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Shortly before Pesach this year, I sat listening to a hesped (eulogy) for an elderly woman who I had greatly respected. The speech, delivered by Rabbi Ivan Lerner, spoke of a lifetime well spent. I was deeply moved by the beauty of her spiritual legacy. I would like to share with you what I heard.

Mrs. Rivka Ehrenfeld had fled her native Germany in the years before the Holocaust and gone to Palestine. Her life was a series of ups and downs, yet Mrs. Ehrenfeld always looked for the good in every experience. Her spiritual legacy is exactly the one I believe every Jewish parent would want to leave behind.
I reprint below, by permission of Rabbi Lerner and Mrs. Ehrenfeld’s family, most of this beautiful hesped.
“The Gemorrah Shabbos Kuf Bais Zayin states that there are 6 things that bear interest in this world….hospitality to strangers, visiting the sick, devotion to tefillah, commitment to study, commitment to educating our children in Torah, and judging others charitably. These were the things that Rivka did every day of her life. They came naturally to her.
… I am going to address myself to Rivka: Rivka, I knew you well and I hope you don’t mind but I believe this is what you would have said at your own hesped:
To my children, I say, don’t save too much. My pockets are empty but my heart is full… I come from a long line of savers.(.but)… I know a lot of people who save too much. They buy books that have never been read, appliances that have never been used, and wine that was being saved for a special occasion and never opened. They have sofas that were always covered with cellophane and never really enjoyed. So to you my children and my grandchildren, I say, “Don’t save too much! Don’t save dreams hoping that that they may come true Work on your dreams now! And don’t save compliments that you have for other people. If you have a compliment to give, give it now! Now is the right time….
… I’ve always.. (wanted to).. believe that when I was asked to come to the Heavenly Court, it would go something like this:
G-d would say, “Open your pocketbook, Rivka. What have you got left in there? And I would attempt to empty my pocketbook and it would be already empty.” And G-d would say, “Are there any dreams left in there that are unfulfilled?” And I would say, “No”. “Is there any unused talent that I gave you that you were born with that you didn’t use?” And I would say. “No.” “Are there any unsaid words that you wish that you had said to people when you were on earth that are still in your pocketbook?” And I would say, “No, my pocketbook is empty. I spent everything that you, G-d, gave to me. I spent it all. You gave it to me and I gave it to others.
Through the years, I have seen and experienced a world in transition. Miracles and tragedies happened every day. My generation has witnessed medical advances and technological breakthroughs that are truly amazing. When I grew up, who would have ever dreamed of television, cell phones, microwaves, computers. And who would have ever thought that though we tell people to be zocheh to live to 120, someone could actually live to be 120! Through the wars, and through..(other).. suffering, I learned many, many things in this world, but most of all I learned that you have to always be b’Simcha (happy). I understand the bracha Baruch Dayan HaEmes,(G-d is the true judge) that G-d, not human beings, understands what life is all about. As I grew older, I became more convinced that the trials and tribulations of my youth and throughout my life gave me a better appreciation of the meaning of life.

I was very lucky. I appreciated simchas (happy times) and I hope you do too …..To my adult children and grandchildren and G’d willing, to my great grandchildren, I bequeath all of these things that I have. These things that ..(my husband).. and I held dear I give them all to you: the value of a good name, unconditional love, understanding of what it means to be a mensch (a good person), compassion, tenderness and care for others.

The Yerusha (inheritance) that I pass on to you will not go down with the stock market. The Yerusha that I pass on to you can be passed to your children and your grandchildren with ‘interest’. It is the Yerusha of unconditional love. Never lose your sensitivity or your cheerfulness. Always remain inquisitive. Never stop being amazed for what you receive in this world and know that wherever I am, I am always with you. As I have always loved you, I love you now.”
Mrs. Rivka Ehrenfeld had her priorities straight.  A life well lived is a gift given by a Jewish parent to her descendants. I know I could not wish for anything more for my own children and grandchildren. May her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.  May we all be inspired by her example.

