The Eight Habits of Highly Effective Jewish Parenting – Dr. Chaim Botwinick

As we know, the challenge of parenting is not a “one-size-fits-all” endeavor; nor does an effective parenting approach for one child necessarily transfer or apply to another child in the same family.
One of the most revealing and illuminating Jewish principles is Chanoch L’naar al pi Darko (Mishlei 22:6) – educate (and teach) a child according to his way (or ability).

This powerful phrase or axiom, strongly implies and suggests that as parents, we need to adjust or modify our parenting approach and expectations in accordance with a child’s ability, capacity or capability.
This implies that there are a wide variety of relatively specific parenting approaches, habits or principles which parents may apply when teaching or educating their children.
This article will attempt to identify eight (8) of these practices which are generic or flexible enough to understand, apply and embrace; and yet somewhat definitive in there use and application.
The “glue” that holds these 8 practices together is that they each represent a profoundly important Jewish principle, value or concept.

1) The Partnership:

The partnership being referred to in this section is not one which engenders a transactional relationship, but one which is inextricably linked to the holy bond and kedusha that exists between the child, parent and HaShem. This partnership or bond must be viewed as a privilege, granted by HaShem. It is not as an entitlement but rather an obligation.

From the moment a couple decides to have children, there is an unbreakable bond and commitment between the couple (parents) and HaShem to ensure that their child or children will grow up in a healthy and wholesome environment.

Parents are viewed as partners in HaShem’s creation of each human being, therefore the commandment of Kabed et Avicha v’et Imecha to “honor ones mother and father” Shmot 20:21) is the fifth commandment in the Torah with profound importance and significance.

As parents, we must continue to be mindful of this holy partnership and alliance. It must be celebrated continuously as it provides all of us with a moral compass deeply anchored in the Torah.

2) Clarity and Consistency:

It is essential that parents are clear and consistence in their behaviors and expectations.

When giving a directive or instructions to a child, it is essential that the directive be embedded in understanding and context. Otherwise, it may be of little to no value.

Consistency is exhibited when a parent models behaviors commensurate with clear expectations.

For example, if a child witnesses a parent davening or putting on tefillin every morning, than it increases the likelihood that the child will follow suit. But when these behaviors are sporadic, they will have a tendency to dissipate and eventually disappear from the child’s repertoire of Jewish behaviors, involvement or attitudes. This also holds true for benching (reciting grace after meal), attending minyanim, giving tzedaka and other important religious obligations and rituals.

Finally, most children, not unlike many adults, seek and demand clarity. Instructions, directives and requests which are “fuzzy” in nature end up in the “fuzzy bucket”. This means that they will not have true clarity as to why a particular comment, behavior or action is or is not appropriate or acceptable.

More often than not, parents have the tendency take the short-cut and are vague in their directives and expectations.

The need for parents to be clear and consistent are fundamental to a child’s growth, maturity, understanding and development. It may require extra time, energy and effort on the part of parents, but the clearer and more consistent a parent is with their children, the healthier and more stable the parent/child relationship.

According to the great Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), there are three aspects to consistency and clarity. They are: hearing, understanding and accepting.
In order for a child to fully understand the importance of an issue or concern, the child must first be exposed to clearly hearing what the parent is saying; understanding why the parent is say and doing and finally, accepting what the parent is trying to convey –whether it be verbally or through non-verbal ques.

The implications for parents should be obvious. We must be clear, and consistent with our precious children. Anything less, produces confusion, and G-D forbid eventual rejection.

3. Love:
Love (ahava) for our children must always be transparent, honest and unconditional.

According to many commentaries, our children are the most precious diamonds in our possession. We bring them into this world, nurture them as they grow and develop, and do everything possible to ensure that they pursue a path imbued with derech ertz, Jewish values and middot tovot.

All of the other attributes and characteristics (in this writer’s opinion) are important. But, they do not compare to the profound love we have for our children.
Although the Torah does not explicitly command or demand that we love our children, there are many references to the concept of love which strongly suggests this relationship.

Several quotes which attempt to close this gap are:

“Denying a child’s religious knowledge robs the child of an inheritance (Sanhedrin 91b)

“Never threaten children, either punish them or forgive them” (Shemot 2:6)

It is important to note that according to many commentaries, the desire and ability to love a child is so obvious and profoundly important that the Torah does not need to command us to do so. It is viewed as a natural extension of our lives and our true instincts.

The challenge of how we show or exhibit love to our children is not anchored in the “if”, but rather the “how”.
According to our Sages (Sanhedrin 107b), it is said that children need to be pushed away with the left hand and brought closer with the right.

This suggests that “children need to feel love, trust and closeness with their parents, at the same time that they feel the respect and awe that come with a certain degree of distance” (Raising Roses Among Thorns, Rabbi Noach Orlowek, 2002.

Effective Jewish parenting has its very roots and foundation in the manner in which we bestow love on our children. Whether it be blessing our children Friday night prior to Shabbat Kiddush or other ways in which we demonstrate our true and sincere love for them, one thing is clear, ahava or our children will always endure. It is a relationship parents have with their children which is unlimited, timeless and everlasting.

4) Perseverance (Hasmadah):
An integral component of effective parenting is our obligation and commitment to preserver in our mission to ensure a child’s health, growth and development.
Parenting should never be viewed as a one-off obligation or commitment, but rather as a challenging and at times arduous and difficult task on many levels.

