Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

16 Tammuz 5766 - July 12, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Parenting as a Relationship
by Sara Gutfreund

Many people refer to motherhood as a career. However, motherhood is primarily a relationship. How is my relationship with this child today? Is it distant? Is it warm? Or is it perhaps characterized by conflict? Taking that step back to look at your relationship with each child allows you to form a more objective picture of the myriad details of that day. However, once we see that overall perspective, it is important to delve into the particulars in order to improve the relationship. For example, many parents of young children describe their relationships as mostly tense and conflicted.

If most of the sentences that you have said to your child today contain the word "no" or "don't touch that" or "stop kicking my chair," it may really feel like your whole relationship with that child is based on struggle. Let's take a look at some alternatives to some common parenting challenges.


You're in the supermarket, and your three-your-old daughter spots a sugar cereal that you don't want to buy. She asks for it. You say no. She asks again in an escalating whine. Other shoppers turn to stare. You say no again, beginning to feel embarrassed.

Common strategy: You give in and buy the cereal.

Alternative strategies to preserve the relationship:

1. Calm Firmness: You calmly tell your daughter that you know how much she wants the cereal, but Ima has decided not to buy it because it's not healthy. Then you firmly tell her that if she continues to kvetch, you will have to leave the store. Say this is a soft, non-angry tone. Follow through with this immediately if the tantrum persists, even though this might mean having to return to the store later without this child.

2. Enter the Child's World: Tell your daughter that there are a lot of products in the supermarket that you would love to have, but you don't eat them because they're not good for you. Point out the chocolate bars that you love and tell your daughter that you really want one, but you're not going to buy it. Then try imagining with your child: I wish I could have a hundred chocolate bars. How many boxes of cereal do you wish you could buy?

3. Come Prepared: If you anticipate that your child will want a treat, try bringing a special snack with you that you approve of. Or bring a favorite book or small game that the child can play with in the shopping cart. I know a mother who brings a small bag of crayons (even one will do) and lets her child draw on the packages of food that she puts in the cart.

How these Alternatives Help the Relationship:

Being calm and firm sets crucial boundaries and makes your child feel secure in your love. When you give a warning that you will leave in a neutral, non-accusing tone, you are telling your child that you will not accept this behavior in a supermarket, but that you still accept him. Entering the child's world through imagination creates a sense of empathy and closeness between you.

The child hears the message that Ima understands me and cares enough to see through my eyes. When you come prepared, the child senses that you thought about him before you came, in the same way that a meal set up for our spouse indicates caring. Using a game that brings the child into the shopping experience (like the crayons or counting the boxes) makes the child feel needed and capable.

Practical Tip: Make sure that your child is not hungry or tired when you go shopping. And if your child is in the throes of the "terrible twos" and you know that there will probably be a tantrum, it may be better to shop without this child until the stage passes.


Your two-year-old and four-year-old are fighting over a ball.

Common Strategy: You either give the ball to the younger child because he is little or decide that whoever had it first, plays with it.

Alternative Strategies:

1. Timer Technique: You keep a sand timer on hand, and show the children that when the sand gets to the bottom, it will be time to switch turns with the ball. You may find that the child who is waiting his turn becomes focused on watching the sand go down the whole time which is actually quite relaxing for some children.

2. Exploring Options: You tell the children that you want them to find a way to play with the ball together. Ask them if they have any ideas. The older child might suggest a game. If neither of them can come up with an idea, you can suggest some ideas.

3. Telling a Story: Tell them a quick story about sharing. You can make it up or use it from your own childhood experience. Explain how Hashem wants them to act and how happy He is when they share. Ask them each to tell you a story of their own about when they shared (by this point the toy may be forgotten, but that's okay).

How these Alternatives Help the Relationship:

The timer shows the children a quantity of time that they can watch and understand. They hear the message that you want them each to have time with the toy, and that you care enough to display the time limit in a form they can see. Exploring options teaches the children to look for creative solutions, and shows that you value their ideas. Telling your children a story helps them to see the situation from a less emotional place, and encourages them to use their imagination.

Practical Tip: If a child has a few special toys that he doesn't like to share, make sure you designate a specific spot for them and ask him to play with them there in order not to tempt other children. Giving the child the choice to keep one or two toys for himself will make it easier to share other toys. This also gives the child the message that you respect him and his possessions.


Your child hits another child.

Common Strategy: Hitting the child's hand while saying: "We don't hit."

Sending child to time out or taking away a toy.

Alternative Strategies:

1. Modeling Apology: Take the child over to the child that he hit and ask him to apologize. If he refuses, then show him by example what to say. For example, say to the hurt child: "I'm very sorry that Moshe hit you. Hitting hurts and it's not allowed."

2. Channeling: Try re-channeling the child's hitting tendencies. Tell him: "You can't hit other people, but if you're feeling very angry you can hit this pillow."

3. Encourage Verbal Expression: Explain to the child that he needs to find words to tell his friend why his angry. If the child can't find words then help him to express himself. For example, when another child takes his toy: "I'm really angry at you for taking my toy. I want you to give it back." Children often need to be taught to communicate with each other; verbal expression is a learned skill.

How these Alternatives Help the Relationship:

When we model apology with the child, we are giving that child our support in the interaction. They receive the message that we are compassionate both to them and the child who was wronged. Re-channeling the hitting gives the child a way to vent his frustration without hurting anyone and shows him that you are not trying to suppress his anger. Instead you are showing him a healthy way to express it. Encouraging verbal expression takes this a step further by teaching the child how to communicate with his playmate.

Practical Tip: If you see your child is in a bad mood, make sure that he is allowed to play on his own. We all need some space from others sometimes. Also make sure that you are providing an outlet for physical energy like riding a bike, running in the park or playing catch.

These challenges are just some examples of the various situations that come up each day. However, if we step back to examine what kind of relationship we want to build with our children, then it is easier to begin to think of more creative solutions to our problems.

Children learn how to relate to Hashem through their relationship with their parents. Make sure that your relationship with your children is a warm and positive one.


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