A Reflection from Dr. Wendy Mogel’s Visit to Rodeph Sholom School
By Sarah Schimmel P’25, ’28
Dr. Wendy Mogel, best selling author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, and well-known child expert, addressed 150 Rodeph Sholom School community members at CRS on February 7, 2018. Dr. Mogel spoke candidly about the current state of our society being drenched in constant technology, and described everyone as functioning in a state of “continuous partial attention.” How truly sad as a culture to acknowledge that we are rarely fully present, but we are instead just a little bit involved in everything at once. You are on the floor playing Legos with your child or chatting about a math exam, but then you realize you still did not hear back from an important client, so you grab your phone to check your email. We all do it, and it appears there is no easy answer to this problem, but if we have to pick one job to which we devote our full attention, it seems like an awfully good idea to pick the job of parent.
Mogel explained that kids want you to listen to them. They want you to share their passion and excitement. If your son can’t wait to tell you about the extinction of the T. rex, you should actively listen to his explanation, even if it is unbelievably boring. It’s okay to fake enthusiasm to allow him to believe that you share his excitement. One of Mogel’s easiest to remember parenting tips is to “listen four times more than you speak.” When you stop talking you realize how much commenting, suggesting, and nagging you actually do.
What happens if your child asks you something and you are not sure what your answer should be? Your fifth grade daughter wants to walk somewhere by herself, and you are not sure if you are comfortable with her going on her own. Instead of immediately saying no, Mogel advised parents to say, “I cannot say yes right now. I need some time to get back to you.” Whatever the answer is, make sure to get back to your child. This instills trust that you will do what you say once you have had time to consider the options and make a thoughtful decision. This also models the behavior of not making impulsive decisions so that when your children are confronted with moments of peer pressure they can tell their friends, “I’ll get back to you.”
Mogel addressed emotional well-being, specifically in boys. They are actually “wired to be more emotionally sensitive” than girls, and little boys by nature cry more. However, the fascinating part is that our culture teaches boys to toughen up. So, this emotional side of boys is often times not nurtured appropriately and boys quickly learn to ignore or hide it. Mogel attributed the increase in young boys’ anxiety to this very situation. I would like to think that this is not as prevalent in a school like RSS, where boys and girls are using mood meters to chart their daily ups and downs, learning vocabulary to express their emotions, and encouraged to acknowledge and share how they are feeling with teachers and friends. In light of Mogel’s findings, she teamed up with NAIS, the National Association of Independent Schools, and recently published, Is Anxiety in Boys the New Normal?
So much of what Mogel addressed is true, but hard to accept. She directly said, “lower the bar on perfection and raise the bar on mutual respect.” Mogel stated in the same breath that it is important to make parenting look like an enjoyable experience, even though we are all well aware that it is not always enjoyable. But her thought is critical: what message are we sending to our children if parenting looks like a chore?
In a busy, fast-paced world, we, as adults, often involve ourselves in too many things. It is important to remember that quality, uninterrupted time is sacred to both you and your children. Mogel traveled the country researching for her upcoming book, Voice Lessons for Parents: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Listen. Over the course of her research, she asked children many questions about various topics. Her single most important takeaway: All kids want is to spend more quality time with their parents.
As Mogel’s lecture came to an end, parents around the room could be seen nodding and connecting. I think that, like me, they left feeling inspired to be better and do better. Parenting is not easy, but for all the hard moments, there are many more amazing and rewarding ones. Mogel acknowledged that we are raising our children in a unique and often confounding time. She shared that she regularly reads theonion.com, a satirical news site, in order to remind herself of just how absurd our world can be. She recommended that we all find ways to maintain a sense of humor through the ups and downs of parenting in this decade.
Dr. Mogel’s voice has been lingering in my head. “Listen with compassion and not pity, show excitement, remember that little kids whine, and no one needs to be perfect.” Mogel ended with words we have heard several times. Luckily for all of us, they seem to be words that are understood and valued in this community, “live your life lessons, instead of preaching them.”
For more on this topic read, Taking “Voice Lessons” From Dr. Wendy Mogel, written by Jennifer Wolff P‘22.