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Parenting Success

BY: Dr. Susan Gardin

Published in Jewish Press's Mind, Body, & Soul, February 25th, 2014

Many years ago, when I was a relatively new parent, I struggled with getting my 3-year-old son to pick up his toys. At the end of the day when my son and his friend had spent hours building forts from couch pillows and battling mythical creatures from the Evil Empire, I would survey the carnage of my den/battlefield with dismay. While I was grateful that the boys had entertained themselves with imaginative play (not electronic devices!) all day, I dreaded that moment before dinnertime when I would have to ask my son to put his toys away. It would have been easier to do it myself, yet the voice in my head said that I needed to teach my son responsibility. Another voice said: I’m too tired for either option.
 
It was during a conversation with my older sister, a pediatric occupational therapist, that she made a most enlightening suggestion: Rather than command my son to pick up his toys lest he become the recipient of dire consequences, she suggested saying: I wonder who can pick up the most toys the fastest? I think it’s me! The first time I uttered those words, it was like magic. With laughter and smiles, my son and I both raced to put the toys away. A task that had previously taken 30 awful, arguing minutes was miraculously finished in 10 minutes. The dreaded chore had become a wonderful shared activity. My son had learned about responsibility, making good choices and the value of teamwork, and together we built bonds that lay the foundation of the connection we share today.
 
My sister’s suggestion changed my life, and I began to view parenting from a different vantage point. With the arrival of my two beautiful daughters, I tested out new parenting skills and learned how to adapt to their unique personalities and temperaments. Decades later, I now work as a psychotherapist advising parents of children of all ages how to eliminate power struggles, build lifelong connections, and raise children who are responsible, appreciative, successful and connected.
 
I truly believe that every parent starts out wanting to be the best parent he or she can be; yet without knowledge and training, success is hard to achieve. In this, our most important task, we often lack even basic skills. Instead, we fall back on the disciplinary techniques of our parents, which may have been helpful (or not), but which may not be appropriate for our children, whose needs and temperaments may be different and who are growing up in a world that looks very different from the world of our childhoods.
 
The task of parenting is one that cannot be shied away from if we are to raise a generation that will lead klal Yisrael toward greater heights and a closer connection to HaKadosh Barch Hu. The words we use in parenting our children will echo in their ears for the remainder of their lives, impacting their self-esteem and self-efficacy, and determining whether they have the confidence to make the decisions they need to succeed, while retaining firm boundaries to protect their integrity. The parenting path we ultimately pursue will also determine whether we have our children and grandchildren in our lives for the rest of our lives.
 
Given all of this, it is essential that we take the task of learning parenting skills with great seriousness. Listed below are a few simple parenting ideas that can help you be the best parent you can be:
 
Expectations: Before setting up rules and consequences, think about realistic behavioral expectations based on your child’s age and stage of development, whether he is tired or sick, and other momentary stressors. If you are expecting your 3-year-old son to withstand a 5-hour shopping trip to the mall because you need a new outfit for Yom Tov, you are setting both of you up for failure. Alternatively, if you want to take your 15-year-old daughter on this trip, it could be a wonderful bonding experience.
 
Preparation: Before you leave home, explain to your child the planned activity and your expectations. If you anticipate a long day, plan breaks. If you anticipate boredom, prepare an alternative activity. For example, if you are going to a restaurant, bring a box of crayons and drawing paper. That way, both of you will enjoy the relaxation and enjoyment of dining out.
 
Consequences: The best consequences are natural. For example, if your son gets in his pajamas without arguments or delay, he will have time for you to read two stories; if not, there will be time for only one. When you give your child choices, you teach him responsible decision-making and reduce the likelihood of power struggles. By the time your child is an adolescent, making good decisions and taking responsibility for the consequences of those decisions will be second nature.
 
Consistency: Children are smart. The first time you are not consistent, your child learns that unacceptable behavior happens without consequences. The first time you don’t follow through on a promise, she learns that you can’t be trusted to keep your word. Once your child has either of these experiences, she will remember and test her conclusions over and over again.
 
Listen from the heart: Your children are not out to get you. If they are acting defiant or engaging in challenging behaviors, there are reasons that you can discover if you listen closely for their underlying feelings and needs. Even as adults, we sometimes “act out” feelings. Have you ever had a bad day at work, and, rather than express your frustration to your boss, come home and had less than the ideal amount of patience for your spouse? Your children also experience frustrations, hurts and disappointments. When your child suddenly lashes out or acts in ways that seem inexplicable, try to help her identify the root cause of her fury and label her feelings. Once identified, the feelings won’t be so frightening and real problem-solving can begin.
 
Dr. Susan Gardin, who has advanced degrees from Stanford, Harvard, UCLA & USC, is an emotionally-focused psychotherapist specializing in individual, marital & parenting issues. Dr. Gardin is on staff at Tikvah at OHEL (Brooklyn) where she sees clients and runs parenting groups. Dr. Gardin also runs parenting seminars for private groups (minimum 10 parents). She can be contacted at Susan_Gardin@ohelfamily.org

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