Have you ever been in public while your child has a complete meltdown and you feel pressured to do or say something because of all the (perceived) judgmental eyes on you? You know that your child can’t hear a word, but you speak anyway to make yourself feel a bit better before your audience. We’ve all been there and done that at some point.
We learn a totally different way of parenting from Moses in the beginning of Deuteronomy. Before his death, he assembled the entire Jewish nation and reviewed the main events of the previous forty years. Jewish tradition teaches that each location he mentioned was a hinted rebuke for a sin, (For example Di-zahab means abundance of gold, alluding to the Golden Calf.) Why did Moses wait until his final weeks to rebuke the nation, and why did he do it with veiled allusions instead of direct statements?
Moses spoke at the last possible time and in a gentle manner because he had a single goal and that was to speak in a way that would create the biggest, longest-lasting impact on the Jewish nation. He wasn’t trying to vent or get in the last word, he was trying to influence the people’s behavior and destiny as they were preparing to go forward without his leadership.
There are three relevant components for parents and all leaders.
Moses waited until the incidents were long finished before bringing them up and he waited until the end of his life when his audience would feel emotionally open to him. By waiting until this time, he ensured that the natural defensiveness that arises when people feel attacked would be as muted as possible. The nation was receptive to him at this time, and that was the time he chose to speak to them about sensitive topics.
Sensitivity to Honor
Moses hinted at sins instead of explicitly reviewing them to protect the honor of the Jewish people. Everyone knew what had gone wrong over the last forty years and they had endured the appropriate punishments. There was no need to bash them on the head again so Moses spoke sensitively.
Moses had a clear goal in mind which was to prepare the Jewish people for their future in the Land of Israel without his leadership. His speech was not recounting history for the sake of the past, it was clearly and explicitly to help guide them to make wise decisions and refrain from falling into similar traps in the future.
These three components can be part of our parenting toolbox. When our child acts immaturely (as they all do!) we want to respond at a time that they can hear us, in a way that protects their dignity, and focusing on future behavior.
Wait to bring up an issue until your child is no longer feeling the emotions of the incident. Usually, even without you saying anything, your child is aware that they said or did something unwisely and they are extremely sensitive to criticism at that moment. We want to speak so they will hear us, so choose a time that they are no longer upset and a time when they feel open and emotionally connected to you. When there is a feeling of closeness flowing between you, it can be a good time to open a discussion of what went wrong earlier as long as we follow the other two principles as well!
Sensitivity to Honor
Nobody likes being told they did something wrong and we want to be very careful and cautious in the way we approach disciplining our children. It is a good idea to affirm that you know they had a positive intention (even if you privately doubt it!), instead of accusing them of intending harm. Saying, “I know you didn’t mean to speak rudely” will go a lot farther than “You don’t respect me at all. You’re so rude.”
What’s done is done and that can’t be changed. Our goal is to help our child make different choices in the future. When we keep that goal clearly in mind, we will speak differently. Spend less time rehashing what happened and more time brainstorming ways to choose different behavior next time. We want to leave our children feeling empowered and hopeful about their future behavior, not ashamed over their past.