Since my own childhood, I have had a passion for positive parenting, for which I credit my mother, of blessed memory. Perhaps because she lost her own mother at the tender age of five, she did not take being a mother for granted and consciously devoted herself to growing as a parent, by reading and attending lectures. As a little girl, I would lie on my mother’s bed, poring over the parenting manuals of that era. When I was older, she invited me to accompany her to hear Haim Ginott, the acclaimed Israeli child psychologist, author of “Between Parent and Child” and the mentor of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. (Faber and Mazlish later popularized Ginott’s teachings in their books and parenting workshop program “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.”) It was no surprise then that I internalized the deep conviction that no adult occupation is more important and fulfilling than successful parenthood and family life, inspiring my goal of becoming both a mother and a therapist, helping others develop their potential as parents and family “architects.”

Throughout the forty-plus years of my dual career as a mother and clinical social worker, a key focus has been on coaching parents in group workshops, and in individual and family therapy sessions. Years of training, study, consultation, and reading have contributed to the formulation of a philosophy of Jewish parenting and a framework of positive parenting strategies and practices in consonance with Jewish sources, such as Rav Shlomo Wolbe’s “Planting and Building: Raising a Jewish Child,” among other works. The objective of this philosophy is to foster the development of each child’s unique potential and his attachment to and identification with his parents and the Torah way of life through the medium of the eternal loving bond forged by attuned parenting. More recently, the professional and popular literature on parent-child attachment and attunement has spawned beneficial widespread interest in the creation (and repair) of the parent-child bond, and in how it functions as a prerequisite for emotional health, and the capacity to connect to others throughout the lifespan.  

For Torah Jews, this has particular relevance, as the parent-child bond generally serves as the developing child’s blueprint for his relationship with Hashem. Thus, not only does the strong, positive parent-child relationship lead to personal well-being, satisfaction and rewarding family relationships, but it also functions as the essential mechanism for the transmission of our Jewish heritage, “al baneinu v’al doroseinu – for the sake of our children and future generations.” The success of this process is essential, not only to the future of the Jewish people as a whole, but also for each individual’s fulfilment of his individual potential and purpose in life. Since the quality of the parent-child bond tends to be transmitted from one generation to another, it is not an exaggeration to state that successful parenting is truly an eternal accomplishment, and is bequeathed as an everlasting legacy to all of one’s posterity.

Often when parents seek help in addressing their children’s problems, the parent-child relationship becomes an essential focus of treatment. At that point, parents may recognize that it is difficult to meet their children’s needs when their own childhood needs were consistently unmet. Parents may need help in healing from pervasive shame, guilt, anger, and relentless self-criticism due to the harsh, or otherwise negative, parenting they suffered as children, and/or from the global self-doubt, self-estrangement, sense of worthlessness, and lack of a coherent identity resultant from the chronic absence of positive parental attention and validation in their own childhoods. Fortunately, once these issues are identified, it is generally not too late to address them satisfactorily with a combined approach of therapy and psychoeducation, to the immense benefit of the “adult children” turned parents, and their own children.

With that in mind, I hope that the following parenting pointers will contribute to the rearing of Jewish generations in which “no child is left behind.”

  1. To raise a Jewish child committed to a life of Torah and mitzvos, we have to plant the seeds of Torah through chinuch (Jewish education). However, it is the love and warmth of his parents, the happiness in the home and the simcha shel mitzvah (joy in the fulfilment of the commandments) which the parents exude in their own lives that enable those “seeds” of Torah living, and of experiencing a solid and comforting relationship with Hashem to “sprout” within the child.


  1. Parents need to create a sense of mission, ideally crystallized in an actual mission statement their goals in raising a family. Essentially, our overarching goal is to conduct ourselves and our homes in such a way that enables each family member to be fulfill his/her unique purpose in life as an individual and as a member of the Jewish people. Only if our goals and positive expectations are clear and articulated is it possible to assess whether particular choices of behavior, entertainment, etc., are compatible and desirable or not. This can be expressed as a strong positive sense of family identity, such as: Spoken like a true Goldberg! or Our family stands for chessed. Since we are our children’s most important role models, we need to monitor that we are living in a way that we want our children to emulate. Well before their teens, children become aware of any discrepancies and become turned off by apparent or actual hypocrisy on our part. By expressing our sense of family mission aloud to the children and allowing them to overhear some of our heartfelt prayers on their behalf, our relationship to Hashem becomes a perceptible reality, even to young children, rather than an abstraction.


  1. Our expectations (such as for how long a young child can be expected to sit at the Shabbos table) need to be fair, reasonable, and geared to each child’s developmental level, temperament, individual needs, and abilities, lest we create unhealthy pressure, resentment, discouragement , failure, or damage to his self-concept and spiritual development.

At the same time, our expectations need to be sufficiently high to provide appropriate challenge, stimulation and impetus for optimal growth and progress, conveying faith in each child’s inborn qualities and potential. We need to avoid comparing our children with their siblings, classmates, cousins or neighbors, or viewing their accomplishments as reflections of our own worth, treating them as our ”trophies” or lumps of clay to be molded to our specifications, instead of as separate people with innate value.


