Parenting is not child's play

A Hebrew translation of a parenting book by Dr. Gerald Newmark promises to help parents raise emotionally healthier kids.

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June 9, 2007 22:20
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'I wish he knew that stuff when I was growing up!" was how David Newmark reacted when he saw his father, Dr. Gerald Newmark, autographing his book How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children at a public lecture in 1999 to mark its publication. "David," commented Gerald, who is now well past retirement age. "I wish I had known that stuff when you were growing up! I wish my parents had known it, and their parents too. We just didn't know there was anything to know. The truth is that, along with most parents, we were victims of our ignorance." A retired educator, behavioral scientist and management consultant who has a doctorate in education from the University of Southern California, Newmark didn't reinvent the wheel with this book, which was published in the wake of a stream of how-to-parent guides. But with a great deal of common sense, experience and sensitivity, he has laid down guidelines for surviving childraising with fewer tears, lifelong good relations and joy. Newmark (reachable at nmipub@earthlink.net), whose book has sold 250,000 copies, was in Israel recently to mark the publication of the softcover volume in Hebrew. He and his second wife Deborah were interviewed by The Jerusalem Post during Newmark's first visit to the country in 55 years. They discussed Yeladim Bri'im Rigshit, issued by the Ach publishing company - a Kiryat Bialik firm that specializes in books on psychology and education - and which is selling it for NIS 86 in shops and at Hebew Book Week stands. Its author hopes it will get to the Education Ministry, teachers‚ seminaries and the general public. It was previously translated into Spanish and Hungarian, and will soon appear in Russian. In the US, where the English edition sells for $11.95, Gerald and Deborah distribute it at cost as a "mission to improve the parent-child and teacher-child relationship." The original version comes with a recommendation and foreword from Dr. Roy Menninger of the famed Menninger Foundation. IN THE 164-page volume, the author identifies five "critical needs" that all children have: To feel respected, important, accepted, included and secure." Those needs and how to satisfy them are lessons that can be learned quckly but which take effort to implement. "Satisfying these needs," he explains, "provides a foundation for developing self-confident, independent, responsible, thinking, caring, civic-minded individuals with greater prospects for success in school, career, marriage and life in general." The first and last time he was here was in 1952, in the steerage of an immigrant ship that arrived via Poland. "There was nothing here then. I came to meet relatives of my father, who was a disabled veteran from World War I. I was at Kibbutz Kinneret during the visit, and went back now to see it." Newmark could hardly recognize Israel, or control his amazement at its development. Born in the Bronx, New York, Newmark was supported by his mother, a garment center laborer. "I didn't think I'd ever go to college. I took commercial courses, but was getting into trouble as part of a gang. Friends sent me at the age of 17 to my brother, who was studying at Indiana University dental school, where the tuition was cheap. I didn't fill any of the requirements, and dropped out after two years." Newmark was then sent to Italy near the end of World War II. "That changed the direction of my life for the better." After seeing the socialist kibbutz, he moved into the Synanon collective in the US. "I thought so many times of coming back, but life interfered," he laments. "We will come again. We had a wonderful time!" EVENTUALLY, HE earned his BA and graduate degrees, and for 15 years was a human factors scientist with System Development Corporation, where he focused on the design, development and evaluation of innovative training and instructional systems for public schools and military programs. He worked for the Rand Corporation as a researcher, doing small studies, "but I wanted to do something big." Then Newmark received a seven-year, $1 million grant from the Ford Foundation to work with children, parents and teachers in Los Angeles city schools, and co-directed a project to develop a model school. For this work in the early and mid-Seventies, he received a citation from then-president Richard Nixon. The model school was a precursor of "all charter schools with full cooperation among parents, principals and children. Every learner was a teacher, and all teachers were learners. It was copied in several schools in California, but the project came to an end as there was no mechanism to keep it going. But the idea for my book fortunately came out of it," he recalls. Parents and teachers always speak about how they want children to behave, he notes, "but nobody speaks to kids about their emotional needs. Parent-child relations today are even worse, thanks to the TV and computer. Many children know more than their parents, and they are exposed to drugs, violence and alcohol. Things