A Recipe for a Great Kid

Latest News Friday, 14 Feb 2020

I have often given thought to what makes a great child. And what do I mean by great anyway? I’d say a well-adjusted, easy-going, confident, caring kid. Perhaps what I mean is a ‘mensch’ which was best described by Neil Kershaw (Raising Your Child To Be A Mensch). ‘Menschlichkeit is responsibility fused with compassion, a sense that one’s own personal needs and desires are limited by the needs and desires of other people. A mensch acts with self-restraint and humility always sensitive to the feelings and thoughts of others. Being a mensch represents a moral ideal for all people. A mensch brings a sense of responsibility to every occasion and treats everyone fairly and justly. These traits are acquired by living close to family and extending one’s own sense of obligation beyond the family to the broader community’.

That may sound like an ideal more than anything and no one can expect a child to be faultless and angelic each and every day. And yes, some of our most endearing students have their issues so being great does not imply that kids are unblemished! However, there are some ways of living that are conducive to raising a nice child. Great children invariably come from great families. And you’ll notice here that I am not even dealing with all the genetic factors which contribute enormously to one’s development.

So, I thought of writing this as a recipe – a recipe for ‘cooking’ a good kid. 

  1. Put some humour in the bowl and have some fun as a family. I always loved working with kids as a teacher because you could tell who had a sense of humour and who would be most able to have a laugh at self and situations. Families that have fun and find the humour in situations are generally able to brush off the vicissitudes of life. It’s not what you do for your kids but what you do with them that truly matters – and that leads to more fun. 
  2. Drizzle a bit of ‘NO’ into the ingredients – simple – YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF THE COOKING NOT THEM. Of course, listening to your kids is one of the most important aspects of being a parent but what seems to be the hardest word for many parents – is the simple two-lettered ‘no’ word. And it seems that too many want to excessively ‘explain’ and ‘negotiate’ and avoid the simple no response. It’s ok to say no firmly and without qualification at times. Kids can feel safe when it is unequivocal. Eg. No – you are not taking your mobile phone into your room at night. NO! 
  3. Get more than a pinch of sleep. It is amazing how many children lack sleep. This can lead to symptoms that are not dissimilar to other conditions. Kids who take devices to bed and who view screens endlessly find it hard to sleep. It makes them irritable and lacking in focus at school. 
  4. Add a sprinkle of eating well and exercise. Almost self-explanatory and one that most of our community is awake to. Both are essential for overall development and wellbeing. 
  5. Garnish with humility and a sense of gratitude. I am a fan of Ash Barty and a critic of Nick Kyrios. One is a champion of humility the other is yet to learn how not to be a brat. Knowing how to seek feedback from others and respond to it and in an era where we bemoan the increasing selfishness and “Me” focus in the world, a bit of humility can’t go astray. Being truly grateful for what one has and asking kids to be mindful of being grateful for what they have or for what exists is so humbling. 
  6. Add resilience in big dollops – and help develop coping skills not feed anxiety. Stuff happens – we survive. It would seem the most talked about topic of the past 20 years – ‘grit’ and ‘bounce back’ or perseverance and resilience. Letting kids solve their own problems and helping them cope rather than rendering them dependent will set them up for life. They can’t crumble in a heap when they leave home and call you for help. Our job is to make them able to stand tall and stand on their own. The Japanese proverb says “Fall down seven times, get up eight”. 
  7. Blend in eating with the family and sharing conversation. I still cringe when I see families at restaurants on mobile phones not even conversing. I feel saddened when I see young toddlers on mobile phones instead of talking to others. Shabbat provides the perfect opportunity for the family to gather together and talk preferably with the TV off. If you want to know what has happened to early literacy skills and why in some ways these are plummeting then look at the research on the importance of conversational talk with young children. ‘Kids spell LOVE as T.I.M.E. A loving, nurturing relationship with our kids, built through spending quality time together, helps them to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with us’ Anxious Kids; Gross & Dr J Richardson. 
  8. Pickle them in a world of reading. We live in a world where there is an abundance of information but a scarcity of attention and reading is the antidote to ‘scan brain’ syndrome. Reading also has many other benefits and it should be encouraged as much as possible in the early years.
  9. Marinate in good, rich culture (museums/shows/music etc) not endless junk culture. It is often said about the brain - and it should be believed – use it or lose it. Giving kids lots of opportunities to listen to a different radio station, podcast and/or watch some shows that inform and educate and/or visit places of interest is vital. Nourish the brain. 
  10. Overcook or preferably scorch social media – but you yourself have to do this too! There is an abundance of research on just how deleterious social media can be. It is having a corrosive impact on our children, their relationships and their self-esteem. Ban it. or at least monitor it as a responsible deed. And don’t be naïve about the porn industry – research shows young children can purposefully or accidentally access it so be awake to the devastating effects of all forms of social media. 
  11. Spice the idea that you can like yourself including your shape, faults and quirks. We are led to believe that there is the perfect body, the perfect set of teeth, the perfect nose, breast, lips, hair etc. Truth is, kids need to know about the world of digital enhancements/manipulations and know that there is no one perfect form. Even their character traits will all be different and hopefully, they will eventually feel comfortable about who they are and how they appear. Help kids to like who they are. 
  12. Infuse meaning and purpose in their life. We have a great religion – excavate and explore it. In his bestselling 1946 book, Man's Search for Meaning, which he wrote in nine days about his experiences in the camps, Victor Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died in the camps came down to meaning and purpose, an insight he came to early in life. In 1991, the Library of Congress listed Man's Search for Meaning as one of the 10 most influential books in the United States. 
  13. Dice in some routines and rituals. Read – Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. He lists all the famous people in history who had to develop rituals and routines if they wanted to succeed. The saying is famous – genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration. The paradigm-shifting scientific discovery, the path-breaking research, the wildly successful new product, the brilliant novel, the award-winning film, the medal-winning performance - are almost always the result of many years of long hours of practice and attention to detail. Being creative - being good at one what does - involves extraordinary hard work. Find things you are passionate about and chase down your passion like it’s the last bus of the night.
  14. AND make sure in the mixing bowl you reduce, reuse and recycle. Do we really need any more reminding of why we need to take care of our planet after this summer? Doing the right thing also makes point 12 above come to life! If you bake all of this overtime on a medium temperature you’ll be surprised by what you get. We all add different ingredients in different doses and none will be the same. However, your job as a cook will be a whole lot easier!

The Fathering Project

After a much-needed summer break, the transition back to school can be stressful. Children go through a period of readjustment when returning to school, after having become used to a lack of structure in the holidays.

Try these tips to ease the stress and maintain a positive attitude to school in your family:

  • Showing you place a high value on education requires only simple words and actions; tell your kids what you think about education.
  • Make sure you're on time for school.
  • Thank teachers for all of their hard work, in front of your kids.
  • Discuss and agree on a homework routine for the term.
  • Set up a place for them to study and be willing to help them when they are struggling.
  • Help them find balance. Have a conversation about screen time, what the rules might be for this term - and why they're important.

Byline: Phil Roberts, Principal at Mount Sinai College

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