Family series explores parenting philosophy, goals

Family series explores parenting philosophy, goals

Amy Norton
Amy Norton

Following up on a successful parenting series that was launched two years ago, child development specialist Amy Norton will return to the Scotch Plains JCC in March to lead a new set of workshops.

Family Matters 2011…Beyond the Blessing, a series of three programs sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey’s Women’s Philanthropy and the JCC of Central NJ’s J Connection, will once again use Wendy Mogel’s The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children as a guide. It will address such timely issues as overscheduled children, letting kids be kids, and fostering tolerance and respect among children. Cochairs are Aimee Jayinski of Scotch Plains and Sue Shapiro of Elizabeth.

Each of the workshops will be offered twice — in an evening and morning session; the program is geared toward parents and caregivers of children in preschool and the primary grades.

“It’s a tough time to raise a child right now,” said Norton, a Westfield resident. “The expectations of our children are to be good at everything.”

The series’ first topic — “The Overscheduled Child: How Much Is Too Much?” — is highly relevant in today’s “programmed, class-driven society,” said Norton, referring to the plethora of extracurricular activities that so many children take part in. “It is more important to have down time with your family and children.” Too much structured activity is detrimental to children, she said. “They’re losing their sense of creativity; they’re losing their sense of play.”

The second session — “Don’t Get Caught in the Rat Race: How Do You Let Kids Be Kids in America’s Achievement Culture?” — addresses the phenomenon described in the popular book and film The Race to Nowhere, which will also be discussed at the workshop. Norton hopes to get parents to evaluate their ultimate goals for their children. “How stressed out is your child?” she asked. “Are you trapped or are there things you can do?”

The final session, “Bullying: How to Foster Tolerance & Respect in Children,” focuses not so much on bullying per se but on the need for children to tolerate and accept differences in others — and parents’ role in fostering that acceptance.

Norton said the focus of her sessions is on facilitating discussion; they are not meant to be judgmental. She also provides parents with take-home assignments that carry over into the next program.

One advantage of the program is the sharing that goes on among participants. “You can learn from other people’s differences,” said Jayinski, who has participated in Norton’s previous workshops. Dealing with the pressures of child-rearing is “so relevant and it’s so on people’s minds.”

Mogel’s Blessing, said Norton, “is one of the better parenting books that I have found out there.” It makes readers take a breath, to “stop for a minute and just be,” Norton said.

Norton, who is married with three children, works as intake coordinator of the Outpatient Pediatric Feeding Program at Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Jersey. She holds a master’s degree in child development from Tufts University, has designed programs for children and adults with developmental disabilities, and conducted research at Harvard University, Tufts University, University of Texas Mental Sciences Institute, and the University of Rochester.

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