How to Plant the Seeds for Individual Growth in Children
Nili Couzens, a parenting expert, explains a beautiful analogy about raising children. Imagine someone who wanted to plant an apple tree. Because the apple tree requires a certain type of soil, weather, watering schedule and technique, they read up on it in order to be properly informed.
After tenderly caring for the plant and following the book perfectly, the person realizes there is just one problem – the label on the seed container was swapped, and they actually have been growing a tomato plant, not an apple tree, all along!
Couzens explains, “We all have our version of apple seed children, but if you get a tomato seed, you need to notice. Treating them like apples won’t make them apples, and you won’t even get good tomatoes. Take note though, because tomatoes are really great, and you might be missing out!”
Children each have different needs based on their individual, inborn traits. Each child may require a different atmosphere depending on their strengths and weaknesses. Being mindful of what type of child you have and identifying their individual needs is critical in creating a positive atmosphere and healthy foundation for them, which will allow them to develop their own strong roots and actualize their potential later in life.
Here are three tools to help you give each child their own personalized boost:
Use Shabbat as a time to connect.
A great time to connect with your children is on Shabbat evening, when everyone is relaxed and winding down after a hectic week. This can be done at bedtime or during the individual blessings on Friday night, which can be tailor-made for your child and any area in which they may be struggling. Of course, everyone receives the standard blessing of being a light onto the world, but also try a specific bracha created especially for that child (ex: your oldest wants to make the basketball team, another child needs tools to deal with adolescent drama, and your youngest is struggling with learning her letters). A child growing up knowing they are blessed will see themselves in a better light.
The messages we give our children seep into them like water seeps into the soil, giving them the hydration they need to thrive. As Rabbi Michael Green says, “One of the best ways to listen to your children and have a conversation is finding a really comfortable spot on the couch and look like you are doing nothing. Let them come to you.” Finding those few quiet moments on Shabbat to connect with each child one on one can have an immeasurable impact.
Help them discover their toolbox.
Describe to your child what is in their own personal toolbox. Think of it like the TV show Chopped – once they know what specific ingredients they have, they can turn those traits into strengths and build on them. When they open that box of ingredients, there may be things they don’t recognize or are unsure what to do with. It’s our job as parents to help them identify those qualities so they can build on them and use them into adulthood. Another helpful tip from the experts at Chopped is to be sure and keep your tone neutral when describing an ingredient. Getting rhubarb or minced meat in your basket is simply another factor to work with, not necessarily something negative that causes dread at first sight.
Your words become your child’s inner voice.
Our brains are extremely powerful and believe whatever we tell them, even if it’s a lie. It’s up to us to be the voice in our child’s head, because when they are young, whatever we tell our children becomes their truth. In addition to listing their individual traits, it’s up to us to present those qualities in a positive way.
As Nili Couzens explains, “Identify to your children what is in their tool box, because kids really don’t know themselves. If you tell a kid they are stupid, they will believe you. If you tell a kid they are smart, they will believe you. They have never been anywhere else and they have no experience on planet Earth, so what you tell them about themselves is really a surprise to them.” Nili shares the story about a middle school friend of hers who wore an eyepatch. In 8th grade he told her that for his whole childhood, nobody knew that he was seeing double, he just assumed everyone else in the world saw things that way too. One day he said to his mother. “Mommy, how do you know which door is the real door?” When she didn’t understand, he said, “You know when there are two doors and only one of them is real?” His mom realized he had been seeing double his whole life and took him to the eye doctor. The young boy assumed everyone else saw the world the way he did. Like this young boy, our children possess amazing inherent qualities that they don’t realize makes them special – they think everyone has the same qualities that they do.
You as a parent have a choice. If you have a funny child, you can either tell them, “Get serious kid, life isn’t all fun and games!” or you could say, “You are so fun! You have the best sense of humor. You could do amazing things with that and I love that about you!” If you have a kid who’s a dreamer you could say, “Get your head out of the clouds!” or you could say, “You have such a vivid imagination. When you read a book, it’s like you are in the book. That is amazing, and you can do such creative things.” Have a child who’s stubborn? Stubbornness can be a great trait too. Being stubborn will serve them well when they grow up and face the challenges of the real world. Tell them, “You have really strong values, and you stick to them. I really love that about you.” It all depends on how you present their qualities to them. Our role as a parent is to tell our children what’s great about the innate attributes Hashem blessed them with and guide them on how they can use it. Whatever Hashem gave them is part of their unique package.
Our children are only young and in our care for such a short window of time. By using these tools, we can help make these impactful but fleeting years as meaningful and loving as possible.