Here’s how it happened.
When my oldest daughter was 4 years old, my wife and I noticed that she was, to euphemize a little bit, a “strong leader.” That is to say, she was bossy. She was telling her friends what to do and when to do it. She made up the games, she decided who played what role, and she made the rules. As her progenitor, it was rather uncomfortable to watch. To solve the problem, I sat down with her and lectured her at length about the virtues of humility and flexibility and logically explained why being bossy was inadvisable vis-à-vis her personal and social life.
Ha ha! No, of course I did no such thing. Kids, as you may recall if you ever were one, do not respond to lectures. Lectures are an excellent tool if you are looking for glassy-eyed stares. Lectures are not good if you want something to change. A much better tool to use with children is stories. Children understand, relate to, and love stories. They provide an excellent medium for conveying to children (and, frankly, to adults as well) information and, more importantly, values.
READ: Why We Tell Our Children Stories
Think of the last speech or presentation you attended. I would bet that among the most memorable portions were a story or two. Am I right? They just stick better. Another shining example of this is what my daughter’s preschool teacher (shoutout to Morah Batsheva!) did to teach the Hebrew vowels–she related an entire storyline for each vowel, such as the koobootz triplets riding the roller coaster and yelling “oooooooooooooo!” (A koobootz is three dots lined up diagonally and it makes the sound “oo.”) My kid could recite all the stories by heart.
So, back to my, ahem, story, what I did do was to buy the classic book entitled “Little Miss Bossy.” I loved the Mister Men/Little Miss series when I was a kid–I figured this would be a winner. It wasn’t. Funny, yes. Charming, sure. Instructive? Nope. Where I had hoped we would read about why being bossy was not such a great idea, such as not having any friends, Little Miss B learns not to be bossy in order to avoid having magic shoes put on her feet by a wizard. Didn’t really hit the mark.
So I went back to Amazon and purchased another book touted for children’s education. Another fail. The book never got around to demonstrating the consequences of being bossy. It was awfully disappointing. So that’s what led me to do what I did: I wrote my own book. It really wasn’t so hard. I thought about what I wanted my daughter to understand: that people don’t like others who are bossy; that being bossy will cost you your friends; and that ultimately you won’t have a very good time at all if that’s your approach. The basic storyline of the book is about a little girl who does all the things that your little girls does, too: She decides what to play; she chooses who will play with what; she even insists on determining what her friends are going to eat. I put it into simple words, hired a talented high school girl to illustrate, and with a little time spent on the web, voila! A book!
It worked. It really worked! Look, I can’t take all the credit for my daughter doing some natural growing up, but we definitely noticed a reduction in the bossiness problem. It was pretty awesome. Epic success!
READ: Though I Left Hasidic Life, I Kept My Mother’s Rice Pudding & Stories
So now I’ve taken this up as a hobby. Once or twice a year I’ll throw something together and self-publish it. They’re now available online, though I never intended to make them public; friends would come over and read them, then ask why I don’t sell them. So I started to. But it’s really a labor of love: I only write books with messages that my kids need to hear, not just any cute little story.
My latest book, which I personally think is the best one (though my kids go through stages regarding which is their favorite) is about tznius (modesty). At 6, my daughter started asking questions about why she had to wear a cover-up to the pool but other girls in the neighborhood didn’t. I knew there was no way to explain it in one sentence, so I gave a perfunctory answer and got to work on the next book: “The Very Special Gift.” This too is publicly available and I am hopeful it will make a real difference for a lot of families who are struggling to find an appropriate way to discuss this important topic with their young girls.
Guess what? You can do this, too! Write some words, draw a few pictures (I have no artistic talent at all or I would have done it myself), and head to Createspace.com. It’s fabulously easy and it sure beats the sit-down-talk-it-out method with the young’uns. Stories are an invaluable parenting tool; when you add the visual piece to it (do I need to say that yes, they have to be picture books?), you’ve got a powerful teaching instrument at your fingertips. After all, won’t you remember this article better because I told you a story? I think so.
Sorry I left out the pictures.