-- Chapter from Woman To Woman -- Behavior In The Home Chapter from Woman To Woman -- Behavior In The Home
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  Chapter 27 from
Woman To Woman
Practical advice and classic stories on life's goals and aspirations

By Aviva Rappaport 

Other Available Chapters
13  14 

Behavior In The Home

Home should be a place a child runs to, not away from. Children hate a home where they are ordered around -- it arouses their resentment and opposition. A child may refuse to help when he is ordered, yet in homes where children are brought up to feel they are part of the home, when the mother says, “Yankele, please take the garbage when you go out,” the child will be only too happy to do so.

Everyone in the house, including children, should have duties. Everyone should know what his duties are, and no one should get paid for doing them. We have reached a stage where children expect to be paid for helping out around the home. It’s part of their job, not something you have to pay for. Do you get paid for cooking and washing and cleaning? No! Because the home is a partnership in which everyone has a share.

Arrange to hold a family conference. You can even post an official-looking announcement: “Tonight at seven o’clock there will be a family meeting. Please be there.” Discuss the chores that need to be done around the home, and make a chart to hang on the wall. There will be no complaining about whose turn it is to do the dishes or arguing about who should put away the wash when it’s written in black and white each day. In designating the tasks, take into consideration how many hours a day the child spends in school and how much homework there will be. There will be pleas to be excused from chores because of tests, but don’t give in. Children’s lives are full and busy with school and extracurricular activities, but they have to learn to set aside that half hour a day or more for fulfilling their responsibilities to the home. It’s part of their basic training and will stand them in good stead when they become adults with their own homes.

With younger children especially, it helps to make it like a game. Give them points for helping you clean the house or for putting all the toys away. Keep them busy. Children can learn to help from a very early age and they’ll have a tremendous thrill from it. Even young children can have a turn at making breakfast or lunch, and the smallest can help set the table. All you need is patience. The best time to start getting your children involved in helping carry the burden of the house is when they’re young, even if it may seem easier for you to do everything yourself. The mothers who have patience with their young children who want to help will be the ones who have an easier life when their children grow up.

Two-year-olds love to help, and if you let them when they’re two, they’ll help you as they grow by doing even more, and they’ll enjoy it as well. Tell them how wonderful they are for helping Mommy, and give them a big kiss. Praise them for always being ready to help Mommy. Fourth graders enjoy trying to cook and bake. So what if they make a mess? It doesn’t matter. If your nine-year-old wants to bake a cake, let her. At first, you can help her clean up afterwards; later, she’ll learn to do it herself. Don’t spoil it for her. Some mothers make their children feel very little and stupid, like the mother who said about her ten- and twelve-year-old daughters, “I can’t have them helping me around the house -- they don’t know how.” By the age of ten or twelve a child should be cleaning the whole house! Let them learn from their mistakes. When a child starts walking he falls down, but he picks himself up and tries again, and eventually he does learn to walk. Let your children get started. In the end, you are going to get a great deal of help from them.

Make it easy for your children to succeed and be good. If you put up a mitzvah chart and one child seems to be doing everything so exceptionally well that the others just give up, don’t let them get discouraged. The high achiever can compete against himself, and the others can compete amongst themselves. If you give rewards for improvement, not just achievement, they’ll try even harder.

Learning to respect other people and their property begins in childhood and is taught in the home. Well-brought-up children will play quietly while their mother sleeps late on Shabbos morning. Their father gets up in the morning and gives them a drink if they are quite small, or makes kiddush for them before he goes to shul, and then tells them to play quietly, to let Mommy sleep a little longer. Even after he leaves, the children are very careful not to wake up their mother. They’ll walk around on tiptoe so that she can catch up on her sleep. This is teaching them respect.

Parents should set an example. If you have neighbors in close proximity, don’t use a washing machine or dryer, late at night, that sounds like a tractor. You may be guilty of stealing a neighbor’s sleep, and there’s no way to pay it back -- you can only ask their forgiveness. Teach your children to respect your neighbors. Don’t send your children out to play when it will disturb others. If you live above other people, don’t allow your children to jump and run around too much or play ball in the house. Your downstairs neighbor may be old or sick, or may have high blood pressure or not be feeling well.

In many homes you find that the children nag: “Mommy, what can we do now? There’s nothing to do.” They’re bored to tears and annoy their mother constantly until she can feel her temperature rising. Keep your children occupied. You can buy them a million games, a million toys, but if you don’t teach them how to play with them, you’ll have closets full of games that the children don’t know what to do with. You have to sit down and teach your children to play; afterwards, they’ll know how to play by themselves.

When you were a little girl, you probably didn’t have Lego or as many Fisher-Price toys as your children have now. A generation or two ago children had fewer bought toys, so they developed creativity. They played with pots and pans, matchboxes, etc. They would cut up paper and make up games. Now they have so much that they’re bored. Teach your children to think, to be creative and to occupy themselves.

If you don’t work outside the home, try to get an hour’s rest before the children come home so that you can be around when they’re there. Make yourself available to them. If they need help with their homework, you’ll be there. If they fight, as occasionally all normal children do, you’ll be there. The children need your proximity. It gives them warmth, comfort, and confidence. Even though they’ll run off to play somewhere else, they’ll come back to see if you’re still there . . . if you’re around.