©2009 Debbie Katz , JPARENT, LLC All rights reserved.
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Want to ask a question? Click on the Ask Debbie page at the top of the blog to submit your questions

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Question: I’m quite worried about my 4 year old daughter, Suri. Lately, she has not been sleeping well at night and is very clingy. There have been several changes in our lives recently. We have a new baby and she recently started in a new school after we moved to a bigger house. Is there anything I can do to help her?—Rivka, Wilmington, DE

Transitions of all kinds, even positive transitions, can be stressful for people of all ages, and especially for young children. Happily, most children are very resilient. Nonetheless, when our children are hurting, we hurt as well. Having a plan can be very reassuring to parents as well as children.

We want to help your daughter to feel secure and relaxed at home so that she will be able focus her energies on meeting her new challenges at school with a more confident mindset.
With the new baby, your family routines may have changed a bit. The addition of each new family member shifts the family dynamic. It is important to maintain, to the extent possible, your customary morning, mealtime and bedtime rituals so Suri will be reassured that her old life is not gone.

Spend as much one-on-one time with her as you can. While together, give your daughter a chance to express herself in her own unique way. Depending on the age and personality of a child, she may choose very different activities. For example, she may want to draw, play board games, dictate a story, or run off some nervous energy around the house with you. Encourage her expressiveness by describing your impressions, without judgment. “I see you have drawn a large school with a lot of children in it.” Surround her with her favorite things, especially soft, textured objects like blankets and other loveys. Your touch is very reassuring , so hold her when you sit or read together. She may even enjoy a shoulder massage at night. If you feel comfortable, you can help her compose a prayer to Hashem that expresses, in Suri’s own words, her wishes and concerns.

The more your child believes you care, the easier it will be for her to adjust to her new circumstances. Be watchful. Be patient. Be present. Allow your child to move at her own pace. All she needs is to know you are there, providing the constancy, understanding and encouragement she needs to meet her challenges.
©2009 Debbie Katz , JPARENT, LLC All rights reserved.
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Want to ask a question? Click on the Ask Debbie page at the top of the blog to submit your questions!

On Pesach, the yearly holiday in which we retell the Jewish exodus from Egypt, we are instructed by Hashem to  pass our  mesorah (tradition) to our children.  The Torah mitzvah is “l’higadeta l’vincha bayom hahu,”  “to tell your child on that day” (Exodus 13:8).   How we are to do this is explained in the Haggadah itself.  We answer according to the way the child asks the question.   Does he want a detailed response?  Is he rebellious?  Does he have a learning disability or very little background knowledge?  Is he extremely young?   Our task is to pass on the mesorah by explaining the story in the child’s own terms.
Passing on the mesorah is a conversation. Every conversation has two parts:  Talking and listening.  First, we talk.  We explain the story in the Haggadah and answer the questions at the children’s level of understanding.
Then, we hope, each child will give a Dvar Torah from school or proffer a new personal insight.  By listening to our children, we teach even more than we do with we are speaking. When we listen carefully to each child’s contribution to the seder, without allowing  interruptions, we teach them that we respect what they have to say.   Something inside the child shifts.  The child grows in self respect.  She feels connected to her parents, her people and her Creator. It is a powerful lesson that attaches the child to the mesorah of the Jewish people through the bond of the parent-child relationship.   This special moment where Jewish connection is  deeply experienced encapsulates the essence of parenting a child spiritually.
So this Pesach, despite the lateness of the hour and the hunger pangs of the many gathered around the table, don’t miss the ikar (the main point), of the evening.  Give every child your fullest attention.  Talk, but also listen.  Recount the story of the Jewish past and then focus in to hear the sweet voices of your children, who are the Jewish future.
©2009  Debbie Katz , JPARENT, LLC All rights reserved.
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Want to ask a question?  Click on the Ask Debbie page at the top of the blog to submit your questions!

