Book Review: Confident Parents, Competent Children, Four Seconds at a Time by Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman (Feldheim 2019)
Reviewed by Devorah Talia Gordon
On her way home from a great parenting shiur, a mother feels inspired by the idea of not getting angry at her children. Seven minutes later, she walks into the house and finds her ten- and eight-year-olds have helped themselves to a second dinner. The remains of it are on the table, the floor, and the counters. She’s overtired and had expected to come home a kitchen as clean as she’d left it. She yells at her kids, feeling deep regret a few moments late. How quickly her ideal went out the window!
According to Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, in his book Confident Parents, Confident Children, Four Seconds at a Time, the mother would have been more successful if she’d stopped for four seconds to establish kavanah (intention) before engaging in chinuch ha-banim (education of children). If she had paused, she would have been able to express herself b’nachas (pleasantly) to her children.
Rabbi Ackerman, a therapist and frequent lecturer on parenting, writes, “But your words of admonition will only be heard when you are b’nachas. That’s when parenting is hard: when you need to maintain your composure while your composure is being threatened (p. xiii).” To teach parents to consciously enter a state of nachas ruach (pleasant spirit), Rabbi Ackerman uses the vehicle of middos development—it indeed becomes the structuring principle of his book.
In each chapter, Ackerman defines a different middah and discusses how to develop that middah in order to be an effective parent. According to Rabbi Ackerman, an effective parent is one who has appropriate expectations for each child and helps each child meet every expectation. Middos such as tolerance, humility, peace, and deliberation are some examples of middos explored in Confident Parents.
Rabbi Ackerman has written a dense, yet user-friendly book which is precise and thoughtfully prepared. Part One gives concrete examples of parenting scenarios. He uses shortcut tools in simple boxes to delineate clear steps in parenting. One box assists with establishing kavanos, labeled: “Paradigm Shift.” It contains two sentences to fill in: “Shift From ______.” and “Shift To: _____________.” Another box is used to list the proper kavanah and maaseh (action). The end-of-chapter summary is a great way to check that you got all the points. Additionally, when a subject is mentioned briefly, Rabbi Ackerman references the specific chapter where that subject will be expounded upon—it’s very helpful.
Part Two is a collection of Ackerman’s parenting articles. These originally appeared in his column in the Flatbush Jewish Journal and in Monsey’s Front Page. Some important tidbits are there, especially regarding the importance of tefillah (prayer) for successful parenting.
Highly organized, focused, and detail-oriented, this book would be perfect for a husband and wife to study together. In fact, Rabbi Ackerman highlights the important role both parents play in parenting, using examples from fathers as well as mothers.
Parents who are less methodical in their approach to chinuch might find this book intimidating; it requires study and review in order to “get it.” Upon close reading, however, a parent will appreciate the clear examples combined with Rabbi Ackerman’s sensitive approach, which shows his understanding of people, be it children or parents.