We all know that the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred. My son told me that he learned that one way to hasten the redemption is to practice ahavat chinam, loving others freely without judgement.
How can we do this? An important principle in Judaism is to give others the benefit of the doubt. In parenting, it is essential. It helps us avoid anger and unnecessary blaming and leads to better relationships. It allows us to model ahavat chinam. And ultimately, it leads to improved behavior in our children.
In Becky Bailey’s book Easy To Love, Difficult To Discipline she encourages parents to “assign positive intent”–which is essentially giving the benefit of the doubt.
This tool teaches parents that they should not always assume that the motivation behind their child’s behavior is a negative one. For example, Parents may think: “My child is not being nice to our new guest because she is rude and she doesn’t know how to fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (hospitality)!” Or, “My kids are squabbling at the Shabbat table just to annoy me!” Or, “My daughter did poorly on her test because she is too lazy to study!”
Instead, we want to give the benefit of the doubt and assign positive intent. We want to look for the good in our child’s behavior instead of reacting negatively and assuming our child is misbehaving.
Because when we attribute negative motives to our children’s behavior, it makes us angry. And when we’re angry, we can’t discipline effectively.
We are more likely to say things like: “You are being rude. You need to act nicely to our guests!” “Why do you always have to fight? You guys never get along! When will I ever have a peaceful Shabbat table?” And, “You better study next time. No playdates until you improve your grades!”
When we speak to our kids in that way, we place them in a situation where their only recourse is to attack us or defend themselves and exhibit more negative or even oppositional behavior.
To keep our discipline effective and nurture our relationships with our children, we want to give the benefit of the doubt and assign positive intent, like this: “You seem like you are having some trouble getting comfortable with our new guests. Even if you are uncomfortable, it is important to at least say hello and offer them a drink.” Or, “You probably did not realize how important it is to me that the Shabbat table is peaceful. Let’s figure out a way to keep the fighting at a minimum. Any ideas?” And, “I am sure you studied for your test in the best way you could. I know you will figure out a way to improve your grades. Let me know if there is any way I can help.”
When we assign positive intent, we show faith in our child’s innate goodness. We promote strong and loving interactions. Our children will not feel the need to oppose us. Parents are then free to direct the child kindly and firmly to use better behavior or to come up with some solutions how to behave better.
Get more tips on how to relate positively to your children: Sound Calm, Even When You’re Fuming.
Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs parentingsimply.com.