As Long As He Gets A Prize
By Rabbi Yeshaya Weber

How to instill good values in a child. * Most parents wish to instill values and good midos in their children. There are many ways of achieving these goals, but most of them should be avoided. What is the proper approach? What is not good about contests and prizes? How do we know when we’re doing it right? Read on for answers to these and other questions.


As parents, we have an important task: to instill values and good midos in our children. Since every Jewish home is built on values, parents often expect a child to absorb the atmosphere in the home and automatically internalize the values upon which the home is based, even without direct guidance.


This approach, however, is not ideal. For example, we extol Avrohom Avinu’s mida of chesed. Parents see it as only natural that their child should become a baal-chesed, too. For some reason, some parents think that speaking about the avodas Hashem of tzaddikim is sufficient to cause the child to internalize the concept of avodas Hashem in its ultimate form, and to desire to attain it.


Generally speaking, it is possible to assume that people try to act in accordance with Torah, that they desire to achieve the maximum perfection in the fulfillment of taryag mitzvos. Parents train their children to act with kabbalas ol, to live as Jews and to grow and continue in the way they are taught.


But reality is not always in line with these lofty aspirations. Parents do succeed in instilling religious awareness in the child, so that he knows he must be careful in everything having to do with Torah and mitzvos. However, the maturing child begins to feel independent and begins to develop his personality in his own way. He sifts things through and selects what he feels comfortable with.


We may have great dreams for our child and educate him accordingly, but the child believes he is his own baal ha’bayis. He is convinced that he knows what is good for him and how to handle various situations. He decides what suits him, accepts it, and rejects or ignores what doesn’t meet his needs. In the best of circumstances, he may not ignore it, but may treat it superficially.


Much has been said on these topics, and every home knows its sore points. Every family is aware of its successes and its failures.


A significant part of successful chinuch depends on the purity and refinement of the child and to what extent he is receptive. Parents, however, play a very important role in fashioning a child’s personality. Parents can adopt proper approaches to instilling those values that they think the child ought to understand, feel, acquire, and internalize. We can build a child’s personality through instilling values.


These aren’t particularly complicated approaches - they are actually very simple. Consistency plays a vital role, in that the values become deeply ingrained. When they are rooted within, the child can develop and expand them on his own. He can develop his personality on the basis of the principles he acquired.


What tools do we have to instill values in children? The first tool is speech. We speak, clarify, and convey a message through words, and expect the child to understand what we said, believe it to be true, and act accordingly. It is true that speech is vital. But let’s not forget to pay attention to the form and content of what we say.


Actions also talk. When we want a child to daven properly, we should not say, “Moishele, you should look into your siddur and daven nicely. You have to be like the other children who are davening nicely.” This conveys to the child the wrong reason for what we want him to do. If we tell him this, he will take out of it that we want him to be a good boy like other good boys. He will understand that our goal is nachas, and therefore we ask him to do superficial acts.


He might very well conclude that he doesn’t want to bother working hard just to be like other good children. Who says he has to force himself to do some superficial act that he doesn’t find important - to act as though he’s davening just to give his parents nachas?


The child can find lots of reasons and excuses not to listen to his parents’ request that he daven nicely:


He has already tried in the past but didn’t succeed.


He did not get the kind of compliments he deserved for his efforts.


He was disappointed and concluded the effort wasn’t worthwhile.


The child’s approach to the issue is derived from the way it was presented to him. We did not educate him. We did not instill in him the importance of t’filla, and we did not explain to him what it is all about. We told him that he should make efforts to daven properly because we want everybody to know that he’s a good boy.


As we said earlier, this strategy is not chinuch; it is merely the expression of our personal desire that the child fulfill our request. Put more bluntly: Behind the lofty request that the child behave properly hides our ego. Our goal is for the child to provide us with nachas so we can be proud of him, so that his behavior does not shame us.


In order to elicit good behavior, we use contests. The children who comply with the rules of the contest - davening nicely, in the siddur, out loud, etc. - get points and even prizes. Credit must be given to those who run these contests and work hard in doing so, but this technique is not enough because it does not educate the child to appreciate the importance of t’filla. The child davens properly because he knows he’ll get a prize. To the child there is no difference whether he’s asked to daven nicely or to run around the shul three times, as long as he gets a prize.


Many people reading this will wonder and ask, “What about chanoch l’naar al pi darko (educate a child according to his way) and mitoch she’lo lishma, ba lishma (from doing it not for Hashem’s sake, he will come to do it for Hashem’s sake)? Since the child will benefit by receiving a prize, won’t he derive pleasure from the deed itself, giving him the desire to continue to daven properly even after the contest is over?”


Even this is still not enough to create a true connection between the child and t’filla. The child hasn’t really internalized an awareness of the importance of prayer; he is not drawn towards t’filla, and he doesn’t yearn to pray. When he does pray, he doesn’t do it with feelings from the innermost point of his heart and soul. At the end of the contest, the act remains as external as it was at the beginning.


The same is true when we persuade a child to learn. We tell him, “Learn well!” When he wants to know why, we tell him that it will benefit him. Perhaps the child will be convinced and will learn well, but it’s unlikely that the explanation truly taught him to learn.


