Thursday, December 24, 2015

Vayechi 76 - R' David Pelcovitz - Balanced Parenting , a response by Allan Katz

Guest Post by Allan Katz

Here is a response to R' David Pelcovitz's views on parenting -' Balanced Parenting ' gleaned from the 3 keys of parenting talk - not the book. So the response is very much about what is stressed and emphasized in talks and what is missing. R' David Pelcovitz talks about the 3 keys of parenting. (1) Balanced Parenting – the balance between limit setting and love, (2) Perspective taking and (3) nurturing the Uniqueness of your child.
I will start with nurturing the uniqueness of your child as this is alluded in our Parasha. Jacob blesses his sons in a way that seems to be more about describing their personalities and sometimes being very critical when their inherent natures were used in an inappropriate way – like that of Shimon who with his brother attacked the city of Shechem. In fact, the city of Shechem is inscribed on the flag of Shimon, the flag representing the essence of the tribe. Rabbeinu Yeruchum explains that the blessing was a stimulus for personality growth based on the unique strengths and natures of Jacob sons'. Developing their inherent uniqueness would not only lead to character actualization and perfection but also have a ripple effect on other lesser dominant traits. 'So hoping that your kid will realize your dreams for yourself or a 'one- size fits all ' approach with the same parental expectations for all kids - everyone to Ivy League or Lakewood etc. Is not the way to go and certainly will not help the child to achieve his uniqueness.' Your wishes and blessings for your kid must relate to his innate talent and character , something for which you are also grateful - DP

I suggest it is not only about focusing on a child's strengths and sending a kid to a school that fits the kid, we need to also support his autonomy in order to help him realize his potential and give expression to his uniqueness. Kids should feel that they are the authors of their actions, 'self –determined - endorsing their actions on the highest level of reflection and connected to their inner –beings, souls and core values. When we support their autonomy, we enhance the uniqueness of the children.

'Perspective taking is a key skill and value needed to be successful in human relations like marriage and in the work place. When kids see parents treating each other with respect and parents being able to see the perspective of others with whom they disagree, kids internalize this value better than being told how to behave. ' - DP

R' David Pelcovitz advocates a balance between Love and limits, that a child's behavior is contained with limits but there is always love no matter what the kid does. He suggests that we are love specialists and weak on limit setting. To give context to his words and dramatic effect he refers to a book by Jean Twenge on how kids are becoming ever more narcissistic and this is due to permissive parenting and the fear to set limits and enforce them with consequences. He uses anecdotal evidence of silly parents from dysfunctional families , in the same way as many articles on today's parents show that instead of disciplining kids they coddle them and shield them from frustration and what we get is a generation of narcissists with a sense of entitlement . He quotes Twenge who says that the sign of the times is that ' obedience ' - to be obedient children is no longer a goal that parents have for their children.

I want to suggest that if we focus on one key - being responsive to a child's needs and particular supporting a child's autonomy, we have an integrated system and don't have to balance between love and limits and we promote perspective taking and the uniqueness of the child.

. DP talks about for a need for a balance between limits and loves and he says that if one does not have a good relationship with a kid, imposing limits will lead to rebellion. And this reminds me of the ADHD specialist who told parents that if they have a good relationship with kids, it will make your consequences and punishments more effective. And this is where I disagree. A good and loving relationship is our goal, relationship is also a skill kids need to learn and it depends on how we set limits and why we set limits while still supporting their autonomy. Relationship isn't for helping you make limit setting more effective. Everyone agrees that people and especially children need limits but the question is how you set limits, the parent or teacher alone, unilaterality or together with the child and how do we deal with problems and infractions focusing on CPS – collaborative problem solving and teshuva or with consequences. Is it a' working with' approach or a 'doing to' approach? When the parent's concerns are being addressed by the solution, a limit is being set, and the limit is also something which the child has participated in creating. If we are really interested in a child's moral development we need to help them to grapple with the issues at hand and try figure out the limits and boundaries needed and generate choices and solutions. We want kids to learn to set limit themselves, limits that are intrinsic to situations, limits that are decreed from the situation itself and this is done grappling with the underlying values of how to behave in the context of different situations. This is not about imposing rules and limits but rather helping kids to live according to principles and values.

