When it comes to raising kids, Judaism says punishments are not cool

MIMI DAVID, Special to the Jewish Light

Mimi David is Director of Women’s Education at Aish St. Louis and she has been a longtime teacher at Esther Miller Bais Yaakov of St. Louis.

“Mommy, Yoni made me look like a boy!”

It was 7 a.m. and I had been up all night with the kids. Finally about 5:30 a.m., things settled and I fell into a deep and much needed sleep. When my daughter came to share this exciting development with me, I was almost delirious.

Through my half-closed eyes and in my exhausted state, it looked like she had smeared Vaseline all over her hair (again), causing her long bottle curls to stick to her head so that she looked “like a boy.” I was too tired to deal with it right then, and I just grunted and went back to sleep. (In case you’re wondering, Dawn dishwashing soap gets Vaseline out of hair.)

My oblivion lasted only a few more minutes when my husband came home from morning services. I jumped up with a start when I heard him say, “Why is there hair all over the place?”

And in a more panicky voice he called out, “Who got the scissors?!”

Suddenly, I knew what she meant when she said, “Yoni made me look like a boy.” And it was not funny. It turned out that Yoni had cut off all her hair. Every. Last. Strand. Her long bottle curls were gone, cut off to the scalp. She even had some bald spots in places where he cut really close.

I was not happy, to put it mildly. My delicious 3-year-old daughter looked horrific. I was scared to bring her out in public, worrying what people would think.

Crying, I called my mother who, of course, thought the whole thing was hilarious. When I finally calmed down, I called a friend who cut hair professionally to come help. In the end, my daughter wore hats for a few weeks until the bald spots filled in, and then it took about a year for her hair to grow back fully.

You are probably wondering what consequence we gave Yoni. What do you do to a 5-year-old who does something like this?

The answer may surprise you, but I promise I will explain. We did nothing. Nothing! OK, not totally nothing. We did explain to him that scissors are only for cutting paper and that they can only be used when an adult is watching. We let him know that haircutting is a job only for professionals, and we hid the scissors. But that was it. No punishment, no consequence, nothing.

When it comes to raising kids, Judaism says that punishments are not cool. Consequences are, as long they fit the crime that was committed. There’s a caveat, though. If a child does something wrong that is completely age appropriate and it is something he or she will not ever do as an adult, then no consequence is necessary.

Our sages tell us that educating our kids means not making a big deal over something they will most definitely grow out of and not do when they grow up.

When a child does something wrong, parents can and should have the child correct the mistake if possible. But if it is something he or she will not do as an adult, Judaism says that is enough. No need to lecture, no need to punish. I’ll give you an example:

Your 3-year-old colors all over the wall with markers. My favorite is when they write their name on the wall and then deny it was them. Yes, she should wash it off. Hand her a magic eraser and show her how to clean it up. That’s it. No yelling, no lecturing, no time out, nothing else is necessary. Adults do not color on the walls, and kids who do it do not need any more discipline than simply being told to clean up their mess.

As parents we take our job of raising our kids very seriously. Sometimes, maybe a little too seriously. A child who is acting like a child needs our guidance, but save the real discipline for things like character development, sharing and caring — those things that are important for them to be and do when they grow up.

As for Yoni, he is now a married adult and has not cut off anyone’s hair since that episode. We did warn his wife about his haircutting abilities when they were engaged, just in case. We are fairly confident, though, that he grew up and out of this stage and won’t ever do it again.

Mimi David is Director of Women’s Education at Aish St. Louis and she has been a longtime teacher at Esther Miller Bais Yaakov of St. Louis. She is also a certified Mikvah Mentor and a professional dating coach.