Hi Rabbi Ross. Thank you for this wonderful weekly e-mail. My husband & I were wondering if you could shed some light on an issue we’ve been discussing. My husband’s parents believed in slapping their kids when they didn’t behave, whereas my parents only believed in talking to us. We want to be on the same page, and wanted your opinion. Smacking kids, ok or not? If not, how to we discipline children properly? Rivkah – Monsey
Rivkah, it’s obvious from your statement “We want to be on the same page”, that you’re both wonderful parents. Working together is the best way to raise children. I would also like to point out that your question cannot be completely answered by this email. There are so many variables involved, and it’s beyond the scope of this article to include everything. If you have further questions, please contact me via e-mail.
The terms “Slapping” or “Smacking” gives me the chills. Hitting children in most cases is a tremendous mistake and can have serious and long-lasting ill effects. The old adage of “spare the rod, spoil the child” doesn’t really apply nowadays. Although we’re really supposed to answer questions in the order they’re received, I would like to focus on the discipline part of your question first.
Disciplining kids boils down to two main concepts, consequences and punishments. Although the line between them is frequently blurred, there is a huge difference between the two. To make matters more interesting, there are two types of consequences. One type is a consequence for an action, and the other is what we can call a learning consequence. Here’s an example. If your 8-year-old son is burping loudly at the table during supper time, you have a few options.
1) You can tell him “Since you’re burping, you can’t have a playdate tomorrow!” This is a punishment. It’s not even remotely connected to the burping. Furthermore, he’ll probably do it again since it’s not connected.
2) You can say “Since you’re burping at the table you must be stuffed and I guess you have no room for dessert.” This is a basic consequence and it’s a bit better, since there’s a direct connection.
3) You can say, “Burping at a table is silly behavior, and children that have silly behavior can’t stay to have dessert. If you can sit without burping for the next 10 minutes, it will show me that you are not acting silly, and we can still have dessert. This is the best response. It’s connected to the “Crime” but gives him a chance to remove the consequence.
I’m sure as you’re reading this, you’re thinking, “Wow! This makes so much sense!” Nonetheless, I assure you that when your son decides to burp loudly at the table, you’re not going to start weighing the benefits of consequences. Especially since his 3 siblings thought it was funny and are now burping the chorus of the Star Spangled Banner. However, this is the perfect time to regain control. Yelling? It just shows you have no control. Randomly interspersing threats and punishments? I can assure you it won’t help – believe me, I’ve tried it.
What can you do? Try and do something to get everyone’s attention. Jump up or say out loud “Uh oh!” Wait until they are all looking at you. Then you could say something like “I’m so sorry, it’s just so sad.” Now you have their attention. Continue with, “I really wanted to serve dessert, but burping at a table is silly behavior, and children…” Keep in mind that this isn’t easy to do. It takes practice and determination.
We are obviously just touching the tip of the proverbial iceberg here. Nonetheless, let’s switch gears and look at the “Hitting” aspect. Hitting is not a consequence – it’s a punishment. If you do believe in hitting, it should be a rare occurrence!
There are three main ways you can hit your child.
1) A light smack on the hand – frequently called a “Petch”. Parents use this as a warning signal when their child is doing something incorrectly. I saw a boy in a local pizza store that had his finger so far up his nose that I thought it would come out of his ear. When his mother saw him she lightly slapped his hand and said “That’s disgusting, go wash your hand.” I’m not sure this is a valid method of discipline. On the one hand, it’s meant as a stinging reminder of sorts. You’re hoping that your child will associate picking his nose with a Petch, and not do it anymore. On the other hand, you might be teaching your child to hit. Let’s put this in the category of “Not recommended”
1) A controlled “Patch” on the rear. I heard from a Rebbe that I know well, that R’ Yaakov Kamenetzky ZT”L once said, “Hashem gave us extra padding there so we could deal with a nice Patch.” If done correctly, this can be helpful. If my son were to run into the street, I would bring him home and tell him “I love you so much. Running in the street is so dangerous. I am going to give you a Patch because I need to show you how serious this is.” He could be remorseful and cry, but I would still turn him over and give him a loud Patch. I stress loud, because it’s not meant to be painful, however, since I would cup my hand, it would sound scary. Another instance that might warrant a Patch, is if your child says “No” deliberately to a mother. Same scenario. I would take the child and explain that I love him/her so much, but we cannot say “No” to a mother. (I also heard from this Rebbe, that R’ Yaakov ZT”L only would hit for lying or stealing).
