Sound Calm, Even When You’re Fuming

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Mother beckoning daughter
31 May 2012

Hillel was once asked if he could explain the Torah on one foot. He replied, v’ahavta l’reacha kamochah, love thy neighbor as thyself. Do we apply this to our families as well?

Most adults do not like to be accused. Kids do not appreciate it either. Over the years I have heard many lectures on shalom bayit, marital harmony, both on marriage and parenting. And many times I have heard the advice that we need to speak to our families, our spouses and our children the same way we speak to our neighbors. Our initial response may be surprise: surely we speak to our family members at least as lovingly and respectfully as we do those more distant.  But a moment’s thought often reveals that that is not the case, and that our closeness breeds disrespect.

We previously discussed how we can speak more respectfully to our children and avoid ona’at devarim, causing pain with words, during the Sefirah period, as a way to atone for the sin of Rabbi Akiva’s students. More specifically, we discussed ways to talk to our kids so that we do not sound if we are always blaming and accusing. We mentioned that accusations put children on the defensive, creating tension and power struggles.

Though Sefirah is over, the importance of speaking to our near-and-dear carries on. Instead of the usual nagging, accusing and blaming that we sometimes resort to with our families (though never our neighbors…), Positive Discipline instructor Melanie Miller suggests using the phrase “I notice.” It’s a handy way to point out what your child or even your spouse needs to do.

I thought that we can use this great tip as we get ready for Shabbat this week.

Instead of, “It’s Erev Shabbos and I just cleaned the whole house! Why can’t you remember to put your shoes in the mudroom?” try this: “I notice you left your shoes in the front hall.”

Instead of, “I told you a million times–part of setting the Shabbos table is to put out the Kiddush cups!” try this:
“I noticed the Kiddush cups are still in the breakfront.”

Instead of, “Will you take a shower already?!” try this: “I noticed that you have not showered yet. It is 7pm and you said you were going to shower at 6:30pm. Shabbos starts at 7:30 today. ”

The beauty of this phrase is evident. When we use “I notice” to rephrase our requests, and, yes, our accusations, we are reinforcing that there is a problem that needs to be solved and we have faith that the child  or our spouse is capable of solving it. I notice these things and bring them to your attention because I expect you to–and believe you can–fix them.

I personally really like the sound of this phrase “I notice.” It sounds neutral and non-confrontational. It makes us sound calm, rational and even quite dignified. Kids feel respected. It’s another great technique to add to our toolbox.

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

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.