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Posts Tagged ‘jewish parents’

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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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.
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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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In the last blog, we discussed the need for self awareness in parenting.  One aspect of ourselves and others that we should be aware of is something called personal style.   Our personal style is related to our  basic temperament and therefore is fundamental to our individual emotional makeup.  In many households, the styles of the parents are different from each other, and different from at least some the children.  Not surprisingly, members of a household with similar styles tend to understand each other well because they approach tasks, time, people and situations in a similar way.  But when styles differ, the approaches often differ as well.

Let’s use a parenting example.  Say we have a situation where we have ongoing sibling disagreements. For a parent who has a goal orientation, there is likely to be a preference for swift, directed closure of each conflict. Another parent who values process and information would probably prefer to read, listen and observe before having an in-depth private discussion with each child.  A third type of parent may work hard to anticipate individual children’s needs in order to maintain harmony and avoid conflict completely.   A fourth type of parent may enjoy figuring out out-of-the-box solutions that make everyone take themselves a little less seriously.

All of these parenting styles are healthy, but there are differences in emphasis.  Most of us have one predominating style in combination with at least one secondary style.  It is helpful to know something about our own personal style and the styles of our spouse and children because this knowledge will create a much more informed context for living and working together in the family.    In my coaching practice, I use the Quick Style Indicator by Consulting Resource Group (CRG).  It is an inexpensive tool that many parents find illuminating.  (Other more complex screening tools like Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram Personality Type Indicator can perform a similar purpose.)

Parents are often relieved to discover that what had seemed like serious miscommunications were easily reframed.   Once they know about the differences in personality styles within the family, the parents can learn to style-shift. In so doing, they learn to see the world through the eyes of another.

Learning about the personality styles of members of your family helps everyone feel a bit closer, and a lot more understood.   Mutual understanding is an important basic element  in our ongoing quest to achieve shalom bayisfamily harmony.

All materials © by Debbie Katz.  These materials are the property of Jparent and can not be used, changed, or distributed without permission.

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Discipline is best defined as a form of chinuch, education.   Parents have a unique ability to educate their child beginning at birth, because it is parents who structure the child’s environment and structure the parentchild relationship.    Each day, parents deliver hundreds of life lessons to their children about family values and priorities, mostly in the form of unconscious modeling, but also in the form of directed discussion and limit setting.  The parents’ unique access to the inner and outer world of the developing child gives them almost unlimited influence over the child in the early years of life.

For starters,  it is important for parents to clearly understand their job description.   The ultimate goal of parenting is to facilitate the formation and internalization of the child’s inner compass, the “control panel” that will guide decision making throughout the child’s lifetime.   This inner compass will be comprised of the life lessons you, the parents, instill.  The lessons will include your personal relationship with Hashem,   your value system, your priorities, your likes and dislikes, your middos and your emotional reactions.    These lessons become neurologically encoded in the earliest years of life and may be reinforced by repeated experience.  This does not mean that we never get a second chance.  We do. We get another chance every day.  And kids give us lots of practice!

When we have children, our lives change fundamentally.   We become Exhibit A.  We are role models.  Our children are watching and learning from our mistakes and triumphs.  It follows then, that enhancing our own self awareness is very important. We have to consciously define and refine the values and priorities for our own lives.    We also hold the responsibility to be calm and controlled with our children, even when we occasionally feel out of balance.   This is because, in our children’s child-centered universe, our imbalance is open to their misinterpretation.  We must take seriously the fact that kids tend to believe they are the cause of our negative outbursts.  Children make themselves responsible for our negative behavior.

Perfect, we’re not.  We are not expected to be perfect.  But, we are expected to work hard, to grow, and to try to make high level choices.   Raising children is the best vehicle on Earth for attaining self knowledge and self improvement.   With a lot of help from Hashem and from one another, we can all be great parents.   We can meet the challenge.   We’re all in this together.

All materials © by Debbie Katz.  These materials are the property of Jparent and can not be used, changed, or distributed without permission.
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