Parenting is one of our toughest jobs. When we leave the hospital with our baby safely ensconced in their car seat, we are on our own. There’s no instructional manual, no degree we need to have. It seems as if parenting is all on the job training.

It doesn’t have to be. Here’s a short primer on nine fundamental things you need to know to raise children in a positive, healthy way.

1. Bring Jewish values and traditions into your home:

Teaching children to embrace Jewish values and traditions is one of the best gifts we can give our children. The Jewish faith introduced the world to the importance of family, kindness, justice, peace, charity, honesty and so much more. These are bedrock principles that will ensure that your children will behave with integrity. Jewish traditions, Shabbat and the holidays, prayer and other rituals lend stability, unity, and a strong sense of identity. These are essential ingredients in building emotionally healthy children.

2. You are the best teacher:

Kids do what we do, not what we say. If we want to be a good role model for our kids we need to walk the walk and talk the talk. If we want our children to be kind, respectful and loving we need to be kind, respectful and loving. They need to see us living our Jewish values, by giving charity, promoting peace in our interactions with others and by being truthful (no lying about their age to get the discount at the amusement park.).

3. Children are not natural listeners:

We are often surprised, indignant and angry when our child doesn’t listen to us. The fact is, it is hard for kids to listen to all the things that they need to do. From morning to night they need to listen to instructions given to them by adults. They are not being bad; they often don’t have the attention, energy or will to follow through. Instead of getting mad, focus on helping your kids listen, make eye contact when giving instructions, validate their feelings, “I know its tough to stop playing with your Legos to get ready for bed…” Or make it fun: “Let’s pretend we are airplanes and fly to the car.”

4. Kids test limits:

Children need rules and limits that are fair and consistent. It makes them feel safe, secure and encouraged. When we are wishy-washy with our rules, kids feel rootless and don’t know what to expect. When children fight the rules, they are really testing us to see if we actually mean what we say. We need to stick to our guns and gently and respectfully enforce the rules that we have for our family.

5. Most children respond well to positive reinforcement:

Your best bet to having great kids is to give them loads of attention when they are behaving in positive ways – for example, when they get into bed on time, brush their teeth and come when they are called. Ironically, we usually give our kids more attention when they are misbehaving. When we give attention to a kid’s negative behavior we inadvertently reinforce their negative behavior. When we only focus on their positive behavior we reinforce their positive behavior.  It takes a while to retrain our brains to look for the positive but it is well worth the effort.

6. Let kids experience their own feelings:

Children need to own their own feelings. You can’t tell them, “You can’t be to hot, its cold outside,” “You can’t be full – you only ate one bite of your sandwich.” The fact is we don't know how another person can feel, even our own children. We need to teach our kids to trust their own gut and instincts; it will serve them well when they need to make tough decision without us. To do that, it’s better to say, “It feels cold to me, but not to you…everyone feels things differently.” Or “One bite of that sandwich is enough for you, you know how to read your hunger signals…”

7. Shower your kids with love:

Children need their parent’s attention to thrive. They also need to know that we love them just the way they are. To do that, we want to try to spend time with them on their terms. Find out what they love to do, whether it’s going to their favorite ice cream store, playing their favorite sport with them in the backyard or even reading the same books they are reading and discussing them. And enjoy spending time with them! It’s important to tell your children that you love them, “I am so happy that God gave you to me; I love being your mother/father” and to demonstrate that love with physical affection like hugs, kisses and ruffling their hair.

8. Know your child’s strengths:

Every person is created with their own strengths and talents. As parents our jobs is to help our child discover those strengths and talents.

We can ask ourselves:

  • What is my child’s strength?
  • What characteristic of my child brings me joy?
  • What gives my child the most joy?
  • What comes easy to them?

They might be very different from what we expect. A father who values academics might have a child who loves the arts or vice versa.

Children thrive and flourish when they feel that their authentic selves are valued and appreciated by their parents.

9. Foster independence:

We need to live our lives as parents knowing that our children are only ours for a short time. Our job is to teach them to go out into the world and make their mark, and contribute to our society in positive ways. We need to teach them to think independently and have the tools they need to make good decisions. We need to find ways to encourage their autonomy by asking their opinions, “What do you think would be the best way to schedule our day?” Give them choices, “Do you want to wear your green or blue shirt today?” and responsibility and chores around the house.

Parenting is indeed a tough job, but it is also one of the most rewarding. And you are uniquely suited to raise your kids.