I’ve read that when you are angry at your child you should take a deep breath and count to ten before you say anything. Every time I’m about to tell my child what she did wrong, I stop, take a deep breath, and count to ten. After I’ve done all that, I say the exact same thing in the same angry voice that I was going to say to begin with. What’s the point of breathing and counting when I end up the same, Rabbi Ackerman?
Good question. First of all, what makor did this mom’s book offer for these suggestions? What is the basis for thinking that breathing and counting would accomplish anything?
Before I tell you the makor for each of them, let me explain why they don’t seem to help.
In many cases, it is true that taking a deep breath and counting are necessary before speaking to your child. It is always true that the deep breath and the counting are not sufficient.
Let me give you an example to illustrate the difference between necessary and sufficient. In order to prepare a smoothie, it is necessary to place the desired ingredients into a blender. Now that you have placed the milk, yogurt, and fruit into the blender, do you have a smoothie? No, because what you’ve done so far was necessary but not sufficient. What will it take to have the sufficient conditions to result in a smoothie? Turning on the blender!
Obviously, just turning on the blender with nothing in it will not yield a smoothie; putting the ingredients into the blender is a necessary condition. After meeting that condition, another condition, turning on the blender, must be met in order to make your preparations sufficient to achieve your goal, a smoothie.
When you prepare to effectively parent your child, taking a deep breath and counting to ten may be necessary ingredients but they not sufficient. It’s like putting the ingredients into the blender without turning it on.
I’ll talk about the next step, making sufficient preparations for parenting in each situation, a little later. First, let’s look at makoros for breathing and counting.
Rav Baruch haLevi Epstein, z”l, in his sefer Tosefes Bracha, discusses the Hebrew word for lung, rei’ah. He points out that it is similar to the rei-ai which means to see. Rav Epstein writes that the lungs help an angry person to see more clearly, in the following way:
“The lungs hug the heart. It is the nature of the heart to always be hot and flaming (it may be that this is why it is called laiv, as in the term in Shemos 3:2 lavas aish and related to the term lahav… and this is why the heart is associated with anger, as in Devarim 28:65 laiv ragaz).
“It is the nature of the lungs to always be cool. Thus, because the lungs hug the heart, they cool the heart thus enabling a person to see better because anger darkens vision.” (Braishis, page 308, note)
There is a makor for taking a deep breath. But for many parents, one deep breath is not enough.
The second common recommendation is to count to ten. Counting to ten does cause a delay in your response to your child, but again, it may not be enough for many parents.
The makor for delaying your response is found in Avos 4:23, “al tiratze es chavercha b’shaas kaaso, don’t speak with someone, even to attempt to calm him, while he is angry.” The gemara in Brachos 7a says that you should not try to work with someone when you are angry. By delaying your interaction with your child until both you and she are calm you avoid the outcome we are warned of by the author of Pele Yo’Aitz. At the end of the section on yishuv ha’daas he writes, pri ha’ma-heerus charata, the fruit of haste is regret.
Have you ever said something or made a face at your child that you later regretted? It is necessary to sincerely apologize, but that’s not sufficient. If you truly regret it, you want to learn how to make sure you won’t do it again. How do you make sure you won’t repeat that error?
The short answer is: SLOW DOWN. Wait until you and your child are calm.
That sounds good, Rabbi Ackerman, but what about my daughter who is screaming because her brother is pulling her hair? I should just wait until he stops pulling her hair and she calms down? How am I being an effective parent to her?
When a child is suffering, being victimized, do whatever you need to do, immediately, to rescue the victim.
Okay, and what about the perpetrator? He gets away with it?
No, he doesn’t “get away with it.” He needs your help to learn how to meet your expectation the next time he has an altercation with his sister or simply decides to make her miserable. First, make sure he knows what your expectation is. But don’t attempt to speak with him about anything while you’re still upset with him.
So how is he supposed to know that I don’t want him to pull her hair?
While you’re still upset, right after you’ve rescued his sister, say 5 words to him, and then walk away until you are calm.
Five words like, “you have to stop that?” What the difference if it’s 7 words, “you must not pull your sister’s hair?”
The difference is that the words you suggested, 5 or 7 of them, are not going to accomplish anything. I suspect you’ve said them before, to no avail.
The five words to say when you are upset with your child are, “I’ll speak with you later.” Period, walk away. Your child will know she did something you don’t like.
And the conversation with the perpetrator can wait?
Definitely. Remember, if you don’t wait you’ll often regret your hasty reaction.
Also, while many parenting situations are important, virtually none is urgent. It is urgent to rescue a victim, a suffering child. It is important and not urgent to help the perpetrator to do better next time. Keep that distinction between important and urgent in mind and you’ll be able to wait until you and your child are calm. That’s your opportunity to earn the nachas you see when you are an effective parent.
How long should you wait, what should you think about while you’re waiting? The answer for each parent is different. Speak with someone and find out what’s best for you.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.
He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575.