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Q&A # 40 - Quality Time (Part II)
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Chicago Community Kollel

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Continued From Last Week's Column

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We have 4 children ranging in age from two to nine-years-old. We consider ourselves to be hands-on parents and we keep hearing how important it is to be involved in the lives of our children.

However, balancing our career, family and social obligations – as well as doing homework, carpooling, arranging play dates, attending parent-teacher conferences – is a bit overwhelming at times. Do you have any practical tips for spending quality time with your children when there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of quantity?

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

A number of years ago, I was conducting a parenting workshop in a Chassidic community and the title of the talk was, “Building Relationships With Your Children.” In my presentation, I spent a great deal of time impressing upon the attendees the importance of spending quality time with each of their children.

During the question-and-answer segment that followed my talk, a man raised his hand and asked me a very reasonable question. He wondered how in the world I thought that he could possibly devote this level of attention to each of his children day after day? After all, this fellow explained that he left to work very early in the morning and returned home in the evening about an hour before his children went to sleep.

I decided to engage in the proverbial Jewish exercise of answering a question with a question. I asked this individual which person in his community is the most pressed for time. He immediately responded that his (Chasidic) Rebbi was by far the busiest person that he knew. I then asked him how often he gets to spend one-on-one time with his Rebbi and whether or not he enjoys/looks forward to their time together. He said that he meets with his Rebbi once every month or two and due to the Rebbi’s packed schedule, they only have a few uninterrupted moments together. However, he informed me, he very much looks forward to those meetings and treasures the time that he spends with his Rebbi.

I asked him to reflect upon why he finds those conversations so meaningful and perhaps extrapolate some concepts and techniques that he can carry over to his personal life in order to improve the ‘quality time’ that he spends with his children.

After thinking for a few moments, his fellow responded by noting that his Rebbi gave him his full and undivided attention during their time together. He never answered any telephone calls when they were meeting, nor did he allow anyone to interrupt them. Finally, and most importantly, he was most flattered that the Rebbi opened each meeting by asking him about the status of some of the issues they had discussed in their previous meeting.

Well, there you have it. Even in, or perhaps especially because of, the incredibly busy and complex lives that we lead nowadays, I would suggest that following the lead of that chossid’s Rebbi will dramatically improve the quality of your relationship you’re your children and make the most of the limited time that you get to spend with them. Here are some tips:

1) Do your very best to give your child your full and undivided attention during your time together. Make eye contact with them and ask them how his/her day went. Be an ‘active listener’ – where your body language and expressions indicate that the person you are listening to (your son/daughter) is the central focus of your attention at that time.

2) Do your very best not to answer any telephone calls or get distracted when you are speaking to your child. Obviously, this is impractical and counterproductive if you have a significant amount of time alone with your children. But if you find that your time is limited, it is so important to make that time count and not to allow the distractions of modern-day life to give your child a message that he or she can be brushed aside by anyone who has your cell phone number. It is a wonderful practice for families not to answer telephone calls during dinnertime, for example. That makes a very powerful statement that family matters and that your children are your very highest priority.

3) On a very practical level, I think that one of the most effective steps parents can take to nurture and develop close relationships with their children, would be to ask them individualized questions, as opposed to generic ones. I am not suggesting that you do not ask any generic questions, only that you strive to ask the type of individualized questions that convey to your children that you are part of their lives, remember things they told you the day before, and that you really, really care.

Some examples of generic questions are: “How was your day today?” “How are you feeling?” “How was the bus ride today?” “How was lunch?” Those are all OK questions, but when you think about it, anyone can ask your son or daughter questions like these – even people who don't know them at all.

Individualized questions, on the other hand, can only be asked by those who are intimately familiar with the person's life, and are therefore far more effective at building relationships then are generic ones. Here are some examples: “How did you do on your chemistry exam?” “Did things improve with that friend you were having difficulty with yesterday?” Basically, what you are doing is picking up the conversation where you left off the day before – just as the Rebbi did with his talmid.

As a ‘take-away’ from reading this column, I would ask you to try to ask each of you children one or two individualized questions each day. I can almost guarantee you that the quality of the relationship with your children will improve as a result of implementing this practical and relatively simple technique.

I commend both of you for exploring ideas for maximizing the (limited) time that you spend with your children. As I mentioned in last week's column, this does not replace the importance of carving out as much quantity time with your children as possible. I will close with two paragraphs from last week’s column.

One of the great ironies of life is that when our children are young, they are almost begging for our time, our love, and our undivided attention. Once they hit adolescence, however, it is almost complete role reversal. Now, they are too ‘busy’ for us. It is then that we often beg them for their undivided attention, time, … and love.

