Pathways To Parenting

September 12, 2021

Q&A with Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg

Facilitated by Rabbi Mordechai Resnick

Question: Many parents feel they are not qualified to answer questions on yesodos ha’emunah. They are occasionally asked basic Yahadus questions by their children, and they don’t want to give the wrong answer, but saying “I don’t know” is just not going to cut it. Imagine telling your daughter, “Sorry, sheifele, but I’m not really sure myself why Hashem cares if we do mitzvos.”

Answer: That’s a loaded question! The truth is, we teach children in kindergarten that “Hashem is truly everywhere,” but their understanding of the concept often never advances after that, and that’s all they’re left with. Sadly, I have had several experiences in which entire classrooms of children could not answer basic questions on Judaism.

Try this experiment: Stand on Clifton Avenue in front of Bagel Nosh and ask the next 100 passersby why Hashem’s Name Elokim is in the plural form. About 99 will respond that the plurality represents the dual facets of din and rachamim. Of course, this answer is dead wrong. (The idea of any plurality ascribed to Hashem is kefirah. One of the 13 Ikarim is that Hashem is completely indivisible.) The plurality of Hashem’s Name has other reasons which must be studied, but none involve any duality in His existence, chas v’shalom.

Because of the rampant ignorance, emunah education is something I strongly recommend. It is so vital, but schools need someone qualified because of the sensitivity of the subject. Emunah is a lifelong journey that must be cultivated from a young age. One great way for rebbe’im and moros to teach emunah is to initiate daily discussions in which students share something that happened that week to strengthen their emunah.

A relative of mine tragically lost several children. I once asked her, “How is it that I never saw you complain?” She answered, “I don’t understand the question. Are we ma’aminim or not?”

So how do we get to that level? Parents must be fully prepared with knowledge of emunah topics in order to know how to respond to questions on the topic. They should actively invite questions and perhaps even bring up some subjects themselves. Unfortunately, children do not always learn enough in school, and parents must compensate proactively with their own educational discussions in addition to inviting questions on this and other important topics.

Question: Lakewood children can be found hanging out with friends at all hours of the night all over town, especially high school kids. Can a parent realistically crack down on their children and know their whereabouts at all hours, and should a distinction be made between boys and girls?

Answer: The phrase “crack down” turns me off. One should never adopt a hard-line approach to parenting. Punishments simply don’t work. In America, the primary method of punishment for most crimes is jail time, and research has shown that a very high percentage of convicts return to crime after their prison terms are up. Discipline does not mean slapping or punishing for misbehavior. If you threaten your child with a punishment, they will just make sure you are not watching the next time they engage in the inappropriate act. There are those who insist on calling their disciplinary response a “consequence,” but this is just semantics.

True discipline comes from setting a good example, educating about proper behavior, and reinforcing the target behavior. Both positive and negative reinforcement are vastly more effective than “cracking down” on improper behavior. You can tell your child, “You really make me proud with the way you’re acting!” or, “You’re wild behavior really disappointed me.”

Explaining to children why we need to behave in certain ways is also a positive and effective parenting method. The conversation should not wait for the occasion to arise; we should be proactive in educating our children. Bedtime is a good case in point. Instead of enforcing a strict bedtime, one can encourage healthy sleeping habits by explaining to children why they need sleep and the consequences of going to sleep late. I personally do not believe in bedtimes, even for very young children. Children should go to sleep when they become tired, with a loving “good night” and a short bedtime story. We want bedtime to be a pleasant and relaxing routine, not one fraught with tension and negativity.

A great way to reinforce healthy sleeping habits is to make a child face the repercussions of a late wakeup after they went to sleep late. If they miss the bus because of their tardiness, do not drive them to school. The child will learn that going to sleep late results in real-life consequences, and they will not need the lesson more than once or twice for it to sink in. This is a small investment with great dividends.

Curfew works similarly to bedtime. I do not believe in curfews for adolescents. If they have been properly trained in being mindful of getting enough sleep, and they understand that coming home late makes their parents worry, they will be sure to be home every night at a reasonable time. A kid would not be out at 10 at night if the house was filled with a loving atmosphere. When the home is not a positive place and the child is not comfortable, they will go “looking for love in all the wrong places,” as the saying goes.

To reinforce a teen’s being home at a reasonable time at night, you can sit them down and explain that parents worry when a child is out too late. This conversation should take place before an actual event occurs. Rather than running your home like a prison and setting rules, tell your child that you trust them to decide their own rules so long as they don’t give you a reason not to.

If a teen does come home very late one night, whether a boy or a girl, the response should not be “cracking down” on them. Sit down with the child and say, “We have to negotiate something better. Your mother/father and I were very worried while waiting for you to come home.”

Question: When can parents put down their foot and refuse a child’s request for an expensive toy, getaway, camp, etc. even if “all” his/her friends have it?

Answer: If you do a proper job building a home filled with warmth and love, your children will not have to rely on material objects for happiness. It should be pointed out to children, “We are so lucky to have such a special, happy home! Not everyone is so lucky.” A child should be equipped to respond to friends, “I also have things that you don’t have, but I can’t tell you what they are because I don’t want to make you jealous.”

That being said, children should be able to get the occasional prize within the family’s budget. I believe in teaching money to children in a radical way. A parent should sit down with the child and explain the family’s breakdown of expenses and income. Be sure to explain ideas that are new to the child, such as mortgage, utilities, and car payments. Next, explain the concept of budgeting. If a family wants to splurge on something beyond their regular monthly expenditures, they will need to find something else to cut down on. A person can’t learn at age 30 about money if they were never taught how to budget and how to do without.

Many years ago, I went every Pesach to a hotel program as one of the speakers. All our expenses were covered because of my position. Then one year, the program closed down two weeks before Pesach. We had to decide if we would make a last-minute Pesach at home or pay for a Pesach program. I called a family meeting, and we compared the prices of making Pesach at home and paying for the program. Then we discussed whether there was anything we could do without for the next few months to cover the additional costs. By including the entire family, my children were taught important lessons in money management and living within one’s means.