Friday night I went to a great shiur by R’ Ackerman from project Y.E.S on the topic of expectations with children.
There are 3 rules to follow when formulating an expectation:
- The expectation has to be concrete. In that you can’t be vague in asking a child to do something.
Example: Asking a child to clean their room is a vague request. What will happen if you tell a child to clean their room? You’ll come in and see a pile of clothing in the closet, and garbage there. So then you’ll get upset at the child, and say, “You didn’t clean your room!”, then they’ll say “But I did, look, there’s nothing on the floor, I put it all in the closet so that you won’t trip on anything. So the child had good intentions but just didn’t understand your request. Now if you would give a specific request, and say “I would like you to clean up the things from the floor, hang up the shirts in the closet and throw the garbage out.” Then that is a concrete expectation that the child can follow.
- The expectation should be a positive one. A parent shouldn’t tell a kid “Get your feet off the table” because then they will put their feet on the wall or the chair or any other place besides the table, and if you don’t want their feet in those places then you have to be clear and say, Put your feet only on the floor. So before you make a request for a child to do, think about what you want them to do, if you can’t think of a positive way to ask it, then wait till you can think of one.
Also, there’s a way to ask a child to do something. It shouldn’t be “You have to be in your room in 10 minutes”. Rather, “I would like you to be in your room in 10 minutes”. There are 2 differences between the 2 sentences. 1 is changing the sentence from a “you” to an “I”. 2 is leaving out the word “have to”. If you request from the child nicely to go into their room then they are more likely to listen, than if they are being told to. In addition, if you use words like “have to” then what will happen? 15 minutes later the child is not in their room, so they realize they didn’t have to go to their room, and it makes the parent loose authority in their eyes.
- The expectation has to be realistic. You have to know what the child can handle at their age level, as well as the duration of how long they can do something. A little child most likely will not be able to sit at the Friday table for a long time. So you can’t expect them to. But yet, it doesn’t mean that it’s all or nothing. They can sit there for as much as they can handle. With such things, a parent shouldn’t ask the child “can you sit at the table?” because then it’s giving the child 2 choices, “yes” or “no”, but really they can sit at the table, just not for all of it, so rather you should ask “How long can you sit at the table for?”. Also, it is important to realize that each child is different, and that just because 95% of your other children were able to do something at a certain age, doesn’t mean it’s realistic for this child to.
Now after asking your child to do something, you should say over what you expect of them, and see if they understand. To clean up any misunderstandings. Then you should ask the child “What do you think of that”, so that you find out in advance feedback from the child whether they plan on doing what you expect or not. So that later when you have expected them to do something, and you find out they didn’t do it, you won’t be caught in the moment and get upset. So you talk it out in advance.
Now if the child has succeeded in doing what you asked them to, then you have to praise them on their success. You’re supposed to praise them, 500 times to the amount you criticize them. That is the key to building a child’s self esteem. If you find the child set the table, like you asked, then you say “Child’s name, you did such a great job setting the table, your such a good boy” or something like that. The praise should be able the child’s success and not about yourself, in that you shouldn’t say “you made me so happy by setting the table”. Though you can add that in to, but the focal point should be about the child accomplishing his task.
Now it says “adam nifal kefei poulasuf”, a child will become the way he acts. So that if you praise him for his success, then he will become successful. If on the other hand you always point out his failures, then he’ll think of himself as a failure. So that if a child does an expectation half way, you should praise him on that half way, so that you can build his success, rather than salvaging his failure. It’s much easier to build on success.
Now what if you asked the child to move some cups from the dining room table to the server, and then you find it wasn’t done, what do you do? You say to the child “I asked you to move the cups from the table to the server”. Then you say an observation, which should not be judgmental. You say, “I see the cups are still on the table”. Then it is very important to be dan likav zechus, and judge the child favorably, so that your not putting them on the defense. You shouldn’t say “why didn’t you put the cups on the server?” But rather say “what was hard for you?” Assuming that the child would have done what you asked if they had been able to.
Now when having a talk with a child about an important thing, you have to be Hakal Kan, all of you has to be there. You can’t have any outside distractions, as well as internal distractions, you have to realize everything is about the child, and not you being upset at the child. When talking with the child make sure you have eye contact, if their looking down, then say their name, to get their attention. Then go through the script, saying: “I asked you to do this, I see it is this way, what was hard for you?”
Then the reason will be one of 2 things. Either incompetence or non compliance. Which in most cases it’s incompetence, where the child was un capable of fulfilling your expectation. So they will explain to you why they couldn’t. Example: a child comes home and puts their coat on the floor, you find it there and then ask the child what happened, they will tell you that they hand to run to the bathroom so they couldn’t hang up their coat.
Now what happens if the child just says, “I didn’t do it because I didn’t want to”. Then you have to make sure it’s really not incompetence. You say to the child, “what happened when you tried to…” then lots of times they will tell you, “I tried but then I couldn’t” They are just too ashamed to say that they couldn’t do something, so they say they didn’t want to do it. But once they see that you understand them, then they will open up to you and tell you why they couldn’t do what you asked. Now this is very important to find out that it’s really incompetence, as you’ll find out later.
If the child didn’t fulfill the expectation because of non compliance, there is one of 3 things that can be done:
- You can let it slide, you can figure this isn’t an important thing, and the child doesn’t want to do it. This does not mean “choosing your battles” since really parenting is not about a battle between parent and child, but rather helping the child grow to be successful, so you’re just making a decision, that this request is not an important one.
- You can threaten the child into submission. Now this one barely works, because then there will be a war between the child and parent, and you’ll be surprised how much punishment a child can handle, so that they shouldn’t loose. Rarely will they ever give in, and if they do give in, the relationship between parent and child has changed, and the child will not like his parent at all. So you have to question if this method will be worth it.
- You can give the child an incentive. Notice this is not a bribe, since a bribe is given to a judge so that they should do the wrong thing. Here you want the child to do the right thing, just since they don’t want to, you want to give them motivation so that they should. A child is an expert of themselves. So you ask them “What would you like to earn in order to do this thing that you don’t want to do”. You’ll be surprised at what lots of children will say to this, One child said “I want to play checkers with Totty on Friday nights”.
Now here’s where it’s important that you made sure it really was non compliance and not incompetence. Because what happens, if really the child is not capable of doing something, and then you offer them a reward if they do it. It’s cruel, because your hanging something they want in front of their eyes, but yet saying they can’t have it. Since they won’t be able to fulfill your expectation they won’t be able to get the reward. So all the charts won’t help, unless the child is capable to meet the expectation.