CONTENTS AT A
BRINGING OUT THE BEST
WHEN RAISING CHILDREN
UNLESS CHILDREN COME
FIRST - YOU'RE LOSING MORE THAN JUST PERSPECTIVE
TONE AND ATMOSPHERE CAN
MAKE OR BREAK A FAMILY
BRINGING OUT THE BEST
WHEN RAISING CHILDREN
Much attention these days is going to
children who are "at risk." In my counseling work, sometimes with younger
married couples and sometimes with grandparent-age couples, I see people who are assigned
the roles of adults but they are, alas, big-bodied children.
They were "children at risk" when
they were shidduchim...a risk for the partner they married!
Having been alive for several decades is no
guarantee they are adults.
As I have more and more experience as a
marriage counselor, I am growing more and more against "social marrying," i.e.
marrying children off just because they get to the age at which "it is done" or
at which social pressure dictates "it is time" or because "the shadchan has
to make parnossa, too."
If the person isn't ready, or the match
isn't right for the couple, I hold it is hezik (damage) to marry the couple. Because you
want someone married, you have no right to harm the other party to a shidduch when the
someone you want married off is too spoiled, selfish, irresponsible, dysfunctional or
immature for marriage.
So, the obvious questions are how to raise
children to be more marriageable and how to establish criteria for determining who is
ready for a durable marriage and for living steadily according to the Torah's requirements
and standards. Let's analyze the situation and this will become clearer.
"From when does one start to teach his
child? When he starts to speak begin to teach, 'Moshe commanded us Torah' and the first
verse of 'Shema,' and after that, teach gradually until old enough for a teacher"
[Yorah Daya 245:5].
Families must train children - boys and
girls - early - that they have to help and be of practical service to others, and must
behave with derech eretz (civil, polite and thoughtful behavior) and responsibility. They
must learn to cover the mouth when coughing or use a tissue when sneezing and to say:
please, thank you, you're welcome, I'm sorry, excuse me and all other elements of courtesy
and manners. This all has to be internalized into heart and behavior - not just be
mechanical. The children grow up to be better adults and more ready for good adult
Children, according to their understanding
level, should be made to know their parents feed them, clothe them, stay up late or run to
a doctor when the children are sick, work hard at a job or at home to take care of and
provide for the children. Boys and girls should be taught to behave with all of the laws
of honoring parents, teachers, rabbis and grown-ups in general. These instill: a sense of
right and wrong, discipline, humility, respect, gratitude, that others must be able to
impact the children's behavior and judgement, and that they must get out of self. These
are NOT meant to make the child feel guilty or be under a neurotic parent's sick emotional
control. The goal is training in good midos and good conduct and raising a responsible and
healthy child. Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz z'l, former Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva in Yerushalayim,
said, "Responsibility is the foundation of being a human being."
They should be trained, according to age
level and capability, to help with tasks around the house, be it shopping, cooking and
serving meals (yes, boys too), helping with littler children (in their family and
babysitting for others), visiting and caring for local sick people in homes and in the
local hospital, doing kindnesses for schoolmates and neighbors, preventing and rapidly
resolving arguments - all on a regular basis to teach this is what is normal. I maintain
this is worth taking time off of yeshiva schedules at all grades so that the students grow
up learning how to behave like a mentsh in life outside the bais medrash. I do not believe
it correct to put boys on pedestals, as some do, or to exempt them from practical and good
acts. THIS IS NOT BITUL TORAH, IT IS INTERNALIZATION OF TORAH! PIRKEI AVOS TELLS US THAT
DEEDS MUST EXCEED CHOCHMA FOR CHOCHMA TO REMAIN. In this generation it is not safe to
assume that learning alone makes the boys into finished products, especially regarding
readiness for living properly with a wife. The Steipler said that just because a fellow is
diligent in learning, there is no guarantee that he won't hit his wife, refuse to take out
the garbage when needed or care for his wife when she is sick. Further, for ages in which
maturity should be starting to come out (e.g. mid-teenage, more or less depending on the
individual child) this should NOT be structured conveniently. There should be some element
of nesayone (test) that is designed to force the youths to learn that things do not
necessarily go their way. For example, the youths should be required to visit patients at
the local hospital when they would rather be doing something more fun and they should be
required to settle disputes with other kids right away unselfishly and substantively and
they must learn to compromise. Such tests will train them for unselfish and non-emotional
handling of stresses of life and for marital peace. I am not saying any parent should be
in the least cruel, controlling, spiteful or excessively demanding. It is open halacha
(Yora Daya 240:19-20) not to be too pressuring on one's child and to not hit a child over
bar/bas mitzva age.