When we parents and kids solve problems in a collaborative way, perspective taking and understanding the concerns of both parties is crucial to the problem solving process. Here, the parent not only models perspective taking by addressing the child's perspective and concerns, but the child acquires the skill as well, as he learns to articulate his concerns and take into account the concerns and the perspectives of the parent. CPS – collaborative problem solving is very different from a parent or teacher telling a kid how to behave, or even a parent making decisions taking into account the perspectives of the child. It is a collaborative dynamic where we support the kid's autonomy, his competence - as he learns to articulate his concerns, address both concerns by generating solutions that are mutually satisfactory to both parent and child. And in the process, the relationship is enhanced. So the obvious question is why not promote ' perspective taking and empathy' by the way you directly interact with your child instead of just relying for an indirect way of teaching this value?

For sure, there will times where we have to insist on a limit, thwart kids autonomy and kids will be unhappy about it, but the more we solve problems in a collaborative way , be open to discussion, they will begin to trust that our judgment takes into account their concerns and is in their best interests. This is a rather different take on limits from that of Twenge and DP who say that if we don't set limits and cause frustration and discomfort to children they will grow into narcissistic people with a sense of entitlement who won't be able to cope in the outside world. The question is are we using a 'doing to' approach ,imposing limits to contain children's behavior or are we ' working with them ' so that they grapple with ideas and figure out how the limits they need to set. 

I take issue with the idea that we are love specialists. The question is not whether we love our kids but how we love our kids. Is it with strings attached? – do we love them more when they behave themselves or do well at school and use love to leverage behavior. Even more important is how our kids experience our love, do they feel just as loved when they 'screw up and fall short.' In fact many – SDT researchers, and in the frum world R' Benzion Sorotzkin hold that ' conditional regard and acceptance ' is one of the main problems in parenting or teaching. When a kid's need for respect, love and unconditional acceptance etc. are not being met, kids compensate by becoming more materialistic but when parents are responsive to kids needs spoiling a kid never becomes a problem. Unconditional acceptance and love is not about being a permissive parent. In an illuminating passage from her book Learning to Trust (2003), Marilyn Watson explained that ' a teacher can make it clear to students that certain actions are unacceptable while still providing “a very deep kind of reassurance – the reassurance that she still care[s] about them and [is] not going to punish or desert them, even [if they do] something very bad.' Unconditional parenting means solving problems and dealing with a teacher or parent's unmet expectations using collaborative problem solving and enabling the child in an autonomous way to do Teshuva and engage in the moral act of restitution. This is rather different from imposing consequences if rules or limits are broken as suggested by DP and Twenge.

It is not the place to discuss Twenge's writings and the validity of her ideas and research Imho, difficulties with kids have to do the ever increasing demands placed on kids that outstrip their skills and development stage, a regime of high stakes testing, and an educational system that is driven by grades, the learning itself has no inherent value alienating kids from learning. I would like to comment on the negative way she and David Pelcovitz see the fact that ' obedience is no longer a goal that parents have for children. The fact is that hardly anyone would want their kids to grow up as obedient people and for sure kids themselves place no value on being obedient. Parents long –term goals for kids are usually more about being decent human being, kind people, happy and being concerned about the happiness of others, independent, critical thinkers, altruistic, fulfilled, self-reliant, inquisitive, responsible, competent, etc. Obedience and compliance are more about a parent's need for control rather than being responsive to the needs of kids. And the tools of gaining obedience and compliance are imposing limits and enforcing them with rewards, consequences and punishments which teach kids to ask what's in it for me – thus we promote the most primitive of moral behavior.

Imho it is not a balance between 2 opposing forces - loves and limits. A respectful and loving relationship with kids, nurturing their uniqueness and moral development, perspective talking and empathy is dependent on how we support their autonomy,love them, how we set limits - together and helping them grapple with issues involved, and solving problems and unmet expectations using CPS – collaborative problem solving with a focus on Teshuva - engaging in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution.

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