Dear Dr. Yael,
My husband and I are loving parents and do our best to raise our children in the proper way. Our children are still young, yet seem to have more chutzpah than either one of us remember having as children. To give you an example, the other day, my child said to me, “I hate you Mommy” because I bought him one expensive toy rather than two.
I know how much you focus on derech eretz – can you help us?
Thank you so much for writing about this issue. This is such an important topic that we have now made my video, “Chutzpah is Muktzah” and the “Chutzpah is Muktzah 2,” available to watch on YouTube.
Instilling derech eretz in our children when they are young is of paramount importance. Children do not really know how to express their feelings and it is up to us to teach them the proper way to do so.
When your child is upset and is speaking in a chutzpadik manner, you can say, “I think you meant to say, ‘I’m really upset about…’”
Children are allowed to feel angry and should be given the space for their emotions, however, they must understand that there is a right way to express them. Once you have helped him or her to rephrase, make sure to emphasize with that feeling and let him or her know that you understand.
Recently I found myself sitting next to a mother and her adorable four-year-old son.
There was a platter of pickles on the table and the little boy reached up and grabbed a handful of them.
“David, don’t be a fresser,” his mother scolded.
David giggled. “You don’t be a big fresser!” he shouted to his mother.
Everybody laughed, and I thought to myself: this is how chutzpah starts! Very often we unconsciously tolerate and even reinforce this type of inappropriate behavior. Instead of correcting her child, the mother communicated that she thought he was funny and cute – it won’t be cute ten years down the road.
Another important thing to note is that parents who do not speak to their children with respect will have children who respond in kind. In the above “fresser” example, the mother was not speaking respectfully to her son, so he responded in kind. Children learn from our actions and speech.
I once heard a bar mitzvah boy thank his parents at the end of his speech and noting that his mother takes such good care of her children: “eight kids, not seven, since my father is the eighth,” he joked. This drew appreciative chuckles from the crowd, including from his parents who probably helped him write the speech. But is it appropriate for a thirteen-year-old to diminish his father by characterizing him as childish? Absolutely not.
Again, while we may find certain behavior cute, we must be very careful not to laugh at chutzpadik remarks or act as our child’s friend. Our role as a parent is to help a child navigate through life.
As I said, children learn best by example, thus, it is important that we talk with our parents and in-laws in respectful ways. We should also be careful of the phraseology we use. For example, I like it when children respond, “I’ll do it with pleasure” or “I’ll do it right away” when they’re asked to do something. Thus, when my children ask me to do something, I try to remember to use this phrase. You can also remember to say, “Please…” or “Is it possible to…”
Another important factor is our tone of voice when we speak to our children – if we yell, they will yell. Now, sometimes we lose our patience and become inappropriately angry. If that happens, take the time to apologize for your tone – it will be a wonderful lesson for them.
Some other tips: Compliment them when they do something good, make a big deal about it. They will want to continue doing things to make you happy. With older children, get them used to complimenting the younger children; it will enhance everyone’s self esteem and show the older child how important his or her opinion is to the others. This helps to foster a loving family relationship.
Wishing you much hatzlacha.