Parenting has two components:
Setting expectations, and helping your child meet each one.
Make sure each expectation meets the criteria of CPR:
Concrete (specific, not vague);
Positive (what you want from the child, not what you don’t want); and
Realistic (including how soon and for how long you want the child to meet this particular expectation)
If a child is unable to meet an expectation, help him gain competence, or modify the expectation.
If a child is competent but unwilling to meet an expectation, offer the child an incentive. Incentives can be things the child now takes for granted. Explain that from now on she will have to earn it by meeting expectations.
Entice a young child to study Torah with things he likes so that he’ll go to learn with a smile on his face. When he gets older and disdains the little gifts of before, give him different ones that he’ll want. When he grows older and disdains all of these, tell him to learn and in return you’ll find him a wonderful wife. When he grows even older, tell him, “Learn Torah and you will become a leader and they’ll call you ‘Rebbe.’” When he grows yet older, tell him, “In the merit of learning Torah, you will merit Gan Eden.” After that, when he becomes wise, guide him to learn Torah for its own sake and not for anything in the world, as it says in the Talmud (Pesachim 50a), “From learning Torah not for its own sake, you come to learn Torah for its own sake.” (Shelah HaKadosh, Sha’ar HaOsiyos 4:22)
Do not take away something a child has earned or been promised.
When a person fulfills a mitzvah, it rises through all the barriers of heaven and ascends to the highest plane to stand before Hashem. However, when he sins, his sins do not ascend to the highest heights…
Thus, each person has two accounts in heaven, one for his mitzvos and one for his aveiros. This is not like a checking account, in which debits are subtracted from credits. Rather, they are two separate accounts. In one account are the aveiros, which are waiting either to be repaid through punishment or erased through teshuvah. In the other account are the mitzvot that a person has done - and the reward for mitzvos is eternal. (Tomer Devorah Elucidated page 126)
Have one parent speak with one child at a time even if many were involved in the matter you are addressing. Family meetings are for planning family activities, not for addressing problems. The risk of shaming a child is too high.
When there is an issue, postpone the one on one conversation until both you and your child are calm enough to listen. We are able and tend to speak before we’re calm, not realizing that no one is able to listen at that time. In nearly every parenting situation, the conversation is important and not urgent. Slow down and wait until you might be helpful rather than hastily making things worse. Don’t ignore; postpone. Say to your child, I’ll speak with you later. Those may be the five most valuable words any parent can say. Say the words, walk away, focus elsewhere for a while, and then have the conversation.
During the conversation, find out about what happened, not why. The word why always puts the recipient on the defensive. Ask what happened, not why did you… To help your child to choose a different behavior the next time something similar happens, ask your child to describe her experience of what happened internally as well as externally.
We describe external experience by way of our five senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. We describe internal experience by way of four components: thoughts, emotions, wants, and choices. Our behaviors are the result of both external and internal experiences. To encourage a different behavior, take the time to learn all of the dimensions of your child’s experience.
Many adults look forward to Shabbos and Yom Tov. Until they have children.
That’s when adults discover that the expression it’s fun for the whole family! is fantasy. I don’t know of anything that is fun for the whole family.
I do know that I have heard too many times that Shabbos is the most difficult day of the week and Yom Tov was nice; thank G-d it’s over.
The Vilna Gaon reportedly said that the most difficult of the mitzvos is the mitzvah of simchat Yom Tov. (I’ve never found a source for this.) So don’t feel bad when this happens to you. Plan ahead for your children to have activities they might enjoy and friends to play with on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Make family activities brief and expect complaints nonetheless. The complaints don’t mean that you are failing as a parent unless you believe that success means keeping everyone happy. If you set yourself up to fail, you will.
As I wrote above, you have two tasks to fulfill as parents: setting expectations and helping your children meet them. The most effective way to accomplish that is found, like everything, in Torah: Naah darash v'naah mikayaim Do what you teach. Model the person you want your child to build upon. (Chagigah 14b)
My Nachas Notes column has emphasized middos tovos as the medium by which you become the person your child admires, the person from whom he wants to learn.
Each chapter of my book explores how a particular middah tovah helps us grow as parents.
I hope my column has helped you and your children grow in middos and in your relationship with one another.
This is the last of my weekly articles.
Vihi no'am Hashem Elokeinu aleinu… May Hashem’s no’am come from us. (Tehilim 90:17)
No'am is the pleasure derived from seeing your efforts achieve their purpose. When we grow towards perfection, Hashem finds pleasure in us. (Malbim ibid)
May all of us have much nachas from our children and may Hashem have much nachas from us.
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.