The challenge of parenting to instil Jewish values
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.