Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Allan Katz: Setting Limits - Restrictions or Guidelines

Allan Katz    Parashat Terumah deals with God's instructions to build a Tabernacle- mishkan –to be  a resting place for God's presence. The most important component of the mishkan was the Ark of the Covenantארון הברית which housed the tablets – לוחות העדות a testimony to God's revelation. After the revelation at Mount Sinai, God would continue to communicate with Moshe and teach him the Torah in the mishkan =the tabernacle or also called  'tent of meeting' – אוהל מועד.

Moshe stood before the Ark,its covering and the keruvim, from between which God spoke to him.

The Ark-aron itself was made from 'acacia wood '-
עצי שיטים. The inner box was made from wood and 2 other boxes in a sense covered or plated the inner box with gold, one from the inside and the other from the outside. The wood symbolizes the dynamic, flexible and living nature of the Torah which is made possible through the Sages- חכמים   and their application of the ' Oral Law' – תורה שבעל פה. The gold plating symbolizes the Torah and God's immutable and unchanging spiritual laws and methodology. At Mount Sinai, God gave the Sages the power to create Halacha- a legal system using God's immutable spiritual laws, principles and methodology. The Halacha governs every aspect of life and has the dynamism to adapt to changing times and situations without losing any of its authenticity and deviating from Torah's principles. It is because the Torah is not in heaven- לא בשמים היא   ,  the Sages have the power to create Halacha and we must follow them "ועשית ככל אשר יורך- לא תסור מכל אשר יורך " that the Torah has been able to adapt to changes and new situations and  yet remain authentic.

The way the Sages derive the Halacha- law from the situation and Torah principles gives us an insight how we should set limits or more important how we help kids set their own limits.

Setting limits and boundaries is an important part of parenting. However the way we set limits can impact negatively on the moral development of children, restrict them and thwart their autonomy and set off challenging behavior and the resistance of kids with difficulties. Limit setting should be used to create structure. It should not be used to restrict kids and make them feel controlled. One does not have to be controlling to create structure, and it is structure with its limits that offers kids more freedom.

The question - Thomas Gordon, the author of P.E.T – Parent Effectiveness Training says is not whether limits and boundaries are necessary but the question is who sets them? Is it parents unilaterally imposing limits on their children or are parents and kids working together to figure out what makes sense.
When we 'work together' with children and collaboratively solve problems by addressing both our concerns and the kids concerns, and then brainstorming a mutual satisfying solution we have actually set a limit. When parents concerns are being addressed by the solution, we have set a limit in a collaborative way.

When we talk about limits and boundaries in general , the question then becomes what kinds of limits and boundaries are we talking about - how specific or behavioral should they be – are we talking about  boundaries and limits as opposed to broadly conceived guidelines that can inform a lot of our activities for eg  - a limit on not hurting other people, addressing the needs of others, being empathic, kind and respectful etc .Don't we want kids to derive limits and guidelines on how to act from the situation itself and what other people need ? If so, then our coming up with limits, and especially specific behavioral limits and imposing them on kids makes it less likely that kids will become moral people who say that the situation decrees a kind of a boundary for appropriate ways to act and I will be guided by that my whole life, An example would be the different thinking a kid would have when faced with a bowl of cookies and would love to eat all of them because ' I am hungry and I love cookies '. When the parent imposes a limit – ' You can take only one cookie ' = I cannot take more because mom said I can have only one or else, or where the kid thinks,' I would love to eat all the cookies but there are others kids around too and they are also hungry so I will make sure that everyone has cookies too.' In some situations the kid will offer friends and go without a cookie. When parents say ' you must share because I said so' and follow up with a patronizing pat on the head ' good sharing ', the wrong message gets internalized. I am sharing because mom says so and because I will get a verbal reward for sharing. And when kids refrain from doing something, we want them to ask if doing X is wrong and   how will doing X impact on the other kids and not ask - am I allowed to do X and what will happen to me if I do X.? The limits on kid's behavior, in other words, should be experienced as intrinsic to the situation.

The Torah gives us guidelines by which we can give purpose and direction to our lives. They will guide and inform our behavior helping us and our children to derive the limit from the situation itself, so that limits are experienced intrinsic to the situation.

We want to reframe the concepts of limits, not as restrictions, limits or boundaries that adults impose on kids, but our children acting in a moral way by deriving the limit from the situation itself, so that limits are experienced intrinsic to the situation.


  1. 1. Collaborative limit setting is frequently undesirable, particularly for younger children.
    2. Pushing a child to share is not limit setting and therefore an inappropriate example.

    See אל תחטאו בילד , the magnum opus of Rav Yechiel Yacabson, where he also discusses limit-setting in the context of mishmaat. I'm not using the term discipline as he uses a definition different from what you will find in any dictionary.

    Following is an adaptation/summary of some of his central points on this issue. The issues are developed there at length along with supporting and illustrative stories and quotes.

