Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ki Teitze 75 Raising Happy Children

One of the primary goals of parents and teachers is to raise ' happy kids', but this obsession with their children's happiness is said to lead to unhappy adults. Psychologist and writer Lori Gottlieb in her article '  How to land your kid in therapy  ' saw that it was not only young adults from dysfunctional families that  were unhappy, felt lack of purpose, unfulfilled and needed help but also  young adults whose parents may have been too attuned to their kids , being overinvolved, over anxious and protective -  in short doing too much.  From our Parasha and the literature on happiness and well- being,   Lori Gotlieb imho  has got in wrong in her analysis and what advice should be given to parents .

The verse Devarim 24:5 talks about the one year exemption for married men  from the army for their first year of marriage. He should be free to devote himself to his home and in particularly according to the Aramaic translation- Targum  ' makes his wife happy'.  The Targum Yonatan ben Uziel translates the verse  differently  -  ' he should be happy with his wife'.  We can reconcile both translations by saying that the Torah is teaching that a person only experiences true joy and happiness when he makes other people happy as well.  Kids experience true happiness when they are also concerned with the happiness of others. Raising happy kids is important, but more important is raising kids who also care for the happiness of other people.

According to the Self Determination theory S.D.T when a kids needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are being met, they are more self- determined, intrinsically motivated and happier. So having a sense of belonging, being part of a community, having supportive relationships, being of service, making a contribution to others, caring about their happiness etc,  promotes the well-being and happiness of kids. Parents and teachers get it wrong when they help kids focus on extrinsic goals such as achievement - achieving a reputation or even fame on the sports field or in the classroom or being above average, by becoming more competitive achievers. Intrinsic goals such as deep, enduring and meaningful relationships and making a contribution , make kids happier, extrinsic goals such as status, approval of others ,wealth, achievement , being competitive on the other hand cause tension, anxiety and are associated with fear and shame.

Parents and teachers can support the autonomy of kids by not being controlling and judgmental.  When kid's autonomy is supported and have a sense of purpose and relevance,   and a meaningful and spiritual life, they are more connected to their inner core values. They will then feel self-directed and intrinsically motivated. Being unconditionally loved and accepted by parents and teachers enables them to accept themselves   as good people. Having the traits of Self-Compassion and acceptance allows kids to see mistakes as 'our friends ', an opportunity for growth.  In an illuminating passage from her book Learning to Trust (2003), Marilyn Watson explained that a teacher (parent) can make it clear to students (kids) that certain actions are unacceptable while still providing “a very deep kind of reassurance – the reassurance that she still cares about them and is not going to punish or desert them, even if they do something very bad.”  This posture allows “their best motives to surface,” thus giving “space and support for them to reflect and to autonomously engage in the moral act of restitution” – that is, to figure out how to make things right after doing something wrong – in other words to repent and do Teshuvah. “If we want our students to trust that we care for them,” she concludes, “then we need to display our affection without demanding that they behave or perform in certain ways in return.  It’s not that we don’t want and expect certain behaviors; we do.  But our concern or affection does not depend on it'.  So autonomy support, unconditional acceptance and self-acceptance and compassion promotes Teshuvah= repentance and intrinsic motivation and hence the happiness and well-being of kids.

People and kids have a need for competence and mastery. The problem is parents and teachers help kids focus on instrumental  and materialistic  ' performance  goals '  such as grades, achievement, reputation, fame ,moving to a new level, achieving milestones. Parents and teachers should help kids focus on what is being studied ,  the  process of learning, using one's skills and knowledge to teach and help others rather than to compete with others  and develop  a competence that is associated with developing of love for learning that will make them into long life learners. Instead of focusing on personal growth , competence development and self-actualization and a love for learning that leads to happier and fulfilled people the focus is on how well a kid is doing and not engagement and curiosity. Jerome Bruner said that kids should experience success and failure as information, not as reward and punishment. We should be helping kids focus on what they are doing and not on how well they are doing.   Instead of focusing on compliance and discipline, parents and teachers can use CPS and collaboratively solve problems with kids. In this way we promote relationships, competence= social and emotional skills and autonomy where kids are not simply given choices but actually generate choices.

Hillel says, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? …….." Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14   Kids who lead meaningful and relevant lives, are competent and have a love for learning, are able to make sure that their personal needs are being met and see themselves as being of service to others will be happy and successful children and young adults.

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