| I of the Storm |

I of the Storm: Chapter 15

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard of the study. Yet somehow, tonight, the message rang with an added urgency.


To go or not to go? That was the question.

Rebbetzin Kushner — a world-famous parenting expert — was coming to our city to talk about “Helping our Children Develop Self-Control — the Precursor to all Middos.”

I needed that lecture. But the house looked like a casualty of Katrina, I looked like something the cat dragged in, and the kids were light years away from slumber-land...

I pushed myself out the door.

Rebbetzin Kushner began with the famous longitudinal experiment conducted in Stanford. Six hundred preschool-age children were presented with a choice: enjoy one marshmallow now or wait fifteen minutes and get two. In follow-up studies, the children who’d successfully delayed gratification showed significantly higher SAT scores and parental ratings as twenty-year-olds, among numerous other life measures. Fascinatingly, the outcomes did not correlate with predictable factors like wealth or intelligence.

“More than socioeconomic background, more than IQ, more than charisma — the single greatest predictor of success in later life is the ability to delay gratification…the ability to exercise willpower,” the rebbetzin belabored, gazing pointedly at each participant.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard of the study. Yet somehow, tonight, the message rang with an added urgency.

The chinuch authority continued with a laundry list of techniques, most of which boiled down to:

(a) Model self-control, verbally describing your struggles and triumphs (“I really want to eat another bowl of ice cream now, but I’m not going to, because it’s not good for me.”)

(b) Offer compelling motivational rewards, upping the ante very gradually (“If you refrain from using your hands right now, you get to choose an eraser.”)

(c) Teach your kids willpower strategies, like distracting themselves from the forbidden fruit, or physically distancing themselves from it.

It was logical, elementary — nothing revolutionary. But I left the shiur with renewed drive. I would use this toolbox to help Shira, I would empower her for life.

My application opportunity came fast. I was hauling Kosher Kart produce out of the trunk the next day when the school bus pulled up. Shira vaulted down the steps.

“Mommy, you went shopping?” Still lugging her briefcase, she nosed through the bags, immediately discovering a pack of Sour Stix.

“YES!” she whooped and dashed into the house.

“Those are for Shabbos,” I yelled after her. “If you control yourself, I’ll let you have four on Shabbos — plus a sticker right now.”

I ran after her, determined to help Shira win this battle.

Too late. Shira had already slashed open the bag and devoured three of the strings. I gently wrested the bag from her hands and placed it in a high cabinet.

“I’m sorry, sweets, I won’t be able to give you Sour Stix on Shabbos,” I said. “Next time, show me that you’re a giborah. Children who are strong — who control themselves — get more in the end.”

Shira’s cheeks turned red. “I’m going to take more later, when you’re not looking,” she retorted, eyes flashing. “Who made you in charge here, anyway?”

Whoa. New levels of insolence. Just give up while you’re ahead, a nasty nasal voice jeered. It’s hopeless — for a million bucks this kid couldn't control herself.

Voice of Paralyzing Worry piped in. Today it’s Sour Stix, tomorrow it’s another kid’s bracelet, and in three years it will be ten dollars from your wallet. What will it be when she’s sixteen, eighteen, twenty-two?

True, true, the nasty voice clucked. Impulsive child = impulsive teen.

I will not go down that road, I steeled myself. Shira has a difficult neurological profile, but Daniel and I are plugging away. We’re learning, we’re proactive, and we daven. There’s little more we can do.

I thought hard, determined not to mess this up.

“You are really upset,” I told Shira, rubbing her back hard. “You really wanted another Sour Stick. Would you like to read a book together on the couch, and then we can discuss what just happened?”

A sullen nod.


“Let’s first do some jumping-jacks to calm down. Me and you together.”

Shira’s eyes brightened. Twenty five jumps later, she was visibly calmer. I extracted the book from the shelf — her favorite — only to discover that someone had ripped the title page in half.

Shira’s face darkened.

I braced for the explosion.

But then she took a deep breath and looked at me.

“It was a mistake, right, Ma? We can fix it, right, Ma?”

“Absolutely.” I paused. “My giborah.

She settled back to listen, and my heart overflowed with joy.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 481)

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