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Question:  As a new parent, I am seeking a few key parenting principles to keep in mind as my daughter grows up.   Your thoughts? —Shuli, NY, NY

As parents, we are our children’s first and most lastingly influential teachers. Our main jobs as Jewish parents are 1) to facilitate the formation of  the child’s  healthy self image and 2)  to teach an integrated Jewish world view that will guide the child throughout life. With these goals in mind, here are my “top five” parenting principles:

Kids are not little grown-ups. Kids are in a state of almost constant growth–physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually.  Children’s interactions are highly imitative and sensitive to outside input.  It is not a flaw that they don’t think or act like we do!   It is, in fact, the  parent’s  task is to teach kids appropriate behavior in different settings. When a child does not live up to an expectation, even repeatedly,  resist the tendency to label or ridicule.  Instead, keep the child’s potential in mind.  Correct the misbehavior unequivocally.   Validate the child for  every sign of  positive growth. Stay nurturing.

Parents are always on. The way we interact with the world  is a living lesson to our kids. Starting with the earliest years, a child internalizes the parent’s example, deeply registering each perception.     For a parent, therefore, self awareness is very important.    Here are some questions to consider.  Am I the Jew that I want my child to become?  Are my time priorities in line with my personal values?  Do I try to avoid discharging negative emotions in the family?  Do I show my kids how I try to get up after every setback and grow from the experience?

Setting limits for children is kind. Creating a set of clear expectations is like giving kids a manual for success in the life.  As long as the family rules are  respectful, age appropriate and child centered, children will benefit from the structure.  Employing logical and natural consequences is a constructive and effective approach to teaching responsible behavior.  A child brought up in a family that has set clear expectations will thrive in the atmosphere of trust, security and, paradoxically, personal freedom.   S/he will also learn to be socially responsible within the family and will receive plenty of practice in healthy decision making.

Kids need a strong connection with each of  their parents.  Children learn the most about themselves through their parents’ eyes. When a parent shows a child genuine interest and affection, the child infers s/he is intelligent, interesting and worthy of love.  Spending special time with each child affords the parent a regularly scheduled opportunity to encourage individuality and instill confidence.  Children get valuable information from their parents’ longer life perspective.   When a parent nurtures a deep connection with a child,  the parent can often mirror the child’s thoughts back to the child, appreciating, restating and, in some classes, reframing.  This is probably the most important (and most rewarding) way a parent can nurture a child’s self understanding.

Mothers and fathers are partners in parenting. There is no one correct answer to the question: “Whose approach is right?”  The best parenting approach for every family starts with a joint parenting plan that takes into account the parents’ unique blend of personal styles, values and strengths. When parents work as a team, their combined strengths synergize, providing a better, more balanced childhood experience for their kids than either could provide alone.  The lasting lesson to children is that shalom bayis is not always about being the same. It is about creating outcomes where everyone feels valued, understood and respected.

Parenting is the toughest job and the most rewarding. Parents have unique access to the inner and outer worlds of a developing child. This access can afford them almost unlimited influence during the childhood years.

To be clear– No two families are alike.  Life with kids can be challenging.   Taking a good sense of humor along with you on your journey can turn many a tough moment into an occasion for spontaneous levity.   Most of all, we all need a lot of Siyata D’Shamaya (help from Hashem) to raise our kids.     May Hashem help us as we perform the truly holy task of raising the next generation of Am Yisrael as strong, emotionally healthy Jews.

©2009 Deborah E. Katz , JPARENT, LLC All rights reserved.
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