In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) 1:15 it states: “Say little and do much.” According to our sages, Avraham Avinu, our forefather, espoused this characteristic. We as Jews are advised to follow Avraham Avinu’s great ways. And since I am a parent educator, I’m interested to know: can we use this great piece of wisdom when we parent? Can we emulate Avraham’s middah (character trait) when we try to get through to our kids?
I think so. There is a great parenting skill that I use at home that is built from this principle, of Saying Little and Doing Much. I borrowed it from the book “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
As we have said previously, lecturing and moralizing (i.e. talking a lot) does not help our kids improve their behavior. A short statement of our beliefs and then silence can do all the teaching we need. We can even use just one word to help us get our point across.
An instinctive and helpful area to use this is in the face of danger. When my kids are roughhousing or playing too close to our Shabbat candles, instead of saying: “Are you guys crazy? That is so dangerous! You can start a fire! You can get badly burned!” I will yell: “CANDLES! THE CANDLES!” Ditto roughhousing near the steps (THE STEPS!) and, sometimes, just plain roughhousing (YOUR SISTER!).
But there’s more. I also use this skill as a soft admonishment. For example, when my kids don’t want to share their snack, instead of opting for a drawn-out lecture such as, “Come on guys, you should share your snacks. It is not nice. Don’t you want to be nice to your sister…?” I say firmly, “Chessed” (kindness). If my kids are fighting, instead of, “Will you stop this squabbling already?!” I’ll say, “Shalom bayit” (peace in the home). The hebrew phrases do it nice and succinctly, but it works even when the word (or words) isn’t charged with Biblical significance.
If my kid always forgets lunch? “Lunch.” Forgets to collect his dirty laundry? “Laundry.” Speaks disrespectfully? “Kibbud av va’em” (honoring one’s mother and father). Okay, that’s three words, but you ge the idea. Brevity.
I love this skill of using one word and saying little. It saves time and energy. And an added bonus: it teaches kids to use the skills of intuition, it helps them think and moves them to act on their own.
Younger kids might think: “The candles? What is she talking about? Oh, I am too close to the candles and that is dangerous. I better move away.” When kids are older they might think, ‘Chessed,’ what does she mean? Am I not being nice, am I only thinking of myself?” Children, especially teenagers, like this skill. Brevity is always appreciated, particularly when they know they are acting inappropriately.
My kids think that it is funny. Now when they are near the steps (and they are not so involved in their roughhousing) they will yell at each other, “THE STEPS! THE STEPS!” They will move away on their own and I don’t even have to use one word!
So yes, let us move forward in our parenting, saying little and doing much.