Ask Morah Leah
Q: “With everything going on here in Israel right now, how can I help my children feel safe?”
Feeling Secure in an Insecure World
As parents, the safety of our children is a main concern. How do kids think? A recent survey in Israel found that videos of terror attacks on social networks caused trauma in 80% of the children aged 8-15 who viewed them. Younger children are, hopefully, not exposed to these videos, but news reports on TV can also be a problem. A feeling of safety and security is of primary importance for your child’s emotional development. All kids look to their parents for safety. So how do we make our kids feel safe in an insecure world, even when we ourselves may have fears?
The outside world can be chaotic, scary and unpredictable. The antidote is routine and consistency. Setting limits for your kids makes them feel safe. They feel more secure when they know exactly what is permitted and what boundaries they must not cross. Children feel safer when they know that their parents are in control.
When explaining danger to small children, “less is more”. Explain that some things outside the home are not always safe; for example, crossing the street without holding a parent’s hand. You might say, “This is why G-d gave you good parents - to show you the rules that will keep you safe. Your job is to always do whatever Mommy and Daddy tell you to do”.
Setting Goals for Your Children
Any teacher will tell you that threats of punishment rarely work to control unruly behavior in a classroom. Draconian measures might work in the short run, but the end result is resentment and rebellion. What does work is setting clear goals and expectations in which the students can look forward to some reward for their efforts.
With our own children, it is also best to avoid threats of punishment, which if carried out causes resentment, or even worse, if not carried out causes the child to lose faith in the parent. A better strategy to gain cooperation from your child is to set a clear goal and offer a reward for meeting that goal. A reward can be as simple as a hug, a gummy bear, or a new activity. The real reward for the child is your approval and his or her feeling of accomplishment!
Routine and Ritual in the Home
Every day is different, and things cannot always go smoothly, but children love routine, so it is important to put into place certain routines that you can almost always stick to. Some examples might be washing hands before a meal, helping to set or carry food to the table, brushing teeth, and reading a story before bedtime. At the same time, giving kids acceptable choices gives them some independence. Let them choose which book to read, or which color toothbrush to buy.
Judaism has beautiful rituals that delight children, giving them memories of a peaceful and secure home. The Torah, in its wisdom, offers many built-in routines, such as saying thank you to G-d first thing in the morning and reciting the Shema prayer at bedtime. The Friday night Shabbat meal, with candle lighting, Kiddush on the wine and sweet challah is a weekly event that everyone can look forward to. Of course, there’s also Chanukah, Pesach and Sukkot. Preparation for the holidays is just as meaningful and fun as the event itself. Routine and rituals give children a sense of profound wellbeing. Knowing that G-d is looking out for them and their parents makes children feel safer.
We have been blessed with an awesome responsibility, but the truth is that no parent is perfect. The good news is that kids are resilient! Chances are that you will have a secure and happy child if you keep in mind that children feel more secure when they know that you are in control.
Leah Urso holds a B.S. in Child Development & Learning and an M.Ed. in Special Education.
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