This is a guest post from Adina Soclof, parenting expert and owner of Parenting Simply.
An important principle in Judaism is to give others the benefit of the doubt. In parenting, it is an essential tool and can be extremely positive.
In Becky Bailey’s book, Easy To Love, Difficult To Discipline she encourages parents to “assign positive intent,” which is quite similar to giving the benefit of the doubt.
This tool teaches parents that they should not always assume that the motivation behind their child’s behavior is a negative one. For example, Parents may think:
My child is not being nice to our new guest because they are rude and they don’t know how to fulfill the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim!
My kids are squabbling at the Shabbos table just to annoy me!
My daughter did poorly on her test because she is too lazy to study!
Instead we want to give the benefit of the doubt and assign positive intent. We want to look for the good in our child’s behavior instead of reacting negatively and assuming our child is misbehaving.
Because when we attribute negative motives to our children’s behavior it makes us angry and we can’t discipline effectively.
We are more likely to say:
You are being so rude. You need to act nicely to our guests!
Why do you always have to fight! You guys never get along! When will I ever have a peaceful Shabbat table?
You better study next time. No TV until you improve your grades!
When we speak to our kids in that way we place them in a situation where their only recourse is to attack or defend themselves and exhibit more negative or even oppositional behavior.
To keep our discipline effective and nurture our relationships with our children we want to give the benefit of the doubt and assign positive intent.
You seem like you are having some trouble getting comfortable with our new guest. Even if you are uncomfortable it is important to at least say hello and offer them a drink.
You probably did not realize how important it is to me that the Shabbat table be peaceful. Let’s figure out a way to keep the fighting at a minimum. Any ideas?
I am sure you studied for your test in the best way you could. I know you will figure out a way to improve your grades. Let me know if there is anyway I can help.
When we assign positive intent we show faith in our child’s innate goodness. We promote strong and loving interactions. Our children will not feel the need to oppose us. Parents are then free to direct the child kindly and firmly to use better behavior or to come up with some solutions on how to behave better.