Parenting Podcast: Start with Changing Your Perspective and Response, Not Your Child’s
Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting does more than challenge the conventional thinking about managing our children’s behavior. As he says, he wants to help parents meet their ultimate goals of raising happy, kind people. To do this, we need to challenge our thinking and ask ourselves how our children perceive our interactions with them.
He outlines several principles of unconditional parenting which resonate with Jewish texts. I’d like to highlight two.
1. Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts. In Pirkei Avot 1:6 we read: “Joshua ben Perachya said, ‘Get yourself a teacher, find someone to study with, and give everyone the benefit of the doubt.'”Personally, this is one of my biggest challenges, but when I can do it, I find it the most rewarding. Can I be the only one who actually felt my toddler was trying to manipulate me by getting out of bed for the tenth time or that my baby was trying to annoy me by throwing things off the high chair? The best part of giving the benefit of the doubt is that it releases you from carrying hurt feelings around. Even if the other party had worse intentions, if there’s a chance they didn’t, you can choose to believe that and let it go. With my children, they respond so much better when I try to take their perspective and treat them like the good people they are. And I don’t run out of patience prematurely.
2. Don’t stick your no’s in unnecessarily. Kohn talks about making “yes” the default answer instead of “no.” There are plenty of situations where we might say no when we don’t have to. When a kid is about to make a mess, but won’t permanently damage anything, why not just ask them to clean it up? Ask yourself, why are you saying, “no”? There’s a rabbinic principle regarding when to say yes that I learned from Rabbi Jan Katzew: “Zeh m’haneh v’zeh lochaser. When one derives benefit and the other does not lose,” the answer is “yes.” In other words, if it doesn’t really hurt anything, there’s no sense in trying to forbid it. This isn’t about being permissive. It’s about saving yourself a lot of frustrating attempts at trying to control everything. Which reminds me of one more pearl of Jewish wisdom: “Who is mighty? One who controls one’s self, as it is said, ‘One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty and one who rules one’s spirit than one who conquers a city.’ [Proverbs 16:32]”(Pirkei Avot 4:1)
Hear more of Alfie Kohn’s suggestions on how to respond to our kids in this week’s podcast.
Wendy Grinberg, RJE is a URJ Parenting Specialist.