For all of this to be internalized, there
must be a home atmosphere rich in love and warmth. There must be appropriate balance. The
gemora says, of raising children, to have the requisite measure of training and discipline
but the primary emphasis should be on love and closeness [Yerushalmi Sanhedrin].
A child starts out only understanding
through emotions. The intellect is not developed so he cannot yet be trained in concepts.
By giving a formidable emotional foundation of love, warmth, validation and security; a
child who must be given discipline understands not to feel frightened, hated, erased or
rejected. There is a personality base which can accept moral development.
It can be effective, when a small child
needs to be disciplined, to look at the child with direct eye contact, make your
expression a prudent balance of somewhat stern and profusely loving, and say in a soft but
firm questioning tone, "Do we allow stealing a lollipop?," "Does the Torah
let you hit Yonkel?" "Does Hashem let you talk chutzpa?" The child
registers that this is serious and that he has violated the code of right and wrong. Tell
the child to HIMSELF IMMEDIATELY remedy the situation so he learns to associate good and
bad with his actions: "Say 'I'm sorry' to Shulamis for hitting her," "Give
back the lolly right now," "Tell Mommy 'I won't talk chutzpa again.'"
Repeat as needed. Or, say a partial question and let the child fill in the missing word
which, when said, will drive home the lesson to the child, eg. "Mommy can't buy you a
toy now because I'm cooking for..."? Let the child say, "Shabos" or
When a child is emotionally secure, he can
accept messages of training and discipline, according to his understanding level at
various ages. This can be a challenging task and you should seek daas Torah; don't go it
alone or in the dark. If a child has had a steadily loving upbringing that nurtures
emotionally and rewards positive behavior, this all will not be asking too much of a
healthy child and will be an invaluable investment in that child's having a wholesome,
Torah-loyal and successful adulthood.
The midrash [Beraishis Raba 54:3] says that
any love without correction [of the loved person] is not love. King Solomon says,
"Trustworthy are the wounds of one who loves and numerous are the false kisses of the
one who hates (Proverbs 27:6)." The person who only kisses, only wants approval,
comfort, self-importance or some other personal advantage and therefore has no genuine
interest in what is best for the one (s)he kisses. The one who can wound constructively,
to direct the other in the path that is best, is the one with trustworthy love and
We must take into account the individuality
of each child, and not make the mistake of "mass production" education.
Different children have different personalities, sensitivity levels, minds, strengths and
limitations. If a child is raised or disciplined in a way that is adverse to his nature,
he will rebel and abandon it. King Solomon says (Proverbs 22:6), "Educate the child
according to his way so that he will not turn from it when he is old." You have to
modify your approach to suit each child. For example, when teaching chesed (active and
unselfish kindness), children may have different proclivities. One may be more suited to a
more active type of chesed such as doing shopping for an elderly or infirm neighbor, while
the other may be more cerebral and would do better to volunteer to tutor a neighbor's
child in mishnayos. One teenage girl might prefer baby sitting for a neighbor or relative
while another prefers making rounds as a volunteer in a local hospital or helping her
mother or a neighbor who just gave birth to cook. Each learns to act kindly while not
resenting or rebelling against the program tailored to him/her, because each adopts a
variation suited to his/her nature.
