What do children require in order to thrive? Here are five vital things we must give to our children.
All children have the need to feel accepted. When we nurture our child’s feelings of self-worth, we create a sense of pride. There is an atmosphere of belonging so that the child does not feel the necessity to find acceptance elsewhere. We want our sons and daughters to know that we love them for who they are and that each child possesses a unique gift given by God. For each child, the gift is different. It can be brains, personality, sports, art, baking, music, friendship, even the ability to care for a baby. Our role as parents is to help the child discover the magic within instead of focusing on the perceived gifts that others possess.
Once we are able to do this, we can help each child feel stronger with who he is. Self-confident children can deal successfully with the ups and downs that life brings. Kids who possess self-worth will better navigate future relationships, feel resilient enough to try and risk failure, and become a source of strength to future generations.
I do not mean a child who is full of him or herself. Some children perceive themselves to be superior and knock others down. This type of self-esteem is superficial and creates an arrogant child in and out of the home. Instead, I am speaking about the unearthing of what lies beneath the soul. If we can then show our children that they can use their gift to make this world better, we transmit to each child a confident awareness that “I make a difference” and “I have value.” When a child feels inadequate, we hear lines like “I can’t,” “No one likes me” and “I’m not good enough, smart enough and popular or pretty enough.”
Parents who appreciate their children’s differences, interests and talents, encourage their children to grow confident and be happy with who they are.
We live in a sometimes scary world. Our children are aware of current events, painful tragedies and images that boggle the mind. Words like kidnapping, missiles, terrorist attacks and killings are no longer scenes from Hollywood movies. A generation is growing up surrounded by loss. And it is not just grim world news that kids must confront. I have spoken to parents whose children are fearful of returning home from summer camp because each year there are couples who announce their pending divorce. Do you feel confident that you have given your child a sense of security?
We can help assure our children by creating an atmosphere of trust. Despite the difficult world out there, know, my child that you can always count on me.
Here are practical ways to make this happen: rid yourself of chaos and commit to routines and schedules that work. Try to de-clutter so that your home environment does not feel messy and overwhelming. Keep your word: when you say you will be there don’t disappoint, and honor your promises.
A lack of consistency in rules makes a child unsure of what to expect. Wishy-washy discipline does not allow a child to anticipate proper consequences, and strips away the security of knowing right from wrong.
Most of all, let us recognize the destructive power we possess when we scream at our children. All it takes is a few moments of outrage to cause a child to feel that he is living with a parent who is out of control. Anger, yelling, sarcastic put downs and belittling removes the inborn trust that a child had but is now lost. Why would I want to connect with you if I do not feel safe at your side? Once the bond between parent and child is destroyed, it becomes very difficult to rebuild. Even if you try afterwards to spend time together and offer soothing words, lose it often enough and the harsh image and tone simmer within your child’s heart. Your son or daughter is always second-guessing – will this be a safe conversation or will I feel too vulnerable? Creating a stable home instead will enable your child to grow knowing the definition of dependable, reliable and trustworthy.
3. Relationship skills
Our children need to learn how to deal with others. Too often parents make excuses for their child’s misbehavior or hurtful words. Instead, let us concentrate on helping our kids handle their encounters. A practical way for us to do this is to open our eyes to teaching moments where kids can learn about apologies, forgiveness, gratitude, sharing, not interrupting, allowing others to be in the limelight, listening skills, overcoming the desire to hit or scream, dealing successfully with tantrums and learning how to quell angry reactions.
At the same time, it is important to impart the deference required when encountering authority. Discuss the proper derech eretz – standard of respect – while speaking to rabbis, principals, teachers, parents, relatives and elders. Just as crucial is the knowledge of how to act in a synagogue, bar and bat mitzvah, airplane, restaurant, hotel and other people’s homes. I have seen children destroy hotel lobbies while parents watch and laugh that it is not their home. Lacking social skills produces children who either bully or withdraw into painful silence. Providing the proper relationship know-how gives children character traits like loyalty, respect, unselfishness and honesty.
Teach your children to be considerate of other people’s feelings. When a sibling or classmate has been pained, it is OK and appropriate for a child to feel empathy. If possible, give your children opportunities to cultivate compassion. The unpopular kid in class who never gets invited – how do you think he is feeling? How can we try to make this better? There are many chesed (kindness) projects that our children can get involved in, instead of just focusing on themselves. This past year, a group of bat mitzvah-aged students whose mothers I teach collected hundreds of coats that we shipped off to Israel. We discussed how there are kids their age who are freezing during the winter months because they cannot afford a coat. It was an incredible day that opened up the eyes and hearts of these young girls to the suffering of other children. Compassion can be nurtured.
Children notice if their words bring a smile or a tear. They recognize from early on if they’ve brought pleasure or pain. We cannot afford to shy away from allowing them to confront their behavior and deal with poor decisions that they’ve made.
As parents, we must replace angry reactions with firm but loving discipline. We cannot expect to raise sensitive children if we, ourselves, are insensitive to our children’s needs.
Of course, all this is not possible if we lack the ability to make our children feel loved. Be generous with your affection. Hug more, laugh more, say “I love you” more. Stop making your child feel as if he is never “good enough.” Allow your children to see that you appreciate and are affectionate with your spouse. Give words of gratitude and admiration.
When you have family time, don’t seem bored and uninterested. Turn off your devices and tune in to the ones who count on you most in this world. Watch that the pressures of school, homework, carpools, bedtime and daily life do not ruin the precious moments you have together. Our families are our greatest assets. Let us create homes filled with peace so that we can transmit our legacy to the next generation.
Slovie Jungreis-Wolff is a freelance writer, and a relationships and parenting instructor. Her book Raising A Child With Soul is published by St. Martin’s Press. This article was distributed by the Kaddish Connection Network and appeared on Aish HaTorah Resources.