Jewish parenting is fundamentally about role modeling. No other form of instruction compares in its depth or lasting quality. Hashem has fashioned our brains to learn by imitation, starting from the first day of life.
Our children know what is important to us. The way we consistently go about our daily lives tells them the real story.   Here are some examples:
•    No explanation is needed when your young child observes you arrive in Shul early and daven(pray) with deep kavannah (concentration).    He is an eye witness to your personal relationship with Hashem.
•     Your integrity makes an impression on your school aged child when you return to the store if a cashier gives you too much change.
•    Your toddler grasps Kibud Av v’Aim when you interact lovingly with your parents, his grandparents.
•    Your teen learns persistence and courage when he sees you try again after a major disappointment.
•    Your daughter learns about tznius and self respect when she observes her mother dressed with dignity.
•    When you show compassion and esteem to every meshulach and every guest, your child understands the way to show respect for all people.
•    Your daughter learns gevurah, self discipline and inner strength when you retain your composure despite ongoing stress and exhaustion in your life.
•    When you avoid inappropriate conversations about others, your teen learns how to apply the laws of shmiras halashon (guarding one’s tongue).
•    Your son learns how to value his body when you demonstrate careful eating, exercise and rest habits.
•    Your child understands financial restraint when you usually decide against luxury purchases.
•    Your children knows how important your family is to you when you turn off the cell phone and the blackberry when you are together.

Now think about tzedakah, intellectual curiosity, responsible use of the media, loyalty, punctuality, organization, humility, community service?  What about being sameach b’chelko (happy with his life)?

Too overwhelming to think about?  Not at all.  We humans are all in the same boat. We are works in progress all our lives.  Kids just give us Jewish parents a good reason to do what we are here to do anyway—to keep working at getting better.  And, there is some really good news.  As we choose to improve ourselves, our children will learn a beautiful and important lesson.   They will learn that change and growth will be possible for them throughout their lives as well.    And you will have given them the most important modeling lesson of all.  It’s always the right time to grow.

©2009  Debbie Katz , JPARENT, LLC All rights reserved.
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Want to ask a question?  Click on the Ask Debbie page at the top of the blog to submit your questions!

A Love of Childhood

You’re all signed up for the job.   You are your child’s guide through childhood.

Here is the best advice I can give you: Love the journey!

Imagine the world through the eyes of a child.

Do you love to finger paint? Are you curious about the busy ant as it crawls across your hand? Have you ever focused on the dust flecks dancing in a shaft of light? For children, all the learning is in the process.

If you are like a lot of us, you never had the chance to have this much fun.

Share these moments. Laugh, dream and be present with your child. The connection is priceless. The time you spend together will be the most productive thing you’ll do today. Count on it.

©2009 Deborah E. Katz All rights reserved

Want to ask a question?  Click on the Ask Debbie page at the top of the blog to submit your questions!

It may seem basic, but it bears repeating here. Kids are not little adults.  Children’s developing brains go through stages of maturation. So, parents who expect their children to think and act like adults should learn the science.

Brain activity in children is different than in adults. A newborn’s brain has billions of neurons, but there is little transmission between them because there are few neural connections. From birth onwards, the child’s neural connections are rapidly formed as a direct result of actual sensory experiences. The impact of the environment on the structure and functioning of the brain is life-long, but is most extremely intense during the first three years of life. The child’s early experiences are literally hard-wired into the brain. In addition, the child’s brain development is strongly influenced by genetics as well as the child’s stage of the developmental maturation. Until age 25, the child’s brain has still not fully developed. The pre-frontal cortex, the center for intellect, logic, reasoning and impulse control, is the last area of the brain to fully mature. The latter is the reason that teens and young adults are often known to have difficulty fully understanding the consequences of their actions and exercising sound judgment.

What are the implications of this information? Here are a few. The young child, in the process of building their neural connections, requires a rich sensory environment for feeding all the senses. Time and space is needed for the child to process the information in her own way. Children have an inborn drive to explore their environments, using whatever tools are available to overcome deficits in their “programming”. They are little scientists, whose emphasis is as much on the process of discovery as on drawing their own cause-and-effect conclusions. For physical and cognitive skills, practice is the key to mastery. Thus, parental patience and encouragement during the child’s endless repetitions of a new task is very important. Parents who purposely do not interfere with natural children’s messiness and clumsiness are supporting their children’s need for experiential learning. (Overlooking messes does not mean cleaning them up. Children learn from cleaning up their own “work” environments.)

