Donny was having a blah day at school. As he was finishing up his work before the afternoon switch to English studies, his rebbe stopped by his desk and said, “Donny, I see you got a haircut. It looks really nice.” Donny looked up at his rebbe beaming and said, “Rebbe, I was waiting all day for someone to notice. Thank you.”
What does this brief compliment have to do with classroom management and educating children? Naftoli and Yael Walfish, trainers of the internationally acclaimed Nurtured Heart Approach (NHA), explained exactly how this comment builds a child at a recent training of the staff and teachers of the Clifton Cheder and Bais Yaakov on November 6.
“The way you reach children is by connecting with them and energizing them for who they are in a positive way, combined with clear, uncompromising rules to make them feel safe,” explained Yael Walfish. “When they misbehave and you give them negative attention (aka a lot of your personal energy and connection), they will continue the misbehavior to get even more of that juice. But that builds a negative self-image. We want to show you how to switch it around. Look for what is good in your student today, even if it just that they are sitting at their desk. Many times when a child is behaving well we don’t say anything. Instead, start saying, ‘Thank you for raising your hand to answer that question, I see you are really paying attention!’”
Naftoli added, “A simple comment like noticing a child’s haircut or his compliance with the rules shows him ‘Hey, I see you. You matter.’ Isn’t that what we all want to feel?”
Other schools in the area, besides the Clifton Cheder and Bais Yaakov, have taken part in the Walfishes’ NHA training. They include Yeshiva of North Jersey’s preschool, Haledon public school and Bnos Bais Yaakov in Far Rockaway, New York. Several years ago, before they had developed their own training, they were able to encourage Yeshiva K’tana’s Bnos Bracha in Passaic to bring in a colleague of theirs to train the staff. “The word is spreading that NHA works,” said Naftoli.
“There isn’t anyone who works with children who wouldn’t benefit from learning the NHA method,” said Yael. “Every day the people who have gone through our training report success stories of children with a gamut of challenges such as ADHD, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, school refusal and children in the juvenile justice system. Once the focus is on positive energy, the energy of all relationships enters a new realm of positivity. The gift is for all,” enthused Yael.
The Walfishes also have an in-home counseling agency, Family Enhancement, LLC, that provides services to children and families through the state of New Jersey under Performcare. They have trained all their therapists in NHA with incredible results.
One success story was with a 4-year-old who had a history of explosive episodes multiple times per hour. His teachers were afraid of him and the school was on the verge of kicking him out. When the therapist got to the house, instead of being attacked she saw an adorable, confident boy who greeted her with a hug. Right away she began using NHA, complimenting his politeness, pointing out the neatness of his bed and smiling at his sense of humor. The therapist showed his mother how to integrate the NHA philosophy throughout the day, starting each morning with a compliment and to have very clear, consistent and unenergized rules for his evening schedule. The therapist also advised giving him an easy daily chore so he could receive regular praise for completing it.
The mother then shared NHA concepts with his teachers, encouraging them to try what she was doing at home. In a matter of two weeks the boy had only one tantrum and the school stopped calling the mother to pick him up. The transformation seemed miraculous.
Yael shared, “I had heard of NHA years ago and was skeptical. After trying so many parenting methods with my own kids, I was convinced it wouldn’t work,” she said with a wink. “Then I went to a full-day training with the founder and creator of the method, Howard Glasser, and I was blown away. I tried it at home and it worked. The more people I train and receive feedback from, the more convinced I am that this method really works for many situations.”
“The approach is so aligned with Jewish values and philosophy, it was an easy fit for us,” said Naftoli. “King Solomon was the first proponent of the idea to ‘educate a child according to his path’ in order to penetrate the child’s inner being so his Godliness will be revealed,” he added. The Jewish idea of bringing a child close with the right hand but pushing him off with the left is NHA in its essence. The right hand representing love and nurturing, while the left represents clear boundaries. “NHA provides a structure for teachers and parents to do just that,” continued Naftoli.
Although NHA was originally developed as a method to help challenging children, it was found to work wonders with all children in both nullifying destructive behavior and developing self-esteem.
“The culture of the Clifton Cheder places an emphasis on encouraging and developing the individual potential of each child,” said Rabbi Yosef Seldowitz, menahel of the Clifton Cheder. “Inviting the Walfishes for a workshop in the Nurtured Heart Approach gave my staff and teachers more effective tools for their toolbox.”
NHA has only three major components:
- 1. Absolutely no! I will not energize anything negative with a child.
- 2. Absolutely yes! I will relentlessly praise anything the child is doing that fits into the goals for the class as well as search out individual traits of each child to let them know how special they are.
- 3. Absolutely clear! Classrooms and homes need specific rules. With all the positivity, there are still clear lines a child can and can’t cross. If they cross them, the response is unenergized but with consistent consequences.
“We need to implement all three all the time to turn around the most difficult kids,” said Naftoli Walfish. “Remember, energy or intensity of children is their life force. It’s not the enemy. It needs to be harnessed for good. NHA will lead all caretakers in that direction.”
By Aliza Bloom
The Walfishes are in the process of developing an online training to reach even more people who can’t attend their live trainings. To contact the Walfishes, please call 201-614-4004 or go to their website, Familyenhancementllc.com.