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: "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: "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
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.
KEEPING OUR DEMANDS REASONABLE
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." 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."
SAY WHAT YOU MEAN AND MEAN WHAT YOU SAY
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
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
COMBINING BITTUL WITH STRENGTH
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
TRUSTING OUR CHILDREN’S GOOD NATURE
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
* 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."
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
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
"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