Aside from physical and cognitive development, the emotional development of the child is also a brain function. Through dedicated time spent together with parents and other significant adults, the child develops healthy attachments, and learns about himself and his ability to relate to other people. Healthy attachment with loving adults creates a feeling of safety in an otherwise overwhelming world. This secure feeling enhances the child’s brain’s ability to focus on the development of higher intellectual function. Without this feeling of safety, the child must be vigilant and focus on more basic survival needs. Survival needs are processed in lower parts of the brain Throughout childhood, the brain functions best when there are clear, consistent, predictable expectations, positive, calm, and responsive verbal interactions, and a stable, loving care-giving environment.

In the context of normal human brain development, designating one-on-one time with your child and creating predictable boundaries for her behaviors will support both her cognitive and emotional development. The family that consciously structures itself around the very real needs of its growing children is applying the results of brain research and using those results towards their highest possible purpose.

© by Debbie Katz. All rights reserved

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Want to ask a question?  Click on the Ask Debbie page at the top of the blog to submit your questions!

In my last blog entry, we briefly discussed the innate differences in approaches to living that are based on personal styles within a family. There we mentioned that understanding these variations can be extremely helpful when people live together. This week, I would like to address myself to the question posed in the Ask Debbie section by a West Coast mother of four. The husband and wife have widely differing reactions to the daily realities of living with growing children.

Dad has a goal orientation. He is uncomfortable with his children’s inherent unpredictability and messiness and believes the kids can learn how to “act right” by being told to do so. He “teaches” by punishing disobedience. His goal is to get his children to abide by adult norms in his adult centered household.

Mom has a process approach to life. She observes her children’s individual styles of exploration, studies basic child development and tries to gain the children’s cooperation through negotiation. Her expectation is that the household will be primarily child centered.

Aside from differences in personal style (goal versus process orientations), there is also a difference between the ways the two parents understand the parent-child relationship itself. Dad believes the parent is the one who should hold all (or most of ) the power in the parent-child relationship. He decides if its play time or serious time and he sets the performance standards. His understanding is that his young children will feel more secure and perform well in life because of the structure he is providing. Mom describes herself as “laid back” and “less confrontational”. The likelihood is that she is more flexible in her approach and shares power much more easily with the children. Her priorities may be to create close connection with the children and to encourage creativity. Dad runs of a high risk of discouraging honest communications with the kids. Mom runs the risk of not setting clear enough boundaries.

Asking about “right” and “wrong” gets us into trouble. A better question would be “What would be the most nurturing childhood experience for the children?”

Here are some healthy parenting principles:

* Kids need clear behavioral limits delivered in a calm tone of voice.
* All kids, at every age, must treated with respect.
* Parents should talk to their kids a lot. Children get very valuable information from their parents’ longer life perspective.
* Kids must be granted the ability to explore, make noise and messes, and take risks so they can learn about themselves and their worlds by trial and error.
* Although punishments bring compliance, they are almost never good teaching tools because they always break connection and usually produce at least some resentment. Employing logical or natural consequences when children breach limits is a far more constructive and effective approach to teaching responsible behavior.
* For most of everyday life, the nurturing household ends up functioning as a child centered unit. That said, on special occasions, kids can profit tremendously by listening in on the adult world and, if appropriate, being asked to contribute their own thoughts.

There is no one correct answer to the question: “Which approach is right”. The best parenting approach for this family—and for every family—starts with an individualized parenting plan that takes into account the parents’ unique blend of personal styles, parenting values and individual strengths. In addition, the parents have to learn basic parenting principles and practice nurturing techniques for appropriately managing the everyday as well as the unexpected.

When parents work as a team, their combined strengths synergize, providing a better childhood experience for their kids than either could provide alone.

Thanks for the question. Let’s have some more!

© by Debbie Katz. All rights reserved.