Thursday, December 30, 2010

VA’ERA 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Va’era

24 Teves 5771/December 31, 2010

“Okay kids, bedtime…” Time for the nightly routine of whisking our children into bed.

I turn to our three-year-old, “Avi, what CD do you want to listen to tonight?”

I know the answer but I ask anyway to humor myself. He wants to listen to the same CD he listened to last night, and the night before, and the night before that. Some nights I’ll try to sneak in a different volume of the same singer (e.g. Uncle Moishy V’ instead of ‘Uncle Moishy IV’ just for the sake of variety). Invariably within two minutes the jig is up and I am angrily summoned back to rectify my ‘mistake’.

Is it normal for a child to want to listen to the same thing repeatedly, seven nights a week? [What’s that you say? Six nights a week because of Shabbos? Well actually, to our vexation, for the last two Shabbosos we have come upstairs after the seudah to hear the usual CD blaring because the alarm went off…]

The answer is a resounding yes; it is indeed normal. In his fascinating bestseller, “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the profound psychology invested into children’s television programs and why certain shows are more popular among children than others.

He quotes Daniel Anderson, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts, who explains: “If you think about the world of a preschooler they are surrounded by stuff they don’t understand, things that are novel. So the driving force for a preschooler is not a search for novelty, like it is with older kids. It’s a search for understanding and predictability. For younger kids repetition is really valuable. They demand it. When they see a show over and over again, they not only are understanding it better, which is a form of power, but just by predicting what is going to happen, they feel a real sense of affirmation and self-worth.”

In other words, for young children who are struggling to make sense of the vast and unpredictable ‘adult world’, predictability breeds a feeling of comfort and security. Therefore, give a young child the choice between something new and exciting or something he is familiar with, he will generally pick the familiar.

One of the best ways to grant a child a sense of predictability is with consistency. Families that have structure, boundaries, and routines usually have children who feel safe and secure.

On the other hand, children who lack structure and consistency in their lives often feel vulnerable and insecure, both with themselves and their surroundings. In the world of education this is a truth that tragically asserts itself too often.

So, believe it or not, listening to that same CD again is indeed healthy for my child. However, I do feel that certain children’s tapes should come with a “Parental General Warning” which reads, “Hearing this tape too many times can endanger parent’s already fragile sanity (or whatever is left of it)”. If you have children, or younger siblings, you know exactly what I mean.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum