Thursday, December 9, 2010

But He Started It!

Question of the Week:

My child always blames everyone else for his own misbehaviour. It's always "he started it," "she made me do it," and nothing is ever his fault. How can I teach him to take responsibility for his actions and not shift blame to others?


Yesterday my two year old son snatched a toy from his older sister. She was about to throttle him, so I intervened. I saw this as a chance to impart some Jewish wisdom, so I explained to my daughter the idea of our two inner voices - the Yetzer Tov and the Yetzer Hora.

There's a voice inside that tells me to be upright, moral and well-behaved. This is my drive to be good, called the Yetzer Tov. But I also have a deviant and rebellious side, an inner voice that tries to convince me to do whatever is wrong and hurtful and selfish, known as the Yetzer Hora.

These two voices constantly battle to win me over. I have to choose which side gets the upper hand. And I am responsible for my choice. If I listen to my darker side, then I only have myself to blame.

So before my daughter had the chance to attack her brother I asked her, "Are you going to listen to your Yetzer Hora and hit your brother, or are you going to listen to your Yetzer Tov and just find something else to play with?"

This turned things around. Instead of being in a fight with her brother, she was now facing an inner struggle of evil versus good. She can no longer excuse her behaviour by saying, "He started it." No matter who started it, if she hits him, she has made a bad choice. It was her own Yetzer Hora that she succumbed to.


On the other hand, if she chooses not to hurt her brother and walks away she is not a loser, but a winner. She didn't lose a fight with her brother, but rather won a battle with her own evil inclination. Either way, the choice is hers, and she is responsible for that choice.

She thought about it for a second, and then made her choice. She gave her brother a whack in the face.

Well, at least I tried.

But it was not a failure. Even though she didn't do what I wanted her to do, she heard what I had to say. This episode reinforced in her little mind the idea that there is an inner battle of good and evil. In the long run, with repetition and patience, that message will sink in.

Kids fight. They won't change so quickly. But by moving the battleground from the outside to a battle within, we can help our children channel their aggression toward fighting their own evil, and in the end, their own good side will win.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss

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