Similarly, a rov in Flatbush said that when
he was a child, he was particularly devoted to kissing the mezuza, whenever he went
through a door. His father tried to stop the child. The father's rov said not to. Because
he is devoted to the mitzva of mezuza, he will find fulfillment and be motivated to go
further in Torah and mitzvos. Find the aspects of Torah learning and observance that your
children each particularly like and feel enthusiastic about. This can gradually prod them
to do and love Torah and mitzvos more and more. Rambam writes that when a child is young,
he cannot appreciate Torah so he cannot learn it for its own sake. We give the child nosh,
rewards and compliments to motivate him to learn. As he matures, the child can learn to
study Torah and do mitzvos for their own sake.
Children must be trained in good midos and
not taking things for granted. When asking for things, e.g. nosh, he must say
"please" and "thank you." If a child demands something that costs
money (e.g. a toy, operating the air conditioner), make him "pay" such as by
learning an extra mishna, doing an extra chore to help mommy or giving a piece of his
candy to another child. The child will learn self-discipline, manners and that things in
life have a cost.
Be'air Haitiv (to Orech Chayim 47:5) says
that when we say Birkas HaTorah each morning and the prayer (in "Uva Litzion")
not to come to dismay (behala), we should have in mind to be praying for children who will
become masters of Torah. Sefer Hilchos Derech Eretz adds that this should include your
prayers that the child become a baal midos (a master of good character traits), a master
of derech eretz (civil, polite and thoughtful behavior) and a tzadik.
A responsible parent always must ask,
"What impact on the child's midos and behavior will this have, how will this train
the child, how will he grow up, how will this impact him/her when an adult?" Some
people do not bring young children to shul before they are old enough to know not to
disturb others. Some people bring little children to shul because they want the child to
feel at home coming to shul. However, some children never grow up in their regard for
shul. They start out there playing and disturbing people and they grow up never learning
to stop playing and disturbing others. They grow up doing constant sins in shul such as
talking during dovening, walking within four feet (in front) of people in Shmoneh Esray
(which is prohibited), talking about secular things in the holy place, disturbing others
by saying the silent prayer with their voice (instead of only with their lips) and having
chutzpa e.g. towards the shul's rabbi. If a parent is permissive or lenient in areas that
require training, the child will get a message of hefkairus (there are no restraints) or
that he can wiggle out of accountability for misdeeds by being cute or clever. When
someone wiggles out of accountability in this world, he is slammed with accountability in
the eternal world. It is no favor for a child to train him/her that (s)he has no
accountability for what (s)he does.
Since Torah life, especially after bar/bas
mitzva, is characterized by accountability and increasing responsibility, the messages
conveyed in educating children must always be on a foundation of love and with a structure
of discipline that trains a child to learn on his own to distinguish in all things the
difference between right and wrong, good and evil, yaitzer hatov and yaitzer hora, service
of ego and service of Hashem.
What a child sees in his surroundings molds
him. It is imperative for parents to be good role models, inspiring and a kiddush Hashem.
There is a joke, with a big ring of truth, that fathers who learn Torah raise sons who
learn Torah, and fathers who tell their children to learn Torah (but don't learn) raise
sons who tell their sons to learn Torah (but don't learn)! The mothers should be paragons
of tzneeyus (modesty in dress and demeanor) and chesed (active kindness). Both parents,
and all adults who have influence on a child, should be models of good midos (character
traits), derech eretz (civil, polite, and thoughtful behavior), kavod habrios and ahavas
Yisroel (respect and love for others). Children should not be spoiled with materialism and
should not be given every thing they scream for. Adult judgement and daas Torah are
imperative. The children will accept this if there is massive love in the home, in
general, and towards them, in particular. Both parents should shower their children, when
they are little, with hugs, kisses, affection, with rewards and validation for all good
things the little neshamos do, and motivation to do better and better all the time. The
home should be strong in spiritual values, yiras Shomayim (reverence for G-d) and
practical Torah observance; and should have a calm, peaceful, warm and cheerful
Sefer HaChinuch says that a person is
molded by his actions. It is, therefore imperative that each child be guided into proper
habits and patterns so that his actions mould him into a Jew actively devoted to Torah and
King Solomon, in his wisdom, tells
[Proverbs 1:8] the child to obey the "correction of his father and never to abandon
the Torah of his mother." If a child is to grow in Torah, wouldn't we suppose that
the child be told not to abandon the Torah of his FATHER? The father is the parent
commanded to learn Torah and to teach it to his son! NO! King Solomon understood that only
if the child has rich love and emotional nurturance from his mother will the child have a
foundation for the necessary discipline that must come from his father.
