Hylton I Lightman MDDCH(SA) FAAP

Pesach is in the air. Here comes another beautiful Jewish holiday, replete with prayers, food and, yes, family time. There will be lots of family togetherness.

Yet some people are dreading it. The lack of routine. The long days. The guests. Generations coming together is a wonderful thing. It does not mean it’s easy. As a parent said to me, “You know, Dr. Lightman, that my parents and grandmother are coming. It’s all good. The problem is my children are…children. They act out. They are kids. I’m holding my breath and biting my tongue for the comments from my parents. Have they already forgotten what kids and teenagers are all about?”

Yes, they have. 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 and to suggest ways that you can structure a “win-win” for Pesach – and for throughout the year.

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. Yes, your kids will most likely roll their eyes. 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 have opinions and they are entitled to them. However, this is a wonderful opportunity for Bubbe and Zayde to practice the Midda of Shtika and they 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. We never want to go there.

What if someone says something? Suggested responses:

    • “Mmmmmm…I’ll think about it.”
    • “I’ll handle it.” Say it firmly.

Don’t forget who you are, Mommy and Tatty. 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). Another Midda of Shtika moment. 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

Be straight with an outspoken family member who feels they know best. Say matter-of-factly, “Come and get me if my child misbehaves and I’ll handle it.”

There are family members who are more reserved and will never offer an opinion. Bless them in your heart. Nonetheless, tell them to come get you, if needed.

Give a heads up

Perhaps Akiva didn’t nap as long as he usually does. Or Tova is teething.

Quietly announce when you walk in something to the effect like: “Shlomo napped only 20 minutes so he’s not as well rested as always but he is still adorable.” Or “Elianna is in that preschool independent phase and likes to do everything by herself. It’s so awesome to watch.”

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

Mendy 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. Negative names have a nasty habit of sticking for a long time.

Suggested language: “Yes, Naftali is a work in progress. Wait – Let me rephrase that. Naftali is a Tzadik in development.”

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.

Parenting expert Rebbetzin Sima Spetner is firm that if a child does not want to share his toys, that’s okay. It is his personal property. It’s still totally okay for Ima and Daddy to encourage him to share. However, if the other child damages the toy, then the parents must replace it. The child deserves to get back the toy in the exact condition he lent it out.

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. You may want to bring some books and toys for them; make sure your property is clearly labelled.

Structuring the environment for success

Review the toys in advance. If guests are coming, are there “neutral” toys in case sharing becomes hairy? Same thing goes with board games and other games and books. Nosh as well.

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.

About teenagers

Many come to the Seder prepared with Divrei Torah and that’s important. But not every teen is necessarily pumped up in this way. That’s okay. The key is to involving them in the ways that each one shines.

Before Pesach, go to the local Seforim store. Encourage each one choose the Haggada that speaks to him/her.

Involve them in menu planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning. Finding and making a new Charoses recipe can be fun. Let them be in charge for parts of the process.

Have a teen who’s a budding writer? Perhaps they can script a skit and involve siblings and other family members.

The artistic child can help set up the table so it tells a story or paint a mural that would be appropriate. Give them a budget to Michael’s or another craft store to create the tablescape.

The history buff can interview older family members to learn about Pesach customs from their childhood.

There’s a starting point for each person’s involvement. It means we need to let control (just a bit) and make room for others to take ownership and flourish.

As always, daven.

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