A well known educator once taught me how to transform
certain children into liars and cheats. "It's a very simple
`educational' venture," he said. "The moment a parent or
teacher casts aspersion on what a child tells him,
interrogates him and lets him know that he suspects him of
lying, the child becomes aware of the possibility of saying
something untrue. If this skepticism is retained through
repeated accusations by dubbing the child a `liar' over an
extended period of time, the child will indeed turn into a
After studying the matter in depth, the educator discovered
that children of naive parents who believe everything their
children tell them (even if their children once lied), grow
up as honest, truthful people, while children of perceptive,
clever parents who can easily detect their children's lies
and are constantly on the alert to catch their kids lying
and rebuke them, are far more prone to grow up to be
seasoned liars. They have been raised to see that whatever
is said is not necessarily that which actually occurred.
At some time in every child's life, he is exposed to the
fact that there is such a thing as lies in this world. But
every child is not exposed to the prospect that he himself
might be a lair and a cheat. The moment aversion to the
concept "liar" is ingrained within him, his conscience will
take over, even if he lies sometimes. This premise also
holds true in the case of theft and other vices. The way in
which you present your child, is, in the end, the main
factor in molding of his character.
This leads me to a very painful but fundamental aspect of
the formation of a child's soul: respect.
One of the most important and decisive mitzvos in the
chinuch of children is, "Honor your father and your
mother." Respect for parents conjoins with respect for a
higher authority, be it "fear of one's mentor" or "fear of
The mitzvah of honoring one's parents is not reciprocal. A
child is obligated to honor his parents; his parents aren't
obligated to honor him. However, they are obligated to
educate him to honor them. This can be done only through
relating to him with respect and inculcating in him the
awareness of the need to respect one's fellow.
People tend to confuse concepts. Some think that giving to a
child is a manifestation of respect. But that isn't so.
Others think that loving a child constitutes respect. But
that is also not so. Giving and loving are important
concepts in themselves, but they don't teach a child
For example: You give charity to a pauper, but this giving
doesn't express high regard for him.
There is a difference between regard and respect. Respect is
a type of behavior toward one's fellow. One must respect
every person, no matter who he is. Because he is a human
being, you must treat him humanely and regard him as your
equal. "Who is respected? One who respects others" -- he who
respects every human being, regardless of his level of
intellect or mitzvah observance or character traits.
Were one to conduct a study categorizing children according
to their emotional, moral and maturity levels, he would
undoubtedly discover that children who had been treated at
home with the most basic degree of respect; children whose
egos were taken into account, whose words were respected and
whose personalities and characters were appreciated, would
fall into the upper levels.
That doesn't mean that they are the best students in the
class, or that they have unusual talent. However, it means
that when they reach adolescence and then adulthood, they
will be top-ranking individuals: mature, good-natured, and
self-confident. They will have no scars or scratches, no
feelings of pain, degradation, anger or vengeance. Children
who were treated with respect are emotionally stable and can
chart their path in life with confidence.
On the opposite extreme, children who have been treated with
degradation, scorn, and cynicism, even if they were
outstanding as children (sometimes only due to fear of
mockery or humiliation) reach the end of childhood and
adolescence as frightened people who cannot cope with life's
demands. They can never reach the mature adult stage. The
fact that they were not treated with respect transformed
them into people with low a self-image, lacking the strength
to cope with life.
What hurts even more is that their parents, the people most
interested in their child's success, are those who robbed
their children of the self-esteem so necessary for their
This is not a result of negative motives. The desire to see
their child acting with maturity causes certain parents to
harm him when he behaves in a childish manner. Such affronts
have never succeeded in effecting positive change. Quite the
opposite is true. All of us can point to many cases of
people whose lives were destroyed only because of their
parents' ill-treatment that served to undermine their self-
respect -- in an effort to teach them mature behavior.
What is the source of this grievous error?
The explanation is simple. Just as no one has ever changed
his opinion as a result of an argument, no one on earth has
matured because of humiliation: suddenly become truthful
because he was called a liar or honest because he was called
These things simply never happen!
People change their opinions much more easily when they
don't feel threatened. They become truthful when they have
grown up knowing that people accept what they say as true.
They become honest when they have been trusted and not
accused of dishonesty. People behave respectfully when they
have been treated with respect.
They way you treat your child is the way in which you shape
him. Because of you, a ten year old can behave like a mature
fifteen year old (do you know such kids?). On the other
hand, you can cause a nineteen year old to behave like a ten
year old (you surely know such cases).
By the time a child is three years old, you must relay to
him the feeling that he is worthwhile, that his word has
meaning, that you respect his personality (even if it is
different from yours and actually gets on your nerves).
Actually, it isn't enough to give him such feelings. You
really must feel that way and reconcile yourself to the
differences. People's faces are not identical, so, too, do
their characters and views differ. Nothing will happen if we
overlook insignificant childish capers.
When a child plays a not-so-educational prank, we have to
punish him for the deed, but must not humiliate the doer.
Note: Respect of a child does not mean refraining from
punishment. The opposite is true. At times you may mete out
a punishment that is perhaps a bit harsher than strictly
necessary only because you don't expect such behavior from
your child. But the punishment must be directed to a child
who enjoys your respect, who has done something not in line
with your expectations.
It hurts us to see talented, highly intelligent
bochurim lacking maturity and fully-developed
personality because they are looked upon at home as silly
little kids; their parents scoff at their behavior and
remarks; react with cynicism to their "worthless"
Someone who treats his child like a nobody shouldn't be
surprised if the child's behavior and personality are
commensurate. One who doesn't give an older child any
authoritative status above his younger siblings shouldn't be
surprised if that child's behavior mimics that of the
youngest. I remember a thirteen year old who battered his
sister. I asked him why he did it. He answered that she had
opened his drawer. When I asked how old she was, he replied,
"a year and eight months."
But I also know a seven year old, whose three year old
brother toppled on top of him and injured him quite
severely. The seven year old writhed in pain and cried. But
then he stroked his frightened brother's cheek, and said,
"Don't worry, zisele, I'm okay."
A child's biological age is of no importance if he isn't
treated in an age-appropriate manner. The first child
mentioned above had received innumerable portions contempt,
dished out to him a number of times a day for many years. No
one relied on him; no one trusted him. He was on an equal
footing with an infant.
The second child had been treated with respect throughout
his life. His status in the house and his age were
constantly emphasized. In this way, although his entire body
ached as a result of his little brother's carelessness, he
would never dream of hitting his brother back. This happened
because his parents had related to his own pranks that way,
and because he was mature enough to understand that hitting
his little brother would serve no purpose. In this case, he
acted like a real parent. He writhed in pain, but
nonetheless did not forget his age and chinuch. He
saw the need to comfort his brother.
With children and adolescents, we should adopt the rule of
"respect and more respect."