So, I plead with you to start getting in the habit of spending permanent, quality time with your children when they are young. The saddest thing that I (sometimes/often) hear from at-risk teens when I encourage them to discuss their challenges with their parents, is: “My parents don’t really know me.” No, spending time with your children will most certainly not guarantee that they will remain trouble-free and on the path to success. But it is the only way for you to be able to guide your children as they grow through adolescence and beyond.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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1. Applies to all caregivers     6/24/07 - 4:28 AM

Hi, in an earlier post I said that one can spend a lot of time with a kid and not really connect deeply if there no meaningful dialog which as the Rabbi has shown is promoted by sincere, authentic questions. The idea to take the one to one time dynamic and generalize it. By using dialog questions we can get the kid to speak and we listen , being a good listener is a vital characteristic of a mentor. the same goes with teachers , instead of lecturing to the kid , talking to the kid , ask questions. A lot depends how you relate to a kid's infractions - punitive , the kid will come with excuses , try and manipulate you, hide from you. In a talk Rav Ephraim Shapiro tells how he asked pupils in his class, if they did something bad would they tell their parents, no kid would tell the parents except a kid whom the class said that she never did anything bad. Rabbi Shapiro says that parents should be the first people to know , but they are the last , because kids can't rely on parents to help them and support them to deal with these situations , come up with a better plan , have a vision for themselves and make amends . A favorite quote of mine 'The method of withdrawing privileges is essentially negative: I can't communicate with you, and so I'll hurt you if you don't mind me. The positive counterpoint is: We all make mistakes, and you can trust me to help you do better in the future.' Eli Newberger. With criticism -IMHO it is better just to describe things and be non judgmental so there can be true remorse and reflection. What questions do , if they are opened ended , How do feel about , what do you think , not questions that elicit yes/no answers. In this way we get the kid to reflect on what is happening , make observations , see the perspectives of others , true chinuch , as well as nurture the relationship. At the beginning it is easier to use non-emotive issues , something you read , story, news etc to share with a kid , and ask his opinion, how did he think the poor kid felt or when walking in the street you see a stray dog , ask the kid what he thinks and engage in parallel learning. With praise - again it is useful to use questions. From Myrna Shure ' Thinking Parent, Thinking Child - One of the problems with praise is ' kids become motivated by extrinsic factors- your praise - start performing to please you instead you instead of themselves, their desire to do well, or their own enjoyment of what they are doing. Instead of telling a kid he is smart , great job with the A , say ' you really worked very hard, how do you feel about what you did ' you are encouraging reflection and a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset. tell me more about your picture , why did you decide .., what were you thinking when you took the test , did you see David's face when you gave him the cookie , what do you think he felt , how did you feel . What we are trying to do with these comments like these is focus your child's attention on her feelings and thoughts rather than on her accomplishmet, by emphasizing the process not the product, your child will realize that it is the trying that counts'. By the way , I am not a psych major , but a BTDT parent , don't have to unlearn anything I learned at University , thank Hashem for guiding me to incredible resources that compliment my parenting philosophy and that of my of my Rabbis. I am also happy to see Rabbi Horowitz and various articles validate my approach. What works ? everything works , all types of manipulation , power , praise , spanking, charts , positive reinforcements - there are plenty of parents who can vouch for all of the above. But whether it is called ' chinuch ' or fits in with what the Chazon Ish quoted in the At Risk kids article ' Kids need their parents respect more than their love. By using dialog questions and giving them a voice , they feel respected and understood and also loved. AK

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2.     6/25/07 - 11:03 AM

I'm sorry, but I don't know any children who spend a lot of time with their parents and family who don't seem well-adjusted. Quantity time means suppers together (even different types of kids), Sunday shopping expeditions--taking turns sometimes with one child at a time, vacations together, Shabbosim together. For younger children, quantity time means a parent--usually a mother--at home with them at least half the day. What children learn from this is to keep to the rhythm of their family, that there is a rhythm other than their own, that they "belong" somehwhere with people who love them and want to be around them and their friends. Talking happens, listening happens--especially when one-on-one time is scheduled. It may be noisy at times. It may be chaotic at times, especially in large families. But it is home and it should be the center of a child's life. It isn't a complete safeguard against all evil, but it produces great kids. I'm telling you. Quantity time is super important. I don't know one family who does this that does not have "connected" kids and I don't know about the dialogue they do or do not engage in.

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3. interesting     7/1/07 - 10:05 AM
binyomin - chicago

Rabbi Horowitz, YOU wrote such a nice article in the hamodia about your chicago visit.

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4. homeschooling     7/2/07 - 2:35 PM
Anonymous - Eretz Yisroel

The good rabbi never commented on homeschooling. :)

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