When a child needs correction, speak to
him/her softly and in accordance with his understanding level. This is not always enough.
It seems that some people these days
advocate never hitting a child. When hitting will contribute to the proper training of a
child, while the child is UNDER THE AGE OF BAR/BAS MITZVA, the Torah DOES advocate
hitting. King Solomon says, "He who holds back his stick [from hitting] hates his
child, but he who loves his child disciplines [the child] from his early age (Proverbs
13:24)." In practical halacha (Orach Chayim 551:18) the Shulchan Oruch makes a
special point to say not to hit children during "the three weeks" between the
17th of Tammuz and Tisha Bi'Av. This makes clear that parents and teachers are to hit
during the rest of year. The hitting is to be for the purpose of education - not abuse or
injury. The Shulchan Oruch says not to hit like an enemy nor to hit cruelly; the adult
should hit the child with a small strap (Yorah Daya 245:10). Pischai Tshuva on this says
that if the hit breaks a bone (in other words, does any harm considered to be damage in
halacha), the perpetrator is obligated for all costs and punishments prescribed by halacha
for damages done to any person and is subject to excommunication by a bais din. The hit
must not be sadistic or damaging. There must be no more to the hit than its instructive
point: e.g. don't lie, don't hit the other child, stop the chutzpa, don't run into the
street again. Rambam writes that one must PRETEND to be angry for one's own family or in
his community, when there will be instructive benefit in appearing angry, but NEVER TO
HAVE ACTUAL ANGER. EVEN WHEN ANGRY, ONE MUST SPEAK WITH GENTLENESS, and never appear to be
excited (Dayos 2:3). The Torah understands the balance between love and discipline in
teaching children. Chazal say that if your child is not succeeding in his Torah studies,
his rebbe must have withheld from him a pleasant face [Taanis 8a]. Teachers must also
balance love and discipline.
As a technical matter, Ashkenazim do permit
hitting a child till the age of twenty two. However several complex issues enter the
question after the child is bar/bas mitzva [Yora Daya 240:19-20, Rama, Pischay Tshuva and
Birchay Yosef and Rambam Dayos]. Hitting a child over bar/bas mitzva would be a possible
option only if it is for the pure sake of chinuch [instruction] and if there is no other
valid non-hitting option. The parent must make an objective evaluation of the child's
nature: will the child react adversely, can hitting be expected to be truly effective? The
hitting is not allowed if the child is married, or if the child will react with a
violation of halacha (e.g. hitting, cursing, opposition to the parent or if the child's
honoring of the parent would be jeopardized), if the parent is motivated by his own anger,
if hitting is an excessive burdening of the child or if the child is excessively
humiliated, anguished or frightened. No Jew, even a bais din, may hit another Jew without
halachic justification. If the Torah is strict about not hitting someone considered evil
in halacha, it is all the moreso strict about not hitting someone NOT considered evil in
halacha. If one raises his hand against another in anger, even without hitting, or if he
hits more than is justified by halacha for the sin, he is called evil [Choshen Mishpot
420:1]. Due to complex factors such as these, the custom in practice among Ashkenazim is
generally not to hit a child over bar/bas mitzva age. Such hitting would be extremely rare
and only under extenuating circumstances and when there will be no adverse affects or
Yehuda HaChassid, the great sage in the
time of the Rishonim, was once working at his desk with some rare and irreplaceable
manuscripts. His baby was lying in a diaper on the desk, resting. Since the baby was OK,
he had become immersed in his scholarship, studying the manuscripts. At one point the baby
started passing water which leaked through the diaper and reached the old manuscripts. The
rabbi's first reaction was to scream at the baby. He caught himself in the nick of time
and gently moved the child to another surface and then tended to salvaging the rare
manuscripts from damage the best he could. He said to himself that if he would have
screamed, HE WOULD HAVE TRAINED THE CHILD TO BECOME FRIGHTENED OF A THING THAT IS NATURAL
AND HE KNEW THAT THIS WOULD BE DESTRUCTIVE FOR THE REST OF THE CHILD'S LIFE AND HE
COULDN'T DO THAT!
