How to Connect With Our Children When They Have Made Poor Choices

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The holidays are approaching, and there is so much to learn from the teshuva process. Teshuva is about how to view one’s mistakes.  Hashem loves us so much that He gives us the opportunity to cleanse ourselves through a four-part repenting process. If we examine the process thoroughly, we will see that no part of the process is about beating ourselves up. Yet, when we make mistakes, or when our children make mistakes, we are quick to put down and degrade ourselves or our children. Unfortunately, though, this hurtful attitude only causes one to feel less motivated to fix and clean up and do better. 

Imagine the Following Scenario: 

Joey takes his brother Sammy’s baseball glove. Sammy screams, “I hate you! Give me back my glove you…” (Use the words of your choice.) 

Mom comes along and says, “Joey, how many times am I going to tell you not to touch other people’s things? And Sammy, you are so mean to your brother! Just tell him nicely.” 

We’d be foolish to think that this mother’s comments will inspire Joey or Sammy to think, “You know, she’s right. I want to fix my mistakes and do better.” A judgmental attitude of “What’s wrong with you?” always creates separation. Always. 

The Real Story 

Instead, let’s take a look at what actually really happened here. All that happened was that both Joey and Sammy made poor choices. If the mother’s goal is to let them know that she becomes insecure when they make poor choices, she will continue in her ways that only produce negative results. The negative results can range from a child believing that something is wrong with him or her, hiding mistakes, becoming defensive, and repeating the misbehaviors. 

If the mother’s goal, however, is to help her children be their best selves, she needs to change the story in her brain. She needs to internalize the idea that making poor choices in life is a part of every person’s journey. (If we see a pattern of consistent poor choices, we may need to decide if a child needs more support or intervention). If our children do not feel judged by us when they make mistakes, they are much more likely to take responsibility. It’s human nature. Remember that a judgmental attitude creates separation. 

Instead, let’s believe that our children want to do what’s right. Let’s give them a chance to be nice to each other. If our children need to play separately for a few minutes, let’s calmly say just that. “Boys, let’s play in separate rooms for a few. Joey in the kitchen, Sammy in the dining room.” (If your child is not listening to you because he or she is actually stuck in a defiant mode, you need a whole behavior reset, which is a separate topic.) No judgement. 

The “New Fresh Moment Strategy” 

The “New Fresh Moment Strategy” is a strategy that can go very far in our campaign to build our children. It means that in each moment we interact with our children without holding on to their history. Would you want someone to interact with you as they hold on to all the memories of your past mistakes? As an adult you can try and look past it, but you would naturally feel very disconnected from that person. We actually tell children that it’s such a gift from Hashem that each moment is a new fresh opportunity. If Hashem allows us to start again, we also want to give our children a chance to start again now, too. If while my child is being hurtful to a  sibling I am secretly thinking of all the times he did this in the past, I will talk down to him when giving an instruction to stop. If I treat him in this moment as a beautiful soul who just made a poor choice, I will kindly and assertively instruct him to stop. Only then will that free up my child to be their best selves.