Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Av 5760 - August 16, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Parenting with Menucha
A New Series Dealing with Everyday Issues

by Menucha Fuchs

Menucha is the popular author of sixty children's books, eleven of which have already appeared in English, and a new textbook Reader, "Sha'a Shel Menucha", for schools abroad.

Getting Children to Cooperate

Many parents claim that their generally positive relationships with their children are subject to blowups when the child is asked to do a chore which he doesn't happen to enjoy, such as picking up his toys, washing the dishes or taking down the garbage. The problem of balking at parental requests is common to all ages. How can we get our children to do chores eagerly and enthusiastically?

Be Pleasant

Children cooperate better when they are pleasantly addressed, and when the home atmosphere is congenial. In order to create such an atmosphere, we must chose our words carefully, and not bark commands, such as: "Fold the laundry right now!" "Wash those dishes; scrub that floor!" Commands generally boomerang, and are countered with hostility and belligerence. The child who is ordered to do a chore, feels that he has been attacked and must fight back. As in all wars, there are winners and losers. Although we might win once, the clever child won't remain owing, and will score a hit next time around, if only by his stubborn noncompliance during the oncoming foray.

In order to avoid being on the offensive with our children, constantly needling and forcing them to obey, we should remind ourselves that no human being is perfect, and that even adults are liable to approach their responsibilities halfheartedly. We, too, often procrastinate and postpone important assignments, simply because we have no desire to tackle them at the moment. If we recall this, and don't snarl at our children when we make requests of them, they will be much more responsive to our biddings. Instead of scowling: "Go! Do!" or asking: "Why didn't you obey me?" it is far better to say: "I see that you still haven't managed to pair the socks together," or "The neighbor is waiting for the flour." Such remarks aptly convey our intentions, but more mildly than a snappy order. A child would much rather carry out a request which is posed gently and obligingly, than one which is stated as a gruff command or battle cry.

Children Crave Appreciation

Most children are happy to help their parents, provided that their parents appreciate them, and do not consider such help self-evident. Adults also like to be patted on the back when they have done something good. A woman prepares dinner because that is her duty. Nonetheless, when she is complimented for her efforts, she is pleased. A child who knows that his parents appreciate his efforts will try and do an even better job the next time.

If our true aim is to encourage our children, we shouldn't expect perfection from them, nor constant compliance. Those occasions on which a generally uncooperative child does his chores willingly should be used as springboards to foster further positive activity.

Natural Outcomes

All of us are more productive when we feel that our efforts will be rewarded. A woman who cleans her home, delights in the order she has instated. If the mess returns the moment she has finished cleaning, she will despair.

With young children, the "If you do x then you can get y" approach works. We are not referring to the awarding of prizes, but rather to the pointing to the direct consequences of our deeds: "If you finish collecting the toys immediately, we will be able to color." "If Ruthy does the dishes quickly, we'll have time to go shopping today."

Enlist the Help of the Less Cooperative Child

We generally seek the help of our cooperative children, but by such a course of action, we also brand some children as successful, helpful and capable and others as unhelpful, incapable and unsuccessful. The result of such labeling is that the helpful child continues to be helpful, while the uncooperative child's negative image is reinforced, simply because he has never been encouraged nor given the opportunity to prove his prowess.

It's a good idea, then, to solicit the help of all of our children on an equal basis. True, it is easier to ask the cooperative child for help, but why deprive the other type of child of the opportunity to grow and learn?


Some children are helpful by nature. They like tidy homes, and enjoy pitching in when necessary. However, the less cooperative children are not bad or lazy, but rather have different natures. They may be inventive children, who prefer creative projects. As a result, we should tailor our requests to their particular natures. Such children will probably be very eager to help Abba repair a broken item or to redecorate a room.

Very creative children generally don't like to do things our way but rather their way. If we insist that they follow our instructions to the tee, we are liable to not only to forfeit their help, but also to stunt their creativity.


* Children work best when parents work along with them. Instead of saying: "Straighten the room," just roll up your sleeves, and do it together. Just begin, and things will begin to move. Afterward, step out of the picture, and you'll see that they'll finish without you!

* Sometimes it's easier to do the job ourselves. But our purpose is to educate our children to assume responsibility. Therefore, parents should accustom themselves to enlisting a child's help, even when they don't need it.

* The self-esteem of a child who helps is bolstered. He feels trusted and respected.

* It's not the end of the world if a child refuses to help. He should be given another chance.

* At certain ages, helping should take the form of a game. Instead of saying: "Collect the pieces of the game and put them back in the box," we could try: "Pretend that you're a basketball player. See if you can toss the pieces into this basket." Next time around, your child will associate collecting the pieces with a fun-filled activity.

* Work against the clock. Try: "Let's see if we can tidy up this room in fifteen minutes." Make sure there is a clock to watch so they can gauge their progress and pick up speed, if necessary, to make the deadline.

* Remember there's a limit. If we make too many requests, the child will balk at them. If we don't overdo it, he'll be happier to comply.

If in a particular instance, we feel that a child must conform no matter what, we should use the command form, and not a request form.


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