In Kosher Deli at Temple Fortune a lady comes in with a baby in a buggy and a little boy. She stands in the middle of the shop and says to her young son who looked about 3 or 4 years old, “choose a chicken for Shabbat”.
He goes over to the cabinet and picks out a chicken. His mother thanks him and says, “that is perfect”. Having ascertained that chopped liver is also needed, the little boy brings her a container of chopped liver and is suitably thanked.
Next cold cuts are required and as they are high up he points but he is not sure which of two to choose. We’ll take a packet of each the mother decides.
Watching this scenario, I thought it is a good example of giving a young child responsibility and building up his self esteem.
I would now like to share with you some ideas and insights from “Living with Kids”, a handbook written by Miriam Aduhan, a renowned psychotherapist.
Miriam says every human being needs to feel that they have within themselves a core of inner goodness – even greatness. This is reflected in the prayer we say each morning. “My God, the soul that you have given me is pure. You have created it. You have formed it. You have breathed it into me and You preserve it within me”.
To help her children to grow up with their own godly essence she decided to write down one thing each day that showed they were capable of spiritual greatness.
It could be as simple as sharing a drink with a sibling on a hot day or helping her with her shopping. These acts were read out at the Shabbat table.
She said nothing is as powerful to a child as seeing praise on paper. As her children grew older she had them write down their own acts of courage and discipline and the things for which they were grateful.
When she disciplines her children she tried not to take away their sense of power and self esteem. Rather she tried to awaken their sensitivity.
She gave the example of a friend who came over with her young children. One of them started playing with a toy which her four year old son promptly grabbed away. She said “look at Chaim’s face - how does he feel now that you have taken the toy away?” Her son looked at Chaim’s face intently and immediately returned the toy.
When she was schlepping bags of groceries and her child asked her to hold something, she would say, “look at my hands” and this helped him to become aware of reality outside of his own immediate desires.
If a child said something hurtful to her, all she had to say was “look at my face – how did that make me feel?”
A clash of wills inevitably occurs as a child begins to establish his identity and sense of control. Making charts and schedules save an incredible amount of arguing.
Children appreciate them tremendously as they can see what they need to do on their own without the tension that comes from nagging.
Children should be allowed reasonable choices and they should be trained to find solutions.
When they are hot, cold, hungry or bored, ask them – “what’s your solution?”
“You don’t want to go to bed right now but if you don’t you’ll be tired and crabby tomorrow. We have a problem. Help me find a solution.”
Role playing – children above the age of five love to switch roles with parents- is another useful tool.
Miriam says – do not view defiance, wildness, inattention, fidgeting or lack of cooperation as rejection or disrespect. See them as normal activities that must be dealt with firmly but lovingly. They are signs that the child is doing what they are supposed to do – testing the limits of your authority and patience and developing their own separate identity.
A child who is always “good” is not normal or desirable.
Children have sibling rivalries, have fears and resentments, are jealous and sometimes out of control. That’s normal. For these, I am sure, very infrequent occasions, Miriam has a special formula – “hold my hand, look into my eyes and tell me exactly what you want.”
This method works because firstly it lets the child know you care.
Second the child, looking into the parent’s eyes, will realise he is doing something wrong and the parent looking into the child’s eyes will show the child love.
Third, by asking the child to calmly state what he wants, you force the child to think logically.
Fourthly, you let the child know that you take the child’s feelings seriously.
Let us have much joy and nachus from our children and grandchildren.