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Advice Line

Bassi Gruen

My son is a very loving and confident preschooler, and my home is a child-centered environment. I try hard to understand my son’s perspective, and allow him opportunities to make choices. At the same time, I try to set limits, and we have routines firmly established. However, I find myself struggling and unsure how to respond to verbal displays of chutzpah.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman You’re bringing up two different concerns here: how to respond to verbal displays of chutzpah, and how often you should be explaining things to your son. Regarding the chutzpah, you offer two extremes as possible reactions — ignoring him or sending him to his room. Ask yourself: What am I hoping to accomplish? You want your child to respond more appropriately. A parental reaction should not be a punishment for failure, but a lesson to help him do better next time. We often confuse punishment and discipline. Punishment means you did something that upset me and now I’m going to do something that will upset you. Not only is this forbidden under nekamah, it’s also unproductive. Discipline means to raise a disciple — modeling the way your child should behave, and helping him grow. You want to teach your child how to respond when he’s frustrated, angry, or sad. It’s not wrong for a child to be upset at his mother, it’s just wrong to express that upset inappropriately. So how can you teach your child to respond more appropriately? Don’t make him guess. Teach him how to talk when he’s upset at you. Give him the language and the tools to express difficult feelings. Sending him to his room tells him, “You’re bad, I don’t want to see you, you’re banished.” However, if you give him a goal, then you’re disciplining, not punishing. 


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