3) Random smacking of your child – also known as child abuse. This happens when you’ve lost it, and are attempting to regain control by being physical. Not only are you teaching your child to be physical and that hitting is okay you’re also destroying your relationship with him.
Again, this is just a brief response to your question in regards to discipline and physical punishment. To enhance your reading pleasure, I will include a list of some basic rules regarding discipline and/or hitting.
1) Time outs are not only good for kids; they work well for parents as well. If you feel like you’re going to lose control, remove yourself from the situation for a few minutes if possible.
2) The general rule is one minute per each year of age. A three-year-old should be in timeout for three minutes, and so on. Putting a 6-year-old in a 30-minute timeout is a waste of time. He won’t remember why he’s there, and it’s too late to discuss again.
3) You should never hit a child if you’re angry. It’s okay to look angry. If you’re really upset, wait for a while. If you can’t feel bad for your child while he’s getting a Patch, you shouldn’t be giving him one.
4) You cannot hit a child that might hit back. This includes older children or those with a severe temper.
5) When discussing the incident with your child, you’re supposed to focus on the action, rather than the child. “You did a very bad thing by pouring water on your sister’s bed”, is not correct. It should be, “It is wrong to pour water on someone’s bed.”
6) Choose your battles. When your daughter comes home in a rotten mood and says her teacher is picking on her, it’s not the right time to back up the teacher. If she’s starting up with her siblings because she’s mad, privately ask her to go upstairs and read or relax. Don’t reward her. We’re not encouraging this behavior; we’re just showing we understand her.
7) I’ve always felt that parenting has many ingredients, 10% of which should be discipline. If you feel that you’re constantly telling off the same child, something is wrong.
8) Your child is not your friend. You can and should hear their side of a story (“I only poured water on her bed because she’s so annoying”), but then you give the consequence and that’s it. There are no discussions. There are no debates. If your child keeps arguing, keep repeating “I love you very much, but this discussion is over."
9) My own opinion is that mothers should never be the ones to administer a Patch. I just feel that mothers are the ones who give over the most love, and it’s contradictory and confusing to the child.
10) Lastly, kids are resilient, Baruch Hashem. If you made a mistake and hit your child out of anger or even yelled when you should not have, you can apologize. “I’m sorry Eli, I should not have done that.”
I wish you tremendous Hatzlacha with your children.
A Frelichin Purim! In honor of Purim, I’ve compiled a list of ten things your child would want you to know...in his/her own words.
Rabbi Ross. My son is in an upper elementary grade in a local Yeshiva, and he feels very strongly that his Rebbe doesn’t like him. Surprisingly, the Rebbe in question is one of the younger and more outgoing Rebbeim. I’ve spoken to this Rebbe a few times, and he continues to insist that he is just being tough on the boys that are talkative during class. What should I do? Lawrence NY
I would like to clarify one thing before I share my answer. Having a younger Rebbe doesn’t automatically mean your child will have a better or more exciting year. There are many older and more experienced Rebbeim that have a fantastic understanding of children, and can really motivate them properly. Obviously this e-mail is not the venue for a full discussion on this topic.
That being said, if your son feels that his Rebbe doesn’t like him, he may very well be correct. We don’t give children enough credit, but they are very perceptive when it comes to understanding teachers and Rebbeim. I’ve learned over the years to take these complaints pretty seriously, especially if it’s a repeat complaint.
Let’s look at this from the Rebbe’s point of view. It seems pretty obvious that your son is talking during class, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that he’s disturbing others as well. When teaching any subject, a Rebbe or a teacher is trying to engage and captivate an audience of children, many of whom have the attention span of a flea. One disruptive child can really make a day far more challenging than it needs to be.
