Secrets of a Happy Home
December 7, 2023
Three parenting experts on raising whole and wholesome children
Facilitated by Elisheva Braun
So much feels transient today.
Fleeting fads; ephemeral feelings.
Even refrigerators last a fraction of their past lifetimes.
People seem more fragile, more easily shattered than ever before.
At every turn, parents worry they might break their children. (Some might say they just don’t make them like they used to.)
And yet, everything hinges on our children, the torch bearers for an emerging world.
Can we build unwavering ovdei Hashem in the depths of the 21st century? Can we help form the few among the many? The steady, sturdy future world leaders who will find their own voices and words for their own unique “Mi laHashem eilai”?
Yes, we can. Three parenting experts share how.
Meet the panelists (each their own color-coded side panel)
Mrs. Seryl Berman
Through the techniques and skills that I teach, we aim to raise children who bring nachas to Hakadosh Baruch Hu in a nachas’dig (pleasant) manner. I emphasize and empower parents to provide love and discipline in balanced proportions.
Children instinctively know that they are not equipped to run the home; they flourish when they can rely on a parent to set limits and guide them
To learn more about Mrs. Berman’s popular Nachas B’Nachas courses and private appointment opportunities, call her free 24/6 automated hotline at 848-227-7200.
Mrs. Blimie Heller
My approach centers on understanding ourselves and our children, honoring both of our humanness. It’s about connecting and coming together in a wholehearted way.
“While there are many wonderful ideals we’d like to live up to, we can only ever be where we are right now”
Blimie offers courses and private coaching in respectful parenting. Find out more at blimieheller.com.
Mrs. Esti Frank
When children feel safe and accepted as people, no matter their struggles, they outgrow most misbehaviors. It’s about finding peace and emotional balance within ourselves and guiding our children to do the same.
Love doesn’t mean saying “I love you,” a thousand times. The basis of love is accepting each child just the way that they are
Mrs. Esti Frank, founder of Binyan Hanefesh, offers Yiddish- and English-language courses on emotion regulation and chinuch. She also offers private coaching on anxiety, depression, and parenting. Call 845-581-8080 for more information or reach out to Mrs. Frank directly at 718-851-8636.
While of course we love our children, the stresses of raising them can get in the way of spending quality time together. How can we relish spending time with our children?
In a perfect world, every parent would naturally delight in spending as much time as possible with their children. We love and cherish our children to the moon and back. Additionally, children are adorable, curious, eager, and energetic, and as a bonus, our own children are similar to us in many ways. What could possibly stand in the way of embracing our time with them?
The answer is, misbehavior. It is difficult to enjoy time with a child who is uncooperative, tantruming, sulky, demanding, or entitled.
Through learning how to bring out our children’s best behavior, we automatically enjoy being with them more, which ultimately helps them feel more cherished. You can expect a lovely chain reaction, since a child feeling secure that their parents enjoy being with them will continue to be a pleasure to be with.
I used to think that to be a good mother, I had to stretch myself to make my kids happy. My kids used to ask, “Can we play with water in the house?”—an activity that inevitably left everything in the house dripping wet, and me incredibly frustrated. But I would say yes, because I thought that’s what it meant to be a good mother. Of course, I would end up soaking and annoyed.
We tend to fall for the notion that we have to push ourselves for our children beyond what feels comfortable or practical, whether that means baking sugar cookies when the house has just been cleaned or taking them to the park when we’re exhausted. We are limited human beings, and it’s important to show our children what it means to be in a relationship with another person.
“Shoulding” ourselves—telling ourselves all the things a good parent ‘should’ do for their kids—only adds pressure and only makes it harder for us to enjoy our children. Constant self-sacrifice piles up into resentment, and the parents feel like shmattes trying to be enough for their children. All kids really want is for us to be present with them.
If you aren’t happy with how you’re showing up for your children, the first step is to meet yourself where you’re at. Notice where you are, accept the struggle, and be there without judging. Instead of berating yourself, look inside yourself and ask, “What would make the time I spend with my children easier and more enjoyable?” Maybe it’s spending one-on-one time with each child, having more help around the house, letting go of certain internal pressures, or learning how to empathize instead of trying to manage your kids’ emotions.
When we share activities that are enjoyable for us and our children, we give them the greatest gift: quality time. But remember that while there are many wonderful ideals we’d like to live up to, we can only ever be where we are right now and take the tiny next steps to enjoy some of the time more.
When we are in a good emotional state, our brains produce chemicals that increase joy. When we’re anxious, moody, or just not okay, nothing will make us happy.
Getting into a calm state of mind is key to enjoying our time with our children—and enjoying everything. A regular, plain day can be so joyous when we are at peace.
How can we balance love and discipline?
