Mrs. Basya Wolff, a teacher for 40 years and a mother of nine, is offering a unique hands-on, enlightening parenting class in Shaare Tova Synagogue in Kew Gardens, Queens. She is a certified Conversational Intelligence coach.
When asked how she began doing this, Mrs. Wolff explained the following. In her work as a teacher, she coached many parents and saw that there was a need for parenting education. Combined with this experience is her desire to keep learning new things, which prompted her to continue her education by becoming a certified life coach. Around four years ago, Mrs. Wolff began teaching a small group of mothers and it grew from there. It’s tremendously important for the parents, she shared. She said that when her ninth child started in a new school, parents were required to participate in a parenting class. She thinks that most parents would greatly benefit from this requirement, as she did! Mrs. Wolff’s next step was to become certified in Conversational Intelligence, which was designed by Judith E. Glazer. Much of the Parenting Circle learning comes from the books Are Your Hands Full? (by Dr. Sora Yaroslawitz) and Conversational Intelligence (by Judith E. Glaser), as well as from various Torah sources. The class is interactive.
Mrs. Wolff feels that it’s important for people to understand how the brain works. She explains that a hormone called cortisol is released when someone experiences negativity. This hormone further deregulates the person so that this is not the time to try to reason with him. Oxytocin is released when things are calmer and positive. Learning how the brain works helps parents understand why certain behaviors happen when they do. She emphasizes that just as we must practice for a fire drill so that in a moment of crisis we will automatically react properly, the same is true in parenting. Gaining awareness and practicing calming techniques are essential in order to improve our skills as we, the adults, parent our children.
This writer enjoyed the privilege of sitting in on a parenting session. The small group of women included a group of community women who came in person and a group who participated via telephone. The class began with each parent sharing how she implemented some of the strategies learned from the previous sessions and how those strategies helped with various parenting challenges.
One mother shared how she was always trying to control her children in the past, and the atmosphere in her home was super-serious. “I would say don’t do this and don’t do that, all the time.” She noticed that compliments motivated her children to want to help. She worked on using ideas she had learned and the whole atmosphere changed for the better in her house.
Basya complimented this mother on her achievement and then she shared that a smile brings light into our lives. It’s not easy to step back and not criticize. She reviewed that “a compliment must be sincere and specific.”
A participant added, “A smile is a crooked line that straightens everything out.”
The mother who had shared her challenge asked, “How do we sustain something like this?”
Mrs. Wolff responded that the only way to sustain it is through keeping at it. We need to be more mindful. She continued, “You have to breathe and ground your feet. Put on a smile even if it’s forced. Turn on music or do whatever you need to do to create a happy atmosphere.”
She pointed out that when we breathe mindfully, it brings oxygen into the brain, slows down our rapid heart rate, bringing calm to ourselves and the stressful situation.
Another mother shared her challenge. She was confronted with an upsetting situation and she didn’t want to express anger or explode, so she went into another room and closed the door and used the breathing strategy she had learned in this class. She felt good that she hadn’t blown up in anger.
Mrs. Wolff noted, “It’s empowering to realize that we have the power to control our reactions.”
She pointed out the idea that on an airplane we are told to administer oxygen to ourselves before assisting others. So, too, in parenting, it’s important to first take care of yourself. She shared, “Ask Hashem to please help you be a good mom, to help you not to yell at your children or to not be critical. We have to stop and weigh a situation when a parenting challenge arises. Remember that we can either do something harmful or something positive. Hashem is our partner in this. He gave us this child. He’s responsible, too. When we recognize that, then He will step in to help us.”
She continued: “We must always focus on our goal, which is a good relationship with our children. They will value our values because of the relationship [that we worked to build], which they have with us. It is also important to know that our hard work may not yield immediate results.”
Often, how our children behave in other people’s houses reflects that we have had a positive effect on them even if we don’t see the same positive behaviors at home yet.
The class read some passages from Are Your Hands Full? and from Sarah Chana Radcliffe’s Parenting Post. Then they discussed how to apply the ideas to their own parenting. One idea discussed was that an immediate attempt to stop negative behavior won’t work. This becomes a battle of wills. The more we fight, the more they fight back. It’s important to ignore negative behavior in the moment. Later, when all negative feelings are gone, we can discuss better options with our child.
Children want attention and they often will seek it by being negative. We reinforce this negative behavior if we give them attention for it. Mrs. Wolff shared a strategy called “planned ignoring” or remaining unfazed. On another note, she advised: If you are having difficulty with your child, then pour on the love. This doesn’t mean to give love during a tantrum. “We ignore the tantrum, not the child.” If the child is having an angry tantrum, the best thing to do is to ignore it. We need children to learn that a tantrum is not the way to get what they want. However, if the child is hurt or disappointed, then he needs you.
After the tantrum ends, when you and the child are in a more peaceful state, you can work out what to do in a particular situation. Just as we as parents need to learn strategies for calming down, we need to teach our children strategies for calming down. We have to name what is disturbing us. “Emotions are like waves. Either you will be knocked over by them or you will learn to ride them.” Children can learn to name their feelings. We have to help them learn the differences between various feelings. “When we create a relationship of including our children, a feeling of togetherness is built. Include them in conversations on how we are feeling or what we are going to do.”
The end of the class was spent on questions. Various issues like doing homework, bedtime routines, children acting disrespectfully, and other issues were discussed.
Mrs. Wolff concluded with this thought: “Knowledge is power. I want to empower parents and I am glad to do it!”
To learn more about these classes, please call Channah: 718-704-4450.
By Susie Garber