Where can I find a recipe for nachas?
No one has ever asked me that question using those particular words. Many parents have asked me what books I would recommend to them that would help them with their children. As is my wont, I usually respond to their question with a question of my own: what books have you found helpful so far?
Well, I read [fill in the blank with any of the many parenting books that are available] and I thought it had some really good ideas but it doesn’t always work and I don’t always seem to be able to do it even when I think it would work.
Okay, so it sounds like sometimes that book has really helped you to help your child and sometimes not so much. What’s your impression of what’s different when it works versus when it doesn’t work?
I don’t know. It just varies.
That’s not likely. When a parent says to me that the responses they receive from their child “just vary” I wonder if it’s really entirely random, or if there are some ways of determining when the approach taken by the parent is likely to “work” or not.
Why did I put quotation marks on the word “work?” Because it tells us something about the approach the parent took that may have affected the outcome. When a parent says or does something to see if it “works,” it sounds to me like they are trying to get their child to do something. What happens when we replace it with the word ”help?” I prefer parents to have the mindset that they are helping their child to succeed at meeting expectations. Yes, that is semantics. Our self talk is semantic. We use words to form our thoughts which guide our feelings and our behaviors, as described in the Shem MiShmuel on parshas Breishis. For example, when you begin your thoughts with the words “I need to see what will work,” you may be feeling anxious that it might not work and come across in a way that is pressured and impatient.
When you start with the words “I want to see what might help,” you are more likely to be feeling curious, and you’ll express yourself calmly.
The way children respond to their parents does vary. A large part of that variance can be attributed to the child’s nature, attitude, and mood, and the latter two of those will vary from time to time. Another portion of the variance results from your temperament and demeanor, often driven by your thoughts and intentions. When you think about helping, and intend to work with your child, you can change your child’s attitude and mood, and work together toward his or her success. When you think about getting something to work with the intention of forcing or manipulating your child, you’re probably going to find that you and your child are moving apart toward failure.
I recently had a conversation with parents who were very attentive to the alternative ways of thinking and expressing themselves that I was describing. I had suggested that they begin by thinking in terms of helping their teenage son meet some specific expectations, and they really liked the idea of expressing a desire to help their child succeed rather than informing him that he needs to comply. Then the mom asked me, “how long do you think it will take for us to see some changes in him?’ I told her that I have no way of knowing for sure, and I wouldn’t expect to see any significant changes in less than a week or two.
A week or two? How can I make this happen faster?
I’m not really sure. You probably know much more about baking than I do. Let’s say you have a recipe that says to put the cake into a 300° oven for 90 minutes. You’d like to make it happen faster so you decide to work with the ratios. You cut the amount of time in half and double the temperature; you set the oven for 600° and only leave the cake in the oven for 45 minutes. How do you imagine that’s going to work out?
Books can tell you various recipes for nachas. Many of those recipes can help you get very good results much of the time. Some parenting books provide details and examples that you may find helpful.
There’s one critical component that can ruin any recipe no matter how carefully you follow it. When we’re talking about baking a cake, the critical component is the stove. Imagine having an oven that has only two settings, off and 600°. Now imagine what it’s like for your child when your two settings are, “I can’t deal with you anymore, do whatever you want,” or “we’ve got to figure this out NOW!”
The book that will help you and your child together towards nachas is the book that helps you moderate your temperament and demeanor. If no book helps you stay calm, find a person who will.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC, has been working with parents for over 30 years. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.