It’s that time of year again, that hopeful, exciting and serious time. When we take stock of our lives and make real-life choices. I will be a better friend, eat healthier, be more giving, dedicate more time to self-care… the list goes on and on. It goes without saying that our lists are important. They help us connect to the changes that come with Elul and the Yomim Noraim, and the bigger picture of how revitalizing ourselves is a necessary step towards contributing in a greater sense. Be it to your immediate family, school, shul or your community at large—we all have something to give.
I get calls and texts all the time from parents asking what they can do to help their child in and out of school. There are different answers for different people and different scenarios but usually it comes down to two things. Firstly, hone in on your child’s strengths and keep them strong and motivated so that when something is harder for them, they still have a sense of self-worth. And secondly, be mindful that, even when you don’t realize it, you are a living example for your children. They watch everything you do and say. They watch your facial expressions and your body language.
Let your child shine. We all know that each child is an individual and that trying to cram them into a box or ignore parts of them that we don’t agree with will only cause disaster and heartache. So instead, let’s find a way to let them develop into their best selves.
Every child will struggle with one thing or another, just like we do as adults. Our job as parents and/or educators is to help guide them so they can grow from these difficulties and come out intact and self-loving on the other side. This cannot just happen in the moment. There needs to be a backstory here. There must be a history of empowerment and love that is ingrained in the child. When he/she knows that they are cherished and appreciated, they will be able to get through hard situations and not be shattered by them. They will be able to fail and not feel like failures.
One practical way of empowering someone is to shine a light on their strengths. That’s not to say we are creating egotistical and haughty children. Rather, we must teach them to know their strengths and use them to help themselves and others. The girl with a beautiful voice can be encouraged to lead davening in her class or sing in a nursing home. The boy who loves to make people laugh, and has a knack for doing so, might be encouraged to visit a children’s hospital. Helping your child recognize and use their strengths for a greater purpose will forever impact their life in a very meaningful and positive way.
Even after all that—it’s not enough. Nothing we do or say will matter if we don’t walk the walk and talk the talk. We are role models for our children and we must act like it! Sometimes it’s necessary to go against your own nature and do something just so your children will see you and hopefully copy your behavior. We actually have that power. We can pick up a book, even if we are not “readers” and model nightly/weekly reading for our children. The father who disdains salad can actually eat some to model healthy eating for his son. We can volunteer for a local chesed or host a family that we are not so friendly with for a Shabbos meal. All this does is teach our children lesson after lesson on how to be a positive and giving person, and helps us grow into the people we want our children to become.
There’s no question that we have a great responsibility towards ourselves and our children. Let’s take this time to cherish and empower our loved ones. Let’s be mindful of how we interact with those around us and use our gifts in a meaningful way. May we all have a happy and healthy new year.
Tamar Hardy was a classroom teacher for 13 years and currently runs a private practice as a reading specialist. She holds multiple master’s degrees in special education and is a certified Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner. Tamar lives in Fair Lawn and can be reached at [email protected]