Can Every Child Really Cooperate?
The answer is, absolutely! How do we know? Fortunately, the Torah is our complete road map for life, and it teaches us that respect is for everyone. There are no exclusions. That means that children with ADHD need to be respectful, children who have sensory challenges need to be respectful, children with social challenges need to be respectful, and children with emotional challenges need to be respectful! Let’s examine a few reasons why children these days may find being respectful to be a struggle, and how we can restore the necessary old-fashioned respect in every home and school.
Firstly, many parents are afraid to enforce rules because they believe that if done too harshly, it can cause long term damage to their children. While it is true that harsh speech can, indeed, hurt a child, enforcing rules can be accomplished with soft speech, so long as it is done with complete confidence. Since children are able to feel our vibes, if we feel insecure about enforcing our rules, our children will believe that the rules are not so important. All children are capable of accepting limits (unless there is a cognitive delay that impedes their actual understanding). When little three-year-olds go into stores with their parents and ask for a food item that is not kosher, they stop begging when the answer is no because the child sees that the parent means business. Oftentimes when children are struggling to cooperate it is because they can sense the wavering feelings of the adult about the importance of the rule.
For example, a mother tells little seven-year-old Isaac who is playing outside to come in. He says no or simply ignores her. She is secretly feeling bad for him that he needs to stop playing now. She is not realizing that Isaac is sensing that ambivalent feeling from her. If Isaac was to almost bite into an unkosher item that she forbids, this mother would figure out a way to stop him, because she is confident and secure that she is doing the right thing.
Let’s follow the following protocol to regain the respect that children so desperately want to give.
1. Raise your children with a healthy attitude towards rules. Rules are there to protect us and Hashem loves us so much that He gave us the clearest possible guide on what rules to follow. Let your children know that people who know that live much happier and healthier lives than people who are constantly fighting authority.
2. Before you state a rule or instruction to your children, stop and think if you believe it is important. If not, skip it and do not say anything. If you do believe it is important, lower your voice and let your child know exactly what you do or do not allow. Then enforce it exactly as you would for the unkosher food situation. You will be surprised at how capable you and your child are!
3. If your child is struggling to cooperate, he or she probably is just stuck in old patterns of behavior. Deep down all people want to do what is good and right. (You may need a bit of help from a mentor to help your child move away from this pattern.) For starters, let your child know that you see through this, and that the real him or her wants to cooperate.
4. Discuss a plan with your child for how your child can hold himself or herself accountable, telling them that you know that they do care, and nobody wants to come across as, “I just do whatever I want in life, even if it disturbs others.” Follow through on the plan.
We do not connect to our children’s behaviors; we connect to their souls. The more they see that we truly believe that they want to do what is right, the more respect they will show.