Four years ago, Deborah Gilboa, a family physician at the Squirrel Hill Health Center, was delivering occasional health talks in the community along with her colleague, Dr. Andrea Fox, and realized that the most common topic requested from organizations was parenting.
What Gilboa, an energetic and charismatic mother of four sons, had to say seemed to resonate with her audiences.
“As I spoke about parenting,” Gilboa recalled, “people kept saying, ‘This was helpful. Do you have a book or a website?’”
Although the answer then was “no,” things changed rapidly for the Congregation Beth Shalom member.
Since her epiphany, Gilboa has authored four parenting books, including her latest, “Get the Behavior You Want … Without Being the Parent You Hate.” She is a sought-after speaker and has become a social media phenom, with about 32,000 followers on Twitter and some 5,800 fans on Facebook. Her instructive YouTube videos have logged more than 350,000 views.
Gilboa developed her parenting expertise from her work as a family physician, where she learned the value of looking at a person’s health in the context of his family structure and the importance of resilience.
“Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity,” Gilboa explained. “The more I observed that in clinical practice, the more I wanted to learn about teaching resilience.”
Teaching children resilience, she advises, is one of a parent’s greatest responsibilities.
“We have a tendency to protect our kids, but that doesn’t work,” Gilboa cautioned.
For example, a child is perfectly capable of both taking out the garbage and studying for a difficult math test, but many parents will excuse the child from the chore in that situation. The effect of that approach on the child, though, is “harmful,” she said, adding that it can damage a child’s character when a parent does not expect enough.
Gilboa is a regular contributor on the local CBS-affiliate morning show “Pittsburgh Today Live,” and her child- rearing advice has been shared in a host of publications, including Parents Magazine, Your Teen Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, as well as The Chronicle. She has addressed groups and organizations worldwide, including the U.S. military, and is currently working on a TED talk.
When she speaks to groups of parents, she emphasizes the “three Rs” in child rearing: respect, responsibility and resilience.
“We should stop worrying if our kids are happy, but instead work on their resilience skills so they can find their own happiness,” Gilboa said. “You know how to make a 6-year-old happy: Cartoon Network and a Snickers bar. But you wouldn’t want your daughter to bring home that guy as a prom date.”
She said that when it comes to childrearing, she agrees with the advice of the late Erma Bombeck: Love, limit and let them be.
While most parents she addresses say that happiness for their children is a top priority, those children might be well served if they were guided to develop skills of competence and confidence, and positive relationships.
“Resilience teaches confidence,” Gilboa said. “And respect for ourselves lets us have great relationships with others as well. If I can teach my children these things, I am giving them the skills to make their own happiness.”
Gilboa is a firm believer in requiring children to complete regular chores around the house. Her sons’ babysitter was once surprised when Gilboa told her that she could take the boys to the park only after her 8-year-old had finished doing the laundry. When the babysitter remarked that she had college friends who did not know how to do the laundry, Gilboa’s 8-year-old asked, “Aren’t they embarrassed?”
That exchange led to a how-to YouTube video titled “8 year old teaches college students how to do laundry,” featuring Gilboa’s son.
During a recent talk in an affluent area of Northern California, Gilboa polled her audience, asking for a show of hands of those who were required to do chores while growing up. While almost every hand was raised in response to that question, only four hands remained when Gilboa queried how many parents required their own children to do chores.
“I think we’ve got a generation of incredibly capable kids we’re not asking enough of in terms of character,” she said, “and maybe too much in terms of academic achievement.”
Gilboa would like to change the conversation in this country “about what kids are really capable of,” she said. “Every adult I know is fantastically amazed by the kids in their lives. I’d like us to be amazed by a whole generation.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.