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Jewish World Review Oct. 3, 2005 / 29 Elul 5765

Betsy Hart

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Consumer Reports

No quick fix | Here's what is so predictable about parenting magazines: every single month their covers are filled with promises for desperate moms and dads, like: "Stop Tantrums in 60 Seconds," "Raise a Child Who's Not Spoiled," and "End Sibling Rivalry."

Wow. Talk about answers to life's big questions.

Only, the fact that those same big questions keep getting asked and "answered" month after month, year after year, suggests that maybe there isn't such a quick fix after all. (Kind of like diets, I guess.) I mean as a mom of four young kids, if there actually were techniques that did those things, I'd sure love to know about it.

But this month's cover of the queen of the parenting magazines, Parenting, was the best ever. It was titled, "Bad Behavior? Why it Starts, How to Stop It."

Now let's think about this. Bad behavior is something we've been dealing with in kids — and in adults — since, oh, the beginning of time. But finally, in the October 2005 issue of Parenting magazine, writer Heidi Raykeil, author of "The Happiest Toddler on the Block," not only tells us what causes bad behavior — she's going to put an end to it.


I made one prediction to myself before even picking up the article — all the reasons for bad behavior she listed would have nothing to do with the child's heart itself. (That's a fundamental teaching of what I call the "parenting culture" — or how I refer to the parenting experts.) Sure enough, the reasons children misbehave are, according to Raykeil, the children are tired; they don't know right from wrong; they are testing limits; they want attention; they are afraid of something.

Agreed — all of these things can cause bad behavior. But here's what else so often causes bad behavior in kids, just like in adults, and yet is almost never mentioned in the parenting culture: flawed, selfish hearts that want their own way and want it now. All the behavior techniques in the world — even the many sensible ones that Raykeil discusses — can't fix that.

We love our kids like crazy. But you don't exactly have to see "Lord of the Flies," in which boys trapped on a desert island devolve into savagery, to understand that our children's little "all-about-me hearts" can do more damage to their souls than just about anything else they'll face in life. But when we don't understand that, when we absorb what the experts tell us 151; essentially that children are born wise and good and what they really just need are the right techniques and some parental cheerleading — then we can't pursue our kids' hearts and help them where they really are. It also means they are not really free to be a child, even free to fail.

And so we are told by the parenting culture to criticize only the behavior of the child, never the child himself. After all, behavior doesn't come from the heart, right? But if it's good behavior, say if a child behaves unselfishly in helping a friend, we rightly see that as virtuous and coming from the heart. Yet to these same folks a child's "bad behavior" was dropped off by Federal Express or something.

A child's bad behavior can come from everything from fatigue to immaturity, it's true — but very often bad behavior is a reflection of the child's heart at the moment.

To help our child see the flawed tendencies of his heart — to be willing to reach him in a way that makes the parenting culture flinch, letting our child know, for instance, "you should be ashamed of yourself right now," and to let him know he can do better in the next moment — is to give him a gift. It also allows our kids the freedom to be who they are, the freedom to fail, and to learn from that failure.

Instead, if bad behavior is always about an external problem or a wrong parenting technique — and we fix those things — then when our kids mess up anyway, then what? When they deceive us, or hurt another child, or behave selfishly, ouch! We might be really taken aback. Worse, our kids might be scared to come to us with their failures.

And if we are consistently afraid to go to their hearts when it comes to bad behavior — we can't really help them even if they do.

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"It Takes a Parent : How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids — and What to Do About It"  

"Hart urges parents to focus...on instilling industry, frugality, sincerity and humility. She encourages parents to reclaim the word "no." Contrary to advice you may have received, you needn't give your child choices, or offer alternatives, or explain to little Suzie why she can't eat eight cookies right before bed-you're the parent, and sometimes you can just say no."

  —   Kirkus Reports

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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