    Mishmaat (~Discipline) "Very Calm, Assertive, Decisive"
    We learned from R’ Y. Abramsky, zt”l that the formation of yiras shomayim consists of 2 stages:
    לעולם יהא אדם ירא שמיים בסתר ובגלוי
    Mold a Mensch with a world orientation of Yiras Shomayim in two consecutive stages:
    1. Internally (foundation)
    a. Potential – enable the child’s nefesh to develop in a healthy and stable manner
    b. Practice - bring him to perceive himself as committed to his decisions

    2. Externally (building) – Form a worldview of natural recognition and acceptance of authority.

    Purpose of implementing a steady and stable style of endowing mishmaat to
    the child:
    A child's perception is limited to the context of his surrounding environment. Molding a child, as a mensch, using consistent and stable mishmaat, is a gift we grant, and the means to develop and solidify the child’s ability to cope with life by:
    - Presenting the child with stable and powerful role models who conduct themselves as above and with whom he naturally wants to identify. As he implements/models their conduct, he will grow to see himself as decisive, responsible, and consistent.
    - Enabling the child to grow in an atmosphere of emotional health and stability
    in an environment which is reliable, secure and stable.
    -Providing the child with the feeling concerning his parents that:
    a. Their "Yes" and "No" are unwavering even when it's inconvenient for the child
    b. They can and will hold their ground with firm and calm assertiveness even in the face of pressure from the child

    Mishmaat will also set the Foundation for יראת שמיים by developing a deeply rooted perception of the world as a place:
    a. Where it’s natural to obey authority
    b. Of authoritative laws which must be obeyed.
    c. Which belongs to a master who cares watches and sees.

  2. the firm or stable "yes" and "no" from the parents is not a value as such.

    Sometimes, a child has good reasons for a wish or behavior, and once the adult understood the motivation, there is good reason to change a no into a yes (or vice-versa).

    It is over-simplistic to say that "firmness" is such a great quality in education, since it leads many adults to believe or to act as if they were always right, per definition, because they are "the authority". In fact, it is also important to admit errors, even in a position of authority, and to change positions if necessary. Only then will the child learn to admit errors.

    Furthermore, a "no" can be pronounced in different ways, some are more confrontational, others less. It should be part of parent training to learn to say no in a nice way.

  3. I didn't say that parents must NEVER consider children's needs and therefore NEVER change their minds.
    Even if the child has 'good reasons for a wish or behavior', that doesn't mean the parent must change his decision.
    Firm (not confrontational) 'No' is very healthy to the child as mentioned in my previous post. Please note that the post condenses much of a 50 page development. Please read and study it very carefully as every word was very carefully measured. If your Hebrew is up to it, I can't recommend highly enough the book and freely available lectures by Rav Yacabson. The insights I'm sharing are based on his works.

    For young children, their parents, especially their fathers are what they imagine Gd to be! Parental authority is established in the 5th commandment, along with the man-to-Gd ones. Parents form the natural bridge for a child towards accepting Divine authority even when they may have 'good reasons for a wish or behavior' which Hashem forbids or when they don't feel like doing what He obligates.
    Parental authority is not absolute but must be established from as soon as a child understands the tone of a firm "No." Over time, this sets respect for and acceptance of authority (=Yiras Shomayim) in the deepest recesses of the child's emotional makeup, something which can only be fully accomplished during the early formative years.
    Additionally, the child becomes blessed with the calmness and confidence stemming from the deepest awareness that his home is made of stable, solid walls which he can't budge. This becomes even more significant when the child's independence rears its head and the child feels such power welling from withing himself that he himself is scared of it...

  4. Thanks for your comments and sharing Rav Yechiel Yacabson's work. I
    heard some of his tapes but have not read his book. My feeling is that he mixes
    different parenting philosophies. He says that parenting is based on 3 pillars –
    love, misma'at = discipline and encouragement. So this is a very 'doing to '
    approach – I give warmth and love, do what I say, and if you are struggling I
    encourage you or praise you. This is a very different dynamic based on a '
    working with approach ' where the child does not 'obey ' the father because he
    is the authority , and his power is because of his status as a
    parent but the child seeks relationship
    and guidance because of who the father is , an authoritative figure with whom the
    child has a trusting relationship and the parent deals with the child with
    respect, seeing the child's world through the child's eyes , taking into account
    their concerns and perspectives. So at
    times when the parent has to insist on doing things according to his will, the
    kid is likely to obey because in the past the parent addresses the kid's
    concerns as well, so the kid knows the parent is acting in their best
    interests. The relationship is consensual. It is not because the kid is used to
    hearing his concerns being ignored and hearing NO. The focus is not misma'at –
    compliance but meeting the kids developmental needs. When kids have a sense of
    purpose, their needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness is met, they
    flourish. The collaborative problem
    solving approach or now also known as the Collaborative and proactive solutions
    approach meets this criteria. And that's why it is so important for kid's
    especially smaller kids as it promotes cognitive development. The mishma'at you describe is essentially
    using ' power' and usually when you use power it does not stop at being
    assertive and decisive. We live in a very different world, where the tools of
    control are very limited and people can't use their status as parents, teachers
    or other authority figures to demand compliance. Today, if you want to respect,
    your source of authority has to come from your personality, that you
    interactions with a kid are seen not as meeting your needs for control but
    meeting the kid's developmental needs. It won't come from mish'ma'at.

