Q: Now that Purim is over, I am beginning to feel overwhelmed by the thought of preparing for Pesach. Any constructive advice how to deal with my children in a positive and productive way would be welcome!
A: The difference between an overly stressful and not-so-stressful Erev Pesach may depend on one’s family dynamics during this period. Further, if one envisions time as manageable, one can organize one’s mind and thoughts more clearly. Organization, positive reinforcement and breaks are the keys to a more manageable Erev Pesach.
A most important message that parents can convey to their children is a sense of confidence in each child’s competency. Saying “I know you can do it” is a limited message of belief; by actively including children in Pesach preparations that involve some degree of responsibility, you can help them realize their true abilities and build their sense of proficiency. Though many women prefer hiring cleaning women and babysitters Erev Pesach (if financially feasible), the experience of creating a “making Pesach” project with one’s children can help create unity within the family.
Embarking upon the formulation of a “battle plan” for Pesach preparations approximately four to six weeks before Pesach, and involving your children in its creation, will greatly increase their participation and “investment.” Discuss details — which rooms will be done when? Which children are capable of which jobs? — and then make decisions. Determine actual dates and commitments of time and responsibility. Children of most ages are capable of contributing — be it by polishing silver or lining shelves; some jobs need not be done perfectly. Working together towards a common goal helps children feel more involved and constructive rather than regarding themselves as impediments to Pesach cleaning.
To insure variety (and sanity!) in the weeks before Pesach, intersperse more “interesting” chores — such as clothes- and goods-buying — among the more tedious tasks.
Offer positive reinforcement — special privileges, more desirable “Pesach work” or other rewards — in the days leading up to Yom Tov. These rewards raise children’s morale and reinforce cooperation. I know of one mother who spends comparatively little on akifoman gifts, but instead allows every child to choose a $20 present to buy before Pesach. These rewards are received after the chores are completed, and give the children a sense of pride in their work.
Creating “breaks” also helps alleviate pre-Pesach stress. Such distractions offer a brief mental and physical “vacation,” and can consist of two hours in the park, lunch at a pizza store, a bikur cholim visit or any activity which is somewhat meaningful or pleasurable (and is not connected to Pesach). The corporate world has found that coffee breaks improve general staff performance; this principle also holds true as regards a family’s work performance.
Another type of “break” can also be beneficial. If a child seems to strongly desire a parent’s attention, it is often more worthwhile to pause in one’s pre-Pesach schedule and spend five or 10 minutes redirecting a child’s play and sibling interaction. In general, parents should make a point of talking to their children while they work, to help them feel that they are not forgotten and are an essential part of the family.
Though Erev Pesach is often stressful, the degree of stress does not have to be overwhelming. One can help instill good middos in one’s children during this time period by teaching them teamwork, consideration, showing by example how to praise when praise is due, and modeling good middos and optimism by showing them that one can “take a break” (to preserve one’s health!). In this way, one can truly go beyond one’s boundaries, and simultaneously help the emotional and spiritual growth of one’s children.