Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Adar II 5765 - April 6, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Calmly, Calmly
(Setting Limits)

by Chaim Walder

A child who would strongly lash out in his home and cause damage told me in a conversation that he had done so because he had asked for a specific toy and not received it.

As the conversation progressed, it became clear that the child certainly understood that he wasn't behaving properly, but he claimed, "I can't control myself."

I told him that I had the feeling that he never received anything from his parents. "Of course I have," he said. "My cupboard is full of toys, I have a state-of-the-art bicycle, electronic gameså"

"åthat you blackmailed from your parents through aggression and outbursts, but do you have the feeling that you ever r-e- c-e-i-v-e-d something from them willingly?"

We began doing a mental inventory of the child's toys and how he had gotten them and it turned out that each and every one had been gained from cajoling, imploring, threats and outbursts.

I told him that I would help him start receiving things for the first time in his life only when he deserved them, but before that, I would have to do a few things that would ensure that from now on, no one would imagine giving in to his threats and bad behavior and certainly not his outbursts. I asked him if he agreed that I do this and he answered affirmatively.

The parents, as is always the case, were surprised to hear the statement that they have not given their child anything, but later they understood that they didn't give but were extorted. At one point, the father remembered that he had bought a book for his child without being asked. I apologized for my premature assumption and asked him to explain why he had decided to give his son the book. He answered: "I bought a book for his younger brother's birthday and then I remembered that if I didn't bring him one too, he would overturn the house."


There are children who are born with a tendency towards stubbornness and power struggles. Many of the parents are certain that they are at fault. There are even those who encourage the child's impression that if they are not happy, they, the parent, are no doubt the reason. But that isn't the case. The habit to give in to the demands of the child because he has a fit doesn't satisfy him. On the contrary, it starves him and increases his demands. Surrendering to him also unsettles him, because he knows that receiving something is dependent on his demands and the means he takes to acquire them. When he doesn't demand, he doesn't annoy enough to get, he feels something's missing and unsettled because he knows that if he just makes a small effort, he'll get.

In contrast, a child who knows that his demands and requests depend completely on his parents' wishes, and any attempt at threats or outbursts will only distance him from the object of his desire, is a more relaxed child because he knows that his role ends at asking and it is his parents who will decide whether or not to fulfill his request. He has no role other than to request and when he's given a negative response, he may be disappointed but not frustrated and restless. It's clear to him that he won't get it, while his counterpart, who's having a tantrum, is constantly occupied with trying to break through the limits, conquering and gaining more territory.

In general, the parents who give in prefer to buy peace by giving in to the demands, and discover that each surrender results in additional noise and leaves the child more control in its wake. If they expected to see a happier and more grateful child, they discover a bitter child with complaints, mainly against them, the very ones who fulfill his demands.

At one stage, and it always comes, the power struggles begin. It happens when the child demands something that the parents aren't able to give the child or are very much against and then a situation is created where the parents vent all the anger and pain that they are feeling on the child. Sometimes they do supply the thing or the request, accompanied by anger and accusations, until the next demand, the next power struggle, the next surrender, the next venting.


How do you stop this?

Very simple. With one word. A magic word that if you use it and only it, the whole crazy dance will end at once.

The word is "No!"

The word "no", when spoken gently, forcefully but not provokingly, is a limit. A limit is not something damaging or insulting. It is only a barrier keeping a person from reaching places where he is liable to hurt or be hurt. The moment that parents decide that a certain request is not acceptable to them, they simply have to say no. They can refuse one time, that's all. After that, they have to be consistent in their refusal without expanding on it beyond the word "no". Not to vent at the child, saying how bad he is and lacking in good middos, not to hurt him but also not to try to convince him or implore him to give up his request. Just no.

In this way they gain a number of things:

a. His (unreasonable) demands are not met and he won't proceed to the next one.

b. He suddenly discovers that he has parents who are authoritative, who until now have hidden from him and given in to his demands. This discovery makes him a calmer and less lonely child.

c. When the word "no" is alone, unaccompanied by explanations, the child is spared verbal or other abuse, because the parents feel in control and don't feel the need to vent at him in a way that's liable to hurt him. They just say `"no" and that's it. d. The minute that the parents discover that they have power and authority, they are free to discover when the child really does deserve a reward, even without his asking and then the parents experience giving and the child, receiving.

After the stage of no more surrender comes the stage of requiring the child to fulfill what is expected of him and making sure that he does; to reward good and punish bad, in contrast to the previous way, where the more he had a fit and behaved badly, the more he received what he didn't deserve.

This advice is suitable for whoever is dealing with a child who lacks limits and self-control. But there are sometimes cases where advice isn't sufficient, when the parents are worn out or don't have faith in their own power.

Today there are centers (for example, The Center for the Child and the Family) that can help parents deal with children who don't have limits and receive tools to strengthen their parental authority.

At Schneider's Children's Hospital, there is a special center that teaches Professor Chaim Omer's method of "Non-violent Resistance." An article about it appeared two weeks ago in Bayit Ne'eman.

There are very difficult cases where parents feel helpless and have no idea how to cope with their children who have a tendency towards stubbornness and power conflicts.

However, the most important thing is the parents' awareness of the problem and their readiness to do everything in order to provide their child with the most important things for his development - educating and authoritative parents.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.