These approaches might be the beginning of the chinuch-road, but there’s still plenty to do to internalize the learning. Any explanation will encourage the child to learn only as long as the reason applies and appears valid. When conditions change and the reason no longer applies, then there won’t be any serious reason for him to sit and learn.


The same principle is true for every issue - helping in the house, honoring parents, getting along with siblings, etc. When the child is asked to do something in exchange for some benefit, he will weigh whether the investment is worth the profit and will decide accordingly. With this approach you can get the child into a certain framework of discipline, but it still isn’t enough to produce any internalization.


There are effective educational techniques that do shape behavior: Long-term consistency and perseverance on the part of both parties will cause proper behavior to become second nature. In the end, when the child grows up, he will continue to follow the path that he was shown, and fulfill everything required of him, without anticipating incentives in exchange. To achieve this goal, one must be extremely consistent. The parent must know how to slowly and gradually back away from the obligation of giving prizes. He must bring the child to the realization that the prize is not the end - it is the means. The child must eventually realize that the purpose of the prize is actually to develop habits, and when habit has already become second nature, the prize is not necessary any more.


It’s hard for parents to be consistent to the extent that the child will actually internalize things. Consistency is an approach that has seen some success, but it doesn’t work for everybody, and not every family can manage it.


Our approach must be, first of all, to change our own perspective. We have to speak to the child - not because we expect something of him, but in order to direct him. The discussions are not in order to see immediate results. The parent’s goal is not to see nachas, and the child does not need to expect a prize.


The conversation takes place because speech is a good medium to provide guidance. You can use small tokens of encouragement like a smile, a good word, even a candy. These are not in exchange for good behavior, and are not used to express parental anticipation of the requested behavior. If the child changes completely overnight and suddenly becomes an oveid Hashem, it only proves that this behavior has nothing to do with chinuch.


How should the child be guided? What do we mean by guided? When we let a child know the value of a deed, that everything has value, explaining or using an analogy suited to his understanding - that is called guiding. Children understand the idea of values, and if it’s on their level, they can be willing to accept them. The educator has the job of conveying, on the child’s level, the value of the concept or behavior he wishes the child to internalize. Only then can anything actually be internalized. You canspeak over the child’s head and request the maximum. Even if we succeed in getting the child to do what we ask, he won’t do it as a result of having internalized the point. This will become apparent when the attainment disappears as fast as it came.


Guiding emphasizes the value of the concept or behavior with a brief explanation, giving the child the sense that he can relate to the value even if he thinks: I don’t know what it means to daven; I daven but I don’t understand why. Still, if we can show the child what it means to daven with feeling, he will be far more open to accepting t’filla in an internal manner.


You have to show the child that this feeling exists and is real. You should teach him to describe his own feelings while davening; he felt good; he was satisfied; he felt confident; he knows he did the right thing; he feels he is doing what is required of him as a Jew, etc.


Naturally, each child must be spoken to on his own level. A little child can be taught through a song on the subject, a preschooler with a skit, game, or story. You have to find the right method of instilling in the child an understanding of his experiences while doing the activity he is asked to do. The child should be able to define his feelings for himself. This is step one in internalization.


Talking is a tool for directing a child. Through speech, you can give a child a sense of satisfaction. This satisfaction grows since the child knows when he davened properly. He knows when he did something right, important, and worthwhile, rather than just superficial and shallow.


Instilling values demands a certain investment of our time and lots of patience. We have to think in advance about what explanation we want to use and the exact words we will use, but this step may not require much time - maybe only a few minutes. Checking the results immediately is not necessary, even if the child did not say Kriyas Shma in the best way, despite the explanation he heard in the morning. He may not yet daven properly, but this need not be taken to heart. Although no progress may be apparent, the parent has to keep working at it, saying a few words to arouse the feeling he wants to arouse so that the child appreciates the importance of the matter.


It’s important to use various methods so that the child doesn’t feel it’s just talk. This approach will get the child back on the desired track. He will be far more aware of his actions, will devote more attention to the subject, and will respect the mida more deeply. He will come to appreciate the importance of t’filla, and will change the way he relates to it.


When the child grows older, he can be told the meaning of certain selections and even be encouraged to explain them himself every so often. You can also ask him to point out a paragraph that has particular meaning for him, because despite the fact that t’filla is verbal, it is avoda sh’b’leiv (service of the heart). When a child can say, “When I get to this mizmor I feel happier, but I don’t understand this other mizmor that well,” it shows he is beginning to internalize the value of t’filla.


When a child says that he had more kavana at a certain request in the Sh’moneh Esrei that day because he had a particular need, that is when you know that he is being educated to daven, and understands its value, even if externally his davening doesn’t look enthusiastic. Even if he didn’t daven out loud or with overt enthusiasm, or he didn’t have a look of concentration on his face, the objective has been met. The child felt the significance of t’filla in the depths of his heart, on his level, and we know that he is on the road to internalization. That is our ultimate reward...


To the child there is no difference whether he’s asked to daven nicely or to run around the shul three times, as long as he gets a prize.




The child must eventually realize that the purpose of the prize is actually to develop habits, and when habit has already become second nature, the prize is not necessary any more.


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