Sunday, January 10, 2010

Channeling Your Orchid's Yetser Hara

I am really not up on my Torah, but the concept of "yetser hara" as described in Wendy Mogel's "Blessing of a Skinned Knee" makes a lot of sense. The way I understand it, yetser hara is one's inclination toward rule-breaking and adventure. Its counterpart, yetser tov, is our inclination to hold these desires in check, to toe the line.

Using these concepts to better understand how parents must tailor their parenting style to a child's personality, it may be useful to think about how orchids may have a more generous dose of "yetser hara" than their dandelion peers. This inclination toward risk-taking, while useful in many settings, seems an obvious disadvantage when breaking a rule might lead to a lack of safety, such as in failing to look both ways to cross the street. With orchids, parents would be wise to choose which rule-following battles to fight. Perhaps a parent might be more lenient about their orchid daughter climbing to the top of the monkey bars unassisted, while sticking to their guns about having an adult present in the kitchen while operating the stove.

I was thinking about how yetser hara would also apply to discipline, namely, that old stand-by, the time out. Children with more yetser tov, might do fine to sit compliantly for three minutes in a time out chair, but orchids might need some help bringing their yetser hara in check. Perhaps parents might prefer to model how one brings oneself under control by sitting quietly for one minute next to their "timed out" youngster. A parent could practice yoga breathing techniques (see early posts for ideas), repeating a mantra, or simply sitting quietly in a meditative, seated position. Whatever one chooses to do to model controlling one's own yetser hara, it seems that getting into a battle of wills with an orchid over discipline is a losing propostion. And yet plenty of well-intentioned parenting books would have you believe otherwise.

I think that's the "art" part of parenting. While parenting books would have you believe there's one magic formula for parenting children, the reality is that our children's temperments run the gamut. Yes, they need to learn discipline, but they also need to challenge themselves to grow and become the unique adult they are meant to be. A skinned knee is indeed a blessing if it allows a child to test her limits safely.

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