Every child must receive love at the
foundation of his upbringing. The love is then structured by discipline and training. With
this balance, the child will grow up to internalize and embody Torah, live as a
responsible and emotionally healthy adult, give and receive love in a stable and durable
marriage, appreciate and respect others, and function with mature and menchlach practical
behavior for his entire lifetime.
UNLESS CHILDREN COME FIRST
- YOU'RE LOSING MORE THAN JUST PERSPECTIVE
The Torah says (Genesis 18:19 - the Speaker
is G-d), "I know that Avraham will command his offspring and his house after him to
guard the way of G-d to do generosity and justice, that G-d may bring upon Avraham what He
said." Rashi points out that to "know" (when used in the Torah regarding a
person) means to "love," meaning that, because Avraham will have and raise
offspring who go in the way of G-d, G-d loves Avraham and rewards Avraham. Further, Rashi
writes that if Avraham was teaching his offspring and house, the Torah should have said
"that G-d may bring upon THE HOUSE OF Avraham. By writing only "that G-d may
bring upon Avraham," the Torah is teaching that the one who raises righteous
offspring is as one who never dies. His good lives on after him.
Nowadays, we see so many unhappy and broken
families, single parents, and psychologically injured children. The Jewish child, the
Jewish family, are the most valuable and precious commodity in Jewish life. Raising
spiritual and healthy children is the first priority of marriage. When from strong homes,
or when at least protected from damaging weaknesses, children are the building block of
the next generation - and all generations to come after! The stakes are so high!
Children who see unity, support, kindness,
respect, peace and agreement between parents * learn not to play one parent against the
other, and * see kavod (honor, respect), which is vital to the health of the marriage and
to the training of the children. A home atmosphere of kavod (honor, respect) will
contribute significantly to the happiness of the marriage and family. Children who see
respect BETWEEN their parents, have respect FOR their parents. Children who are treated
with respect will respect themselves, their parents and a future spouse.
When you set a tone in your house, it can
go on for generations - whether for good or for bad. Children should never be made to
fear, except for that which is natural to fear (Yehuda HaChasid). A husband should never
be frightening to his children (Masechta Smachos, chapter 2). To the extent that a child
is old enough to understand words, discipline should be with words and not with hitting.
Hitting is only for when words fail to be effective and only for a child who has not
reached bar or bas mitzva. Rather than being harsh, critical, or punitive, be inspiring.
Motivate, encourage, influence, acknowledge, praise and reward good.
Loving feelings, conduct, speech and
atmosphere in a marriage and family are infused, together with security, into the children
and they will carry over what they absorbed into future generations. See yourself as a
link in a chain of generations. If your own parents were not useable role models, your
children should become what your parents should have been - not victims of their mistakes
and shortcomings! One of the key places where children pick up important messages, to
learn about kindness and to instill spiritual qualities, is in the home. They learn when
they see the husband say to the wife, "Thank you for this cup of tea;" when
mommy has dinner ready when tatti comes home, because he is tired and hungry from working
hard; when they see spouses doing thoughtful and supportive things for each other; and
when, of course, the parents praise, encourage, guide, appreciate, love and emotionally
nurture the children. The children learn how to be family relaters when they see a husband
sincerely say to his wife, "This is delicious, thank you," or "The house is
beautiful," or "Thank you for taking X to the post office," or "You
look pretty in that dress." Parental behavior sends relationship messages to each
other and the children, which colors the atmosphere of the home and the development of the
children. What your children see in your marriage relationship is what they are going to
BECOME as marriage relaters! All complements; expressions of appreciation, manners or
respect; from either spouse to each other or to their children are "humanity
lessons" for the entire family when they contain * clear, articulate details and * a
cheerful, sincere and pleasant tone and disposition.
