The chal­lenge of par­ent­ing to in­stil Jewish val­ues

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - News - Cathy Indig

As Jewish par­ents, we are meant to teach our chil­dren To­rah, to dif­fer­en­ti­ate right from wrong and im­press upon them ac­cept­able be­hav­iours. This is a chal­leng­ing task for ev­ery­one in­volved in a child’s up­bring­ing. It can leave par­ents un­sure of the right way to in­stil Jewish val­ues.

I have been work­ing with preschool chil­dren and par­ents for al­most 30 years. Dur­ing that time, I have wit­nessed par­ents deal­ing with be­havioural is­sues go­ing from one ex­treme to the other. My own child­hood con­sisted of a lot of raised parental voices. Hit­ting – by par­ents and teach­ers – was an ac­cept­able way of dis­ci­plin­ing chil­dren. I am sure that par­ents re­ally thought that was the best way, even though it seems to be some­what con­tro­ver­sial in light of Jewish be­liefs.

For the next gen­er­a­tion, con­sist­ing of my chil­dren and their peers, there was a def­i­nite shift. Hit­ting was no longer ac­cept­able, but many, or per­haps most, par­ents still ex­pected their chil­dren to lis­ten to them with­out com­pro­mise. Chil­dren’s voices were not al­ways or of­ten heard.

Slowly the tran­si­tion con­tin­ued. Over time, par­ents be­gan to be­lieve that chil­dren should not ever be told no and should never be shouted at. When­ever there was some­thing that wasn’t right, the child would be spo­ken to log­i­cally and with rea­son. But there were con­cerns with this ap­proach, too – specif­i­cally, that we are teach­ing chil­dren that they are the only ones of value. The To­rah teaches us to have re­spect for oth­ers, but when a child is al­ways right and never dis­ap­pointed, they will never learn this im­por­tant skill.

Cur­rently, I see two ex­tremes when it comes to teach­ing our chil­dren. On one hand, many chil­dren are still brought up think­ing they are never wrong and are al­ways ex­cused for their be­hav­iours. On the other hand, there are chil­dren who are brought up not be­ing able to make any de­ci­sions or choices on their own and are be­ing fright­ened into good be­hav­iour.

If a child is fright­ened into a be­hav­iour, they are not learn­ing how to be­have, they are learn­ing how to re­act at the time by do­ing what their par­ents want them to do. Sur­round­ing a child by go­ing into their close space, point­ing your fin­ger at them or stomp­ing your feet to­ward the child will make them fear­ful. That’s why it is im­por­tant to de­velop strate­gies where the child un­der­stands what is ex­pected of them by giv­ing the child log­i­cal con­se­quences to their be­hav­iour. If a child won’t put their toys away, then the toy isn’t cleaned up for them, but taken away for a while. If a child spills their drink on pur­pose, then the cup is taken away and is not re­placed with more to drink. By do­ing this, the child will learn what is ex­pected of them. If we get the child to put their toys away be­cause we are scream­ing at them or point­ing our fin­gers at them, they will (prob­a­bly) lis­ten, but they will be dwelling on the fear and not on the be­hav­iour.

Philoso­phies change fre­quently, and par­ents al­most al­ways have their child’s best in­ter­ests at heart. But Jewish val­ues, which I have al­ways viewed as be­ing global val­ues, stay the same. Be­ing a good per­son who is kind to oth­ers stands out.

Some­times we just need to step back and put our­selves in the mind of the child. If we feel that we would be scared if we were in the child’s po­si­tion, then per­haps it is time to fig­ure out a dif­fer­ent way of ap­proach­ing the be­hav­iour. If we put our­selves into the child’s mind and we are think­ing that we can never do wrong, then per­haps a dif­fer­ent strat­egy is needed as well.

I see two ex­tremes when it comes to teach­ing our chil­dren

Cathy Indig is di­rec­tor of chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion at the Miles Nadal Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­tre in Toronto.

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