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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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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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According to Rabbi Yissochar Frand in one of his annual tshuvah drashas, there are 2 central axioms on which the Jewish concept of tshuvah (repentance)  rests.     The first premise is that all human beings have the ability to change.  No matter how far we may have strayed from the path, Hashem tells us that we can change.  We can grow. We can repair.  We can return.  We can find closeness with G-d.   We can reach inside and find the strength to fulfill our fullest potentials.

As parents, this is our template for helping our children to grow.   Their young lives are all about change.   When a child does not live up to an expectation, our job is to hold their highest potential in our hearts and minds. We do not label them or lock them into patterns that do not represent their best selves. Instead, when they breach a limit, we strive to re-establish trust as soon as possible.   We give them every opportunity to change and grow.    We believe in them so much that, one day, they will learn to believe in themselves.

Rabbi Frand continues by explaining that the second key element of tshuvah is the idea that human beings are resilient.  We struggle with life’s challenges and sometimes we fail to meet them.  But, as long as we manage to get back up again, we are still in the game.   Here our children have much to teach us.   Little toddlers fall once, fall twice, fall three times.  But they always get up again.  This quality of resilience shows us that human beings are born resilient.       We should take a lesson. We must learn to never give up  on ourselves even when we have lost our way, and even if we feel regretful, disappointed or heartbroken. We can set our sights on our goals again and keep striving to attain them, regardless of the external or the internal obstacles.  Our job is to keep showing up for life, for as long as we live.

As we enter the Aseres Y’Mei Tshuvah (10 days of repentance),  may we always remember to  keep our children’s infinite potential in mind even when they experiment with new behaviors.  And, may we acknowledge our children’s lesson of dogged persistence, and pull  ourselves together again after every setback.  We are all here to help each other to grow.

On behalf of myself and my family, I send you and all of Am Yisrael my sincerest good wishes for a healthy, happy, productive and safe New Year.

©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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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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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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