Have meals, especially dinner, together.
Mealtimes can gradually become an amazing and tasteful (pardon the pun) building block of
a closer and warmer relationship. "Better is a meager meal of vegetable, and love is
there; than a rich luxurious meal, and love is not there (Proverbs 15:17)."
At the table, the husband should say words
of Torah. The table is particularly suitable for speaking about love of Jews and ethics
(Vilna Gaon). In such spiritual matters (e.g. ahavas habrios/love of people, derech
eretz/courteous and refined behavior, mussar/self-perfection, etc.) the parents must be
TONE AND ATMOSPHERE CAN MAKE
OR BREAK A FAMILY
It is important to choose good friends,
good neighbors (when choosing where to live), and good guests. They influence you as
individuals, as a couple and as a family. The people who you associate with should love
Torah, have good character (midos), fear sin and do mitzvos. Rambam (Hilchos Dayos) writes
that since people are influenced by all whom they associate with, it is vital to be with
tzadikim and chachomim (the righteous and learned). It is better to be in isolation in a
desert than to be with people whose influence will destroy any of your spirituality
(Rambam). The Chinuch writes that a person is molded by his actions. It is crucial to do
and to reinforce good behaviors and deeds at all times throughout life. It can be helpful
to keep asking yourself, "How am I being a 'Kiddush Hashem' (sanctification of G-d)
with my life?"
It is important to live socially with
people and to choose good role models. Madrich LeChasonim provides measures of success in
this, which are:
* do such people come to visit your home
once or more times most weeks?
* are your children growing up with good
loving and learning Torah, good
midos-character traits, fear of sin, active and enthusiastic pursuit of halacha and
mitzvos, and choosing good friends?
* is your house a center for Torah life:
learning, lovingkindness, mitzva gatherings and activities, inviting guests to experience
Torah life (e.g. baalay tshuva, the poor, the unaffiliated Jew), shiyurim (Torah classes)
* is there a clear Torah and lovingkindness
It is vital to always be cheerful, pleasant
and goodhearted. As Proverbs 27:19 beautifully puts it, "Just as water reflects a
face, so the heart of a person replies to a heart." People reflect, and respond to
you with, the behavior which you show to them. If you are always smiling, sweet, agreeable
and pleasant; your spouse, children and the people in your "life environment"
will learn to be friendly and warm, over time, from you. The Vilna Gaon wrote in a letter
to a son, "Nothing stands before will."
This also applies to shalom bayis and
personal perfection. Building a sweet relationship and family atmosphere is a matter of
both of your hearts really wanting to build a sweet relationship. When a couple is
committed to a close, harmonious relationship, Heaven helps this sincere couple.
The Talmud (Megila 6b) says that if a
person says that he worked on a spiritual goal and that he did not achieve, then you must
not believe his claim that he really did work. If he says that he strove for and achieved
a spiritual goal, this can be believed. A good marriage and family atmosphere is hard
spiritual work. With sincere work, it will succeed.
Until a couple of generations ago, families
were closer than in recent times. Often, two or three generations lived in the same house.
Everyone would see and absorb what solid and harmonious family, marriage and human
relations were. You would simply watch how spouses, parents and children treated each
other. No one had to study what a family or marriage was. People generally were much
further away from doing something unkind, disrespectful, violent or irresponsible. See how
much we have fallen since the days of our bubbes and zaidas. Let's get back there! You can
- and must - do it!
When a family lives together with humility,
honor, love, kindness and peace, G-d's presence dwells with them and He calls their home a
mikdash mi'at, a miniature Holy Temple.