April 18, 2024
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How to Be a Better Parent and a More Effective Teacher

Over the past 40 years working with parents, teachers, administrators and children, I have developed some ideas and theories about parenting, and approaches to dealing with children. I want to thank my friend and colleague Rivy Poupko Kletenik, Head of School at the Seattle Hebrew Academy, for sharing her insights with me, as well as the article “Advice on Raising Kids: 10 Insights of Remarkable Parents From a Family Therapist” by Angela Pruess, which pretty much confirms our experience.

There is a glut of information available about how to raise children. Aside from Tanach and the Talmud, there was Dr. Spock (who remembers him?) and Chaim Ginott, who were the modern pioneers in this field. Today gurus abound and there is a plethora of information on the web and in every bookstore (who remembers them?). Much of the information regarding how we should raise our kids is contradictory, and well-intentioned parents as well as teachers can feel frustrated.

I have seen well-meaning parents erroneously utilizing techniques that do not meet the emotional or developmental needs of their children. I’ve also seen many parents who are successfully employing healthy ways of raising children. Observations from the field match what we know from current brain and behavioral research about what kind of parenting/teaching is most likely to contribute to the healthy development of children.

We will formulate these principles as the Ten Commandments for Helping Children.

1. Be aware of developmental stages.

Very often a calm, easy-going child morphs into a screaming fiend while getting dropped off at school or a play date. Separation anxiety happens. There are many normal transitions kids go through to become adults. Being aware of these puts their behavior into context, and increases the odds of reacting to them accurately and supportively.

2. Be patient and supportive.

Children behave childishly. They “act their age.” They learn by making mistakes. The amazing stuff happens when a compassionate adult steps in to point them in the right direction. We get frustrated and impatient. We become irritated, exasperated and often infuriated with kids who whine and talk back when really, this is how kids are wired. Reason, logic and impulse control are not fully developed until the early 20s. Immature behavior is normal for immature human beings with immature brains. This is a scientific reality that helps us to be patient and supportive in order to guide our children when they struggle.

 3. Know when to talk and when to listen.

Children learn to be pretty good problem solvers if we let them. We love them and want them to succeed. Resist the temptation to jump in and solve problems for them by lecturing them or criticizing them. If parents and teachers were more serene, they’d be surprised at how often their children and students will effectively reach their own conclusions. Allowing a child to express himself/herself and be heard is very therapeutic. It allows them to think things through and reach a solution. Kids want and need to be heard, and feel understood. Just like us.

4. Understand that actions speak louder than words.

The way parents and teachers interact with children is the child’s greatest teacher. Kids are extremely perceptive and more discerning than we give them credit for. They are always watching. This can be a bit inconvenient at times, but if we’re able to keep in mind that our children are watching our actions, it will not only teach them how to behave, but it will make us better people.

5. Set limits with respect, not criticism.

Children learn everything about the world from us, so they will need many limits set for them throughout their day. Without appropriate limits in their environment, children will become anxious and out of control. Limits can be conveyed in the form of criticism and shaming, or they can be communicated in a firm but respectful way. Think about how you appreciate being spoken to at work and go from there.

6. Mold a child’s heart and not just the behavior.

Teachers and parents love compliant, well-behaved children. While these are certainly desirable qualities, they are not core qualities that contribute to a happy and healthy person. Helping our children understand the importance of their thoughts and emotions gives them coping and relationship skills. These are skills that will protect and guide them throughout their lives.

7. Recognize that connection, fun and creativity are the best ways to promote positive behaviors and a cooperative attitude.

Fear and control aren’t effective long-term educational vehicles for our kids. The incalculable psychic damage done to children who were terrorized by belt-wielding fathers is amply documented. While those dynamics may be somewhat effective in the short-term, they do not offer our children a strong moral compass, or effective problem-solving skills. If a child feels valued as a person based on our interactions with them, they will naturally learn to value others and have the confidence to make good choices.

 8. Know your child’s temperament and personality.

If we are in sync with what makes our child tick and which characteristics make our child unique, we will have a better understanding of when they may need additional support, and when and where they will thrive. Once you know this, many important areas become much easier to navigate, such as pinpointing the best environment for homework, or understanding why your child may need to come home from as sleepover, Shabbaton or even summer camp.

9. Give your child plenty of unstructured play time.

Most adults, including some educators, do not fully understand or appreciate the power of play. Play is how kids learn things and develop those intangibles known as “stuff.” Allow time each day for plain old unstructured, kid-controlled exploration-of-the-world kind of play. In school and out.

10. Have an identity outside of your child.

For most parents and many teachers children are their world. In terms of daily life, however, parents as well as teachers need to have more. We need to nurture the relationships, passions and hobbies that make us who we are as individuals. This may be hard since our protective angst convinces us that our children can’t be without us (and also that we can’t be without them). However, we can be, and need to be, in order to stay sane, and avoid burdening our children with the task of meeting all of our emotional needs.

Just as with the original Ten Commandments, there are many corollaries and subcategories.

Changing our parenting habits and teaching styles is never easy, but if it’s truly in the best interest of our children, it will always be worth it.

By Wallace Greene

 Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene has had an illustrious career as a day school principal and administrator. He believes that in loco parentis is not only descriptive but presrciptive.

 

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