A Lecture Your Children Will Learn From

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Father Speaking to Son
06 Jun 2012

“Kids these days don’t know right from wrong!”

“Kids these days have no values!”

Most parents feel it is their job to impart their values, morals and belief systems to their children. As a Jewish parent, there is an even stronger push to transmit our heritage to our kids. It is a mitzvah, a commandment, that we hold dear.

I know that this is one of my primary goals in life. I certainly expend a lot of my time, money and effort in this area. Because I and other Jewish parents feel so strongly about this, we tend to come down hard on our kids when we think they have breached any of our standards of conduct. It is as if an alarm goes off in our head that causes us to start admonishing our kids, and so we sit them down for a lengthy lecture, a.k.a mussar shmooze.

The truth? Most kids don’t like it when their parents admonish them. But they really find the mussar schmooze boring and condescending.

So what can we do instead? How can we impart our values to our kids in a respectful manner? How can we actually get them to listen to what we are saying?

I teach all about the “I” statement. The “I” statement can be used to stop ourselves from nagging and accusing and to engage our kids cooperation. The advantages of “I” statements don’t stop there. “I” statements can also be used to teach our children about our beliefs, ethics and moral standards in a non-confrontational way.

If we give a mussar shmooze we might say: “You know you need to listen and do the mitzvah of kibud av va’em (honoring one’s mother and father). The Torah gives us lots of rules for a reason. You need to listen to your parents for your own good. Etc. etc. etc.” Or, “How come you did not do your homework right away! Don’t you know that you shouldn’t procrastinate? Procrastinating is a bad middah (character trait). Don’t get started with that!

Instead we want to try stating our beliefs and values in a non-confrontational manner using “I” statements: “I believe that rules of kibud av va’em help our home run smoothly,” and “I believe that homework should be done in a timely fashion.”

Then you need to leave it alone. Give it time to sink in. The less parents talk, the more thinking children have to do.

When we lecture and give mussar, kids don’t have time to mull over what they have done wrong; they can’t hear their moral conscience. So instead of thinking to themselves: “I should have listened to my parents. I shouldn’t have done what I did. Next time I will try to do better,” kids think: “How much longer is she going to go on and on about this? Why does she care about this stuff so much? When will she stop talking so I can go play?”

When we talk about ourselves and what we believe in–without dragging on–we make a big impression on our kids. They hear our viewpoints clearly and succinctly. These simple “I” statements seem benign, but they pack a big punch.

We need to remember that nobody likes to be coerced into thinking, feeling or acting in a certain way. If we talk about what we hold dear in a non-confrontational manner, kids can hear us without feeling that they have to defend themselves or be pushed into an opinion that they might not share.

Having a good relationship with our kids is probably the best way to ensure that our kids incorporate our value systems as their own. Using “I” statements is one great way to nurture our relationships with our kids.

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

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