R' Yoni Lavie
Before a person can drive a car the law requires many things of him or her. It is necessary to take dozens of driving lessons, to take a test in theory, to pass an internal test with his teacher, then to pass a formal licensing test (and another... and another...). Only after a long and expensive training course does the candidate achieve the goal and receive a license. Similar actions take place with respect to almost every important realm in life. However, there is one exception to this hard and fast rule: "Educating the children." In order to bring a child into the world and raise him or her in your home for twenty years or so, there are no minimum requirements of any kind. There is no written approval or academic degree, no need for a matriculation exam, and not even a basic "parenting" course. There is a basic assumption that you will know what to do. You will react precisely as needed and in an educational way to every situation, you will know how to give advice and guide the child and the maturing adult through all the ups and downs of life, and you will cope successfully with all difficulties and challenges, along with all the other "surprises" that your child throws at you.
The only problem is that in practice this often doesn't work very well. It is true that some things are instinctive even if we have not learned them formally, but unfortunately educating children is not one of them. The process is based on a deep and complex set of rules, which in our generation have become more complicated than ever before. When somebody tries to react spontaneously and depends on things "coming out okay," there may be grave mistakes, which can exact a high price from us and from our children. The following are five common mistakes that should be avoided:
* "The whole game of soccer is total foolishness. All the players are nothing more than ne'er-do-wells whose only brains are in their shoes..." Even if we think that what interests our child is unimportant to say the least, it is wrong and unsuitable to disparage it with a wave of our hand. If some subject is important to our child, it is wrong for us to put it to shame and to show him or her that we want to clomp all over it. In addition, some parents who encounter a difficulty or problem that the child faces tend to disparage it and treat it as unimportant. They seem to think that by doing this they will help the child overcome the problem. This is a bad mistake. We can help our child much more by inclusion – by incorporating his or her feelings within ourselves and discussing them together, we can really link up to his or her position, and their needs and fears. We should never hide within our own private space, from which we chop away what they feel is important as if with a cleaver.
* "I have told him a thousand times to stop playing on the computer and to go and take a shower, but he continues to bang away at the keyboard as if I was talking to the wall." It is really surprising that understanding and intelligent parents repeat over and over some actions which they can plainly see doesn't accomplish anything... "Madam, why did it reach a thousand times and you didn't stop after five hundred or even after the first hundred?? Don't you see that this method has no effect on him at all?"
The operative principle is very simple: Never tell a child something more than twice. The first time we will give him or her the benefit of the doubt, and we may assume that he was caught up in the game, and we will repeat our demand one more time. But once the message has been delivered, there is no reason to keep repeating the demand like a broken record. (And it really doesn't pay to raise your voice and start to yell.) What can we do? After speaking to the child twice, it is time for us to "recalculate our route" and to change our tactics. For example, we might move to direct action, by turning the computer off and taking it with us on the way to the shower. The next day we might allow him to go to the computer only after he has taken a shower. Just say, "I see that you have trouble stopping in the middle of a game, so from now on you take your shower first." And so on...
* What nonsense they teach in school today... This teacher really doesn't know how to teach..." The members of the educational staff of the school are our stand-ins. They do their work in a dedicated and faithful fashion, with only moderate pay and while coping every day with complex situations. It is true that there is no guarantee that they do not make mistakes, but it is a serious mistake on our part to disparage the staff and show a lack of respect for them in front of our children. How can we expect our son or daughter to listen attentively to what they are being taught in school after their father has loudly declared, "The teacher is an idiot!" and "The rabbi is crazy"? We pay a high fee for sending our children to school. It is a shame to waste all that investment by our own actions. A basic feeling of respect between parents and the educational staff is a strong requirement for the success of our children.
* "I want to see you back here by 11 o'clock, do you hear me?? / Excuse me, but you are not leaving this house in that skirt!" Quite a few discussions take place with terrible timing. The classic place for this is at the front door, a moment before the boy or girl tries to sneak out without being caught. And this is our cue to begin a nervous discussion in a stressful atmosphere – where the chances that something positive can come out of this is similar to the possibility of signing a Middle East peace treaty next month. Even if you are a thousand percent correct, it is vital to carefully choose the right time to speak to the children, as well as the proper framework for the talk. If we do this with enough advance warning and not at the very last second and if in addition we manage to create a positive atmosphere of listening and remaining close to each other, there is a chance that we can achieve our objective.
Another important principle is the balance between negative and positive issues. If most of the conversations with a child are about criticism of his bad points, he will learn to close the door tight and stop listening. It is very important to make sure that the main contact between the two of you should involve good things, related to happy events and the family. Do this and it is possible now and then to slip in some criticism, and there is even a chance that it will have a positive effect.
* "And now for the job of head of the opposition..." Quite often parents are frustrated when they explain some educational principle to their son in a very clear and detailed way, while he remains obstinate and rejects point after point in a way that seems to them to be weak and unimpressive. We should not get excited or become upset! Sometimes this is just part of the game. Some young people enjoy playing the role of the "opposition leader." Say "black" and they will say "white," say "hot" and they will insist on "cold." This does not mean that they don't listen, and that at least some of your arguments didn't sink in. Perhaps you will even hear them quoting you word for word in a conversation with their friends. Do not despair of the labor of education, even if at first glance it appears that you are talking to the wall...