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Getting our house in order

Purge the excess ‘hametz’ from your household routine.

Photo Credit: REUTERS

The meaning of the word seder is “organization” or “order.” On Passover, we are commanded to remember the order of things, recounting the story of the Jewish People’s exodus from Egypt. This is also a time when we are ridding ourselves of our hametz.

Most of us think of this as a time for serious housecleaning, preparing for the holiday. However, it is also the perfect time to look at other ways in which we can put our homes in order. Hametz can relate not only to food products but also to the excesses in our lives. All year long we add more people and things to our lives. We are often indiscriminate in our choices and simply allow the clutter to take over. Like bread in the oven, we sometimes unwittingly inflate our egos and our possessions or indulge in unhealthy or irrelevant relationships with people who do not enhance our personal growth. Matza represents getting down to basics – figuring out what you really need in your life to be happy, healthy and effective.

In Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he emphasizes the importance of delayed gratification. He says that the most effective people are the ones who eat the cake first and leave the icing until the end. He refers to the Marshmallow Experiments of the 1960s and ’70s at Standford University. Vienna-born psychologist Walter Mischel, the leading expert on the concept of self-control, looked at children’s ability to postpone pleasure and its implications for success in later life. Children were offered an extra marshmallow if they could wait 15 minutes before eating the first one. Then the children were tracked for 40 years. The results were clear: The children who had opted to delay their gratification scored higher on matriculation tests, were less apt to be substance abusers or overeaters and had better social skills and adult success.

At some level, we all know that something gained quickly is likely to be lost just as quickly. The implications of Mischel’s experiments are vast. Delayed gratification is a crucial factor in all aspects of adult life. But are these tendencies a biological given or can they be taught? Our previous article focused on the ADD/ADHD child. As we discussed, ADD/ADHD children (and adults) have a tendency to gravitate toward immediate gratification. As parents, we can assist our kids in learning how to postpone their rewards and help them to organize their lives so that they can accomplish life tasks and goals more efficiently. It is our job to teach them these skills from an early age. Obviously, the teen years pose a particular challenge because of increasing pressure from outside influences, especially from their peers.

The key tools in this process are organization and preparation. Most children feel secure when they have a set schedule and a clearly articulated plan of daily expectations. They benefit from having a clear routine when they return home from school. The components include physical exercise, healthy snacks and meals, creative outlets, completing tasks for school, home chores and adequate sleep. When kids know that the fun begins after they complete their homework and chores, chances are they will be motivated to get things done quickly and efficiently.

Of course, it is important that they be directly involved in creating these schedules. A typical schedule will look something like this: Come home from school, eat a healthy snack, do homework, complete household chores, spend time exercising in the house, outside or at after-school activities. Then it’s time for play/computer/TV. Passive play such as computer and TV should be limited. Depending on the child, parents should feel comfortable deciding what is excessive time on digital media. It’s amazing what creative activities kids can devise when the tube or computer is time restricted.

Now to dinner time. For years in the US there was a public service announcement on TV that encouraged families to eat a meal together at least twice a week. What happens when everyone sits down together at the table? This may differ from family to family, but one thing is certain. If cellphones are off, there will be face-to-face interactions. There is nothing sadder than the picture of a family ostensibly eating together, each occupied by his cellphone. Kids need the opportunity to talk about their day, and parents need an opportunity to listen.

After dinner, everyone helps clear the table. Ideally, this is also a good time for everyone to prepare lunches, organize clothing and whatever else they need for the following morning. Then the rest of the evening is more relaxing, and the morning is less frantic.

Bedtime should be regulated for children of every age. At least seven hours of sleep is recommended for everyone, teens in particular. As we mentioned in our article about sleep, using the phone or the computer just before going to bed is a stimulant and can sometimes interfere with falling asleep.

We also recommend regular family meetings. Scheduled meetings at regular times can circumvent recurring issues. Each member of the family is asked to write down issues that he or she wants to discuss. It’s helpful to have an erasable board on the refrigerator for family members to jot down issues they want to cover at the meeting.

The last tool is a chore chart. Setting up a clear schedule for everyone in the family helps to create a sense of calm and control in the home. Everyone knows what is expected of them. Using stars and stickers to note when a chore is completed gives kids a sense that their accomplishments have been acknowledged. Children can be rewarded for consistent adherence to their responsibilities, and adding a special reward for the most improved helper of the week may give extra incentive. Rewards can be as simple as an extra 15 minutes of TV or computer time or choosing the menu for Friday night dinner. Acknowledging our kids is as helpful for us as it is for them. It helps us to keep perspective and enhances everyone’s self-esteem.

Finally, we must also monitor our own behavior as parents. Are we enablers or disablers? For a variety of reasons, ranging from lack of organization, compensation for not being available enough or simply expediency, we may sometimes find ourselves doing things for our kids that they are totally capable of doing themselves. This is a classic tendency of Jewish mothers. Nurturing is great, but babying our children by doing everything for them gives them the wrong message. By insisting that they take on some daily tasks for themselves we are saying, “We believe in you!” It is up to us to make sure that there is healthy food in the house, but there is no reason why teens and even younger kids can’t make and pack their own lunches.

Sometimes parents regard their teens like aliens from another world, unable to connect with the mother ship. And so we focus on making lunches, cleaning their rooms, doing their laundry, searching for books and materials they need for school as a way to show we care. Truth is, what they really need is quality time with us. Empower your kids! Don’t wait for the army to do it for you. By then, it may be too late.

Further reading:

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin.

Tracey Shipley CAAP, counsels teens, young adults and parents in Jerusalem, and is the founder of the Sobar Music Center Project (Facebook: Sobar Jerusalem).
She can be reached at 054-810-8918, jerusalemteencounseling@gmail.com, and on her web site.

Dr. Judith Posner is a social scientist, writer and researcher. She can be reached at judep@netvision.net.il.