change very fast, and no one can keep up. High-school pupils today will go through an average of four career changes in their lifetimes. They will suffer from future shock, and many have not been raised to cope with it. Many of them are in broken families, and their parents are usually too busy making a living." Newmark wrote the book, which is full of practical suggestions for reinforcing lessons through practise, "to raise public consciousness about the problems, and to provide a practical resource to enable parents and teachers to create emotionally healthy environments for kids." Most families are engaged in a conversation of the deaf, Newmark insisted. Children say their parents expect them to be perfect, constantly forget that growing up is very difficult, avoid asking their opinions, are nagging, bossy and overprotective, pressure kids to be like them instead of living their own lives, or have overly high expectations. At the same time, parents object to messy rooms, undone homework and refusal to say where they are going at night, are confused as to when to be strict and when to be lenient, worry about exposure to TV, Internet, sex and drugs, and don't know how to teach obedience without suppressing free will. But a way to bridge the gap, he continues, is to promote children's emotional health, "which is as important as their physical health and provides a foundation for success in school, work, marriage and life in general." EMOTIONAL HEALTH can be promoted by satisfying the five needs. "Children need to feel respected. For that to happen, they need to be treated in a courteous, thoughtful, attentive and civil manner as individuals, deserving of the same courtesy and consideration as others. One of the best ways for children to learn about respect is to feel what it's like to be treated respectfully, and to observe their parents and other adults treating each other the same way." If we want children to grow up feeling respected and treating others with respect, he explains, "we need to avoid sarcasm, belittling, yelling; we need to keep anger and impatience to a minimum; we need to avoid lying; we need to listen more and talk less; we need to command less and suggest and request more; we need to learn how to say 'please‚' 'thank you,' 'excuse me' and 'I'm sorry.' We will strive to be conscious of our mistakes, willing to admit them, and ready to make corrections, and we will try to cultivate these values in our children." Feeling important, Newmark continues, "refers to a child's need to feel 'I have value. I am useful. I have power. I am somebody.' This need is evident at a very early age. Pressing a button in an elevator themselves. Parents need to avoid being all powerful, solving all family problems, making all decisions, doing all the work, controlling everything. Involve your children, share decision-making and power; give them status and recognition. If children don't feel important, they don't develop a sense of value. Children have a need to feel accepted as individuals in their own right, and not to be treated as mere reflections of their parents, as objects to be shaped in the image of what parents believe their child should be like. This means that children have a right to their own feelings, opinions, ideas, concerns, wants and needs. Trivializing, ignoring or ridiculing a child's feelings or opinions weakens the relationship, while paying attention to and discussing them strengthens it," he says. Parents should negotiate with children when necessary. Children need to feel included, he stresses. "They need to be brought in, to be made to feel a part of things, to feel connected to other people, to have a sense of community. It happens when people engage with others in activities and projects, when they experience things together in a meaningful way. It is important for a family to create these opportunities. People who do things together feel closer to one another." Children need to feel secure. Security means creating a positive environment where people care for each other and show it, where people express themselves and others listen, where differences are accepted and conflicts are resolved constructively, where enough structure exists for children to feel safe and protected, and where children have opportunities to actively participate in their own and their family's evolution through family planning and decision making, problem solving and feedback activities. It's certainly easier said than done, especially in the heat of an argument, but Newmark offers specific examples of how to implement the five needs. He and Deborah have travelled the world promoting the book and its ideas in schools, colleges and hospital pediatric wards. Newmark says the book has become a wake-up call for parents, families, teachers, schools and childcare providers, shedding light on one of the most serious problems facing our nation - the neglect of the emotional health of our children." He is only half-joking when he concludes: "It would be great if couples had to get a license to become parents - and had to read my book as a requirement." For a copy of the book, contact Ach Publishing House, PO Box 170, Kiryat Bialik, 27000 Phone (04) 722-2096.


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