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Connection Before Direction

Scenario One:

Mom is running behind schedule and needs to gather her kids and leave the house RIGHT NOW! She grabs her purse and coat and yells up the stairs to her six-year old, who is engrossed in Legos, “Come to the door please. We have to leave now!”


What are the odds that her child will come running? Probably not that high.


Scenario Two:

Mom is running behind schedule and needs to gather her kids and leave the house RIGHT NOW! She grabs her purse and coat and climbs the stairs to the room where her six-year old is engrossed in Legos. Mom squats down to eye-level and admires the growing creation. Her child looks up and Mom makes eye contact with a smile. “I love your Lego creation. Isn’t this area new?” 

Child answers, “Yes, I just did that part right now!”. 

Mom replies, “It’s fantastic. Come to the door please. We have to leave now.”


What are the odds the child will get up and go to the door right away? Significantly higher.


The two scenarios are almost identical with one big difference. In the first situation, Mom’s request comes without any prelude. In the second, Mom emotionally reconnects with her child using her physical presence, eye contact, smile, and words before asking for compliance. 


Human beings are wired for connection. When we feel emotionally connected to someone, we are naturally eager to fulfill their requests and follow their lead. When we don’t feel attached to a person, we naturally tend to resist obeying orders. This important insight into human nature explains why substitute teachers have such tough jobs. They’re attempting to teach students who have no relationship with them and therefore aren’t wired to want to listen to and learn from them. On the other hand, a beloved teacher can push students to master even arduous material due to the attachment relationships she’s developed.


When parents seek compliance from their children, it is wise to first spend a few seconds reconnecting and thereby tap into their child’s natural desire to listen when they feel emotionally attached. In truth, whether or not a parent is seeking immediate obedience, the nature of the parent-child relationship is that we are always teaching our children. Our role as parents isn’t only to bring a child physically into the world, but to convey our values, teach life-skills, and transmit our culture. In other words, we don’t only raise our children physically, we raise our children psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually as well. In order to do this, our children must want to learn from us. As Gordon Neufeld eloquently says, “The way to make a child listen is to make them want to listen.”


To those who perceive the world through a Biblical lens, it will therefore not be surprising that before Hashem (God) gave the Torah (Five Books of Moses)  to the Jewish people, complete with 613 obligatory commandments, He first cemented the emotional relationship which would fuel a natural desire for obedience.


When the Jewish people arrived at Mount Sinai, before the Torah’s laws were given, and before the Tablets were handed to Moshe, (Moses), Hashem first established a relationship of love and connection.


Exodus 19:5-6

Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own treasure from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine: and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak to the children of Yisra᾽el. 


Within a context of loving connection, obedience emerges, as a subsequent verse continues. “And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do.


When people feel close to each other or their Creator, they feel a natural drive to follow directions and make the other happy. When there is no relationship context, human beings resist direction as we hate feeling pushed around. Parents who hope to transmit valuable lessons to their children need to work within an emotional attachment.


Take the time to build a relationship within which your children feel secure. Prioritize spending time together; communicate your enjoyment of being together, make eye-contact, smile, offer loving touch, and enable them to feel emotionally connected to you. Within this context of connection, you will be able to teach and direct your children, and they will seek to follow your guidance.

Four days before the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, Hashem established a loving, emotionally connected relationship with His people. The message for us is crystal clear: Connection before Direction.


 

For an in-depth exploration of this topic along with practical applications for parents, watch my video, Parenting for Listening. This video (1 hours long) and accompanying handout dives deep into the nature of attachment and how to use it within the parenting relationship, how to deal with peer relationships, how to minimize your children’s resistance, how to help immature children act appropriately, how to set your children up for success in challenging situations, and much more.



 


This piece is dedicated to the memory of Elisha Loewenstern,38, husband and father of six children aged 10 months to twelve years. Elisha was killed on December 13, 2023 while on a mission to rescue wounded soldiers. His widow, Hadas, has given several moving video interviews in which she expresses incredible faith. I am copying a few excerpts below, but if you have the time, I recommend searching for her clips on YouTube. She is a true inspiration. May Elisha's memory be a blessing and may Hashem give his family comfort.


Talking about his death is so insignificant in my eyes because he only died once but he lived every day. This was Hashem’s decision. We can’t change it, but we plan on living such a wonderful life the bad guys will never live such a life. We will live through the mitzvot (commandments), and this is the true victory. Hashem decides when you die, it can be at any age. The question is not how you die but how you live in this world. When my husband went up to heaven I know all the angels stood up and clapped and said, Kol Hakavod, look what you did. This gives me comfort. I have so much to be thankful for. I was the only woman in the world who had the merit to marry Elisha, and I have six kids…

…Everyone wants to give us cakes. We don’t need any more cakes. We need bitachon (certainty that Hashem is in charge). If you thought you could just live in this world and be a Jew but not really understand what it means to be a Jew, it’s time to learn who you are and who we are. Our emuna (faith) and bitachon are the only things that will get us through this hard time...

…This morning people from the army came and brought me his tefillin, tallit, personal belongings. I cried my eyes out. Then I looked at the watch and said, now it’s time for me to make lunch. That’s it. I’m going to make lunch for my kids today and that is my victory. I’m even going to make something my kids really like and I’m going to sit with them and eat. You took my husband but you’re not winning. I am the winner because I make lunch today and I will make lunch tomorrow and I will continue living and that is the true triumph.


Thank you to Judy Gruen for typing up Hadas’ messages. The full article is here:


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