Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Adar 5761 - February 28, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Respect and More Respect

by Chaim Walder

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 pathological liar."

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 Shomayim."

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 respect.

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 future.

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 a thief.

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" opinions.

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."

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