow up to be kind, happy, loving, and resilient contributing members of society.
6. Managing emotions.
From a very young age, children learn what they can get away with and what the boundaries are. If a child has a temper tantrum and is told that they will get a lolly if they stop crying, they learn early enough that screaming louder will get them another lolly. I don’t think it is easy, but try to nip it in the bud early. If a child keeps screaming, step in and make clear that this is not acceptable behavior and what the consequence will be. Later, when you have a quiet moment, you can discuss with the child better ways to manage how they feel.
As children get older, their tantrums get a bit more complex. Lay down the rules of the house and state clearly what behavior is acceptable and appreciated, and what behavior will have consequences. Then, keep to your word, acknowledging cooperative behavior and disciplining them for rudeness, tantrums and disruptive behavior.
I must add here that one should always “connect before correct”. Discipline should come from a place of connection, and not from impulsive reactivity.
We teach children not by what we say, but by what we do. Involve your children in your Mitzvos. Show them how happy you are to have guests and share your Shabbos meal with others. My mother taught us the art of giving through actions, not words. We always had guests. My mother sent me every Friday to visit the widow down the street with challah and chicken, even though she had already gone during the week to visit her and make sure she had eaten. We often had people sleep over for Shabbos. Not necessarily friends, but people who needed a place to sleep for Shabbos. Giving was part of our life.
Your children will learn respect for others through your own behavior. Don’t make fun of authority. Respect teachers, Rabbis and elders of the community, and they will respect them too. You won’t have to tell your children not to talk about others if you are careful yourself. At your Shabbos meal, don’t discuss other people. There is plenty else to talk about, such as the Parsha, a story of Hashgacha Pratis that happened to you, or even current affairs. Anything is better than talking about other people. Don’t tell your children to daven, and how, but rather, daven properly yourself. Show them that being kind is more important than being right all the time. Don’t talk the talk, but walk the walk.
Raising a mentsch is a lot of work, but as you raise your children, you raise yourself to new heights too.