On the other hand, anyone going into Chinuch needs to understand that not all children are alike. There will always be children that disrupt the class, and they might very well be the ones who need to feel that the Rebbe loves them.
Remember, you do not want to involve other parents. Not only can this become Lashon Hora, it can really complicate things. Sharing your issue on What’s App would be a huge mistake as well.
There are three main steps to resolving this.
Step one would be to speak with your son. You need to pinpoint the issue without leading him on. In Navi, we learn from Rechavam that you need to stay neutral when discussing information or asking advice. Asking your son, “Is your Rebbe mean to you during recess”, is planting seeds in his mind.
During this discussion, you want to keep the questioning simple. “Why do you feel that your Rebbe doesn’t like you?” You can also ask, “What could the Rebbe do to prove he cares about you?” Don’t play devil’s advocate. You want your son to feel comfortable with the conversation, not defensive. Let him speak as much as he wants. Ask him for specifics. A popular method is to repeat his last few words in the form of a question. He might say, “And he’s mean to me!”, to which you’d reply “Mean to you?” So he continues “Yes! He makes me write over the Posuk 500 times and no one else!” Tell your son that you fully understand him, and will discuss what should be done. He should not bring this conversation up with his friends if he wants you to take it seriously.
Step two is involving the Rebbe, not the Menahel. This should be a sit down meeting, not a phone conversation. Past experience has taught me that when you meet the Rebbe, you should not bring your child. It’s extremely counterproductive. I wouldn’t even tell your son that you’re discussing it with the Rebbe. If possible both parents should attend this meeting.
You’re not going on the attack. You’re simply trying to ascertain if there is indeed a problem, or perhaps your son is being overly sensitive. Let the Rebbe fully explain himself, and be sure to let the Rebbe know that you fully understand that your son is not the easiest child. Carefully bring up the issues that your son discussed, and see how the Rebbe reacts. You’re looking for him to be attentive and understanding. Your goal should be for him to take the lead in the conversation. If he really cares about your son, he’ll be apologetic that your son isn’t feeling loved. He might want to change his seat, give him a reward in class, or even have a one-on-one talk with him. That would be perfect.
If the Rebbe seems defensive, or if you’re picking up uncomfortable vibes, end the conversation politely. Don’t say anything inappropriate or sharp (such as, “I guess I’ll have to bring this up with the Menahel!”). Thank him for his time and be on your way.
Step three is involving the Menahel. Once again, you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Just because you and the Administrator or Rosh Yeshiva went to camp together 35 years ago, doesn’t mean you should go over anyone’s head. Set up a private meeting with the Menahel by calling the school. Keep in mind, any good Menahel will immediately speak to the Rebbe to find out what the meeting is about.
At this meeting, you’re not accusing the Rebbe of anything. You’re coming in as a concerned parent. You can tell the Menahel that you tried speaking to the Rebbe first, but he didn’t seem to be receptive. Acknowledge that your son might have behavioral issues and explain that you want him to love Yeshiva and not have a bad experience. The Menahel should not call the Rebbe into the meeting.
Be prepared with a solution. Is there a different track? Is there a resource Rebbe that pulls kids out during class to learn with them? Let the Menahel know that you respect his opinion. Incidentally, if he can’t help you resolve the issue, chances are that going to an Administrator or Rosh Yeshiva won’t help much either.
If the issue was not resolved to your satisfaction, you have a decision to make. On the one hand, this can be a great learning experience for your son. Sometimes we deal with people that aren’t our biggest fans, and running away from the problem isn’t always an option. However, if your son is really miserable, you might need to take more drastic steps. As always, before doing anything major, speak with your Rav for some guidance.
Here are some great tips that might help out.
I hope that you have Hatzlacha and your son ends off the year on a high note.
Please share your comments below.
Parshas Pekudai - 5776
Help! My kids (ages 4,7,9 & 12) don’t stop fighting! I really think that my kids fight more than any other siblings in the world ever did, and I feel like I’m losing control. We’re talking fights about who sits where, who played more iPad, and even who’s annoying whom. I’m all ears for some suggestions. Estie - Cedarhurst
I highly doubt the fighting is the worst I’ve ever heard of between siblings. Many years ago, when Hashem created the world, there were two siblings named Kayin and Hevel. How did that work out? How about Yitzchok & Yishmael? Yaakov & Eisav? Yosef and his brothers? I could keep going, but you get the point. Throughout history we find that siblings sometimes don’t get along.