In mainstream culture, we punish to teach. But the goal of discipline is to transmit important values that our children can live by, to guide and support them on the proper path. For me, the best way to support a child on the proper path is through love. I believe we can bring children close to discipline them.
What does discipline with love look like?
Let’s say you woke up to find that your child took an entire box of Snackers without permission and sprinkled the crumbs all over your carpets. First, you can express frustration; you can say, “Oh my! It’s such a mess. I’m so frustrated!” I’m a fan of communicating what’s going on inside of us. The only caveat is that we are careful not to hurt our children. If you think your feelings will be expressed in a mean way, tell your child, “I want to discuss this, but I need a few minutes to calm down first.”
Take a moment by yourself and connect to what’s happening inside. (I can’t believe it. I just vacuuming. I told him a million times that he can’t take snacks without asking. He never listens to me. Grrr…now I’ll have to vacuum again. How I wish he would respect what I tell him. I long for order and ease.) Self-connection tends to be very grounding. You can also take deep breaths and remind yourself that this is normal, that they’re kids, that the snack sneaking and crumby carpets are just a moment in time.
Once you’ve connected to what’s going on in you (either out loud or inside yourself), invite your child to clean up his mess.
Then, take the time to understand the motivation behind the misbehavior—because there’s a valid need behind all behavior, good or bad. Once you’ve found the need, discuss better ways to meet that need in the future.
For example, you might ask “Was it that you were hungry and bored and looking for something fun to eat?” If your child agrees, then the needs were food and stimulation/play (yes, sometimes we eat nosh or snacks to meet our need for play and fun!). Then you might say something like “I get that. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t want you taking snacks by yourself. What can you do next time you are hungry and bored and looking for something fun to eat?” Then you brainstorm different ideas. Maybe there are certain snacks he can eat that are fun that you’re okay with him taking. Maybe he can put it aside and ask you later. There are endless solutions.
This discussion accomplishes two things: It makes children more aware of the reasons for their often-instinctual choices, which helps them choose a better strategy the next time. It also makes children feel understood and loved. As the quote goes, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
Love doesn’t mean saying “I love you” a thousand times. The basis of love is accepting each child just the way that they are. Parents are so busy disciplining, lecturing, and modifying their behavior that kids often grow up thinking that they need to change; they’re not okay the way they are. Even if discipline appears to work, it scars kids. These negative messages ruin children’s self-esteem. The storehouses of emotions—of inadequacy and negativity—can erupt and cause havoc.
The truth is that if a child isn’t ready to learn, all the tutors, therapies, and consequences in the world won’t help.
Self-esteem is at the core; it’s the bottom-line answer for depression and anxiety. So let them be hard kids. Don’t worry about fixing them. If we tolerate their issues, if we allow them to feel good about themselves, they will be okay. As long as their self-esteem isn’t hurt in the process, kids manage; they learn and adapt as soon as they’re ready to.
With that said, when a child needs to be disciplined, we do have time-outs. It’s important to do this in a calm, loving way. Don’t get pulled into a power struggle; don’t get angry, don’t argue, don’t explain. When you stay calm and consistent, you give children the security of knowing that even if they act out, their parents can handle it—they aren’t fazed, they’re calm.
Did you notice that teachers with good classroom management rarely punish? It is when a class is out of control that assignments are given frequently. When a parent does inner work, adjusting their attitudes and expectations, manner of addressing conflicts, etc., we can aim for good behavior in a pleasant fashion.
My approach relies heavily on giving the parent the confidence to take on their role with strength in the knowledge that a child needs and desires a parent’s leadership. Children instinctively know that they are not equipped to run the home, and they flourish when they can rely on a parent to set limits and guide them.
How do we know when we’re spoiling our kids and where to draw the line?
As a child, I always wished I had Hello Kitty stuff. When my daughter was little, I bought her Hello Kitty backpacks, stationary, toys…Hello Kitty everything. When my daughter asked, “Why are you buying so much Hello Kitty? I don’t want all this,” I realized that I had bought it all for myself.
A lot of times, spoiling comes from parents’ guilt. They feel the need to give more to their child; they’re trying to compensate.
Another common reason for spoiling is that a parent can’t tolerate their child’s unhappiness. Instead of acknowledging and accepting their feelings, they give them everything except the one thing they really need. But the ignored emotions don’t stay dormant forever. They eventually crop up and make themselves heard.
Overall, it’s always best to keep things simple. Children should work hard for anything extra. I believe that if there’s enough acceptance and joy in the home, children have everything they need, and there’s no reason to spoil them.
A story is told of the Alter of Kelm, who had a yeshivah that catered to bachurim from wealthy homes. In this unique yeshivah, porridge was served as the only option on the menu for breakfast, lunch, and supper.
One day, a mother came to town to visit her son in yeshivah. She was horrified to see what he was eating, and she approached the Alter and handed him a wad of bills, explaining that she wanted her son to have chicken for supper each evening.
