How to Handle Chutzpa in Children

13 01 2010

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com

Question:
Can you give me guidelines on how to handle chutzpa in my growing children ages ten to thirteen? What should I say if
my otherwise sweet daughter keeps saying to me, “I can do whatever I want!”? Should I force her to comply or teach her negotiation skills?

Answer:

You should teach her negotiation skills. You also have to teach her the laws of Kibud Av Va’em. Preferably your husband should show her these halachot in a sefer so that she sees that the same Hashem who commanded us not to kill or stealcommanded us to treat our parents with respect. She has to see that you and your husband take these laws seriously in your relationship with your own parents. If a child says, “I can do what I want,” you should say, “Can you go to the store and take what you want without paying? Can you get on the bus and not pay the fare because you just feel like riding on the bus?”  Hopefully she will answer no and you should ask her why. She will tell you that if she gets caught, she’llbe in big trouble, and that the Torah forbids it. You have to tell her, “My dear child, the Torah forbids you to behave with chutzpa. And since I care about you, I can’t allow you to continue acting this way, just like I can’t allow you to do anything else that will harm you.”

As children move towards adolescence they need greater autonomy. So while you can’t tolerate chutzpa, you should foster opportunities for success by giving them more responsibilities. Let your child prepare some new salads for Shabbat or allow her to visit a friend without having a specific curfew. Inform her that you trust her to come back early enough to get a good night’s sleep. Convey to your child that you have confidence in her and that you see her as an adult. This should not preclude the fact that she views you as a parent, just as you view your own parents as parents. Teaching your children negotiation skills is good because it is a respectful way of stating your needs in a way that the other person doesn’t lose out. But it has to be presented as a way of fulfilling Kibud Av, not as a way of manipulating a parent into doing what the child wants.

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