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The Biggest Mistake Parents Make

The Biggest Mistake Parents Make

They’re afraid to expect, let alone demand, discipline, rules and chores.


The Wall Street Journal recently had an article of a study about the Middle-Class American family by two Southern California anthropologists. Some of their points dovetailed with things that I’ve been teaching for years.

Among the findings: The families had a very a child-centered focus, which may help explain the "dependency dilemma" seen among American middle-class families, says Dr. Ochs. Parents intend to develop their children's independence, yet raise them to be relatively dependent, even when the kids have the skills to act on their own, she says.

(They) noticed that American children seemed relatively helpless compared with those in other cultures. In those cultures, young children were expected to contribute substantially to the community, says Dr. Ochs. Children in Samoa serve food to their elders, waiting patiently in front of them before they eat... By contrast, the U.S. videos showed Los Angeles parents focusing more on the children, using simplified talk with them, doing most of the housework and intervening quickly when the kids had trouble completing a task...Asking children to do a task led to much negotiation, and when parents asked, it sounded often like they were asking a favor, not making a demand, researchers said. Parents interviewed about their behavior said it was often too much trouble to ask.

Many years ago when our oldest child, Atara was about 4, I purchased a book about raising kids. It emphasized listening to your kids and purports "to help listeners understand children's emotions, gain cooperation, and learn new alternatives to discipline." We tried very hard to follow its prescriptions of expressing back to Atara our understanding of her feelings of frustration as she flayed about in her tantrums, but she was becoming more and more difficult to deal with.

Then I took a page out of the Irving Nightingale (my dad) book of raising children and put my foot down and promised a potch on the tuchus (a little slap on the behind) if she didn't go to bed on time. Magically, she became a much easier child to deal with. Somehow my parents, without any PhDs, seemed to have more effective tools at raising kids than these so-called experts.

The focus of families has dramatically shifted from being parent-centered to child-centered.

In the span of one generation, the focus of families has dramatically shifted from being parent-centered to child-centered. Today everything revolves around the child's schedule, whims, wants and needs. While of course the job of a parent is to ensure the good, welfare and security of a child, at the same time it is also their job to inculcate a proper sense of proportion, discipline and responsibility, and this latter part seems to be a dying art.

I find that the biggest mistake parents make is that they are afraid to be the heavy and expect, let alone demand, discipline, rules and chores. The biggest lacking in today's families is the parent's unwillingness to give their kids chores and responsibilities commensurate with their age and abilities. At the Nightingale home, even 5-year old Batsheva doesn't get a free pass and she fully understands when we tell her to clean up her toys, take her dishes to the sink and the like. She is more than happy to oblige when I ask her to run upstairs and get me my keys.

Our Shabbat guests often marvel how our kids get up to help without being asked. This is because this is how we raised them. There is no secret or magic to this. It just requires that parents from the outset establish this as the norm in the "benevolent dictatorship" atmosphere in the home.

Today the holy grail of raising children is self-esteem. Yet there is little understanding that self-esteem does not come from a parent (or teacher) heaping false praise on half-baked attempts by children in order not to hurt their feelings. Real self-esteem comes when parents make reasonable demands on a child and praise them when they truly get off their behinds, move from their iPods, iPads and iPhones and do something productive in the house or with their school-work.

This rescuing parent syndrome that begins at a very young age sets the stage and continues onward where parents today rush up to college with their darlings and spend the first few days with them "getting them settled in." I have never understood that; Atara and Moishe did very well without us when they went off to Yeshiva in Jerusalem or college in New York. Independence starts at a very young age, and the more self-sufficient a child is, the better off they’ll be for the remainder of their lives.

A home where the kids make the rules, define the order and are the primary focus will look like this:

In about 75% of the families, the mothers came home first and began to "gyrate" through the house, bouncing between the kids and their homework, groceries, dinner and laundry, according to the group's analysis... When the fathers came home, 86% of the time at least one child didn't pay attention to him." The kids are oblivious to their parents' perspectives," says Dr. Ochs.

Little wonder. But a home where the parents ensure that the children all have jobs, chores and responsibilities and where the kids realize that they are not the center of it all is one which will be more peaceful - both for parents and kids.

March 31, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 25

(19) Anonymous, May 24, 2017 6:12 PM

lesson learned

My daughter recently took her 10 year old to the grocery and her daughter requested one thing after another. My daughter purchased one item and when they left the store she said "it's not nice to ask for so many things" whereupon the 10 year old looked at her with all honesty and said "but you can say no". Lesson learned from her own daughter!

(18) Alichaya, April 20, 2012 7:16 AM

Relax, ure acting more childish than kids

While the article was poignant, the comments are absurd. I'm glad my child does not have a teacher that cannot control her class and wants to hit them to get them in line... and while those parents indeed displayed horrible manners, name calling and comparing a human mother to a bird falls into their own categories of inanity. I am a woman who stayed at home with my children, choosing to live with a lot less materialistically while being able to be the primary teacher to my children and enjoy the wonderful fleeting period. I am considered a tough mom because I expect table manners, politeness, pitching in with household tasks etc... Putsching is not the secret to a ben or bat Torah. it is the entirety of the approach that produces results. It must be a value system that is administered with love and very high expectations. I am not adverse to discipline but glorifying it lacks any real sophistication and knowledge of good control and parenting

(17) ray, April 20, 2012 6:31 AM

not so fast

keep in mind, people today are psychologically very weak (parents and children). hitting does not work today especially if parent is anger prone.

(16) L.S., April 10, 2012 10:53 PM

DO your job, yuppy moms!

I am sick of children being treated like royalty these days. One yuppy at-home mother actually told me--not asked, mind you, "Excuse me, but I'm going to cut you in line because I'm here with my two kids". My response? "Uhm, no you're not!" Her precious perfect angels can wait an extra two minutes. Unfortunately, too many women think they are heros for getting pregnant and giving birth. Sorry, but every species of mammals, birds, and insects get pregnant and gives birth. TEACH your kids manners, discipline, and respect for mankind. In short, actually DO your job!!!!

Lisa, April 11, 2012 8:23 AM

Line up!!

Just the other day I experienced the exact same scenerio!! Mommy's precious 4 yr old cut the, so did she. I looked at her & she said, without apology, well my daughter cut the line." So I replied, instead of copying bad behavior use this moment as a teaching one!

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