On Sunday evening, July 2, Let’s Get Real With Coach Menachem featured Rabbi Yosef Sonnenschein, Menahel of Lander College, in a virtual shiur discussing the art of trust in communicating with our teenagers as emerging adults.
Rabbi Sonnenschein began by stating that Hashem is trusting us with these neshamos. He gave us this job. Many times, people use the term “molding children.” This is not correct, as we aren’t molding something from nothing. Hashem is giving us a child with talents and feelings. Our job is to work with what is there and to build it. It’s not a one-sided process. There is give-and-take working with his strengths and his feelings. He said the three most important words to say to your child are “I trust you.” Yes, “I love you” is also very important, he acknowledged.
He explained that when you tell a child what to do, that is the lowest level of trust. Helping them develop what to do is chinuch. When a child asks what he should wear or should I go to a wedding if I have a test the next day, instead of telling him or her what to do, the best answer is, “I trust you, and I think that you will make the right decision.”
It is important that they hear the words “I trust you.”
“Trust saves children.”
This was followed by a Q&A session. Someone asked what to do if a child brings up difficult questions at the Shabbos table like “I don’t believe in Olam HaBa, for example. Rabbi Sonnenschein responded that our kids can’t be afraid to share their fears with us. We can say we don’t agree, but we need to say that we hear what they are saying and what they think. He emphasized that “It’s not a parent’s job to be Hashem’s lawyer.”
Our emunah is a powerful example to our children.
Someone else asked why we are putting children on a pedestal and making them too important. What’s wrong with saying we know better and we know what is good for you?
Rabbi Sonnenschein responded that, in general, our children aren’t growing up as baalei gaavah. They need encouragement. Of course the foundation of parenting is that we know better. However, first, did we hear his opinion? Does he feel heard? That is important. You can even tell him what he said. You think… My experience is… The point is that first children should feel heard and respected. We are listening to him and understanding him, but ultimately the parent has to do what is safe for the child.
He explained, “Trust means I hear you and I’m thinking about what you are saying.” In some cases, you may go with the child’s approach. There is a big difference here between, say, a seven-year-old and a 17-year-old. When a child is older, then we count on our relationship with him to help guide him.
Another person asked what to do if a child acts in an untrustworthy fashion, like buying a cell phone without permission and going on bad websites.
Dr. Sonnenschein responded that you need a certain level of trust so your child will tell you what he is doing. The first thing is to make a space of trust. You could say something like, “I see this is a big pull for you. But I know it’s unhealthy for you. I don’t want you to hide it. It’s more important that we can talk about it. We’ll work together to grow trust.”
Your child wants to be trusted and wants to be an adult. He advised to take a step back and view your child’s strengths. It is important for a parent to step into his child’s world. If something is important to your child, then it should be important to you. Appreciate what the child appreciates. See what he is good at. “Negative things don’t define him or her.”
Another person asked what to say when our child says everyone else is doing this, or has this, and we don’t want to give it to him.
Rabbi Sonnenschein said that it’s important to create a feeling that our family is a special club. You tell your child that these are the things our family does. You have to build a culture of our family. Tell your child that we have special jokes and trips. Then you can say, “In our family we don’t do this because our family is our family.”
Another person asked how to teach kibud av va’eim. Rabbi Sonnenschein taught that the best way is by teaching our kids to respect the other spouse. Honoring parents should not be used as a power play. You have to be careful that your ego doesn’t get in the way. He explained that respect doesn’t mean your kids have to agree. “I want my kids to tell me when they disagree. I consider it part of my relationship.” He added that there is no premise that he is perfect or always right. He has no problem apologizing if he did something wrong.
By Susie Garber