HELPING YOUR KIDS TO BE COOPERATIVE

Helping your kids to be cooperative

Dr. Miriam Adahan

Good for you for reading Horizons! It means you’re taking time to relax and enjoy yourself. Most mothers feel “maxed” to the limit. We become so task-oriented, focused on cooking, cleaning, shopping, working outside jobs – that it’s often hard to take a break from thinking about others’ needs.And that constant giving can make us feel enraged when we ask for help and are met with resentment and resistance or are told, “Later,” (which we all know means, “Never” in child language.)

This is especially true when we get desperate, like erev Shabbos or Yom Tov or pressured

mornings. So how do we help children want to help?

Rav Wolbe, shlita, tells us something which quite revolutionary. He says, “A

parent is not allowed to expect his or her children to do things to make life easier for

the parent.” (Hamodia, 20 Tammuz 5764) This may seem strange. Isn’t it legitimate

to want our kids to make our lives easier, since we spend so much of my time trying

to make their lives easier? Rav Wolbe is telling us that we must have in mind to help

children develop self-discipline, because it is good for them, for their sense of selfworth

and self-confidence. After all, they’ll soon be multi-tasking themselves, G-d

willing! To make the chores seem less threatening, try the following:

· MAKE CHORES FUN – IF POSSIBLE: Since having fun is a child’s

priority in life, it is helpful to make the chore enjoyable, such as by

playing music, beating the sand timer or doing the task together

pleasantly, complimenting and encouraging him all along. This builds a

positive association in his mind with the idea of chores. If you always

have a grim, angry look on your face, they’ll feel the same way about

“work.” It is possible to wash the dishes and iron the clothes with

gratefulness for having a home and a family instead of bored bitterness. If

you tell children that you like doing dishes because it makes you happy to

put things in order, or that ironing calms you, maybe they’ll internalize

the message that these ordinary tasks can be a source of pride and

satisfaction.

· UNDERSTAND THEIR THINKING: Because children live in an

egocentric, intellectually limited world, they may draw false conclusions

such as, “If Mommy asks me for help, it means she’s incompetent.

Otherwise she’d be able to manage by herself like other mothers,” Or,

“She’s picking on me unfairly,” Or “If she really loved me she’d see how

overwhelmed and overburdened I feel, what with all this stressful

schoolwork and other pressures, and realize how much I need to play.”

We, too, have such erroneous beliefs embedded in our “emotional brain,”

or limbic system, such as, “If they don’t help, it means they don’t love

me.” Or, “I’m a failure if my children don’t cooperate quickly and

efficiently.” And, “If they loved me, they’d be able to read my mind.”

Our limbic system, which is a walnut-sized mechanism located in the

mid-brain, is very limited. When we are trapped in that tiny “emotional

brain,” our thinking is limited and we end up feeling resentful and angry

when we don’t get our way. We need to move up to the neo-cortex, the

large, problem-solving area located behind the forehead. Unfortunately,

it’s not fully operational until age of 20, while the primitive brain is up

and running while we’re still in the womb! So no wonder our children act

like children – and why we get act so irrationally at times - smoking,

overeating, shouting insults (“You lazy, good-for-nothing slob!”),

criticizing and being physically abusive or throwing tantrums, even

though we know this is totally counterproductive. Thankfully, we also

possess a Neshama Center, which is our source of faith, love, gratitude

and compassion. It’s what gives us the power to restrain our impulses

and fulfill Rashi’s dictum: “Whatever you do, do from love!” (Devarim

11:13) We can be strict, assertive and set limits out of love. A goaloriented

therapist can help you learn how.

· BE PATIENT: Not all children have the “helper gene” (See my book

Awareness). Some children are insecure, rebellious, selfish or

emotionally unaware. This is especially true if they suffered birth trauma

(e.g., oxygen deprivation, cord around the neck, vacuum birth, etc.), were

poorly nurtured during the first years of life, are hyper-active or autistic.

