Rabbi Dov Brezak changes our perspective on chutzpah…and offers practical solutions.
Let’s study chutzpah:
Attitude, aka chutzpah, is all over the place. The likes of which we’ve never seen. Children calling their parents by their first names, children hitting their parents, children throwing things at parents, parents afraid of children basically. It exists.
And some children are stronger than parents physically or will be one day… and then what do the parents do? What do we do with this chutzpah? Rav Moshe Turk zt”l, said in the name of Rav Elya Lopian, that chutzpah in the times of Mashiach is a blessing. That’s our times – the times of mashiach.
Why is chutzpah a blessing?
Because there are so many temptations and challenges out there, if a person doesn’t have chutzpah he won’t stand up and do something to not get caught up in it. So chutzpah is a blessing not a curse. I know you just “love” this blessing. You’re really enjoying it and how much blessing it brings you, but this blessing is making your life impossible. But hear us out. Chutzpah is a blessing, a blessing, a blessing.
A fifteen year old was on the bus in Eretz Yisrael and someone sat next to him (a non-religious person) and acted inappropriately. This boy today is off the derech. He told me he was too shocked, too scared to do anything.
On the other hand, a mother told me that her 7 year old is very feisty, a real fighter, difficult child, someone tried doing something to him when he was 7 – he tried picking him up and it was in a downstairs in a shul and nobody was there; the boy started scratching him and scratching his eyes and punching and kicking him and the guy had to let him go for a minute and he ran away. This kid had chutzpah, not afraid, and the other kid was shameful, shy, and what happened to him. That’s just regarding predators. What about the things you’re faced with on a daily basis? You will see inappropriate material while traveling via public transportation or a plane. Someone can approach you with inappropriate material. What are you supposed to do?
You need chutzpah to look away, to not succumb. You need chutzpah today or you can’t walk anywhere or do anything without falling. How necessary and crucial it is to have chutzpah.
Why am I telling you this? You don’t want the kids to give you chutzpah. You want them to channel their chutzpah. I’m telling it to you because when you see it, don’t get upset at it. Don’t get angry at it. Don’t try to uproot it. We’re here to channel it, not to get rid of it. What’s the difference? The difference is we don’t get upset. When we see chutzpah, how could it be? My parents would never talk to me if I spoke like that. I could never get away with that.
A mother tells me her son called her “dude.” The mother almost fell to the floor. A special, special mother, and then he said something else to her – “Ma, I think you have learning disabilities.” The mother was open-mouthed. She remained composed and answered back calmly.
But the first thing we’re looking for you to do is to realize why the chutzpah is here: Hashem put it here, and he put it in your children and don’t get nervous about it. Don’t get upset about it. Don’t get broken from it. The next thing to think about: How are we going to deal with our children and their chutzpah?
Practically speaking, wait. Wait until later before dealing with the chutzpah, so that when one does deal with it he will do so effectively with peace of mind. Our goal is to get the child to behave more respectfully, not just to flex our parenting muscles and remain oblivious to the results. By waiting we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Please realize that at the actual moment when he is acting chutzpahdik, when you are feeling hurt, the child sees this as your personal issue. You do not care about the child – all you care about is the fact that he has offended you. So you are, so to speak, punishing the child as a means of standing up for your own respect. But if you wait until later, then you are thinking in terms of what will benefit the child and that it is not good for him to be chutzpahdik. Then after you have waited, initiate a discussion with the child. Approach the child in a friendly way. Don’t be adversarial. You are having this discussion in order to help him be more respectful for the next time, not to bring him to task for what he did the last time. Focusing on the future and on how this child will react more respectfully next time is a powerful tool in chinuch. The child is led to understand that he has to better his ways, but this is being done in a manner that allows the child to save face and that will not put him on the defensive.
Open your discussion by mentioning the incident briefly and then asking the child, “How can I help you be more respectful in the future, the next time something like this happens?” If at this point you sincerely convey the message that you love him and are out for his benefit, the child will be more accepting and open to your suggestions.
- What if he says that he doesn’t want to be more respectful in the future? You can say something like, “I see that something is bothering you and making you upset. Tell me what it is, so that we can work it out.”
- But the child isn’t upset. He just wants to be chutzpahdik and doesn’t care to be respectful; that’s what he’s saying. As Rav Steinman has said, this is just a defense mechanism. Almost all children want to be respectful. “Maybe one in a hundred thousand doesn’t want to,” Rav Steinman said. The knowledge that your child really does want to be respectful will help you greatly in your discussion with him. It will enable you to deal with what is bothering him even though he is expressing it in a disrespectful way. Once you ask the child what is bothering him and if you can help, it will probably open up a can of worms; the child may just spout out everything that’s bothering him. This is a blessing. Like a blockage in a water pipe, once the blockage is cleared, the “water” can flow smoothly once again. Once the child actually tells you what’s bothering him, show compassion and understanding. Then try to help resolve the issues that are upsetting him. If you can do that, you can then ask him: “Do you think you will be able to be more respectful next time?” Most likely, the child will say yes.
- What if nothing is bothering him? Something is certainly bothering him, or he wouldn’t be chutzpahdik, as Rav Steinman explained. Still, the child may not feel comfortable opening up to you. In that case, encourage the child to open up and share because you care and want to help him get past the issue. The fact that you are expressing concern about what bothers him is in itself a very significant gesture and can help soften the child and elicit his cooperation in joining the discussion and working out how to be more respectful the next time.
- What should I do next? Ask your child for suggestions and ideas that will help him do better next time. These questions stimulate the child’s thought processes in the direction of having respect, even if he does not come up with solutions. You can also offer some suggestions and ideas that may perhaps make it easier for the child to comply in the future. For example, you can ask the child if it would help if you would compromise a little on your demands. If you’ve asked him to clean up his room and he doesn’t listen, you could try asking him to just make his bed and pick up the clothes from the floor instead of cleaning his entire room.
- What if the whole discussion is strained, and the child is not so forthcoming or cooperative? This may be an indication that you cannot just work on the symptom alone and that you have to focus on the cause and the underlying problem behind the child’s chutzpah. It may be jealousy; it may be vying for negative attention; or it may be that the child feels that you are against him.
In any or all of these scenarios, take extra time to build your relationship with the child. When a child truly knows that his parent is on his side and out for his benefit, he develops a deep inner respect for the parent. Then, even if he behaves in a chutzpahdik manner, it will be the exception and not the rule, since he knows that you are his close ally and advocate, and that you are truly and unconditionally dedicated to his benefit and success.
Join Rabbi Dov Brezak for a Free Live Zoom Webinar on Chutzpah: The Curse, The Blessing Sunday, Nov. 14th at 2 pm or 9 pm EST. Register at www.chinuch-lifelines.org.
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