The Alter responded, “This is something I can’t do.”
“Fine,” she said. “I understand. I’ll sponsor chicken for all the bachurim for supper each night.”
“If you can guarantee that your son will be able to afford chicken for supper his whole life, then he can have it now in yeshivah,” said the Alter. “But if you can’t promise that, then its best for him to have porridge with everyone else.
Children are a gift and blessing. Each is a pure neshamah with personality, traits, dispositions, and talents waiting to unfold. Our role is to guide them on the proper path, so that they can actualize their potential and become healthy, well-balanced individuals who are happy and able to serve Hashem with joy and get along well with others. We need to keep them clothed and nourished. At the same time, their formative years set a blueprint for their futures, so we want to pay attention to their middos development and coping skills. It’s a good idea to be future-thinking when raising our children, so we can equip them for life.
Children ask for things all the time, so we have unlimited opportunities to say yes and an abundance of instances where “no” is called for. Each instance needs to be evaluated on its own. A handy rule of thumb is that if there is no reason to deny the request, go ahead and give it with love and generosity. If there is a reason to withhold, do so with security that it is a favor to a child to allow them to learn during their youth that they are made of strong stuff and can handle disappointment. Sometimes a person wants something, but if it isn’t beneficial or proper for them to have it, they are better off without it.
There’s no universal measurement for “spoiled”; everyone has a different yardstick. Some parents are so afraid of spoiling their kids that they become overly restrictive. Others give, give, and give until they’ve maxed themselves (and their credit cards) out.
I feel that when a parent honors themselves and their own limitations, it naturally creates times when they have to say no and teaches children what it means to not get everything they want. This ties back to my first answer, where I mentioned the importance of factoring our own needs and desires into our decisions.
When something seems too expensive, exhausting, or overwhelming, it’s your cue to say no. Instead of stating arbitrary refusals for the sake of “not spoiling the kids,” your nos become your personal limits. Kids more easily accept and respect logical no’s than random, meaningless ones.
How can we give over our values without forcing or coercing?
Modeling is always the best way to go. Let’s examine the example of a mother who bakes challah every week. That is by far the most effective way of encouraging her daughters to do the same when they become married women.
There are two very effective ways of adding power to our modeling: 1. Inviting your children to do it with you, and 2. explaining to them, when age appropriate, “I love making challah because…” or, “Do you know why I make sure to make challah even when it’s been a hectic week…?”
Our children are soaking up what we say, especially if we share it with them in concise form, while we are actually involved. Aim to phrase the words as a commentary on what you are already doing, rather than as a mini speech about what they should do.
If our goal is to transmit our values to our children, pushing them to do things rarely helps. If anything, it often causes them to have negative associations with those activities.
Modeling is the first way to transmit values. That doesn’t mean taking on a fake persona. We want to try to be the person who embodies the values we want our children to have.
But parenting also requires leading. When does our guidance become hurtful?
When a child tells us, for example, that he doesn’t want to bentsch, a lot of feelings can surface for us. A simple exchange can have us picturing him completely off the derech, chas v’shalom. Instead of using this tense energy to push him, we can turn inward and compassionately be with what’s going on inside of us. I’m a firm believer in encouraging children to do things they don’t feel like doing. We can empathize with their struggle while reminding them that this is what is expected of them. But when you sense tension in your body, it’s a sign that you’re entering pushy territory, a good place to stop.
Children naturally do as they see. When we model good values in a loving setting, our children tend to follow them. When there’s anger and negativity, there’s a need to defy. It’s deep, unhappy feelings that dictate rebels’ decisions.
How can we handle tantrums—the toddler version, the teenaged type, and everything in between?
In our society, we are deeply uncomfortable with unpleasant emotions. We haven’t learned to be okay with them. Our knee-jerk reaction to a tantruming child is to shush them—whether with soothing words, distractions, or a lollipop.
Tantrums are simply emotions—emotions on steroids that take over the whole body.
We’re all designed by Hashem to feel emotions. Like waves, they rush in, they peak, and, if we welcome them, they leave. Although they can feel deeply uncomfortable, shutting them down tends to wreak all kinds of havoc.
Our job as parents isn’t to fix or manage our kids’ deeply unpleasant feelings, it’s to simply welcome the emotions and let them run their course. I wouldn’t suggest ignoring your tantruming child. Try to be there. Connect to what’s going on in your own body as you witness your child riding the storm. The storm, with all its turbulent emotions, will pass. Think of a rainstorm. You can’t dismiss, smother, or soothe it. All you can do is wait for it to pass.
Kids are very tuned into what’s happening internally for you; they can sense when you’re present for their pain and not being engulfed by it. Try not to white-knuckle through it—loosen your clenched muscles and breathe. You don’t have to sit at your child’s side throughout the tantrum. You can go about making supper or whatever it is you were doing while still being internally connected to your child in pain and periodically checking in on them. Your child will sense your presence and empathy.