Just as communication is essential between husbands and wives, so too it is essential to communicate with your children. It begins when they are babies and, with care, will continue for life. Tragically, some parents lose communication with their children as they get older. Never cut the lines of communication with your children. Be a mother who can discuss everything with her child. Adolescence, for instance, is a very unpredictable age. Even the best children can have questions on faith. If they’ve lost communication with you, they’ll have no one to talk to. If your fourteen- or fifteen-year-old comes and asks you about Hashem, if he’s troubled, don’t start screaming, “I don’t want to hear questions like that.” If you can’t answer his questions yourself, go to one of the experts in the ba’al teshuvah movement -- they have appropriate answers to every question. Help your child cope and solve his problems. Keep your lines of communication open for those very difficult times children go through, like shidduchim. Help your children grow by letting them discuss things with you. When a child has a problem, some parents send him away in the hopes that somebody else will solve the problem for them. Usually, if you don’t face up to problems they continue to grow. Problems have to be faced up to, and solved.

There are three times in a day when a mother really has communication with her children: 1) in the morning, when she sends them off to school; 2) in the afternoon, when they come home from school; and 3) in the evening, at bedtime. You have to plan your day in such a way that you utilize these times of communication to the fullest. Let’s say you have a family of eight to ten children and you don’t work outside the home. Plan to have supper ready an hour before the children are due, so that you can rest before they come home. If it will take you two hours to bake a cake and you can afford to buy one instead, even if it’s smaller and everyone will get less, weigh the choice carefully. Maybe it’s better for the children to have two hours of your time than a freshly baked cake. Your presence is essential so that whoever needs help can get it. Leave everything else for the time being -- it will get done in the end. This is one of your priorities: to be around, to see that everything is calm, that nobody fights. If a mother works, she can’t come home and expect to rest while the children run around the house unsupervised. She can only rest if she has someone to watch them or take them out to play.

Bedtime is a very important hour for children. Don’t send children to bed as punishment, with spankings and crying. It’s a very ineffective way of educating. Let them go to bed happy, and they’ll have a happy, relaxed, and restful sleep.

Siblings inevitably do fight, but if parents respond in the right manner, it can be over in just a few minutes. You have to be very firm and say, “In our house, we don’t behave like that.”

On the other hand, in a home where the parents -- especially the mother -- make comparisons between the children, the child will feel a lack of love, and fights can become an everyday occurrence. If one of your children has not behaved well or done well enough in school and the mother comments, “What’s the matter with you, Yankele? Look at your brother Moshe -- he’s such a good boy,” automatically, Yankele will go over and start a fight with his brother. Who caused it? The mother. Never compare children; never tell one child that the other one is better than he is. You’ll only make them dislike each other. Each child has his virtues, and each one has to have a different approach because Hashem made him different. Tell them both how good they are and keep them busy with constructive activities.

And although you want to encourage responsibility, your expectations from your children should be realistic. It’s always a mistake to demand too much of a child. A mother, for instance, who sends her five- or a six-year-old out to walk a six-month-old baby in his carriage on a main road is not teaching her child responsibility -- she’s being foolhardy and risking the life of the baby. That five- or six-year-old can meet some friends, join their game of jump rope or hopscotch, and forget all about the baby. It has happened more than once that younger children left in the care of their not-that-much-older siblings have wandered into the middle of the road or gotten into other dangerous situations. Never rely on the judgment of a young child. What a child can think up is beyond your wildest imagination.

We can thwart them -- or encourage them. If you take your children to the playground and one of them climbs up a huge ladder and starts crying, “Mommy, I can’t get down,” don’t panic. He needs to understand that if he managed to get up, he can most probably get down. Say calmly, “You managed to get up there. I’m waiting for you and I’ll help you climb down.” You’re training your child to realize that if he got himself into it, he can find a way out of it -- that’s independence. You’re not punishing the child, you’re training him to cope. The message is: Yes, it takes more effort to get down, but you can do it.

Have a positive attitude to all the little falls and scraped knees of childhood. It’s part of play. Stay calm and loving. If you get hysterical about every little thing, your children will turn into fearful children, terrified of moving normally. Learn how to comfort a child: Tell them that you too fell when you were a little girl, but that nothing happened and you got up again. Encourage them to keep on playing.

Mothers sometimes wonder how they should react if their child gets hurt doing something he knows he shouldn’t do. First, calm him down. Then talk it over with him. Ask him how he feels about it. Don’t say, “I told you so.” As we said, it’s not a good idea in a marriage to want to always be right, and it’s not a good idea in childraising either. Later though, after the hurt has passed, you can say, “Yankele, why did you get hurt? What happened? You jumped. That was your responsibility. Do you remember what I said?” Ask him what you said beforehand. Discuss it with him. Sympathize. He’ll come to the conclusion himself that it was his own fault. Just as your husband shouldn’t feel that you’re blaming him or trying to show up his faults, so too your child should never be subject to this kind of negative attitude. When you destroy another person’s self-image, it will boomerang back to you in the end. So never, ever say, “I told you so.”

We have to teach a child not to cause damage, yet we should not punish him when he does. We teach him to take care of possessions because they are the tools Hashem gave us to fulfill our mission.

Even with the best education, things do get broken. In every home children cause damage, break, and destroy. Instead of shouting and screaming, what should our attitude to this be? We should keep three things in mind: 1) If a vessel broke, that means it had finished its service and it’s a sign that you don’t need it anymore. Therefore, there is nothing to be upset about. 2) We say, “The vessel broke and we were saved.” Always remember that it’s better for something to happen to wood, stone, or glass rather than to a human being. Be grateful to Hashem that it was only that, and nothing more. 3) Translate your loss into money. Let’s say the child broke a crystal vase. How much is it worth? $50 or $60? Are you going to lose your temper for $60? It’s not worth losing your temper for a million dollars! A person who loses control loses his Divine countenance; he’s no longer a human being, he’s an animal. Is it worth it for $60? If a child breaks a $3 glass are you going to get angry? Is it worth it? Never punish children for things that break. Your approach should be to teach them that everything Hashem gives us is for His service and we should take care of what we have because we use it to serve Hashem.

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