Nationally known child-rearing expert Ron Taffel kept an audience of parents and grandparents spellbound on Sunday morning, Nov. 3, at the Jewish Center in Princeton, as he drew hands-on experience from his audience, integrating it with the latest research on raising children.
The talk was cosponsored by the synagogue, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County, and the Cambridge School.
Focusing first on characteristics of 21st-century children, Taffel highlighted a new kind of anxiety they experience. “It’s not the anxiety that Freud talked about; it’s not a neurotic anxiety, the struggle between id and superego,” he said. “It is the anxiety of living in this pressured world.”
Another unique characteristic of this generation, suggested Taffel, is the extent to which young people are ruled by a powerful “second family,” by which he means their peer group, pop culture, and technology. To counter this, parents and communal institutions must strengthen the “first family” so that it has the same kind of power over our children.
One huge challenge for most parents is how to handle the endless negotiations initiated by their children — interactions that lead the child to view the parent simply as a provider of goods rather than a human being.
“If you keep going with negotiations,” said Taffel, author of Raising Happy Children in an Uncertain World and Childhood Unbound, “you teach the child that if I just stick with it and wear them down, I will get what I want.”
Taffel offered his audience some practical responses to children’s efforts to negotiate endlessly. If parents are too tired to negotiate, they might say, “I’m too tired; my day was too tough. I’ll give you two minutes — give it your best shot.” And if the child says something that the parents feel is disrespectful or hurts their feelings, they should say, “I don’t feel comfortable with you saying that.”
“The way children relate to other people is a microcosm of their relationship with you,” Taffel said. “Help them identify lines inside you that should not be crossed.”
Taffel also offered suggestions on how to get children to share their real feelings with their parents. He advised parents to set aside 15 minutes each day or a couple of times a week as a “date night” with one child only, where parent and child do something together. Most of the time the child will have nothing to share, but when they do, such a practice creates a space for it to happen.
People had different reasons for coming to the talk. Laura Ziv, mother of seven- and nine-year-old boys, said, “Challenges are constantly involved with raising our kids, and I’m ripe for a refresher.”
Kristen Palagano, mother of two preadolescent children, is an instructor for Campfire of New Jersey, which provides child abuse prevention education. “I really took away what he said about creating a sense of community before any damage occurs,” she said.
For Lara Wellerstein of JFCS, Taffel’s presentation was that start of something new in the community. “I think it is just the beginning of bringing the community together and having continued conversation that will impact families,” she said.