The first night of Succot, my 2-year-old had a great time not letting his two older brothers fall asleep as he jumped on top of them and climbed all over them. My husband was not amused, and by the 100th time he was fed up. He took my son by the arm and put him in the house. This was absolutely not to be tolerated by my son, who is almost 3-going-on-30! He started crying and screaming, “Aba hurt me! Aba hurt me! ABA HURT ME!!!” Over and over and over.... My husband tried to explain to him that he wasn’t letting his brothers fall asleep, so he had to put him inside.
And then it hit me. I finally began to understand what Rav Arush meant in his book, Chinuch B’Ahava (The Garden of Education, soon to appear in English). He writes: "Kids don’t respond well to discipline. Any effort, no matter how appropriate it may seem, to discipline them forcefully, will not be well-received, and will not help the parent achieve his goal of getting his kid to behave." Case in point: when my husband was trying to explain to my son why he put him inside, what was he expecting to happen? Like most of us, he was expecting the child to understand why he was disciplining him, and to ultimately agree with his logic!
Do you understand how ridiculous this sounds?? Let’s examine this in dialogue format:
Aba - Yaacov, I put you inside because you weren’t letting your brothers fall asleep.
Yaacov - ABBA HURT ME! ABBA HURT ME!
A - But you weren’t letting your brothers fall asleep, Yaacov.
Y- ABBA HURT ME! ABBA HURT ME!
A - I didn’t hurt you- I put you inside because you were climbing all over your brothers.
Y - ABBA HURT ME! ABBA HURT ME!...
We expect liitle Yaacov to say, "You know what, Abba? You’re right! I was disturbing my brothers and therefore you had to separate me from the situation. Thanks so much, Abba! I appreciate your discipline."
Doesn’t this sound insane? Who would expect a child to think and respond this way??
Unfortunately, we do it every day. No matter how old our kids are, expecting a response like this is ridiculous and unfair. Kids don’t think with logic, so why are we trying to enforce our rules using our logical brains?
This is why Rav Arush’s insight and advice is so unbelievably brilliant. He understands that kids will never act logically; therefore we must also act illogically. If we want to create a strong bond of love and respect between us and our children, we must play according to their level of simple thinking and not on our level of advanced logic and rationalization. Years of forced discipline will result in one of two things: either the parent/child relationship will be strained, or there will be no relationship to speak of. I have never met a young adult who was sincerely thankful for his parents’ discipline and had a great, close, loving relationship with them as an adult. Have you ever seen a teenager that’s happy he was grounded? “Thanks, Mom and Dad, for all the Saturday nights you made me spend at home because I did something wrong that you and I can’t even remember. Thanks for taking my car away from me every weekend for a month. That was real love, Mom and Dad. I love you guys so much!” Seriously.
I realized something else that’s wrong with our mindset. When we discipline our kids, we are telling them that they must break their nature, because we don’t want to break ours. We don’t want to give up our expectations of unwavering respect and obedience. We are so stuck in our programming and stubbornness, that there is no way we would even think about bending ourselves in order to create a solid relationship with our children.
Why do we do this? I think there are several reasons. First, we justify the way we were raised, and therefore think it is an acceptable method. This is all done subconsciously. For example, if we were spanked as children, then we feel it is perfectly acceptable to spank our kids. Second, we’re afraid our kids will turn into wild animals if we don’t do something to keep them in line. Generally speaking, I think our programming is a result of society’s negative attitude towards kids. This is especially true in modern cultures, where the single life is revered, and settling down is a dreaded reality that many postpone as long as they can.
For example: when a kid has a fit at the check-out in the grocery store because Mommy doesn’t want to buy him a toy, what is the general reaction of those around you? Looks of distaste, disgust, and maybe even a, “Can’t you control your kid?” The problem is that we think kids need to be trained and tamed, just like wild animals. Therefore, we see no reason to bend our nature in any way.
This is why it is so hard to accept and implement the “No discipline” rule. It goes against everything we were taught. Changing our mindset is the hardest thing to do. This is why I personally fail again and again. It is almost impossible not to punish my oldest son when he is torturing my younger ones!
Thank G-d for Rav Arush and his teachings! He explains: “Children are mirrors of their parents. Whatever fault you see in them, it is really YOUR flaw. Work on fixing yourself and the kids will straighten out all on their own.”
You may think that you don’t have the same flaws as your kids. For example, you might pride yourself on being honest, and your kid likes to lie. But wasn’t there a time when you lied? Did you do teshuva for all those times you lied in the past? Are you lying to yourself about something in your life? Maybe someone upset you and you think you’ve forgiven them, but you really haven’t. It could be that subtle.
Hashem wants us to do sincere introspection! He wants us to look at all that’s imperfect with our characters so we have a chance to correct ourselves! What better tool to use than our kids? No one brings out the worst in us more than our kids do! Where is the mercy in this? Hashem wants us to be spiritually clean of any transgressions, so He stimulates our teshuva in the most efficient way possible. Why is it so important to work on ourselves? In the next world, we won’t have the chance to correct anything. The way we leave is the way we stay, unless we get another chance in our next incarnation. But who really wants to come back and have to do it all over again? Who says we will have it better next time? Most likely we’ll have it worse! Who says we will even be human next time? It’s a frightening thought...
So what are we supposed to do in the moment that we want to severely injure them? Talk to Hashem! Beg Him to help you fix your character flaws! Each time I could keep my sanity in check long enough to do it, I can tell you it really works! I do this in front of them and it accomplishes several things. It totally gets the kids’ minds off their argument. They learn that Hashem is listening to your prayers. It also teaches them that in any difficult situation, they can call out to Hashem to help them, too.
Throughout the journey of parenthood, we must keep one important thing in mind at all times. We must keep the preservation of our relationship with our children as our number one goal. No discipline surely goes against our logic, but in the long run, with emuna and personal prayer, we will be successful. Have you ever seen a rebellious, obnoxious kid with parents who worked their hardest to have a close and deep relationship with him? I haven’t.
Our kids deserve the best that we can be.