One of the most impactful ways to help children build resilience is to let them feel unpleasant emotions. That’s how they learn that it won’t kill them or you and that they can tolerate them.
Learning to be there through intense emotions (your own and your child’s!) is not a lesson quickly mastered. Remember, it’s a step-by-step process. Meet yourself where you’re at. Have patience with yourself as you slowly progress.
Tantrums are strong emotions that need to be let out. Many times, they’re also a call to be heard.
Give your child space to express themselves. Show that you hear them—although you may not agree with them. Stay consistent, stay calm, and the tantrum will eventually subside.
When children see that their parent isn’t fazed by their behavior, they feel a strong sense of security and they’re able to calm down. It all comes down to the parent’s emotional balance.
We hear so much about what we should do as parents. The responsibility can feel like a heavy weight; it seems that we have to be malachim to do it right. How can we balance devotion to children with taking care of ourselves?
When we feel we have to be word-perfect every minute of the day, we’re under a lot of stress, and we have a much harder time functioning. When we feel a strong need to be a flawless parent, we get burned out very quickly.
Don’t overdo parenting. Realize that it’s okay to make mistakes. Most importantly, learn to be there for yourself.
When we’re drained at night, we can connect to the stresses of day so we don’t wake up the next morning with a bag of stresses from the day before. When we parents do our own emotional healing, we learn to regulate ourselves and give ourselves space so we have the strength to parent properly.
Parenting sits very closely next to insecurity, fear, shame, and guilt. Those emotions are constantly running in the background, and most of what we learn about parenting immediately triggers one or more of them. I have so much compassion for that! I feel those things too.
None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes, and I believe that’s okay. Hashem put the wonderful gift of repair into the world. Any time we’ve done something that doesn’t align with our values—which we all do—we can turn the moments of disconnection into moments of connection through repair.
If we approach our kids filled with shame and guilt, we may inadvertently put pressure on them to make us feel better. That’s not the kind of repair we want to do, so healing really begins with forgiving ourselves.
First, let’s hold ourselves with compassion and forgiveness. We can feel sad about what we did and then recognize that we aren’t bad people, just flawed, struggling, normal ones. Remember that all parents struggle and slip up. All we can do is slowly, gently, take one step at a time toward change.
In handling tantrums, we discussed allowing our children to experience unpleasant emotions. You might be wondering, then, Why do we need to repair? Isn’t it okay for children to experience pain?
Kids can handle unpleasant emotions as long as they’re supported in processing them and aren’t alone. What creates the traumas and wounds we all carry? The fact that no one held us in our pain.
When we yell at our children, they feel hurt. They can’t process the pain alone. That’s why the goal of repair is to undo the aloneness our children felt in their hurt when we were yelling. “When I yelled at you, I imagine you felt scared and alone,” you might say.
Often, the child starts crying when you validate the experience. That’s your opportunity to be there with them after the fact. Sometimes an apology is in place. Other times, you may choose not to explain yourself. But just undoing the aloneness can be very healing for the child and bring a sense of connection back to the relationship. Also, if the child wrongly assumed that they are responsible for your behavior, thereby internalizing a sense of shame, sharing an apology can remind them that they aren’t accountable for your actions.
No parent can do everything “right.” No parent can intuit what their child needs in all situations, especially since each child is different, and even the same child would do well with a different approach on different occasions and at different stages in their lives. Being human, without X-ray vision into their hearts and minds, we are bound to not be “perfect” for them.
That said, raising our children to the best of our ability is one of our most critical callings. Every child knows and feels to what degree their parents are putting in effort and how much of a priority parenting is for them. For our children to flourish, we don’t have to do everything “right,” but we definitely have to give parenting thought, focus, and effort.
It is a myth that labor is over when a baby is born. But to be able to properly be there for our children, we need to be cared for as well. How can we manage that?
For those who are in the sleep-deprived stage, keep in mind that there are different stages of life. Before we have children, we spend loads of time socializing with friends. We are at liberty to sleep in at times, and it is easier to just pick up and go. When our youngest begins school, we will again enjoy more freedom and flexibility. In those middle years—and beyond—do your best to be there for your children. Your devotion will be richly rewarded.
At the same time, I encourage mothers to engage in enjoyable opportunities that come their way. Some examples of good, kosher fun that will rejuvenate without taking you away from your priorities: take walks with your husband when the children have gone to sleep, get together with a sister/sister-in-law for a mini melaveh malkah, attend community events like tzedakah functions, or treat yourself to a new read from the Judaica store. Talking on the phone while you straighten up the house is a way to nourish yourself with friendship. Take a few minutes to think of what you enjoy. Explore the possibility of doing those activities with your family. Most importantly, enjoy!