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Jewish Parenting Wisdom: How to tame an out-of-control child

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Dear Rabbi Knopf,
My daughter frequently gets into a rage and can’t control herself. How should I respond?
Jackie

Dear Jackie,
All of us parents have experienced those times when our children lose their temper and are out of control. Although it’s sometimes necessary to step in and control the situation (such as when two children are fighting), the ultimate goal is to teach your daughter how to exercise self-control. Here are some ways of doing that:

  1. Ask your daughter to identify her feelings and talk about why she feels angry. This will help show her that her feelings are OK.
  2. You then need to teach her that, even though her feelings are OK, some ways of dealing with them are not. Teach her to gain self-control by taking deep breaths through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. The best way is to practise doing this with her when she is calm. When you see her getting upset, remind her about the steps and then do them together.
  3. You can be a role model to your daughter. When you experience different feelings, such as sadness or anger, talk to your daughter about your emotions and explain how you are handling it.

Best of luck.


Dear Rabbi Knopf,
I get scared when I see what’s happening in the world today. Everyone is out for their own instant gratification. I want my kids to be more spiritual and to look out for others. How do I teach my children to identify with my values, rather than with those that are so prevalent in our society?
Cynthia

Dear Cynthia,
The first step is to make sure your kids know what your values are. Parents often get this wrong. Most parents say that the most important thing to them is that their children are caring. But, according to research carried out by Harvard’s Making Caring Common project, the kids aren’t buying it. About 80 per cent of the youth they surveyed think their parents are more concerned about their achievements or happiness, than whether they care about other people.

When your child understands what your values are, he may choose to identify with them, or reject them. This is up to your child, but here are two ways to get your message across, both of which are supported by the research.

First, use the currency of time and emotion. Convey your passion about your values by spending time discussing their importance. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions when discussing how important they are to you. If you do this, the message is far more likely to be incorporated into your family’s culture.

Second, if your kids behave in a way that is contrary to your values, explain to them why what they did (or failed to do) was disappointing. There is a fascinating study that contrasts non-Jews who saved Jewish people during the Holocaust with those who stood by and did nothing. The authors found that when those who had rescued Jews were children, their parents guided their behaviour through reasoning, which communicated a message of respect and confidence that they could comprehend, develop and improve.

Wishing you success!


Rabbi Anthony Knopf is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Ora in Montreal and the father of four children. If you have a parenting question for Rabbi Knopf, please email him at rabbiknopf@yahoo.com. To subscribe to his parenting newsletter, visit his website.