“Can you please turn on the shower for me, Mommy?” six-year-old Binyamin asked politely.
Mimi paused. She was standing right next to him in the bathroom because her younger son had just finished his bath. She could easily turn on the shower, but then Binyamin would need her to turn it on every night. As a mature six-year-old, Binyamin was capable of taking a shower all by himself (including shampooing his hair and getting into his train pajamas).
“You asked so nicely, Binyamin, but no, I am not going to turn on the shower for you. I know you can do it yourself.”
Binyamin started to whine a little and Mimi knew she could end the discussion by lifting her arm and turning on the shower, but she also knew that with that act she would be forcing herself to turn it on the next night and the night after.
“Binyamin, I know you want me to turn it on, but you can do it!” Mimi said, and walked to the kitchen to allow Binyamin to figure it out on his own.
The above situation seems silly, but in reality, Mimi is teaching Binyamin a life skill. He is learning to do things on his own. One of the basic tenets of Judaism is to create self-reliant children, after all fathers are required to teach their children how to swim. As parents we are responsible for giving our children the skills they need to survive in this world. Often, in order to instill those skills, it means we have to take a step back and allow them to try things on their own – even if they fail.
In reality, children need to occasionally experience disappointment and failure in order to understand how to overcome it in the future. Dr. Wendy Mogel, in her book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teaching to Raise Self-Reliant Children, writes about the importance of balance in Jewish parenting:
[A] Parents’ urge to overprotect their children is based on fear – fear of strangers, the street. Fear of the child’s not being invited to the right parties or accepted by the right schools… Real protection means teaching children to manage risks on their own, not shielding them from every hazard… Children need an opportunity to learn about the “wave-pattern” of emotions. If parents rush in to rescue them from distress, children don’t get an opportunity to learn that they can suffer and recover on their own.
Here, Mogel asserts that children need to fail in order to understand that they can survive failure and recover. Mogel has multiple suggestions to help us turn down the worry and help create self-reliant children.
The Twenty-Minute Rule
One of the best ways to help your children gain confidence and become self-reliant is to be confident yourself. That means curbing your own worrying. If you are experiencing a perfectly beautiful family moment, and you find yourself worrying about something that might potentially happen in the future, you are worrying too much and might, in turn, be creating anxiety for your children.
Set a rule for yourself: you are only allowed to worry for twenty minutes a day. It sounds funny, but it is a good tool to use when you feel your anxiety for your children building up. Set aside a fixed period of time that you are allowed to worry about your children. At all other times, push those unnecessary, unwanted thoughts from your mind. After all, worrying is not going to change anything. It will only make you and your children fear risks and change.
Recognizing Real Concerns
There are some very real concerns that parents need to watch out for and help guide their children through. That said there are many issues that we blow out of proportion and end up stunting our children’s independence and self-reliance. You do need to teach your children to be wary of strangers and to practice safe methods when walking home from school, but if everyone else in your neighborhood lets their children of a certain age walk home from school, don’t continue picking yours up because you feel that it might be “too dangerous,” “too cold” or “too long of a walk.” By sheltering your child, you are setting him up for dependence in the future.
Teach Problem Solving
Most parents dislike when there are difficult students in a child’s class. They tell their children, “Next year, we are going to make sure you aren’t in class with Noam. He’s so wild and distracting. I am going to request that from the principal.” In reality, Mogel argues, perhaps keeping your child with that difficult classmate (as long as he is not dangerous or destructive) is beneficial.
When your child is confronted with distractions or frustrating behavior, he will be forced to figure out how to resolve the conflict. He will need to focus regardless of the distracting behavior or learn how to handle people who are problematic. After all, when your child grows up, you will not be able to call his boss to resolve an issue with his difficult colleague. Leaving him in the class will challenge your child to courageously solve his own problems.
It’s hard for most parents to acknowledge that our role is to raise children who will leave us. You have succeeded as a parent if you raise a child who is self-reliant and independent enough to live on his own. Your job is to give him or her the skills to function as fully autonomous person. If you don’t give your child a chance to fail, he will not have a chance to learn how to succeed.Rifka Schonfeld
About the Author: An acclaimed educator and social skills specialist, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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