Posts Tagged ‘Jewish children’

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.
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:   My 15 year old daughter settles for nothing less than top grades.  She participates in every conceivable extracurricular activity and everything has to turn out perfectly.  She is exhausting herself. I am starting to get worried about her.   Do you have any suggestions?—Malka, Teaneck, NJ

Children who are perfectionists believe, consciously or unconsciously, that their personal worth is attached to their performance rather than their essence.    They are often very self-critical when they compare themselves to others and they therefore often feel little satisfaction, even after expending prodigious effort.    They are in an exhausting race to find their self esteem.    In a competitive society, perfectionism is a common problem among sensitive, high achieving individuals.

As parents, we can actually teach our children to have a positive self concept.  It is best to begin to focus on this vital parenting task from the very beginning and never really stop.  Don’t lose heart, though, even if your children are already a bit older, because it is never too late get started. It will just take longer to be successful when kids are past their most formative years.  To build self esteem, we must provide unconditional love and attention, very consciously separating how we may occasionally view our children’s negative choices from how we think of them as intrinsically valuable people.  They read us very well, and they learn about their worth by seeing themselves through our eyes.

Not uncommonly, children become perfectionists because they desire to please an insecure, demanding or critical parent.   For example, some anxious parents view any error as failure.  Some are very competitive and must win at any cost.   Still others want ‘more’ for their children than they themselves were able to attain in life. Regardless of the reason for requiring top performance, the child learns the essential lesson.   She is NOT okay the way she is.  She had better work harder if she is going to ‘deserve’ her parent’s approval.

So, does this mean that we cannot expect excellent effort from our children?    No.  We expect them to learn and grow up to utilize their potentials.  But, we simultaneously infuse them with the knowledge of their inherent precious worth and of our respect for their unique qualities.

So how can you help your daughter?   Teach her that when she was born, she was given a precious gift from Hashem Himself—her holy neshama (soul).  Her essence is not just wonderful, it is actually holy.  And absolutely nothing she will ever do can affect her essential holiness.  Remind her that Hashem created people and therefore, since all people have some challenges in addition to their strengths, they are being ‘perfectly’ human.  Hold her and tell her that she is plenty good enough just the way she is.  You love everything about her.

When you see her working a bit too hard, remind her to strive for excellence, not perfection.  Encourage her to set realistic goals and give it a good effort.   From now on, focus her, not so much on the endpoint, as the meaningful content of the task and her enjoyment in the process.  After all, the pleasure of a perfect outcome is momentary but the pleasure in a meaningful process lasts far longer.  Remind her that Hashem has put us here on earth to be m’sameach (joyful).  She is actually doing a mitzvah by enjoying what she does.

In addition, consider whether you and/or your spouse has a critical side that has been affecting the way your daughter has been viewing herself.  If this is so, you will be doing yourself and your family a tremendous favor if you were to seek out professional help to address the root causes for that negativity. And as a extra bonus for your efforts at self improvement, your daughter will learn a valuable lesson from your example:  As long as we live, we keep working on getting better and better.

To sum up, make sure that your daughter knows that she does not have to DO anything to be loved and appreciated.    Her accomplishments are her contributions to the world and they have definite merit.  But it is who she IS that you treasure and her essence is perfect now, just as it always has been and always will be.

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