July 15, 2024
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July 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Another Purim in the books, and I’m exhausted. As a parent, it can be a lot — making sure every child has something to wear and something to give out, shuttling them around town without missing the morahs’ receiving hours, and keeping everyone’s costumes intact and clean through every last picture and party. But all that is worth it for the joy and excitement our kids get from the day, and the chinuch that they facilitate.

Purim is filled with rich, hands-on experiences that make the themes come alive for children and adults, too. The areas in which we help our children grow on Purim reflect those of chinuch, in general —the story and the text, the mitzvot and minhagim, and the middot and pro-social interactions. Yet, also like chinuch in general, there is a central spiritual component that can be easily overlooked — the awareness that we can nurture that Hashem is always there for us, and even when it seems like He’s turning away He still loves us and is holding our hand. Now, while we are still fresh from the thrill of Purim, we need to reflect on how we continue that chinuch, and the spiritual aspect in particular, through the rest of the year.

 

Spirituality

What I mean by spirituality and spiritual development is, broadly, the ability to experience and connect to Hashem and His presence in this world. That means a wide range of things, like having an intuitive sense that Hashem is real, feeling gratitude to Him and others, finding meaning and beauty in the mundane, connecting to Torah and mitzvot on a personal emotional level, seeing Hashem’s hand in the world, depending on Hashem. This can be cerebral, emotional or intuitive, but it’s authentic and real. We want to help our children develop a sense of reality in which Hashem is real and runs the world, and a sense of self that includes having a divine soul that connects them in a profound and meaningful way to Hashem.

Supporting our children’s spiritual development is essential to raising them to be well-rounded people who find meaning, richness, and lifelong growth in Judaism. It sets them up for better well-being, mental health and life satisfaction, and makes it more likely that they will continue in the path that we set out for them. This is especially true in the world that our children are growing up in now, which is filled with stressors and empty distractions, and where anxiety, depression and alienation are rampant.

This aspect of development, chinuch for spirituality, is also, I believe, the most fundamental to our purpose, not only as parents, but in life altogether. The Ramchal writes at the beginning of Mesillas Yesharim that the reason that each of us was put into this world is to have a connection to Hashem. After all, Hashem only created this world and the people in it for us to recognize, connect with, and become like Him. Parenting is a unique opportunity to emulate Hashem by bringing life into this world and be mechanech, a human being to connect with Hashem.

Yet, spiritual growth too often gets left out of conversations on chinuch and neglected by parents and mechanchim.

One reason for that is that it’s not often clear what people mean by spirituality. Also, let’s face it, this is an area that is hard for many of us adults, too. We also don’t really know how to teach or facilitate it. And when we do, we often think of it as something that comes from formal learning and ritual. That means that the way we facilitate it is by telling our children what to think, believe, feel, and do. It also means that spiritual development is dependent on their level of cognitive development, so we may ignore the issue with younger children altogether.

Children are innately primed for spirituality. They are able to naturally imagine and experience the reality of things they can’t see, and respond from deep places in their being. They might not be able to comprehend complex mystical ideas, but so much of what adults have to work on to be able to relate to or internalize those ideas comes perfectly naturally to children until they outgrow it or it is beaten out of them by the system of rote and dry learning and the expectations of the “real world.”

Yet children still require “chinuch” for spirituality. Literally, that means that they must be readied and configured to internalize and integrate those aspects that we want to be part of them and their worlds. Parents and teachers have the incredible opportunity and responsibility to prepare children with a spiritual attunement that will shape the way they develop and how they experience the world and themselves. What that takes is much deeper than any conversation or lesson we could ever teach our children. But, not to worry, it’s something we are already doing.

 

Chinuch By Building Brains

It may be surprising, but perhaps the most powerful way that we can nurture our children’s spiritual capacity is through sound parenting. As neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel wrote, “The way we interact with our kids[, especially]when they’re upset[,] significantly affects how their brains develop, and therefore what kind of people they are, both today and in the years to come.”

How we communicate with our children and the experiences that we give them actually change the physical architecture of our children’s brains. Predictable, sensitive, loving, relational discipline strengthens important neural connections between the emotional reactive parts of their brain and the rational regulating parts of their brains. This helps them develop into individuals who can manage primitive impulses and develop personal insight, empathy, morality, responsibility and flexible decision-making.

When disciplining our children, the first step is to create a deep connection with them. This relationship should always be at the forefront of anything we do with them — playing, talking or disciplining. We must give them our attention and respect, allowing them to contribute to problem solving. Ultimately, this strengthens their ability to think through decisions and act responsibly in future scenarios.

Connection doesn’t mean permissiveness; boundaries are necessary for structure in their lives and high expectations need to be set. Throughout all interactions with your child, a message of love needs to be clear — even when they are misbehaving — so that they understand you have their back no matter what. Kids need us most when they’re overwhelmed and distressed, and it’s important to let them know that.

Connection-based discipline helps children understand that their happiness is not a condition for receiving our love, giving them the emotional and physical safety they need to find independence. Research shows this type of parenting leads to more sound decision-making in the future. By creating a deep connection with your child you can ensure they experience the full force of your love and affection.

 

Parenting for Spirituality

This kind of discipline lets our kids know how much we love and respect them, even as we discipline them. It allows us to communicate to our children, “I’m here. I’ve got your back. Even when you’re at your worst and I don’t like the way you’re acting, I love you, and I’m here for you. I understand you’re having a hard time, and I am here.” No parent can communicate this message all the time and in every scenario, but we can send it consistently and repeatedly so there’s never any doubt in our children’s minds.

This kind of connection-based parenting and discipline shapes our children’s minds and nurtures their capacity for meaningful spiritual experiences and a deep sense of connection to Hashem. The experience of emotional and physical safety it provides gives children the capacity to act responsibly and make good choices. This allows them to accept difficult situations sent by Hashem without feeling like they are being punished, and to transcend their primitive impulses and reactions and choose the things that they value. Children who experience this type of parenting are better able to learn that Hashem loves them unconditionally, even when they make mistakes, and that they can always turn to Him for comfort and guidance. They are able to appreciate and internalize the message of Purim, that even when Hashem seems hidden, or it seems like He is giving us a “patch,” He still loves us and is only acting for our benefit.

So let’s take the lessons of Purim and carry them forward throughout the year. Let’s focus on nurturing our children’s spiritual and emotional development. Let’s approach parenting with intentionality and purpose, recognizing that every interaction with our children has the potential for building deep, meaningful connections that shape their brains and develop their capacity for spiritual growth and connection to Hashem. By doing so, we can help our children build a strong foundation for a healthy, successful, and meaningful life that fulfills the purpose that they, and we, were created for.


Dr. Bin Goldman is a clinical psychologist and educator. He provides psychotherapy and neuropsychological evaluations to children and adults in Teaneck and Clifton. Dr. Goldman speaks widely to clinicians, schools and community audiences. He also works with the Ohel Trauma Team where he responds to community crises and trains schools in resilience-building. He can be reached at [email protected] or www.bingoldman.com.

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