It seems that you are dealing with the same issues that just about all parents confront. Your kids fight non-stop, and you are getting frustrated. The good news is; in most cases they will grow out of it. I fought with my siblings more than once in a while, and now we get along great.
All this notwithstanding, it can be so exasperating watching kids argue or fight. In most cases, there is an instigator and a “victim”. Often that child (the victim) feels the need to defend himself, and will resort to using his hands. So it begins.
Telling your child to ignore a sibling that’s annoying or irritating them is very difficult. These days, kids are more sensitive. It could be due to the decreasing amount of social interactions, but children seem to have a more difficult time ignoring others.
In any case, I’ll give you a few ideas on how to be proactive and prevent the fighting/arguing, and some other hints on what to do when the fighting does occur.
IY”H, your kinderlach will get older and mature, and will truly enjoy spending time with their siblings.
Ki Sisa- 5776
Hi Rabbi Ross. I’m not sure if this is only a website for Jewish Parenting, or all types of parenting questions. My son who is 10 years old, is lying compulsively. When I ask him if he Davened, made a Bracha or Bentched, he always says yes, even though I know he didn’t. He lies about having done his homework, and pretty much about everything else. I don’t want to be mean and start a fight. My husband feels that it’s a faze, and he’ll grow out of it, but he would also love to hear your thoughts. - Name Redacted, Brooklyn.
Hi. Although you allowed me to put your name in, I felt that it should not be publicized. To answer your first question, this e-mail (and blog) is for all parenting issues. Let’s discuss your main question.
I am not a psychologist nor the son of psychologists (although my parents are pretty awesome BH), but it seems to me that your son is not a compulsive liar. The examples that you have given seem to imply that he’s lying because he’s scared or because it’s convenient. These are called white lies. On the other hand, if your son is lying all the time, and he has nothing to gain from it, I would suggest you get professional help.
In any case, I don’t really like using the word “lie” very often, as it’s very negative. Let’s refer to it as not telling the truth. There are many reasons that children don’t tell the truth. Obviously, it’s beyond the scope of this E-mail to go into the psychological explanations, so we’ll try to focus on some hints and tips. Interestingly enough, the Torah doesn’t tell us not to lie - it tells us to stay far away from a lie. The best way to instill within our children the importance of being honest, is to always be honest yourself. This means keeping our word all the time, and staying away from anything dishonest. I read once that a Gadol said you shouldn’t even call over a child that’s learning to walk, and then move back as he waddles over, as this encourages dishonesty.
When it comes to having a child who’s not being honest, the most important rule is not to give him the opportunity to do so. Instead of asking your son if he did his homework, just tell him “It’s time to do your homework.” There is the chance that he’ll say he did it, in which case you can ask him how well or neatly he completed it. This way your child doesn’t think that you automatically assume he’s not telling the truth. If he doesn’t have it, you should not call him a liar or make a huge issue. Simply say “I’m disappointed that you were not 100% truthful with me, and tell him to do it again. End of conversation.
You mentioned that he isn’t honest about Brachos. I’m not a big fan of forcing kids to make Brachos to begin with (not a discussion for this E-mail), but there is no reason to ask him if he made a Bracha. You can simply remind him that an apple is a Ha'etz, and leave it at that. Another idea would be, after he's eaten bread, casually hand him a bencher and say “Here you go.” The same holds true for many scenarios. If we don’t give children the opportunity to lie, there’s a good chance they won't.
Another example you wrote about was regarding homework. In situations like this, you can mention that you will not discuss things with someone who is not being truthful. Here’s an example. If he comes and home and says “I have no homework tonight”, and you find out from another mom that he does, you can’t ignore it. It’s best if both parents call the child in together and say, “You told us that you had no homework, and that wasn’t the truth. It is unacceptable for you to say something that is not truthful. We are not going to tolerate this behavior. Please go do your homework right now.” If he tried to defend himself saying he thought there was no homework, you need to firmly explain that unless he knew there was no homework, he should not have said that.
