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
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
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
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
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.