7 Jewish Parenting Principles

Adapted From: Yael Trusch

  1. Parenting Is a Partnership: “There are three partners in the making of man: the father, the mother and G‑d” (Kidushin, 30b).

Hashem is a partner in this parenting endeavor. We should try to rely on Divine assistance because quite frankly, this task is at times (if not at all times) beyond our human capacity. The Midrash attests to the fact that Hashem does not make excessive demands of us. If He gave us these children, it means that they are the perfect match for us and we for them – hard as it may be to believe at times! But we should not despair because it also means that it is not all up to us! Most of the credit belongs to Hashem.

  1. Capitalize on Core Competencies: “Educate the child according to his way and when he’s old he will not depart from it … ” (Proverbs 22:6)

Hashem gave each of our children unique personalities, strengths and weaknesses. We must recognize and respect their individuality. The inherent way of a child, his or her G‑d-given traits, should not be suppressed by parents. Rather, we should cultivate them to the fullest, bearing in mind that negative traits should be channeled positively.

In addition, the chachamim explain that children must be trained in self-discipline. Parents have to set boundaries and change their habitual natures until they attain sovereignty of mind over heart. Living a life that is guided by the framework of Torah law provides plenty of opportunities to exercise mindfulness over impulse and hone this ability.

  1. Compliance Remains Key: “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days should be lengthened” (Exodus 20:12).

If your children exhibit chutzpah sometimes, you will not be the first parent to experience the situation. Children are not naturally inclined to treat their parents with respect; hence, the need for the Fifth Commandment, which is about behavior, not feeling. Its inclusion as one of the “Big Ten” suggests that rude children are nothing new. But it also teaches us how to prevent them from turning into self-absorbed, thoughtless adults.

Jewish psychologist and parenting expert Wendy Mogel points out in The Blessing of a Skinned Knee that children “will only accept your guidance and heed your advice if they respect you… If you don’t teach your children to honor you, you’ll have a very hard time teaching them anything else.”

By honoring their parents, children will be more likely to respect authority, the older generation, and in turn, make the leap from family to community. Their reward will thus be length in days to contribute to this world.

  1. Hedge With Love: “The right hand draws near and the left hand pushes away” (Sanhedrin, 107 b).

Shelomoh Ha’melech (a”h) warned us of the following: “One who withholds his rod, despises his child,” (Mishlei13:24). Yet as naturally loving parents, we often wonder: How much discipline and how to discipline? We do it with the less dominant hand – “the left hand.”

Our chachamim emphasize numerous times that “the left hand pushes away.” Discipline should be implemented rarely, and we can influence our children more if we approach them be’darkei noam – pleasantly and peacefully. The Rambam (a”h) advises that it is best to take the middle path, and in his parting letter to his children he urges them to always “consider what you are going to say before letting the words escape.” That suggests that parents should stop yelling.

Jewish psychologists and parenting experts recommend keeping ratios in mind to help us apply the aforementioned statement from the Talmud. There should be an 80:20 ratio of positive to negative interactions with our children and our spouses and 90:10 for teenagers. Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski recommends a 70:30 ratio. Whatever ratio works for you and your individual child, the message is clear: temper the discipline with a heavy dose of love.

  1. Stick to the Fundamentals: “The soul of man is a candle of G‑d” (Proverbs 20:27).

A Jewish child has a neshamah that “is truly a part of G‑d above” (Tanya, Chapter 2). Focus on this fundamental part of your child and see the good inherent in them. Moreover, just like when we hold a candle near a large flame it will be attracted to the larger flame, our neshamot are attracted to its Divine Source. When we train our children in the observance of mitzvot, we afford them the opportunity for their neshamot to shine overtly.

Many mothers add one Shabbat candle for each of their children. Teach your children that the world is brighter because of their existence. Imbue in them the understanding that they are a “light unto the nations” (Yeshayah 42:6).

  1. Be a Mentor: “For I know him, that he will instruct his children and his household after him, so that they will keep the path of G‑d, to do righteousness and justice” (Bereishit 18:19).

We are our children’s teachers of right and wrong, based on the Divine blueprint set for humankind: the Torah. Perhaps this is best seen in the connection between the Hebrew words: “parent” (horim), “teacher” (moreh), “instruction” (horaah). We must first model how we want them to live.

The Gemara lists religious teachings, as well as universal teachings of a very practical nature, which we must impart on our children. The obligation to find them a spouse also means educating them to become emotionally mature adults, equipped to maintain familial relationships. Teaching our children a profession means providing them with the practical skills necessary to survive and succeed in life. Aside from the life-saving component, the obligation to teach our children how to swim also means teaching them the skills necessary to swim amid the risks and challenges inherent in life’s murky waters. But once we’ve taught them how, we can’t swim for them!

  1. Take Risks: “Lech Lecha” (Genesis 12:1).

“Go forth!” Hashem told Avraham when it was time for him to leave his father’s land and venture out into the unknown. This phrase, which literally means “go for yourself,” teaches us that the capabilities to go are precisely within ourselves. In order for our children to learn confidence in their abilities to triumph over life’s challenges, we must allow them to venture out into the world and work things out on their own.

In the process, we must be mindful to praise and encourage their efforts over talents. “Man was created to toil” (Iyov 5:7). Toil, not produce. Rabbi Tarfon (a”h) said, “You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it” (Prikei Avot 2:21). When we encourage effort, we foster a mindset of growth, which results in more patience, and a willingness to take risks and experiment with different tasks.

When our children are being rowdy, we want them to be angels. Yet angels are standing, stagnant beings – omdim. They don’t grow or move (Zechariah 3:7). Human beings, who are as well rambunctiously active kids, are holchim (“they are always moving”). Unlike the angels, they climb levels and can reach higher. They can fall and can get up again. Let them move, let them swim, let them grow!