"How many times have I told you not to climb onto the sofa?" Mother moaned for the umpteenth time.
"Why do I have to tell you a thousand times to pick up the toys from the floor?"
"How many times do I have to tell you that you are not allowed to take candy without asking permission first?"
Indeed, how many times should Mother have to repeat her rules and regulations? At what point can she expect her charges to know – and to obey – the rules without her intervention? How many times will we ask, beg, request, instruct, speak, plead, threaten and explain; remind, shout, persuade, and demand, in order to get our little princes and princesses to deign to comply with what they are told?
There are times we suspect that perhaps some sort of hearing problem is interfering with compliance to our requests. If Junior can't hear our words clearly, it's not such a wonder that he doesn't react the way we expect him to. Could it be that there's an accumulation of fluid in the ear, or a plug of wax, so that he cannot understand what it is we're trying to communicate to him? The "ice cream test" is a simple method of determining whether there is any substance to our fears. In a low voice, invite him to the kitchen for a dish of his favorite flavor, and see how well he hears us. If he's there before we can say "double dip chocolate mint", his auditory nerves are functioning without fault. We'll have to look elsewhere for an explanation for non-compliance with our directives.
One reason that we find ourselves repeating requests so many times is because we ourselves are not completely convinced of our own parental authority, nor of our obligation as parents to see to it that the child complies with our directions.
To overcome our hesitancy, we must internalize our awareness that our offspring have been entrusted to us by the Creator who bestowed on us that most wonderful of gifts – a child. It is He, and He alone, who grants parents this gift, and it is He who commands us to educate our children. Again, it is He who gives us the authority to educate them to become good, upright human beings. As parents entrusted with the education of our offspring, (for the child's benefit, and for his benefit alone), we have full authority to demand of him whatever seems right in our eyes. In this manner, the child learns to obey his elders and listen to them. This ability will serve them well as adults. When we are fully cognizant of the child's basic responsibility to obey his elders and to show respect for his parents, the child will quickly recognize the power of authority. There is no place for democracy in educating children. The parent's word must be authoritative.
Too often, today's child senses that he has an opening to rebel. The parent no longer has the final say. The child can argue with his father's decision, or start to bargain with his mother. If he lets them know that he objects to their decisions, there is a chance that they will give in to his demands. He does, in fact, win a number of such power struggles each week. When the parent's authority is not absolute, the child will take advantage of the chance to break down his resistance.
However, if we approach the child with full confidence in our authority, if we will stand behind every word we utter, the child will sense that we expect him to listen, and discipline will follow automatically. It may take time for the child to become convinced that his parents mean every word they say; such changes do not take place overnight, but they do take place. Discipline can thus be achieved. The father's word will be regarded as irreversible, the mother's instructions a sacred command.
This is the power of authority based on a valid premise, namely, that the child has been entrusted to his parents as a heavenly gift in order that they raise him to become a healthy, moral, functional and productive member of society. Judaism teaches us that He who appointed us as our children's guardians not only sanctions this authoritative approach, but desires that it be so. It is important for children to learn to obey their parents and teachers, so that, as adults, they will be empowered to obey their Creator. This is the true measure of success of Jewish education.