Willing Acceptance Of Authority
By Mrs. C. Shuchat

Children are born naturally receptive to the teaching and guidance of their parents. A strong relationship, built on mutual esteem, trust and responsiveness, is essential for successful education. On the subject of kabbalas ol, or acceptance of Divine authority, the Rebbe says:[1] "One of a child’s traits is kabbalas ol," and "The beginning of wisdom is fear of Heaven." This means simply that it is the nature of a child to obey his parents even if he does not logically understand their directives. A child is ‘pure breath with no sin’ (so long as we do not confuse him with other matters)."

The Rebbe Rayatz writes:[2] "There are three things that are fundamental in education and guidance, in the relationship of the student to the educator: 1) The high esteem of the educator in the eyes of the student. 2) The trust the student has towards the educator. 3) The obedience, with total dedication and responsibility, of the student towards the educator."

For many parents and teachers, these three areas are precisely the ones that are fraught with the most difficulties. Getting our children to listen and to do as we tell them is perhaps one of the greatest parenting challenges. Why do most of us find it so difficult? The Rebbe’s answer is that we may be "confusing the child with other matters." What could these matters be, and how can we correct them?

Often, when we are confronted with a situation in which the child seems to be defying our authority, we project blame onto the child. "What a chutzpa! Why is this child not doing as I said?" The Rebbe teaches us that when a child is not listening to a parent, it is the parent’s responsibility to look into his or her own actions to find the flaw. The child is born ready and open to receive the guidance of his parents. The child is small, helpless, and completely dependent on the goodwill of the adults in his life. The child wants and needs to be able to trust the guidance of his mother and father. What is going wrong? Very often it is the parent who is sending a mixed message somewhere, confusing the child and preventing him from being able to fully trust the adult’s direction. The key to improving the parent-child relationship then would be to analyze our interactions with and the expectations we have of our children, to find and correct our own parenting mistakes. I would like to suggest a few possible causes of a child’s apparent lack of obedience, and discuss practical ways to avoid or rectify them.

I. We make unreasonable demands of our children

II. We ourselves are not completely committed to the demands that we make of our children.

III. We are subtly conveying a lack of self-assurance or confidence.

IV. We are too inflexible in trivial matters, while neglecting matters of higher priority.

V. We do not have trust in our children’s basic good nature, and fail to view their behavior in a positive light.


An unreasonable demand is anything that does not take into consideration the basic nature of the child. When a child seems to be ignoring a command of ours, we should first mentally run through the following checklist:

1) Did the child understand the directions? Very often, a child is sincerely perplexed as to what we meant, or has no idea how to carry out our desire.

Five-year-old Yankel came home from nursery school one day in tears. "Mora Dina put me in the corner just because I don’t know what a word means! She asked me if I would ‘cooperate,’ and I said ‘no!’"

Before assuming that a child is being disobedient, take the time to clarify for the child exactly what you want. A ‘clean room,’ for example, may mean one thing to you and something entirely different to him. He may need you to sit down with him a few times, to go over the steps involved in making a bed, putting away toys, or putting clothes in the hamper, before he becomes proficient at it on his own.

2) Is the child capable of meeting my expectations? Sometimes we make demands that are not in keeping with the maturity or development of the particular child. Some children mature at a different pace than others. If the child does not handle responsibility the way you wish she would, perhaps your expectations are not attuned to the child’s needs.

It might also be too much for a child to be put into a situation of temptation. If the cookies are left within her reach, don’t blame her if she goes ahead and eats them. Even adults sometimes have a hard time with that one! This is not to say that we condone or encourage willful self-indulgence. It simply means that we need to put our children’s misdemeanors into perspective, and try to consider how we would have acted in a similar situation. The Mishna teaches us to "judge each person favorably."[3] Surely our children deserve at least as much, if not more, consideration than an adult.

3) Are there other factors (fatigue, hunger, over-stimulation) that are preventing the child from behaving properly? If you see that a child is acting up, either at home or in a public place, the best thing you could do for the child would be to simply get up and remove him from the scene. You are doing the child a favor by removing him from a situation that he obviously cannot handle. It would be unfair to blame the child or make it seem like he is being punished. If a child can’t sit still in shul, for example, it would be better to keep the child at home a bit longer rather than set up a battle of wills that no one will win. Putting a child to bed when you see that he is overtired is not a "punishment" for misbehavior. You have simply taken action based on the cues that your child was giving you. If the child protests, you can tell him gently but firmly, "When I see you acting like this, that tells me that you need to sleep/go home/come inside."


