Many parents tell me:
My kids are always misbehaving!
My kids are so irresponsible!
My kids act all entitled!
My children are so impatient! They want everything and they want it right away!
Kids are still kids. They are still learning how to behave. They are going to act irresponsibly because they haven’t learned how to be responsible yet. They are going to act entitled because they have not learned how to restrain their impulses. They have no self-control because their brain has not fully developed, they actually don’t have the brakes that adults have that help us control our behavior and act patiently.
No one is born a mentsch. That’s why kids have us, their parents.
We are the ones who need to teach kids to act responsibly, restrain their impulses, and put the brakes on their behavior. And in the meantime, we are going to see lots of behavior that we don’t like—that’s called childhood.
As parents we need to stop saying “My kids are so irresponsible” and instead ask, “How do I teach my kids to be responsible?”
Instead of saying “My kids act all entitled and spoiled,” ask of yourself, “How am I able to teach them to be grateful?
Instead of thinking, “My children have no self-control, they are so impatient,” consider “How do I teach them patience?”
These three questions really translate into one: How do I teach my child to be a mentsch?
- It’s all about you
We all know that parenting is a tough job. There is one simple thing that we can do to ensure good, mature behavior in our kids.
We need to role model it.
In his book “Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy,” Michael C. Bradley assures parents that your morals, values and ethics become an integral part of your child’s psychological makeup. If you have been imparting good values to your children they will stay with him for the rest of his life. During adolescence, he writes, “(they) may have put them (your values) in cold storage… …but they’re there and they will reappear in time.”
So if you are acting like a mentsch—behaving appropriately, role modeling responsibility, self-control, and patience—there is a very good chance that your child will grow up to be just like you.
- Talk about your values
As we mentioned above, we as parents need to live our lives as good people if we want our children to be grow up to be good people as well. It would also benefit children if they can hear what our values are-but we need to be careful. We somehow feel that the best way to teach our kids is through lecturing and admonishments or we sometimes even deride their choices to get our point across.
When we lecture we might say:
“You know you need to listen and follow the rules in our house. Society has rules for a reason. It is important that we abide by these rules etc.”
When we admonish we might say:
“How could you lie about your homework? What were you thinking?
When we deride our kids choices, we might say:
“All you watch on TV are garbage shows. You should watch educational television. That will help expand your knowledge.”
Instead, state beliefs and values in a non-confrontational manner using “I” statements:
“I believe that rules are important to help our home run smoothly.”
“I believe that homework should be done in a timely fashion.”
“I believe that educational TV shows help me expand my knowledge of the world.”
When we talk about ourselves and what we believe in, we make a big impression on our kids. They can hear our viewpoints clearly and succinctly. These simple “I” statements seem benign (and a bit phony) but kids can hear us without feeling that they have to defend themselves or be pushed into an opinion that they might not share.
- Point out their good behavior
As parents we are so anxious that our children behave appropriately that we notice all of our children’s bad behavior and we point it out to them.
“You forgot to feed the dog again.”
“You need to say thank you when I give you a snack.”
“Stop grabbing the toys!”
Children need attention from their parents. If they don’t get positive attention from us they will settle for negative attention.
We often spend more time and energy talking and attending to children when they misbehave; we do not acknowledge their positive or even neutral behavior and in turn inadvertently reinforce their negative behavior. It makes more psychological sense to focus on their positive behavior and point it out to them.
To teach them to be responsible, praise them at a time when they act responsible:
“Thanks for coming in from playing outside to tell me that you and your friends were going over to Eli’s, that called being responsible…”
To teach them to be grateful, praise them at a time when they act grateful:
“You remembered to say “Thank you” to Sam’s Mom when she gave you a snack.”
To teach them to self-control, praise them at a time when they act patient:
“You are being patient while we wait for our turn here at the shoe store.”
What about the times we need to admonish our kids? Make sure to start off positively and end off in a positive way.
“I know you love to take the dogs on walks, you have been very responsible about that. Feeding the dog is your job. I know you will figure out a way to do remember to do that. If you need help figuring out let me know. I know you want to make sure that Fido stays healthy and safe.”
Teaching kids to be a mentsch takes time, but with lots of patience it can be done!
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.