By RICKI D. SHAPIRO
Every morning, 20-month-old Charlotte Feldman sings a song from the siddur. She knew the Hebrew word “nun” before “no.” And when she hears a Hebrew blessing, she may not know what it means, but she’s heard the cadence enough to know when to say “amen.”
It’s because her parents, Rabbi Roy Feldman, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Abraham-Jacob in Albany and Rachel Minkin, a former kindergarten teacher, have made Jewish learning a daily part of their daughter’s life. “It’s not an extra,” they said. “It’s introducing basic Jewish values and building an ethical behavior from a young age. We are teaching her how to be a mensch.”
Based on rabbinic and personal experiences, the couple shared their insights into managing toddler behavior, enacting discipline, and setting the stage for a life based on Torah.
Consistence And Community
Children like rules because then they know what to expect. As a teacher, Rachel began each school year explaining class rules, creating a community in which children looked out for each other, and setting expectations that carried throughout the year.
Being part of a community also applies to the home and synagogue, Rabbi Feldman said. “We need to make learning fun for children, we need to make it sweet.” He cited the ever-present “candy man” in synagogues, explaining that because children equate Torah with candy, “they want to see the ark opened and kiss the Torah when it goes by. It helps lay the foundations for Judaism from a very young age.”
Know Your Child And Their Triggers
If your child has a meltdown when hungry or at naptime, don’t plan an outing for that time. And if you must, give the child a snack first and bring a favorite toy as a distraction. “When we take Charlotte out, we always take a stuffed animal or doll. If we tell her to calm down, she may not listen,” Rachel noted. “But if the doll tells her in a silly voice, she will.”
Keep a tantrum log: Are they at the same time each day? When the child is hungry or over stimulated? If a tantrum occurs because the child is exhausted, for example, no amount of reasoning will talk that tantrum away. “The best thing is to remove the child from the situation,” Rachel said, to which the rabbi added “and never underestimate the power of a hug.”
If a tantrum occurs when a child is trying to “get” something, Rachel acknowledged that in the short term it may be easier to give in, “but long term, you’re teaching the child if they scream long enough, they will get what they want. Not a good idea.”
Find The Good
As parents, “we need to adhere to the wisdom of King Solomon who said, ‘educate the child according to his own path,’ and invest in that relationship to find out what makes the child tick,” Rachel said. She admitted it’s easy to become frustrated with a child who demands love and attention. “By practicing ‘ahava,’ that loving is giving, the more that you give to a person, the more that you will love them.”
Set Your Child Up For Success
Keep track of —and acknowledge — when a child is being good, especially when that child is more often reprimanded. “Better for them to know what is right than constantly being told when they are misbehaving,” Rachel advised. Additionally, she said children want to do well, and if they don’t, it’s often because they are missing a skill to succeed. “As parents, it’s our job to help the child find that missing skill,” she said.
Train a child in the way he should go —Proverbs 22:6
While a teacher is an advocate for a parent, it’s the parent’s obligation, and in fact is considered a mitzvah, for a parent to educate their child, Rabbi Feldman said. “The most important thing a parent can do is spend time with their child. Children learn through immersion and modeling. Sing the Sabbath songs. Dip apples in honey at Rosh Hashanah. Hold the shofar and let them hear the different blasts. Have them hold the lulav and etrog on Sukkot, and spin the dreidle at Chanukah. Maimonides said we should introduce —and children will understand — ideas as they are age appropriate.”
This too shall pass
At the end of a frustrating day, it helps to remember that “this too shall pass,” both admitted. “At some point, your child will not want to sleep in your bed. Tantrums will not last forever. And ‘little kids, little problems’ will become ‘big kids, big problems.’ But if you’ve shown your child that he/she is an important part of your life, if Judaism is part of a ‘whole-istic’ education, you’ve set the stage for lifelong learning to come.”