Hylton I Lightman, MD, DCH (SA), FAAP
“Yikes, Dr. Lightman. Chanukah is coming. There’s a family get together. Yes, it’s fun but…my kids are not picture perfect. My extended family might see my children acting out. What’s a parent to do?”
I remember those days. Somehow, our kids don’t “perform” just because we ring a bell.
Family get togethers can be loaded in angst. Parents tell me that they may be surrounded by relatives and love but there’s always that relative who disagrees with how they parent or somehow says something judgmental that feels like a knife has been slammed into the gut and then twisted 180 degrees.
I’m here to boost your confidence!
Teach your child manners
We parents must teach our children what we expect from them in behavior. Look people in the eye. Shake an adult person’s hand firmly, keeping eye contact. Respond appropriately to questions; shrugging shoulders doesn’t cut it. Most children will file the information away and use it in the moment.
Don’t surrender your parenting authority to any person
Parents have told me that Bubbe and Zayde don’t approve of their parenting style.
My response: Bubbe and Zayde are entitled to their opinion. And Bubbe and Zayde should think once, twice, 20 times before voicing their opinion to their children. And never should Bubbe and Zayde undermine Mom and Dad, especially in front of the grandchildren. Doing so will create, G-d forbid, confusion and shame in parents’ hearts.
What if someone jumps the gun and says something? Suggested responses:
“Mmmmmm…I’ll think about it.”
“I’ll handle it.” Say it firmly.
Don’t forget who you are, Mom and Dad. You have developed and continue to develop your unique voices as parents. Stay present in the moment.
Let things slide
Not everything needs to be answered. Silence can be golden (as long as lives are not threatened). Take a deep breath and stay the course. When your child sees you react or respond calmly, that’s a priceless lesson that he will one day reenact.
Let family know how they can help
With an outspoken family member who feels they know best, be straight. Say matter-of-factly: “Come and get me if my child misbehaves and I’ll handle it.”
And there are family members who are more reserved and will never offer an opinion. Bless them in your heart. Tell them to come get you, if needed.
Give a heads up
Perhaps Shmuel didn’t nap as long as he usually does. Or Penina is teething.
Quietly announce when you walk in something to the effect like: “Shmuel napped only 20 minutes so he’s not as well rested as always.” Or “Shulamis is in that preschool independent phase and likes to do everything by herself.”
You’d be surprised that there are family members who want to help soothe a cranky child or get a kick out of watching a little person assert their independence.
Never speak ill of your kids in front of others
Naftali might be overflowing with energy but please never describe him as a “hellion on wheels.” If he hears it, he will want to be it. And negative names have a nasty habit of sticking for a long time.
Suggested language: “Yes, Naftali is a work in progress.”
Prepare kids and tell them what you expect
Tell your children a day or two in advance about what will be happening. If guests are coming, speak about sharing their home and toys. Tell them “normal” will return.
If you’ll be guests in another person’s home, ask when arriving where the children can play and which areas are off limits. Tell them they can’t go past the row of trees in the backyard. Children welcome talk in concrete terms.
Always remember: Your children are human
Even with the best chinuch, kids act out because they are kids. Have a sense of humor about it. Address it and move on. Stressing about it will only stress them and others. And the faster you move on, they, too, will move on.
P.S. These guidelines are for all year