  1. Favoritism or preferential treatment for individuals or specific genders erodes our children’s bond with us. The balance of privileges and responsibilities accorded each child needs to be calibrated so that all of the children feel equally “fortunate” and fairly treated, regardless of their place in the birth order. And although each child has a unique endowment of strengths and challenges, it’s essential to validate and celebrate each child with more emphasis on praising and valuing individual effort and progress than on “kvelling” over G-d-given attributes (such as looks or intelligence) or talents for which the child deserves little or no credit.

(Nevertheless, since parents serve as the “mirror” through which the child can glimpse himself and develop an accurate, positive identity and sense of self, it is essential that they identify, validate, and encourage the development of each child’s positive potential, qualities and skills. Too many children feel eclipsed by one or more “star” or “superstar” siblings. It is the parents’ responsibility to ensure that each child shines equally in the family “firmament” and that this insistence on the equal value and status of each child is conveyed to grandparents and extended family, when necessary.


  1. Love for each child needs to be experienced and expressed daily, both verbally and physically, in an age-appropriate manner. There are four key times a day to connect with the children living at home: upon first sight in the morning, before the child or parent leaves for school or work, upon return from school or work, and at bedtime. Spending time together and debriefing individually on the events of the day, or at least on the highlights and any problems, ensures that each child truly feels “seen, heard and known.” Appropriate feedback, with an emphasis on affirmation, validation, encouragement, support and recognition, as well as coaching with problem-solving and skill-building, help each child develop an accurate, positive identity and sense of self, along with the confidence to do his best and pursue his goals and dreams without a crippling perfectionism or fear of failure, and the capacity to tolerate, confront, and overcome frustration, challenges, and obstacles. Since self-esteem is not unidimensional but multifactorial, composed of the need to feel both capable and lovable/likeable, it’s best that roughly half of parental compliments and acknowledgements focus on each child’s deeds, i.e. his positive behavior, efforts, and accomplishments, whereas the other half be in the form of purely unconditional positive regard, letting the child know that he is cherished just for who he is, as he is.


  1. A long-term perspective on discipline is needed. Although harshness, shaming and inducing fear may seem necessary and effective in the short-term, they backfire by eroding children’s innate attachment to their parents. Even if the damage is invisible at the moment, it tends to become obvious once children reach their teens or adulthood, at which point they may reject, not only their parents, but their parents’ Torah lifestyle, often to the parents’ great shock.


  1. If either or both parents have difficulty controlling their own expression of strong, negative emotions, this problem must be resolved lest it destroy the child, as well as the parent-child bond upon which the child’s future well-being and success depend. If one’s own efforts are insufficient, it can be encouraging to know that counseling can help parents gain emotional equilibrium and develop their capacity to relate in a constructive manner. Many parents have accomplished both an inner and familial transformation through counseling, and put a stop to a multigenerational negative cycle of parent-child interaction. (In extreme situations in which one parent’s habitual behavior is destructive to the children, it is urgent that the other parent seek expert advice and utilize every available resource and remedy to address the problem appropriately. Regardless of the difficulties involved, he/she must recognize that a parent’s first priority is to protect the children who are dependent upon him/her, rather than to safeguard the adult relationship with the offending parent at the children’s expense.)


  1. The parent-child relationship requires trust, well beyond the Eriksonian initial stage of child development. Earning and maintaining our children’s trust has truly far-reaching implications, as the transmission of our entire mesorah (Jewish tradition) presupposes that Jewish parents, as a group, were honest and did not deceive their children regarding the parents’ experience at matan Torah. Our children need to witness us consistently adhering to the truth in word and deed.

We all know that it can seem tempting and much more expedient to lie to our children in situations when the truth would upset them, like when we had thrown away a school project or an old toy we thought they no longer cared about, or when we plan to leave them with a babysitter after they are asleep. But by discussing all such situations openly and in advance, we not only earn our children’s trust, but actually help them prepare for and cope with life challenges. Avoiding unnecessary separations when our children are young and preparing them emotionally for necessary separations from us are essential for fostering both trust and attachment. Following through on our promises and commitments, (such as being prompt in picking children up from school and activities) creates the sense of security our children need to maintain their reliance on us. Safeguarding our children’s confidences and not discussing their personal issues with others (barring sufficient justification) demonstrates our reliability and loyalty and also fosters trust. By modeling trustworthiness, we also increase the likelihood that our children will feel a responsibility and desire to reciprocate and to uphold the trust we place in them.

 9.  To keep the lines of communication open as our children grow, it is important to begin by listening well when they are young. Listening to children’s expressions of negative emotion can be quite a challenge and stir a lot of strong feelings in us as parents. However, it helps to recognize that the child’s communication of raw emotion provides us a golden opportunity for connecting with the child, empathizing and letting the child experience that he is never alone in life, as well as teaching emotional intelligence, problem-solving skills and values. This is accomplished with a set of parenting skills known as “emotion coaching.” Emotion coaching enables children to develop the emotional intelligence essential to their success in all areas of life, and causes them to attach deeply to their parents.

10.  Through emotion coaching, children learn that whereas all feelings can be accepted and understood, our behaviors must be limited. Parents are instrumental in helping children learn self-control and delayed gratification, and the internalization of all the other values and skills which a Jewish life requires. Through our attuned parenting and our prayers on each particular child’s behalf, we do our utmost to ensure our eternal bond with each child, as he fulfills his unique mission in life and takes his ordained place as a solid link in the golden chain of Jewish destiny.