Raising resilient—not perfect—children

In a new parenting guide, psychologist Dr. Aliza Pressman shows us how

AlizaPressman image

Want a book that'll teach you how to be the perfect parent? Well, Dr. Aliza Pressman's new book The 5 Principles of Parenting: Your Essential Guide to Raising Good Humans isn't it. And the author will be the first one to tell you that. 

"I get it. I love my children and I want everything in the world for them, and if there were an actual formula for being a perfect parent, I'd want it too," said Pressman, a developmental psychologist based at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, the host of the podcast Raising Good Humans , and the mother of two teenaged daughters. 

But perfection, she said, isn't the parental zenith you might think it is. Because if parents try to model perfection, then that's an impossible standard for our children to live up to. 

Let go of perfect, Pressman says, and aim to grow resiliency in our children. Pressman outlines five Rs of parenting--relationship, reflection, regulation, rules, and repair--that can help build a child's resiliency.  

In the book--accessible, warm, and practical--the author distills decades of developmental research into sound and practical guidance for parents.  

Jewish Chicago magazine interviewed Pressman over the phone in February. 

Q. Why did you write the book? 

A. I was trying to save everyone some time by condensing all the science of parenting and child development under one roof…I tried to cut through all the noise and advice out there, and just pull out what's true to the science and what actually matters for our children. 

Why did you choose these particular principles of parenting-the five R's?   

I picked the five--relationship, reflection, regulation, rules and repair--because I wanted to pick principles core to the science of how humans thrive that are actually teachable, that we have in our control.   

Can you explain how to apply a couple of the Rs--regulation and repair--to real life parenting in the wild? 

In terms of regulation, we don't want our kids to grow into human beings who explode at the Starbucks barista when they get the order wrong… When your kids are being dysregulated--they're yelling and screaming--and you get so annoyed that you yell back at them, they co-regulate with you because they borrow your nervous system. So, you're trying to get them to stop, but you're meeting a tornado with another tornado, which makes you feel worse, and you get into a shame spiral.  

And then what's beautiful is that we can make repairs, and [convey to your child] that 'Hey, I don't love how I handled that, and I'm working on it too. Meanwhile, I just want to let you know that I love you." And then you two can reconnect. 

It's no secret that we Jews have been forced to be a resilient people.  Do you think your work on the topic of resiliency relates to your strong Jewish identity?  

The Jews are a resilient people and that's a huge part of the ethos of the Jewish community. There is no question that the entirety of my interest in resilience is because my grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and I've always been mesmerized by how we come to be who we are. 

How have you approached conversations about October 7 with your own daughters? 

Because they're teenagers, I let them lead. I feel very lucky that we can have deep discussions, and I can learn from them, and they can learn from our history and values, and we can explore together what this means going forward. 

Can you explain how you compare parenting to gardening? 

We, the parents, are gardeners. The seed, the child, was already planted-our kids are going to be the flower they're going to be, but [we can help them] wilt or bloom their best. Our job isn't deciding who our children are; our job is creating an environment so they thrive as the people they are, and unfold however they are meant to unfold. 

What's the most important thing parents should learn from your book? 

The most useful sentence to remember is this: "All feelings are welcome; all behaviors are not." And that means that you're allowed to be and feel however you want to feel, but you can't punch somebody in the face because of it. Everything else--you can figure out. 


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