Firm , Fight , Afraid . What do these three words have in common?
Parents are often not firm with their children when firmness would be good for the children. The reason they are not firm when they should be firm is that they are afraid to fight with the child. They know that fighting is not chinuch, and therefore they withdraw and are not mechaneich at all.
Because they are afraid of administering the wrong chinuch , they are not mechaneich at all.
And the results follow in kind.
The child becomes spoiled and not mechunach .
A father in a workshop recently brought up the following scenario.
His nine-year-old son has a card that he uses when he says Krias Shema al hamitah . His six-year-old son recently learned to read, and he wanted to start saying Krias Shema reading a card as well. He put up a fight because he wanted to use the card first, before his older brother. Not wishing to start up with him, the father gave in to him; he let the six-year-old read from the card first, and then the nine-year-old got the card.
However, the father felt that this was not fair to the nine-year-old, so he bought a new card for the older boy.
When the six-year-old saw the new card, he said he wanted it. His father told him that he would buy him a new one the very next day. But this child was not satisfied. “I want this new card. I want it to be mine forever, and I want it now!” He was not willing to wait for even one day.
The father gave in to him and let him have the new card.
Why did the father do that?
He was afraid of getting into a fight with his son. This boy can be stubborn, and the father said that if he wouldn’t have given in to him, the boy would have stayed up the entire night in protest.
What did you tell the father?
I told him that he should not have given the card to his younger son and that he should have let him stay up the entire night. I assured the father that no child (nor any adult, for that matter) is able to go for more than three days without sleep (as the Gemara in Nedarim teaches). Consequently, the child will eventually capitulate.
But I thought you teach that we should not fight with children.
That is exactly the point. This is not fighting; it is being firm. If a child protests and does not like what you do, that does not constitute a fight.
So this child’s staying up a whole night is not considered a fight?
What then is a fight?
A fight is when there is a back-and-forth – when the child’s protests and defiance escalate, and the father’s efforts to control escalate as well. We call that a power struggle because the father needs to overpower the child in order to get him to listen.