Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Cheshvan 5761 - November 22, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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Home and Family
Helping Out at Home

by Menucha Fuchs, writer, counselor in parenting

How Can We Get Children to Lend a Hand

Many parents boast that their relationship with their children is qualitative and fine up until the moment that each one must do his designated chore or until the parent asks the child to do something and he refuses. This problem involves children of all ages, beginning with "Put away your toys!" to "Clean up the kitchen." How can we get children to help out without making them feel it's the end of the world? How can we get them to help, altogether?


Children will cooperate much more easily when we make our requests pleasantly, and when the general atmosphere is relaxed and not pressured. In order to create such a serene atmosphere, we must choose our words carefully. Not: "Why aren't you doing what I asked? Go and fold that laundry this very minute!" "Wash those dishes immediately!" Commands like these cause a child to develop antibodies, resentment. He is on the defensive and feels that he is at war; he is under attack, in which case, he must retaliate. And as in war, there is a winner and a loser. Possibly, in such a case, we may be the winner and the child will comply to the command, but a clever child will not remain wanting. He will prepare his strategies for the next bout, or at least voice his resentment if he does capitulate.

In order not to reach the state where one must force a child to do what we ask, let us remind ourselves that no person, adult or child, is perfect. And even if he does comply to a request, it may be under duress or lack of interest. How often do we, ourselves, neglect a certain responsibility or push it off because we don't feel like doing it at that moment? If we keep this in mind, we will be more lenient with the child and won't get angry at him. And if our reminder is gentle and understanding, he will not react in anger. Instead of addressing him in the imperative mode, with a stark command, or with accusations: "Go! Do! Why didn't you do it?" we can say, "I see that you weren't able to pair up the socks from the laundry yet," or "Mrs. Cohen is still waiting for the package of flour I promised her." Such sentences state precisely what we wish to convey -- only in more tempered words. It is far more pleasant for a child to carry out a request presented in quiet tones, with understanding, than an outright command which is almost like a declaration of war.

Furthermore, it does happen that a child will refuse to do something. He may have a legitimate reason, and sometimes, a child should be given the freedom of refusing. But if the mother has commanded him, he cannot bow out in the same way that he could if she only requested it. He should be shown enough respect that a refusal may be accepted, once in a while.


Children will willingly serve their parents if their service is appreciated and acknowledged and not simply taken for granted.

We, too, enjoy that pat on the shoulder after doing something good. Mother cooks a hot lunch because that's her job; it is expected of her. Still, she enjoys being complimented on it.

A child who knows that his parents are aware of his good deeds and esteem him for them, will be sure to repeat them to find further favor.

In order to encourage a child to be helpful, let us not take him for granted, as a good angel, or a robot. He is not perfect and cannot be expected to do every thing every time. But if we show appreciation, even for something expected of him, he will find it easier to repeat the performance and not always expect the praise. This is positive reinforcement.


It is only human for a person to do something better if he is rewarded for it. A mother who cleans the house will draw satisfaction from the cleanliness and order. If it becomes scrambled very quickly, she will despair.

Small children benefit from "If you do... then..." and we are not talking about prizes and rewards, but with the natural outcome of that deed. "If you gather up your toys quickly, we will be able to do a crafts project," or "Sheiny, if you finish up the dishes quickly, we can go shopping together."


Mothers naturally tend to take advantage of those children who enjoy helping and do so willingly. This child then earns the honorary distinction of The Helper, Ima's Right Hand, The Clever One, The Good Kid. The child who is not so good or willing in executing chores around the house is labeled as The Lazy One, the Unwilling Child, the Child With Two Left Hands.

We don't realize that in such a situation, it is the helper who continues to help and who reaps all the encouragement, while the other one, who is not necessarily lazy, but simply not inclined to those activities,receives no encouragement or praise because he is not even given the opportunity to help out.

The necessary conclusion is to approach all of the children at various times and spread the work among them so that all will receive praise and encouragement, each in his own measure.


Some children love to putter around in the kitchen, love order, derive satisfaction from a clean house and contributing to its smooth function. Others don't. But they are not to be esteemed any less. They may be more of the creative type. They may be more inclined to help Abba fix things around the house, changing the order in a room, in a closet, the decor. They may be ingenious in upgrading the efficiency in various areas.

A very creative child does not like to do routine things our way. He may be willing to help, but in his own manner, with leeway. If we insist on our method, he may balk and we will lose an important source of help. Better to give such a child a general picture of what we want accomplished and let him choreograph it on his own.

Remember Pharaoh? There are two important rules to be learned from him. First, the way he got the Jews to work. He organized a national work day where even he participated. Instead of commanding the children to clean up their room or else, why not pitch in and do it with them? Once you get them started, they will accept the challenge and do it with zest and you will be able to step out of the scene. Make it a fun challenge.

The second rule is a negative lesson from Pharaoh, not to delegate a task that is not suited to their skills or nature or that has no built-in satisfaction, no beginning and no end -- avodas parech.

A child who helps out gains self importance, he feels needed and useful. Since we want to bolster his self image, it is important to give a child the opportunity to help, even if we can do the chore quicker and better ourselves.

A child who helps feels that we trust him and consider him mature.

A child who refuses to help upon occasion does not deserve any thanks or praise, to be sure, nor excessive scolding. And we should see to it that he is given a different opportunity to show his worth.

In order to train young children to help, we can make it into a game: Instead of: pick up all those Lego pieces, we can say: try throwing them all into the basket. The game will be associated with the activity and eventually, the activity will be an end unto itself.

Let us not expect too much of a child but only up to that point where he will do it willingly and happily.

If any single request is very important to us, we can use the direct form of command, provided that we usually present it as a request, for then it will be effective.


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