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19 Adar 5761 - March 14, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
More and More Honor: Part Two

by Chaim Walder

In a previous article, I discussed the importance of showing children respect. There I dealt with the question of why this is important; in this article I will discuss how to go about it.

The following are a number of general rules which surely do not exhaust the subject, but are a start.

1. Every Child is a World Unto Himself. We are accustomed to considering each child like a piece of the family puzzle. When one child doesn't fit in with the rest of the parts, we assume that he is at fault, and has either too much of something that must be eliminated or a lack of something that must be pasted onto him. When parents don't succeed in either of these two feats, some conclude that the child simply doesn't belong in the family puzzle and should seek his own.

This attitude is wrong. Every child constitutes a world of his own. He, himself, is the full picture. Families are not puzzles, at least in the usual sense of the word. A family is a collection of drawings of various styles. Each artist can contribute of himself to the other members: adding depth, content and color to the family. On one hand, one should ensure that each artist interacts with the others, but does not nullify his style. In reality, some parents feel pressured when a child has his own unique style, and they try to do everything possible to obliterate the vestiges of his independent personality.

2. Genuine, As Opposed to Spurious Respect. There are two types of respect, compulsory and genuine. Compulsory respect is the respect we accord those we can't tolerate: the compliment we give a chazan who sings off key; the respect we show someone who has delivered a boring drosho. This is spurious, compulsory respect, resulting from pity or from a desire to receive something in return.

Compulsory respect is the greatest kind of indignity we can heap on our fellow. Honoring a child for something he didn't do is mortifying. The respect we show a child should be genuine and not always for something he has done or for something we hope he will do. The respect to which we are referring is basic respect for him as a human being.

3. Because He Deserves it, Not Because We Pity Him. Some think that prizes or gifts are indications of our respect for a child. But that isn't so. A child who receives prizes and gifts without any relation to his behavior understands quite well that he has received a mere object, not esteem. Under especially difficult circumstances, the child loses the need for esteem, and is transformed into a monkey-like person, satisfied with objects and delights but unconcerned about the reason he has received them.

A child prefers one piece of candy given out of appreciation to an entire package without his having done anything to deserve it or just to prevent him from being unruly. A candy -- even a compliment -- given because one appreciates the child, expresses the importance with which you relate to him and strengthens his self-esteem. Candies given in order to calm him have precisely the opposite affect. They anesthetize the child, dampening his natural, positive need for respect and appreciation.

We, the parents, do this in order to buy peace and quiet, many times in anger and while yelling at the child: "I am sick and tired of you. Take the candy. I don't want to hear a peep out of you."

You've gotten quiet for five minutes, but have acquired long- lasting noise as well as something else: a child addicted to immediate gratification who will slowly abandon his natural desire for genuine satisfaction and genuine respect and appreciation

4. "Look At Him" in a Positive Manner. The expression, "they're looking at me," generally sounds like a complaint issued by children against their parents and teachers. Apparently, it is possible to "look at a child" in a positive way. This expression means that we should look for reasons and opportunities to give our child genuine respect. It is enough to catch a child doing something good just once, like helping a brother of a friend -- even if he did it to receive praise -- and then to compliment him either directly or indirectly. This will make him realize that being a good person makes one feel good.

The most tried and true way to do this is to talk to a third party (such as one's spouse) at a time when the child thinks his parents don't know that he is listening, and then to say something like: "Yankie gives me a lot of nachas. Do you know what he did today? I wish all of the kids behaved that way." It's difficult to explain the tremendous affect such indirect compliments have on children's behavior.

5. Apologizing to a Child. Sometimes parents make mistakes and punish a child unjustly. Many feel disconcerted when that occurs. It seems to them that by admitting their mistake their image as parents will erode, and ongoing relations with their children will be harmed.

But that's not so. Saying that you're sorry provides a wonderful opportunity to strengthen your child's trust in you, and constitutes a great compliment for the child, who feels sought-after and respected. "See, my parents care about me and are concerned about my self-esteem. They prefer not to sweep the error under the rug and not to ignore my need for respect."

By chance, I met a young dropout who was suspecting of stealing. Those who suspected him even filed a complaint with the police, but in the end they found the item in their home. They apologized sincerely, and even bought the youngster a nice present. The feeling that apology created (that of his being a "tortured martyr;" of being appreciated, pitied and even in the right) led to the rare opportunity to return him to yeshiva. This opportunity would have been squandered had they told him: "You yourself created a situation in which people suspected you."

6. The Hierarchy. The permanent place and status of each child in the family is a crucial factor. Just like an office becomes a den of envy, hatred and attempts to undermine one's co-workers when functions and realms of authority are not clearly delineated, so the failure to define the place and authority of a child at home causes unease and a constant feeling of deprivation.

The best thing is to devise a hierarchy among the children, according to their ages. The moment a child knows whom he has to respect and who has to respect him, stability will result, just like a turbulent office calms down the moment clear rules of jurisdiction are established.

At the beginning, there may be some bitterness, but when everyone is certain that no one will usurp him or that no one will sidestep those above him, everyone will be sure of himself.

The fact that bechorim are sometimes equated to "Makas Bechoros" stems from their feeling that they haven't received the status they deserve: a feeling that is generally justifiable. Parents tend to impose equality among all their children, and thereby they do away with the natural advantage that age confers, forcing the child to cope with such a situation. From the moment a child receives the elemental respect he deserves merely by dint of his age, he feels more secure. This feeling of security calms him and contributes to his maturity.

In conclusion: After reading my previous article, my friend, Rav Benzion Klugman, from Hamodiah sent an excerpt from The Prince and the Nozir, written by one of the Rishonim, HaRav Avrohom bar Shmuel ben Chasdai: "Prepare the five-year-old his food and, if necessary, dig and plow in the mornings/ Regarding the ten-year-old, teach him at all times and let him fear your anger and become wise from it/ Respect the fifteen-year-old, and he will respect you when he turns twenty."

In explanation of this poem it is written as follows: Our sages have already said: "Your son: for five years is your master; for (another) five years is your slave; for (another) five years is your deputy (mishnecho); And after that he either loves your or hates you."

Due to great interest generated by the article "Honor Him," I will be happy to receive readers' comments.

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