This doesn’t mean that they don’t have to help; it does mean that you

must be more patient in training the child to develop self-control and

helping him develop the desire to help. Your ability to respond with

mature, problem-solving tactics is blocked if you feel threatened, angry or

guilt-ridden. To get to your Neshama Center, take a few seconds to

forgive yourself for not always knowing what to do and to accept yourself

as you are right now, with your particular limitations. Forgiveness and

faith calm the brain.

· FIND SOMETHING THE CHILD LIKES DOING: Write chores on

index cards and ask the child what he would enjoy. The “primitive

brain,” located at the back of the head seeks pleasure at all costs, and is

the most powerful impulse at a young age. Getting angry about his desire

for pleasure will just provoke resistance. If nothing else, compliment him

for his efforts.

· GET THE CHILD’S ATTENTION BEFORE GIVING AN ORDER:

Children are absorbed in their own world (aren’t we all!) so wait three

seconds to make sure the child heard you. Gently lift his chin and look

into his eyes and say, “Please look at me and listen to what I have to say.”

· KEEP IT SHORT AND SIMPLE: Say, “Here’s the sand timer – I need

this to be done by the time the sand goes down.”

LOWER YOUR VOICE: Instead of yelling, catch the child off guard and speak

softly, which, hopefully, will catch the child’s attention. Our children’s immaturity is

no excuse for ours!

· OFFICER CHOICES: Say, “Do you want to do it now or in an hour?”

· DETERMINE CONSEQUENCES: Together, think of a reasonable loss

which will ensue if the child does not do his task.

· DETERMINE THE REASON FOR PROCRASTINATION: Sometimes,

it helps to ask an older child what is the reason for his procrastination,

such as: a) the task seems overwhelming to him, b) he lacks motivation,

c) he’s afraid of succeeding (and having even more demands); d) he’s

afraid of failing, e) he’s a perfectionist or f) he dislikes the task and g)

he’s in a rebellious power-struggle with you. Each problem demands a

different solution.

FIVE PHRASES THAT HELP KIDS BE MORE COOPERATIVE

1. I KNOW IT’S HARD. CAN YOU DO THIS HITGABRUT (victory)? Or,

HOW CAN I HELP YOU DO THIS HITGABRUT? I.e., put things away,

wash the dishes, take a bath, do a chesed, do your homework, stop talking on

the phone, lower the volume, etc.

2. WHAT YOU SAID WAS NOT RESPECTFUL. WHAT DO YOU REALLY

WANT TO SAY TO ME/HER/HIM? When you called her/him a

brat/selfish/stupid/jerk, etc., what did you really want to tell him. I’ll help you

to say what you want – and to say it respectfully this time.

3. I LOVE YOU, BUT I DON’T LIKE THAT BEHAVIOR.

4. I NEED HELP WITH A PROBLEM. LET’S BRAINSTORM. I have a

problem with something you do. (e.g., chew food loudly, leave a mess in the

bathroom, leave your dishes on the table, speak disrespectfully, etc.)

5. THANK YOU FOR BEING RESISTANT. YOU’RE GIVING ME THE

OPPORTUNITY TO WORK ON MY SOUL POWERS (i.e., love,

forgiveness, respectful assertiveness, creativity, self-control, etc.)

Children are terribly over-burdened nowadays and have very little unstructured,

unscheduled play time. This is unfortunate, for the brain needs time to relax and

integrate all that they are learning. All the high-pressured homework assignments can

actually be counter-productive in terms of the child’s ability to learn! So, try to make

the time spent with you as enjoyable as possible. A principle that helped me maintain

my sanity was, “If I cannot think of a loving and respectful approach to get my

children to help me, it means that Hashem doesn’t want me to have their help right

now. It means Hashem believes I can do it on my own or don’t need to have it done.”

It’s a good principle to apply whenever you are disappointed in another human being!

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