A brief synopsis of the book is reprinted below from Amazon.
In the trenches of a typical day, every parent encounters a child afflicted with ingratitude and entitlement. Parents want so badly to raise self-disciplined, appreciative, and resourceful children who are not spoiled. But how to accomplish this feat? The answer has eluded the best-intentioned individuals who overprotect, overindulge, and overschedule their children’s lives.
Sharing stories of everyday parenting problems and examining them through the lens of the Torah, the Talmud, and important Jewish teachings, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee shows parents how to teach children to honor and respect others. Parents will learn to accept that their children are both ordinary and unique, and treasure the power and holiness of the present.
Mogel makes these teachings relevant for any era, and any household of any faith. A unique parenting book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee is both inspiring and effective in the day-to-day challenge of raising self-reliant children.
Modern Parenting Excesses
Current parenting best practices emphasize the importance of acknowledging a child’s feelings and openly discussing them. This helps children separate emotions from actions and to understand the perspective of others. There is also an emphasis on involving children in daily decision making, helping them feel empowered and helping to satisfy their drive for discovery and mastery.
The author discusses circumstances where these approaches are no longer beneficial. Households become too democratic and the parents aren’t seen as authority figures. Instead of empowering the children, they feel insecure and frightened that their parents aren’t fully in charge.
Parents spoil their children materially, trying to fill the excess time with lessons, toys, tutors, and therapists with the intention of finding stability in the complex world we live in. We “spoil” the child’s capacity for waiting, satisfaction, and gratitude. Children who get most of their desires satisfied right away don’t have a chance to appreciate what they’ve already got. We can cultivate gratitude by teaching children to appreciate what they have and recognizing that there’s even enough to share with others. In order to flourish, children don’t need the best of everything. Instead they simply need what is good enough.
All this excess leads to anxiety. Instead of enjoying time with their children, parents are busy worrying and fretting. Parents are overprotective, shielding the children from people who are different, inappropriate, and even frightening.
Worrying parents raise worrying children who see the world as overwhelming and threatening. The message communicated by all this loving parental protection is that they child doesn’t have what it takes to swim alone.
Embracing Children as Individuals
The rules regarding child-rearing are not primarily about making children feel good, but about making children into good people. “Preparing” our children for this new world by turning them into super competitive generalists is useless because we can’t anticipate the skills they will need twenty years from now. The only things that are certain to be valuable are character traits such as honesty, tenacity, flexibility, optimism, and compassion – the same traits that have served people well for centuries.
According to the author, Judaism frequently reminds us to take into account our children’s differences and allow natural endowment to reveal itself. Parents should study their children’s temperament and work to accept it. A child’s greatest strength is hidden in their worst quality, waiting to be discovered.
In Judaism, the term is the yetzer hara. This is defined as the evil impulse that is also the source of all passion and creativity. Often, parents interpret a child’s bad behavior as rebelliousness when in fact they are just being true to her nature. The parent’s job is to identify these traits and remove obstacles so that our children’s yetzer hara can be channeled and expressed in a constructive rather than destructive way. Parents should find areas of competence and give the child tasks that make the best use of their yetzer hara.
This concept reminded me of Naval Ravikant’s concept of “specific knowledge.” Specific knowledge is knowledge that you cannot be trained for and is found by pursuing your genuine curiosity and passion. It tends to be technical and creative. No one can compete with you on being you. In the digital age, it’s cheap to create content and distribute it to a global audience. People should leverage software and content to capitalize on their specific knowledge and make it available to the market.
In the book, the author describes some of the traps that parents fall into when disciplining their children. She empathizes that children are not our equals, and they don’t want to be. We want to develop a sense of mutual respect but ensure that we set and enforce boundaries and ensure that children recognize our authority as parents.
Parent’s don’t need to explain every action decision they make to their children. The author says, “Your children’s right to know does not supersede all other concerns. Your word, not your reasoning, is what matters.” As it turns out, there are plenty of instances when a respectfully delivered “because I said so” is a perfectly justifiable response. Rhetorical questions, logic and reason, and pious lectures only reinforce children’s excessive demands by giving them lots of attention. We don’t want to turn every moment into an opportunity for a child to improve their negotiation skills. If you do go down this path and then cave in, you are teaching your child that wearing you down through lawyerly debate is an excellent strategy for getting what they want.
Tactically, the author recommends getting eye level and looking directly at your child. Touch them to remind them of your love. Describe the specific behavior that is unacceptable and how you felt about what they did. Be brief. Reassure the child that although their behavior has disappointed or upset you, you aren’t rejecting them. Remember that it’s not the severity of a consequence that has an impact on children but the certainty. The consequence of the poor judgment is the teacher.