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Carrot and Stick

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

If you’re a parent, you know that successful parenting requires a perfect blend of carrot and stick, of positive and negative incentives and interactions. Of course, if we knew what that perfect blend was, we would all be perfect parents and we would never have to second guess ourselves. But alas, perfection typically evades even the best parents, keeping us on our toes all the time, hoping that we make the correct decisions in raising our children.

But even if we aren’t all perfect, it is fairly obvious that our relationship without our kids can’t be only about giving them whatever they want without any limitations, and it also cannot be all about restrictions and rebuke. Giving children everything they want will result in spoiled children unprepared for the realities of life, yet at the same time always reprimanding them and pointing out their faults will result in adults with a low self-esteem, or worse, G-d forbid.

The old-school method of parenting strictly with a stick (figuratively, of course) has proven to be ineffective. It may provide parents with the instant gratification of getting their anger off their chests and perhaps keeping their children temporarily in line. Long term, though, children who were raised with constant rebuke from their parents are now adults who are either perpetually looking over their shoulders in fear of authority, or the opposite—knowing that their parents are no longer watching, they feel that they can do whatever they want without fear of repercussions.

And the new-age method of giving in to a child’s every whim, certainly doesn’t work either. Chances are fairly slim of a child who never had to lift a finger in their lives and had everything fed to them on a silver spoon, being the one to make a difference in the world.

So as parents, our obligation to our children is to consistently work on finding that balance between the carrot and the stick. But more important than finding that balance, is ensuring the positive interactions come first. Rebuke is necessary at times, especially when a child does something wrong and needs to be corrected, but it must occur with the backdrop of the parent having done something nice for the child, even if it’s seemingly undeserved. By showing the child that the sum total of our relationship is not just telling them off, but that we are still able to demonstrate our love for them in positive ways, the reprimand will be taken far more seriously than were it to occur as a stand-alone event.

We learn this important lesson from Moses himself, in the final days before his passing, when he was required to rebuke the Jewish People.

Before getting into the specifics of the Jews’ various misdeeds over the course of forty years, Moses made it a point to lead them in battle against two of their most feared enemies, Sichon and Og. Other Jewish leaders of the time could have been the ones to lead those wars, as they had done in the past and would do in the future. But in these particular battles, when Moses knew that he was soon going to have to rebuke the Jewish people, he decided to be the one to lead the war efforts himself.

Only after their victory in these battles and the lands they conquered were given to the Jews, did Moses start his last will and testament, which included a healthy dose of rebuke for decades of giving him a hard time. He made sure that the Jews saw and felt his love for them before spelling out their sins and mistakes. And because of his love as the most devoted Jewish leader of all time, his words were accepted with the resolve for a better future.

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