When a child senses that her parents are not committed to the values that they are teaching her, it becomes very difficult to inspire obedience in that child. If the child sees her mother eating junk food, it is hard to explain to her why she cannot have any. If her father yells or throws things when he gets angry, he cannot expect his children to handle disappointments calmly.

Children are experts in discerning whether we truly mean what we tell them. They carefully observe our facial expressions, tone, stance, and body language to detect any hint of phoniness or lack of assurance. Before you tell a child to do something, first make sure that it is really important enough for you to follow through on. Be prepared and available to the child and see to it that it gets done. If you are ambivalent, it might be better not to bring it up in the first place!

Children learn best by following our example. The best way to teach a child to respect parents is by showing honor to your own parents. A child will have yiras Shamayim if the parents constantly display yiras Shamayim in his presence, and show respect for teachers and rabbanim. In fact, making improvements in your own midos and yiras Shamayim is the first and crucial step to bringing out positive behaviors in your children.


For some people, projecting an air of authority does not come naturally. It may be that they are simply less confident and secure than others by nature, and have a tendency towards excessive self-doubt and criticism. They constantly question their own actions, decisions, and motives. As parents and teachers, they have difficulty in asserting authority or taking decisive action. They are always in doubt: Am I being too strict, or too lenient? Too giving, or too stingy? Does my child need my protection now, or should I let him be independent? Yet if the child picks up on even a subtle lack of self-assurance on the part of the parents, it can have a disastrous impact on the child’s sense of security and ability to trust the adult’s guidance.

It is important to recognize that the tendency to be introspective and self-critical is an innate, G-d-given nature. We need to view it as any other G-d-given trait that needs to be cultivated and channeled. The tendency itself is not essentially a bad one. In fact, it is necessary for growth and positive change. It is only when it is taken to an extreme that it becomes paralyzing and destructive. Those who are by nature assertive and confident may need to work on assimilating some genuine prudence and bittul, while those who are introspective and self-critical need to develop in themselves strength and confidence.

For those who lack confidence, a supportive spouse, friend, or mashpia can be a real blessing. The EMMET books, by Miriam Adahan, are a wonderful resource for overcoming self-destructive attitudes and freeing yourself from your inner Mitzrayim. The teachings of Torah, and especially Chassidus, are a living wellspring of absolute truth and values. We will cease doubting ourselves when we give ourselves over to the source of truth and develop our faith in the wisdom of Hashem. We need to trust that if Hashem gave us these children, He also gave us the capabilities to connect with them and educate them. In fact, being assertive and confident in the chinuch of our children is the truest expression of bittul. It sends the child a strong message that we believe strongly in the ideals that we are teaching, and that we are striving to exemplify these principles in our personal lives. The more we study the teachings of the Rebbe and follow his horaos, especially the horaa of "aseh lecha rav," the more we can be assured that we are indeed following the correct and true path in life. Our children will then grow up in a home that is secure, and structured around the warmth and light of the Rebbe and his teachings.


Sometimes, the problem is that we are putting too much stress on trivial matters. We get so caught up in struggles with our children over petty issues that we use up our store of goodwill, leaving nothing for the more fundamental situations. Sometimes it’s wiser to allow the child his own way in small things, so that he will be receptive to you when it counts. For example, battles over what to eat, what to wear, when to pick up toys, etc., can be very draining to both the parent and the child. The parent is frustrated at the child’s resistance, and the child feels frustrated at the repeated attempts to force him and thwart his will. So if you feel embroiled in constant battles, ask yourself how important the issue really is to you. What is the worst thing that might happen if the child is left to do as he pleases? For example, if a child is refusing to put on a coat on a cold day, try letting the child go out without the coat, and carry it with you. Soon enough, the child will feel cold and ask for the coat.

Many situations can be resolved peacefully without resorting to force or a confrontation. Simply be determined to find a way to settle disagreements with your children in a calm, respectful way. Be prepared to open yourself up to the child, hear out his perspective, and try to find a way out of the impasse that respects both your needs. You will not lose to your child if you try not to get engaged in power struggles to begin with! Try to reserve your more forceful interventions for issues that are truly of vital concern. Since your energies won’t be dissipated on foolish things, the child will be responsive to your guidance on crucial matters, such as hashkafa and conduct.


Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes we make as teachers or parents, is trying to force obedience. We think that unless we are constantly on top of our children, reminding and cajoling them about their duties, they will never fulfill them. We project a negative attitude towards our children, giving them the message that we don’t fully believe in them or trust them to be good or capable. Actually, the more we stand over our children, the more we impart to them the message that:

* I don’t expect you to do this on your own.

