Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children

by Wendy Mogel

The author, a psychologist who came to believe that the power of spiritual assurance and community had more of a healing power than therapy, explains how the Talmud can help parents raise children sensibly.  She asserts that the three pillars of Jewish teaching – moderation, celebration, and sanctification – can be applied to areas such as chores, eating, self-control, and stress.  She starts with the premise that children do not belong to their parents, but are a gift on loan from God, born to leave their parents.  If you accept this, is logically follows that it is a parental duty to allow their children to be a little cold or a little hungry at times, to develop their ability to handle misfortune.  She also makes use of the principle “deed over creed” – that is, good works inform good thoughts.  It’s perfectly all right for children to feel irritated, or less than compassionate, but they should discipline themselves to act appropriately.

I was astounded at how similar this book is to Simplicity Parenting: subtract the admonition that God is commanding you to do these things, and Mogel’s book is an echo of Kim Payne’s: kids need to have good role models; kids need room to explore and fall and get up on their own; kids need less material goods so they learn to feel gratitude for what they do have; families need a day a week or an hour a day to have quiet reflection  and connection; kids should get less media overload; kids need to eat what their parents eat.  Mogel’s book does have quite a few nuggets of wisdom of her own beyond the basics, though, such as her advice to reframe children’s “bad” behavior as a strength (bossiness as assurance, complaining as discerning), her sensible tips on rebuking a child so the child keeps his dignity, or her precept that it is the certainty of a consequence, not the severity, that counts when teaching children.  Still, what this all boils down to, whether cloaked in the language of family counseling or rabbinical teaching, is the most common-sense, simplistic truths.  Be a parent, not a lawyer.  Say no and mean it.  Set boundaries.  Don’t bend over backwards for your child.  Let children see the consequences of their wrong actions.  Model good behavior yourself, obviously.  Take time to be together as a family.  It’s bizarre that so many parents don’t understand these things without needing an “expert” to tell them, but there it is. 

four stars

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