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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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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.

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