However, when he tells the truth about anything, make sure to acknowledge it. Positive reinforcement can really go a long way. When he tells you what his homework is, you can tell him “Thank you for being honest with me. It’s great that I’m able to trust you!”
I have a few suggestions that I’ve compiled over the years, which might help.
• Don’t ask your child questions if you already know the answer. For example - “Did you brush your teeth?” isn’t a good question if you see the toothbrush hasn’t been touched and is still dry. Rather say, “You need to brush your teeth” or “You haven’t yet brushed your teeth”
• Is it more important that your child be honest, or that he be perfect? If the former **(yes!)**, then he has to know that confessions are met with appreciation of his honesty, and a reduced or eliminated penalty. When a child says, "Yes, I chopped down the cherry tree", the emphasis must be on the courage of his honesty. The way to do that is by showing him that he will get off easier without the cover-up. We must make sure that the consequences of honesty are always better than lying.
• The line between exaggerating and being dishonest can easily get blurred. If you have a child who exaggerates frequently, ("I was studying for 10 hours already!"), gently correct him ("Actually, it was for 15 minutes"). This way he understands that speaking the truth is a full-time responsibility. There is a Yiddish expression, “A half of a truth is a whole lie.”
• Compulsive children tend to blurt out things that are untrue because they don’t have as much self-control. When a student says something that is obviously untrue, I like to pretend I didn’t hear him, and say, “Can you repeat that?” Very often he’ll be honest the second time around. The same holds true for your child. Give him the chance to correct himself whenever possible if you feel it was impulsive.
• Help children believe that mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow. This way they won't believe they need to cover up their mistakes by being dishonest. This is one of the first things I learned when I became a Rebbe twenty years ago. My Menahel called me over and told me, “A good Rebbe makes mistakes every day – a great Rebbe makes new mistakes every day."
• Share with your children the times when it was difficult for you to tell the truth, but you decided it was more important to experience the consequences and keep your self-respect. Be sure this is honest sharing instead of a boring lecture.
• Let children know they are unconditionally loved. Many children lie because they are afraid the truth will disappoint their parents. Show appreciation. "Thank you for telling the truth. I know that was difficult. I admire the way you are willing to face the consequences, and I know you can handle them and learn from them."
• If your child is refusing to admit he’s not telling the truth, don’t continue the conversation. End it by saying “I can’t have a discussion with someone who’s being dishonest.” Don’t ask them later if they’re ready to tell the truth yet. It’s not an option.
• There are many great books for kids that teach the importance of telling the truth. You can start reading them to your kids at a young age so they understand the consequences.
• When your child is approximately 10 years old (or older) and he is not being honest, you can explain that trust needs to be earned. If they violate that trust, you will have to double check everything they say. ("I know you say you don’t have homework, but since you haven’t always been truthful, I’ll need to check with someone.")
• Another thing to stay away from is sarcasm. It’s pretty hard for a 5-year-old to understand why you’re saying, “This music is amazing” if you’re making a funny face.
These next two ideas I don’t think are good ones. I’m including them as food for thought.
• One mother told me she gives her son a lollipop when he tells the truth. It seems to me that giving your child a treat when he’s honest is counterproductive. Do we reward our kids for breathing? How about for sleeping? I don’t think this is a great idea. A compliment should be enough.
• I actually lied to my own son many years ago. He was constantly being dishonest, so one night I told him that we were having ice cream. When he came to me for his ice cream, I told him “I made it up. How does it feel?” He was very sad. I can’t be sure if it helped or not, and I don’t recommend doing this.
The ultimate goal is to ensure that our children don’t feel the need to be dishonest, and are comfortable telling the truth. We don’t want to make a huge issue about every little thing, and if it’s possible to easily ignore something he said, simply ignore it. Choosing our battles is a great way to win at parenting.
Have a great Shabbos.
I would love to hear your thoughts! Please remember that all comments are moderated.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.