Thursday, April 19, 2012

Parenting Skills

[See Wednesday's Picture of the Day at Life in Israel]

Over the past couple of years, as my oldest child has moved into teenage years, I've noticed a change in the skills needed for parenting. This is obvious once you think about it – why shouldn't parenting change as children change? – but I'm trying to put my finger on how the needed skill-set changes.

It seems to me that parenting younger children requires four skills: Patience, Advance Planning, Physical Stamina, Confidence-Building.

Patience enables you to deal with frustrations as well as tedium, whether they are a product of the child's will or the child's world.

Advance Planning enables you to avoid problems in the first place, by setting up your child for success.

Physical stamina is critical, from midnight feedings/changings to the long hours needed in blending parenting with the rest of life.

Confidence-Building is huge, in helping children mature with a sense of what they can do, and how they can interact in a healthy way.

I don't know that any of these skills are less necessary with teenagers, but it seems to me that as parents shift from the role of Maker to the role of Counselor, other skills become equally important, or more important: Tzimtzum, Insight, Subtlety and Respect.

Tzimtzum in knowing how not to speak, and how not to be visible in a way that intimidates or encroaches.

Along with tzimtzum comes Subtlety in expressing ideas in ways they will receive well.

Insight in understanding what's behind your child's conduct, or the conduct of those around him/her.

Respect in understanding and appreciating what your children accomplish.

What do you think? Where am I wrong, or what am I missing?


  1. when to be mtzamtzeim and when not (or as I used to say "when to hold em, when to fold em")
    Joel Rich

  2. As the parent of three teenagers and a former high school teacher, I'd like to chime in here...
    It's very important to remember that although our teenagers look like young adults, they are still children emotionally, and their sense of judgement is often short-sighted and immature. Your four skills imply that a parent should get out of the way and allow the child to gracefully mature. Problem is, most teenagers do not gracefully mature. They experience confusion, mood swings, over-sensitivity, self doubt, confusion and irrationality on a daily basis. (Living with teenagers can be like living inside a popcorn popper.)
    Most will never admit it, but they desperately need their parents to be a very visible presence in their lives, to help them hold the line against their own impulsiveness. The kids who get into trouble are the ones whose parents step back too much and assume that "he's not a little kid anymore, he knows what he's doing." Your four skills must be balanced with knowledge of and involvement in your teenager's daily life. The tricky part is finding the balance between involvement and over-involvement.
    Good luck. It ain't easy, but if you do it right, the rewards are fantastic.

  3. Tzimtzum are respect are great observations tools I should work on.

    I think it's important to help a teen see his/her strengths. My 12 yr son is abnormally argumentative (he will even argue about being argumentative). We've explained that this is useful in gemara, standing up for what's right, and also an important trait when trying to understand things in school. Of course, he only "heard" that Abba and mommy gave him a heter to argue.

    I find that with it's also important when I deal with him to say out-loud, "I'm exercising patience with you right now" or "I'm treating you with honor". This shows him that behavior is a choice and middos can be tools.

    As an aside. I use to say things like, "You are not showing Kavod to your [parents,sisters,etc", then I switched to the word respect (which you used in your post). Recently, after working on a write up about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter's 13 Middos, I switched from "respect" to "honor". I did some research (aside from my Shilo and Ben-Yehuda dictionaries) and felt that "honor" was a better translation. This has had a major impact on my son. When he's yelling and I say to him, "You're not choosing to treat me with honor" or when I say, "I honored your wish to stay up and watch some of the baseball game, now you have to honor the agreement to go to sleep" he is much more receptive.

    This could be be due to the fact that the world "honor" isn't one he hears alot or because "honor" seems more of an abstract idea to him (like freedom) than respect, which seems very one-sided.

  4. Joel-
    Yes, that's part of it. And part is more subtle, I think.

    Very much agreed. I consider this a list of skills rather than deeds, though. Could you identify a particular rule-making skill that should be listed?

    Very much agreed. And I think honour [Canadian, eh?] is a decidedly more powerful term for teens who are familiar with the culture in which we live.