Posts Tagged ‘boundaries’

Question: My wife and I have two very young children.  In our neighborhood, we sometimes notice a lack of respect in the way the parents and children communicate.   How can parents teach their children to respect their parental authority?   –Yaakov, Chicago, IL
Since it is the parents who are the ones who structure the parent-child relationship, it is wonderful that you and your wife are discussing this question while your children are still very young.   When parents do not have a parenting plan, the default position is almost always derivative of their own childhood experiences. That can work out fine if both maternal and paternal grandparents held the clear parental authority and respectful communications flowed in both directions.   But if either parent was raised in a home where, for whatever reason, the parent-child relationship was strained, it is a great idea to make a conscious effort now to set the right tone so that your children will naturally learn the correct balance of authority in your family.

Our ultimate authority figure is, of course, Hashem Himself who we refer to as Avinu Malkeinu (our Father, our King).   While ‘Avinu’ refers to Hashem’s caring, loving and protective relationship with each of us,  ‘Malkeinu’ implies a reverence and awe, as with a subject towards his king.  This duality sets the paradigm for the Jewish parent-child bond. As parents, we must try to create a working balance between providing loving protection and keeping our place of respect and authority.

The halachos (Jewish laws)  of Kibud Av V’aim (the commandment to honor our father and mother) seem emphasize the respectful distance aspect of the dual relationship.  For example, according to halacha children should not sit in a parent’s seat at the table and should stand when either parent enters the room.  Children are not to contradict their parents nor call their parents by their first names.  Children are even to to serve their parents food and drink and escort them in and out,  with a pleasant demeanor.

We, as parents, are given the right to allow some flexibility with the performance of this mitzvah (commandment).  But, I believe,  it is still  important not to dispense with these displays of respect entirely.  For example, each parent can teach the children the custom of keeping a place at the table for the other parent.   In addition, we can ask the child to bring us a drink, smiling at them when we tell them that they are learning the mitzvah of Kibud Av v’Aim.  The mitzvah therefore becomes pleasant to perform. It is a goal to have our children address us with appropriate respect.  But teaching proper communication skills  is an ongoing project.  Respectful (and disrespectful) speech occurs in a context.  Children have to explore our boundaries. That is how they learn.  Sometimes, because we hold the power in the relationship, we can choose to overlook an occasional outburst or boundary cross.     Especially the child is in an angry frame of mind and not in control of herself,  the parent, as a matter of common sense,  should not force her to comply with a request, in the name of Kibud Av v’Aim.      What can result is resentment, both at the parent and at the mitzvah itself.  This association is toxic and, if the scenario were to repeat itself,  there could be a real risk that the child will view the mitzvah as coercive, rather than a mitzvah that Hashem has given her with love. When the parental mindset remains focused on the child’s benefit, we can decide to delay discussion until everyone is ready to discuss things more effectively, and with more derech eretz (civility).    The goal is an atmosphere of compassion where the child learns from our example how to best resolve differences respectfully.

Around the house, parents can expect cooperation from their children.  But, again, gaining cooperation is an ongoing project.  Starting as early as age 4, we begin to teach our children to take on more and more responsibility.  When we ask our children to do something for us, and they cheerfully cooperate, we meet them with enthusiasm and gratitude.   If however, they are otherwise occupied, we must teach them to ask us for our permission to delay.  Any reasonable request for extra time will usually be accepted. But, children should not be given the right to simply ignore their parents’ requests.    If they do ignore a request, an appropriate consequence should be calmly and consistently applied to set a limit on the disrespectful behavior.   In this way, we keep abreast of  our children’s progress as they continue to assimilate this aspect of being respectful to parents.

Honoring parents is, of course, one of the Aseres Hadibros (Ten Commandments).     As we approach Shavuos, and prepare to receive Hashem’s Torah with a full heart, let us all focus on being the type of caring and self aware parent that our children will want to respect and  emulate.  When we have the clear intention to partner with Hashem as a loving authority figure to our beloved children, we can be assured that when we teach our children the mitzvah of Kibud Av V’Aim , it will be,  first and foremost, for the children’s own benefit. And, because we are following the example of Avinu Malkeinu, we can also be assured that Hashem will be helping us along the way.

©2009 Debbie Katz , JPARENT, LLC All rights reserved.

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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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