Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Teves 5762 - December 19, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family
How to Deal With Chutzpa

by Menucha Fuchs
Parenting counselor, author of dozens of books, fiction and non-fiction, for children and adults

We all agree that chutzpa is rampant today. Teachers as well as parents express concern over this phenomenon. I'm not sure how true this is or whether it's more publicized today than ever before, but what is clear is that parents often give up on children who are full of chutzpa. They claim that "We gave him everything; we tried everything. What can we do with this little `brat'?"

1. Let the child express his feelings in a positive way.

Often, we mix up two different things -- real chutzpa and verbal expressions of feelings. A child who voices his opinion and disagrees with what we say or with certain rules we set in the house is not necessarily a chutzpanik. He might be an extroverted child who is set on expressing his feeling openly, while we might be quick to judge him and pin that label on him. In this way, we can really cause him to be one, if we're not careful in our appraisal. However, by making a distinction between real chutzpa and outward expression of feelings, we can avoid many confrontations with our children.

We can let him understand that what he is expressing or doing is fine, but that he should choose his words more carefully. An open child is a positive child who doesn't bottle things inside. But it IS up to us to temper his outbursts. As soon as we distinguish between the two, we will discover that most of our children's chutzpa disappears and that it is almost non-existent, since we took away the derogatory label. We'll be able to manage better with the leftover chutzpa. How? We'll explain to the child that he, himself, is not a chutzpanik, even if certain words and phrases escaped from his mouth, but that these expressions are not allowed. They do not befit him! Once the child does not feel threatened, and doesn't have a negative nickname, he is free to change direction, to understand and to improve.

2. Don't let the child say anything/everything he wants.

Children have to know that at home there is order and there are limits. He should not be allowed to say anything that comes to mind. It is permitted to say what one thinks so long as it does not hurt anyone, or bother anyone, and it doesn't disturb the atmosphere at home. This has to be strongly emphasized and enforced completely. Just as in certain homes there is a rule that eating takes place only in the kitchen and brushing of teeth is done only in the bathroom, we have to stand firm and not let certain speech, words or expressions enter our home!

3. Don't do unto your child what you hate having done to you.

Parents try to `neutralize' their child's chutzpa in every way possible. The most popular way is to yell at the child that `this is no way to talk.' Without realizing it, these parents are doing to their child what they, themselves, cannot abide. They are treating him without the proper respect! Afterwards, when the children assimilate this behavior, they relate to the parents in the same way. They yell and give orders and sometimes add unacceptable words and expressions.

4. Empahsize the child's positive speech.

In order for children to learn to speak nicely and properly, it is not enough to teach them what is forbidden. We must stress what is allowed and teach them how to speak at home. For this reason, it is very important to catch them in their good moments. "I heard you tell your little brother to put away his things. You spoke so nicely to him. I'm proud of you. You could have said it in a different way but you chose to use nice words." If most of the day we sound like this and don't spend our time giving mussar on how not to talk, the child will get the message in a more positive way.


Who says we have to talk about things only when they're happening? Make a game of "Let's change it around." Give the children a sentence said with chutzpa and together work out ways to say it differently. Write down the ideas and remind them of this with good humor, once in a while.


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