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Parenting Off the Chart
by Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

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5/1/14

Parenting Off the Chart

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

If you count and check off every day and bring me your completed sefirah chart you’ll get a piece of cheesecake on Shavuos!

That is a chart that works.

Dovid and Yael wanted to figure out why the charts they made for their daughter Baila didn’t.

Dovid and I decided we wanted Baila to stop being chutzpadik towards us. We made a chart and told Baila that we would put on a star each day that she was not chutzpadik. We told Baila that when we filled her chart with stars, we would give her a prize. She seemed really excited about it so I thought it was going to work out really well. But we ran into problems in so many different ways, I wasn’t sure where to begin to fix it.

The first problem happened only half an hour later. Baila came over to me and said, “Mommy, I’ve haven’t been chutzpadik, right? So put a star on my chart!” I explained to her that nothing had happened that might have caused her to be chutzpadik, we hadn’t even spoken to each other. I told her I would put a star on her chart if she could make it through the rest of the day and evening without being chutzpadik.

That led to the second and third problems. The rest of that day and evening went by, and the next two days and evenings went by, and there was no mention of the chart. Three days later Baila informed me that I owed her three stars. I had a problem with my daughter telling me that I owed her something, and I had problem because I truly didn’t remember whether or not she’d been chutzpadik over those past three days.

I decided to ignore the way she spoke to me, telling me that I owed her something, and I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, because I really couldn’t remember if she’d been chutzpadik, so I put three more stars onto her chart. I thought that would solve the problem, and maybe it did, but it triggered the next one.

Baila complained that it was taking too long for me to fill her chart and she wanted a prize now because she hadn’t been chuztpadik for a long time. I explained to her that it hadn’t been a long time, and that I wasn’t even sure that she hadn’t been chutzpadik so she should appreciate that I had given her the benefit of the doubt. She said I should have put the stars on her chart each day and then I wouldn’t have forgotten if she’d been chutzpadik or not and there wouldn’t be any doubt. I told her that it was chutzpadik to tell me what I should have done, so now for sure she wouldn’t get a star today and certainly not discuss prizes. Then she said, “Forgot your stupid chart, it doesn’t work anyway!”

Baila’s words to her mother were inappropriate, and helping her express herself appropriately was the topic of a different conversation with Baila’s parents. This conversation with Baila’s parents continued when I asked the following question:

Baila said, “Forget your stupid chart, it doesn’t work anyway!” Which one of her words is the most instructive in determining what went wrong?”

The answer is “your.” She called it “your stupid chart.” What went wrong is that it was her parents’ chart, not Baila’s. Yael was working much too hard to get Baila to stop being chutzpadik rather than inviting Baila to work hard to earn something that Baila wanted, something that was important to her.

I would prefer that Baila, and every child, speak respectfully to her parents, because it’s the right thing to do. Once I’ve made that expectation clear, I would be very careful to consistently acknowledge a child’s success at speaking respectfully, which can be difficult because we tend to notice inappropriate behavior more readily than we notice appropriate behavior.

If a child continues to express himself disrespectfully, I would make sure he knows what respectful expression sounds like, and I would role-play if that is helpful.

When I’m sure that a child knows what I want and is capable of doing it, yet chooses not to, I would consider a chart.

Remember, charts cannot help a child to become capable of anything. If they can’t do it, no chart will change that; it will just give them one more thing to fail at. Charts only help children who are already capable of doing something, to become willing to do it.

And they need to do the work, not you.

For Dovid and Yael working with Baila, it would sound like this.

Baila, mommy and I think you know how to speak to us respectfully, and we would like you to be more careful about it. What would you like to work towards earning that would help you focus on speaking to us respectfully?

If Baila’s request is not acceptable to her parents, they would ask her “what is your second choice,” and let Baila work at identifying something that’s acceptable to them.

Once they’ve agreed on something for Baila to work towards earning, they are ready for the next step.

Baila, how often are you going to ask us how well you’re doing? How are you going to keep track of your successes as you work towards your prize?

Baila might ask them to help her make a chart, and give her a star when she asks how well she’s doing and they say she’s earned one. How often should she ask? That’s a decision for Baila and her parents to make.

Baila is responsible for requesting a star and if she forgets to, she needs to work harder, not her mother. Is there a statute of limitations, do her parents set a deadline for how long Baila can wait to ask for her star as well as how often? That’s up to Baila’s parents to decide with her.

Charts work when children are capable of earning the stars, interested in the prize, and responsible for keeping track of their progress.

If you count and check off every day and bring me your completed sefirah chart you’ll get a piece of cheesecake on Shavuos!

If your child isn’t capable of counting, help him.

When he is capable, give him the responsibility for checking off and presenting his chart. Then sit down with him and share some cheesecake and some nachas.

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, relationships, and parenting. He works with parents and educators, and conducts parenting seminars for shuls and organizations. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.



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