As such, it is a parent’s unswerving obligation to consciously “stay the course” and to never take our “foot off the accelerator”.

For some parents, this may require continuous reminders. For others, it may require greater clarity, perseverance and resilience. Yet for others, it may require the rebooting of a relationship with children based on trust, confidence and conviction.

Another example of perseverance as a critically import parenting “habit” can be found in Yisrael Rutman’s recent post entitled “Perseverance: The Gateway to Holiness”. He posits that perseverance is the “bedrock of Jewish tradition and is the key to spiritual success.”
One has only to read the words of Sh’ma Yisrael, the central affirmation of faith, to understand the profound importance of perseverance.
“And you shall love HaShem your GD with all of your heart, with all of your soul and all of your might”
“And, these words shall be in your heart”.
Children, know, feel and sense when their parents persevere. It leaves a very strong impression upon them regarding the message their parents are trying to convey, the commitment to the message they are conveying, and their unswerving commitment to the value and power of perseverance.

5) Positivity:

When thinking about the power of positivity and its relationship to effective parenting, I am often reminded of the statement “it’s easier to attract bees with honey then with vinegar”.

This statement rings so true when we think about the manner in which parents engage children.

There are those parents who are overly demanding and who are beyond steadfast in their conviction to either force or demand that their children pursue a particular path or course of action. Then, there are those who feel that sparing rod is paramount and that a kinder and gentler approach is the more attractive or preferred course of action.

Parenthetically, this latter approach is encouraged and supported by this writer.

The concept of “positivity” as an effective parenting approach is paramount.

The great Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l was one of the staunchest advocates for positive thinking. His philosophy “if you think positive, it will be positive” has had a profound impact of our way of thinking and the Jewish community.

“Positivity” is powerful. When parents encourage and exhibit positivity, it definitely impacts on a child’s and a family’s state of mind, demeanor and attitudes.

Effective parenting has its roots and foundation in “positive thinking”. Children want to be inspired, informed and encouraged through positive thinking and through a positive demeanor.
In the final analysis, it’s just as easy to smile as it is to frown. Opting for smiling goes a longer way than one can ever imagine.

6) Being Present:
There is nothing more challenging than having a parent who is not present in a child’s life.

The concept of being present, is not only a physical manifestation, but one which involves being present psychologically and emotionally in a child’s life.

More often than not, we hear about parents who may be present physically, but who are far removed from their child’s needs, wants, desires and wellbeing.

In this later case, concerted efforts must be made to ensure not only a physical presence but one which also supports the emotional needs of the child.

The Torah teaches us that when the B’nai Yisrael gathered at the base of Sinai to receive the Torah, they were K’ish Echad, B’lev Echad – Like one person with one heart.
The “one heart” phrase is a beautiful metaphor with a series of very revealing commentaries. The children of Israel were not only physically present but they were present in mind, heart and soul.

This presence represents a state of being that transcends the physical.

Children need to know and feel secure that their parents are emotionally connected to them. It is not sufficient to only be physically present, but the need to be supportive, empathetic and sympathetic. It is also essential that parents make themselves available to their children and create a shared head-space for support, love and understanding.

7) Modeling:
One of most powerfully important parenting challenges and characteristics are those which involve modeling behavior.

The manner in which parents model middot tovot, derech eretz and shmirat haLashon, is probably one of the most critically important characteristics of effective parenting.
Today, we are unfortunately living in a society that is devoid if not absent from these values or virtues.

Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, z”l, known as the the Stiepler Rav, is quoted as saying that “role modeling is 50% of child-rearing”. As such, one of the most important challenges for our community is to ensure that our parents have the resources to assume these awesome responsibilities.

Finally, we know how impressionable our children are; and, that they are greatly dependent upon others for guidance, inspiration, validation and direction.

Being exposed to parents who are true Torah-observant role models is no longer a luxury….. It is an imperative.

8) Know Your Child:
More often than not, most parents “know” their children and have a pretty good sense regarding their children’s likes, dislikes, sensitivities and attitudes. This is indeed a bracha.
Having said that, as much as we think we “know” our children, there is a remote possibility that there are those parents who only know their children in their familial orbit or presence, and not necessarily when their children are either out of the home, unsupervised with friends or on their own.

This is not to suggest that these disparities exist, but it does encourage parents to place these issues and concerns on their radar.

The lesson here is that irrespective of how well we think we know everything about our children, there may be much that we do not know. This is just a reality of which we have no control.

As a result of this gray area, it is imperative that parents try to break down as many barriers as possible in order that they be more informed about their children.

There is obviously a very fine line between knowing, the need to know and depending upon age, providing our children with healthy spaces they require in order to develop and grow.

Nevertheless, it is imperative for parents to develop close, healthy and trusting relationships with their parents and visa versa.
The seeds of trust that parents sow with their children at an early age will necessarily guarantee meaningful relations between parents and their children, as their children mature.

End Note:
The eight habits of highly effective Jewish parents, as described in this article, are but a small fraction of the characteristics of effective parenting.
As we respond to the evolving religious, social, emotional and cognitive needs of our children and their families, it is imperative that our Jewish community continues to explore new modalities, models and opportunities.
We have the brainpower; and, we have the resources. Needed is a sense of urgency which places this challenge at the very top of our communal agenda.
Together, we can make this happen.
We can do this!


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