* This is not something that you would have a desire to do.

* You are doing this to please me, and fulfill my needs.

* I don’t trust you and I don’t trust your judgment.

We come to think of children as machines to be programmed or animals to be trained, rather than human beings with thoughts, feelings, and desires. The child starts to chafe against this insult to his character and motivation. He really resents the implication that he is lacking in the discernment or desire to do good. The child wants the opportunity to prove that he also wants to do the right thing, and he doesn’t need to be constantly told or forced to choose good.

Trusting the child does not mean sitting back and allowing him to undertake all sorts of rash behavior. It means accepting the child as a child who needs lots of time to learn and think and grow before his judgment will be equal to that of an adult. We have faith that with the right guidance and encouragement, the child will, on his own, conduct himself in a proper way. It is important for parents to learn when and how to simply let go and give the child space to let his innate spiritual nature shine through.

The concept of willing acceptance of authority is very central in the Rebbe’s teachings. To quote: "Both malchus (kingship) and memshala (dominion) are terms that reflect sovereignty. However, the manner in which this sovereignty is secured differs. ‘Malchus’ refers to a situation in which a people willingly accept a certain individual as king; to borrow a phrase from the liturgy, ‘His children beheld His might...and willingly accepted His Kingship upon them.’ By contrast, ‘memshala’ refers to power that is acquired by force, against the will of the populace.

"Malchus possesses a twofold advantage. Firstly, because the people willingly accept the king’s authority, they are less likely to rebel. However, there is also a deeper aspect - in this manner, a people’s connection to their king is not merely external, but part and parcel of their own being. It is their minds and will that accept him.

"Similarly, men often choose to influence their environment by force. Although they may attain their goals thereby, the manner in which they do so often causes friction with those around them. By contrast, the inner dimension (pnimiyus), which characterizes the approach of a woman, makes the ideas she presents attractive to others and causes them to be accepted as part of their own perspective."[4]

The Rebbe’s own leadership epitomizes the malchus approach. The Rebbe guides, leads, inspires, suggests. The Rebbe prefaced every new directive with detailed explanations, which served to stimulate our own excitement and enthusiasm for the mivtza. The Rebbe carefully avoids getting involved with any issues that could be misconstrued as imposition. To illustrate:[5]

Mordechai Landow wrote a book entitled, The Shliach’s Manual for Successful Fund Raising. The Rebbe’s response in Hebrew, written in his holy handwriting, is as follows:

"In response to [your] letter...the shluchim (to long life) are laden with work and activities. The proposals presented herein are generally good... Nevertheless, there are those who specifically desire complete autonomy, and there are those who have a different approach to satisfaction, and they proceed likewise. Therefore, the pleasant path in the implementing of these proposals is to personally come (and make a presentation) or utilize those who assist in communicating among their acquaintances, the shluchim, to suggest this program, etc.

"In my humble opinion, this should not come as a directive or the like, from me, which could be interpreted as a command and obligatory, etc. The receivers (participants) would not feel free to alter any details, etc."

This approach is befitting the times of Moshiach. As the Rebbe said:[6]

"The appointment of Melech HaMoshiach has in reality already occurred, as we say in the verse (Ps. 89:21), ‘I have found my servant Dovid; I have anointed him with My holy oil.’ All that is needed is for the people to accept him as king, and for the total unity (hiskashrus) between the king and the people to be realized - with the complete and total Redemption."

C. Shuchat is a mother of three, a teacher and writer. You may send questions or feedback via e-mail to


1. Sichos Kodesh, 5741, Vol. IV, p. 434

2. Maamar Klolei Chinuch V’Hadracha, ch. 13

3. Pirkei Avos, 1:6

4. Sichos in English, vol. 46, Parshas Noach 5751 pp. 119-120

5. Diamonds of the Rebbe, Mordechai Staiman, Otzsar Sifrei Lubavitch, p. 208

6. Sichos in English, Vol. 47, Parshas Mishpotim 5751, p. 155


The Rebbe teaches us that when a child is not listening to a parent, it is the parent’s responsibility to look into his or her own actions to find the flaw.




Children are experts in discerning whether we truly mean what we tell them. They carefully observe our facial expressions, tone, stance, and body language to detect any hint of phoniness or lack of assurance.




Making improvements in your own midos and yiras Shamayim is the first and crucial step to bringing out positive behaviors in your children.




The child wants the opportunity to prove that he also wants to do the right thing, and he doesn’t need to be constantly told or forced to choose good.



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