Parenting: Chinuch vs. Control


Chinuch vs. Control

Dear Dr. T.,

My situation is a bit unusual, but I bet lots of people are as confused as I am. Let me explain.

I am the second wife of a much older man whose children are all grown and married. Together, we have an additional two boys – ages eight and ten.

I think the boys are really good kids. They have some spunk and spirit; they love mischief, but don’t give us any real grief – at home or in school.

My husband does not agree. He thinks they lack manners, border on chutzpadik, and need a much firmer hand. He and his first wife brought up their children with tough love, and he feels that it worked. I know that shalom bayis is key in bringing up healthy, normal children – but, honestly, we argue about this more than is good for the boys.

Things came to a head last week over the following incident. The boys were playing tag in the house – yes, a no-no, but it was raining and they were bored. The game got out of hand (doesn’t it always?) and the younger boy tripped, got a gash to his chin, and needed nine stitches. The older brother was beside himself, apologized profusely to his brother and us, and was very solicitous of his younger brother. I was proud of my son for being such a mensch – and at nine years old, to boot! I did not feel any consequences were in order: the younger one was punished enough and the older one definitely felt bad enough as it was.

Well, here’s how my husband looked at it: The boys were out of line – no running in the home. The older one should know better by now and stop before there was bloodshed and mayhem. They should be better controlled – and listen to our rules. This accident is an example of our lack of chinuch.

I know you can’t resolve shalom bayis issues in one column – or even one session. But, it would help me if I understood the concepts of chinuch and control. Are they the same thing? Is chinuch simply control until the child achieves self-control? I think that if I can clarify what chinuch means, I would be more equipped to work it out with my spouse.



Dear Sharon,

Let me begin by agreeing with you – parenting differences are quite common in a marriage, but very destructive nevertheless. Though it is valuable for you to get your head straight and understand basic underlying concepts, it is critical to get some professional help in resolving these differences so that you can parent as a team and avoid conflict and its negative effect on your marriage and your boys.

Now to your question. Parents want children who are disciplined: capable of self-control and self-regulation. Unfortunately, some parents – particularly in previous generations – believe that self-control is a direct result of parents controlling and disciplining – providing the outer control until children are able to control themselves.

However, there is much evidence to the contrary. Children who are controlled may become rebellious and defiant. Strong discipline does not produce self-discipline; it produces children who are obedient, shy, and fearful. They do not have self-control as much as they are scared. For a more extensive discussion of this, you may read the words of Rav Wolbe, zt”l, in his Alei Shur.

I say this not to disparage the previous generations, but to give you permission to look at things differently. Each generation has its context, and its ideas are reflections of those times. Whereas in previous generations concepts like adult control and “knowing your place” were the norm, today a gentler approach and the need to develop genuine self-esteem are seen as primary.

To clarify: Chinuch is not control.* Though there may be a role for control as a method of last resort – say in safety issues (child must be in car seat, no running in the street) – an effective parent strives to relinquish control and be mechanech her child instead.

Because, here’s the deal: While control may be effective in the short run (you can get your child to do whatever, in your presence) chinuch works for the long run – even when you are not there. Control is outer-directed and not necessarily assimilated into the child’s personality, while chinuch is internal and part of the child’s way of being. The younger the child, the more effective control is as a strategy; but chinuch lasts forever. And, while control is the result of force and considered the worst tool of chinuch in today’s day and age, chinuch is the result of choice which feels right to the child and thus more likely to be internalized and practiced.

Control is a quick-fix method. Scare the kid, get short-term results, and you’re done. But, chinuch is a lifelong process that involves skill, consistency, and dedication on the part of the parents.

This is a brief response to your query that deserves so much more. In my next column, I will talk about some methods of chinuch – in short, the “how.” It is my hope that as parents are armed with strategies for success, they will feel less compelled to resort to techniques that alienate our children and cause friction in the home.

*Rav Shach, zt”l, has been quoted as saying, “Shlita [control, ruling over] aino [is not] chinuch.”

The Book Nook: Dr. Rick Lavoie’s It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend (also available on audio) is a definitive text on children and their social challenges. The book breaks down the various social skills deficits and gives strategies for improved functioning.

Sara Teichman, Psy D. is a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles and Clinical Director of ETTA, LA’s largest Jewish agency for adults with special needs.