Judging from the ever-growing selection of child raising books in the bookstores, parents and grandparents are likely finding it a challenge to fish out the best guides to effective parenting. Fortunately, it seems that with the recent release of To Kindle a Soul: Ancient Jewish Wisdom for Modern Parents and Teachers, veteran educator and father of five, Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen, may have come up with a strong contender.
Kelemen offers a resourceful, authoritative and well-written parenting handbook by presenting a comprehensive, yet concise summary of compelling, academic and scientific research that echoes the values and teachings of traditional Judaism.
A former Harvard and U.C.L.A. student, Kelemen began his career as a downhill ski instructor and worked as a news director and anchorman for a California radio station. He then traveled to Jerusalem to pursue the Rabbinate, simultaneously conducting a dozen years of intensive postgraduate field research and publishing three other books.
"To Kindle a Soul is a sensitive, informative, supporting revelation about the divine nature of loving, nurturing, protecting and educating our children – the ultimate in life’s purpose," stated radio talk show host, Dr. Laura Schlessinger in her review of Kelemen’s latest offering.
While Kelemen spends a good part of the book dealing with a number of physiological and social issues such as the negative effects of lack of sleep, unhealthy food and television on young children, one of the book’s major themes is the importance of self-growth and character development for parents.
Presenting his case, Kelemen claims, "The single-most effective tool for planting greatness in our children is personal example." To illustrate this point, he relates a story about a mother, who upon returning home from the store with her children, realized she had been given too much change. The very next day, she goes right back to the store with her kids to rectify the mistake.
Months later, her son does extremely well on a difficult test at school and is elated to receive an A+. But as the teacher is going through the correct answers on the exam, this boy discovers a mistake. Even though he very much wanted the A+, his conscience wins and he confesses to the teacher.
According to Kelemen, the story’s ending is testimony to the power of leading by example which can be effective in all realms of parenting, including what can be one of the most challenging parts of the day: putting children to bed.
Kelemen proposes that when children observe their parents as being personally disciplined about bedtime, the kids may be more likely to oblige. However, if the youngsters do put up a fight, Kelemen warns of the potential consequences of giving in.
"If the body senses that sleep is not imminent, it releases stimulants that combat sleepiness. As these stimulants are released, the child becomes more and more wound up, and bedtime becomes more and more impossible," he says.
Kelemen goes on to state that by consistently allowing our children to miss their bedtime, this sends the dangerous message that it’s all right to ignore life’s guidelines and limits.
Further, Kelemen quotes Dr. William Dement, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, and a leading researcher on sleep, as saying, "A substantial portion of children’s behavioral and learning problems during the day can be traced to not getting enough sleep."
Kelemen also takes the reader through a similar discussion on the topic of television, first authenticating its negative effects by citing studies and quoting experts. And then by offering constructive suggestions as to how to decrease time spent "veging" in front of the tube.
What’s so fascinating, and very effective, is the way Kelemen gracefully weaves together modern scientific research with guidelines and approaches found in scriptural writings and authentic Jewish traditions. The result: an easy-to-read, well-documented book packed with some great advice.
For example, with the issue of television, Kelemen proposes that every family deserves a vacation from TV to create greater opportunities for play, reading and quality family time.
"If family members discover that it is impossible to keep the TV set off for 30 days, we must be honest enough to admit that we are facing an addiction – an addiction that negatively impacts intellectual, emotional and physical well-being."
By engaging in the "family de-tox plan," Kelemen suggests creative alternatives such as arts and crafts, music, board games, family homework sessions and community service projects.
After the reader pages through an entire section of studies documenting the negative effects of television – namely violence, alcohol consumption, promiscuity and mental health – turning off the tube may not seem like such a radical idea after all.
Another section of the book deals with one of the trickiest parts of parenting: disciplining. Here, Kelemen stresses the importance of using only non-violent approaches.
"Although spanking may result in compliance in the immediate situation, the available evidence shows that in the long run, it is associated with an increased probability of non-compliance, aggression or delinquency and other antisocial behaviors," as quoted in a 1997 National Institute of Mental Health Study.
Before embarking upon a step-by-step guide to non-violent discipline, Kelemen begins by stating the importance of knowing that sometimes it is not effective to punish, such as cases when a child is merely acting out because he is tired or hungry. Then, the proper course of action is to either feed the child or put him or her to bed.
A few of Kelemen’s disciplining tips include:
Praising children for playing nicely. "There will be less misbehavior if we actively praise appropriate play."
Occasionally using toys and cookies as valuable tokens of acknowledgement.
Utilize distraction – changing the game, putting on music, moving locations, placing the child in a warm bath with some toys or doing something funny to catch the child off guard.
Use "when-then" statements. "When you get into your pajamas, then you may read a book."
As a last resort, put the child in "time-out" to give him or her some emotional space.
Whether it’s disciplining, the importance of love and affection, or a healthy schedule of sleep, diet and activities, Kelemen is full of insightful, well-researched suggestions. And being that child raising is an area where people simply cannot ever get enough advice, Kelemen’s book appears to be an important choice of reading.
See his website: www.lawrencekelemen.com