    The foundation of yir'as shamayim is being a moral person, not obeying
    authority. We have seen to many people being afraid to question authority – in
    business, politics and in school and in the home = abuse. We obey authority not
    because of blind obedience but because we respect and trust these people. When
    we use power, we have lost the opportunity for teaching a moral lesson.

    . Rav Ya'acobson like many who push the parental authority line use the
    example of dysfunctional permissive
    parents who are door mats when it comes to their children.

    For sure permissive parents don't provide security, structure and guidance but parents who ignore kids concerns, cannot see the kids world through their eyes and are focused on discipline and control don't meet their kid's needs for acceptance, respect and other emotional needs. Kids need more than
    role models, they need people who are interested in what they have to say, how they feel, and give them a voice in matters that concern them. Kids will identify with role models who have a relationship with them and who care. The alternative to permissive parenting is not just mishma'at , but relationship and trust, a kid feeling he is being heard and his concerns are not ignored

  5. Consensual living, solving problems in a collaborative way are essential skills which kids need now and for their futures in the work place and in the family

    saying No for the sake of saying NO – I would never do this . I try to be
    authentic and meet the other person's needs and not my need for control. I
    certainly would not like my Boss or army commander to ignore my legitimate
    concerns just to get me to be compliant and respect his authority. The way I
    would experience this and kids as well , is that we have a parent that does not
    care. We think we are teaching compliance and acceptance of authority but kids
    learn a different lesson.

    prefer to avoid saying No and have a conversation that focuses on concerns

    here Ha'rav Osher Weiss in an answer to a question from an overseas
    'anglo-saxon' audience concerning certain English literature for
    kids said - sometimes saying NO has a worse impact than allowing a kid
    his request . It is not the message we teach - ….. , but the message kids
    learn is that their concerns are not taken seriously by us and ignored. This is
    the down side to the advice parents are given - tell your kids NO a few
    times a day so they get used to hearing NO.

    I prefer to avoid saying No . Saying No is essentially only one
    solution to a concern . Because the solution only addresses the parents concern
    we are using Plan A. – imposing Adult will. I recommend 'Don’t stick your
    no’s in unnecessarily, try to say yes and don’t be rigid.'

    I like the phrase - ' I am not saying No '

    course this does not mean I am saying yes , it means ' I just want to hear your
    concerns , can you tell me more ?' Our purpose is to get a conversation going
    with the child mainly speaking and we listening. We need to gather
    information about the child's concerns.

    When our concerns are put on the table, we are in fact setting a
    limit, because our concerns will be addressed by the mutually satisfying

    Any solution must be mutually satisfactory addressing both
    concerns of the parent and child. Of course there will be times that a parent
    will insist on his way but the kid who has had his concerns taken seriously in
    the past is more likely to trust his parents when they insist on their

    Try to talk things through and help your child connect with his
    true inner core so that the mutually satisfying solution is one that he feels
    is his own, meets his needs and an expression of who he is. The CPS -
    collaborative problem solving process Cps builds relationship , promotes life
    skills that will be needed when he goes out into the world and especially help
    with important relationships including marriage. The process also
    supports his autonomy in a healthy way.

  6. Thank you for your clarifications.
    My terse words have obviously not done justice to his approach. Your objections may be connected to the words written and/or may stem from how you chose to interpret them. Either way, most of what you're objecting to isn't there.
    I will relate directly to only one of the points you mentioned - being moral and yiras shomayim. Being moral (however that is defined) is insufficient in the face of overwhelming temptation (according to the person's makeup), especially when there is a perception that one may get away with it without being discovered. Having a deep, fundamental, sub-conscious reverence for authority, particularly of that of the Torah, stands a much better chance - depending on the depth and intensity of that yir'a. Same root as sight - a clear awe and respect for a supreme power, no less than for getting too close to a fire.
    This forum is not the place to present his approach, not even his 50-page rendition of what mishmaat (different from discipline) is and is not, why and how it works, how to implement it, etc. Even the rendition in the book is far from exhaustive of what it is all about. The 2-volume book is tersely written (as a Yekke, he dislikes repetition and loves conciseness) and in several areas must be read and re-read to get the full implication of his point, particularly in areas different from how we're used to approaching these issues.
    His approach is not a mix of parenting philosophies, but rather a Torah-based approach, constructed and polished over many years of shimush of many gedolim, together with in-the-field experience; his own and that of his colleagues, carefully cataloged and reviewed over the course of over 40 years. He started young, with several generations of Torah Rabbonim and educators in his family tradition and left full-time learning before his marriage, due to a problem with his eyes which prevented him from learning full-time. He was directed to delve into hinuch and was a principle of an institution for juvenile delinquents already before his marriage.
    He has worked with youth on the streets, in schools, through parents and more. One of the interesting sources of his experience is debriefing of OTD (Off The Derech) youth which helped consolidate many of his insights and recommendations.
    The book is being translated, although it's going slowly. I'd be fascinated to interact with you and/or see your published reactions after thoroughly going through it.
    About 90 of his lectures are downloadable for free at Kol Halashon


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