This week’s learning should be a z’chus for a refua sh’layma for
יהודית בת חיה פערל
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Make an effort to talk pleasantly with someone you might not think you’d enjoy talking to.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Respecting Children and Building Their Self-respect
Our obligation to treat others with kavod is not limited to adults; it applies to children as well. Every child is a tzelem Elokim, created in God’s image, and a child of Hashem.
Some people are not in touch with the feelings of children. They will approach a three-year-old who doesn’t know them and expect an instant positive response. A child is a real person with real feelings. A person with respect and understanding of children’s feelings will approach cautiously from a distance and allow the child his space until he or she is ready to warm up.
You can learn a lot about one’s middos by watching how he interacts with children. A person with good middos possesses deep respect and love for mankind. Furthermore, he is able to see things from the other person’s perspective. He is able to understand another’s thought process, even when it differs from his own. These qualities enable this person to communicate effectively with children.
When we make a child feel good about himself, when we make a child happy and put a smile on his precious little face, we are doing just as big a mitzvah, if not bigger, as when we do the same for an adult. A person forms his initial self-image in his years of childhood. It’s a lot easier to build a positive image from the get-go than to have to repair a damaged self-image. Besides doing for our own children, we should take advantage of every opportunity to help other people’s children, our youngest members and future of klal yisrael.
There is a remarkable Chazal (Bava Metzia 87a) which explains that the reason the malachim asked Avraham Avinu, “Where is Sarah your wife?” was to endear Sarah to her husband. Here was arguably the greatest couple that ever lived and yet, the malachim still concerned themselves with looking to further elevate Sarah in Avraham’s eyes. If the malachim deemed it worthwhile to point out Sarah’s qualities to Avraham, how much more so is it incumbent upon us to do the same for our family and friends?
Likewise, we should always look to praise children to their parents. Whose heart does not swell with pride when he hears his child being praised? As a rebbi of mesivta-age bachurim writes, “I more readily jump to call parents with a nachas report than with a negative report. The nachas report comes back to the bachur, which undoubtable further encourages his growth.”
(Based on a true story)
I ran across the house the grab the phone while trying not to drop the baby. I got it on the fourth ring and heard, “Hi, it’s Morah Greenberg. Nothing’s wrong.”
I love when teachers do that. It cuts your panic down just as it’s starting to rise up. I quickly found that this was a nachas call for my eight-year-old. Apparently, Shifra had volunteered to help clean up after a messy class art project and had done a beautiful job. Morah Greenberg had decided to call me as soon as she got home from her morning at school so she wouldn’t forget. I was grateful, and looked forward to greeting my cheerful helper girl when she came home later in the afternoon, but I found a very different child when she walked in the door.
“What can I eat? I want a Shabbos cupcake,” Shifra grunted as she tossed her backpack on the living room floor and plunked herself down at the kitchen table with a scowl. Clearly something was wrong. Was it the bus? One of her friends? When I asked, all she said was, “School is stupid. I’m hungry.”
It all became clear when we took out her homework. Her afternoon teacher Mrs. Feldman had sent home a note saying that Shifra had been caught talking in class for the third time, which warranted a note home and an extra assignment.
“I’m not doing it,” Shifra said, as I tried to figure out how my by-the-rules daughter had gotten into this situation. She made quick work of her morning homework, refused to do any of her afternoon work, and stomped off. She remained surly all evening, so I waited until later that night at bedtime, and gently asked Shifra who she had been talking to. She burst into tears.
“Nobody!” she sobbed. “Only Layla, because she keeps talking to me and I keep telling her to stop! And then Mrs. Feldman says we’re both talking. And today she took us to the back of the class to tell us she was telling our parents and she talked so loud!”
My poor kid. No wonder she wouldn’t do any of the work Mrs. Feldman had assigned, much less the extra work. She no longer trusted her. Further prodding revealed that Shifra had twice tried to tell her teacher what was happening, but her explanation had been brushed aside the first time and the second time all she had said was “But…” before a stern look cut her off.
By the next evening I was speaking with Mrs. Feldman. I explained what Shifra had told me, and asked for her own point of view. Mrs. Feldman paused briefly and then said, “That may be true. I believe she tried to tell me that.” She paused for a minute, and then continued. “Either way, even if she was spoken to, she shouldn’t have talked back. And she certainly shouldn’t have contradicted me where the whole class could hear her; she could come ask me about it at recess. ”
Mrs. Feldman didn’t seem to be aware that she had scolded Shifra where the whole class could hear her, and that Shifra may not have remembered in that moment of despair that there was an a different avenue available to her to explain things to her teacher.
I moved on and explained that my rule-book daughter who was all of eight years old probably had no idea how to handle having a girl repeatedly try to talk to her and that she might need help. She told me that she would switch Shifra’s seat, but I should reinforce that Shifra should not talk back because no talking of any kind would be tolerated.
I felt so bad for Shifra. Her teacher seemed to have forgotten what it was like to be eight. The Torah tells us straight out that the nature of youth is such that it needs shaping. And she didn’t seem to take the horror of a child being embarrassed in front of peers seriously enough to speak with the girls more privately or quietly. And why had she never respected my daughter enough to genuinely ask her what was going on when she caught her doing something so against her character? I knew that she needed to control the class, but she seemed clueless about more productive ways to change the girls’ behavior.
Further thought led me to realize that this teacher might be overwhelmed, less experienced, or both, and that things that might otherwise be important to her were hard to maintain. It might be hard to remember to think like an eight year old when twenty of them were sitting in front of you and five were misbehaving with the others looking on. But it was still a necessary goal to reach for, and sometimes we have to push ourselves hard to do something that feels impossible in our circumstances but that has to be done because the people depending on us need it.
Eventually, we worked out a strategy that enabled Shifra to go back to doing her work with her confidence intact even with a teacher who might not be able to help build it. And I began to think. Do I take my children seriously when they deny something I’m positive they did? Do I make sure not to give them mussar in earshot of others, including their own siblings? Do I remember their ages and stages when I take them to task, and work to build up their skills instead of breaking them down for misdeeds?
Not enough. I got frustrated, just as this teacher must have a tendency to do, and I was sometimes destructive instead of constructive. I decided to take a leap in the opposite direction, as the Rambam teaches us, and work on verbally recognizing my kids for positive deeds on a regular basis. I remembered the positive phone call that morning and also began telling my friends when I saw their children do something good, like consistent thank-you’s or cleaning up nicely. I even dropped off a nachas note for the school secretary to tell her that her nineteen year old daughter was a really good classroom aide for my preschooler.
If I filled myself with positivity, and my kids and their friends and their parents with genuine compliments, we would all be better able to withstand whatever life threw at us with our self-respect intact, including each other’s mistakes. That would give us more strength to continue to help others and to serve Hashem with the best of ourselves.
Questions for Discussion:
Why do we sometimes treat children differently than we treat adults in terms of respecting them? What are the dangers?
How can we maintain respect for children as we act as their parents, teachers and other authority figures?
How can we improve ourselves and our interactions in general through our interactions with children?
Stretch of the week:
Before you respond to something a child does, think about their perspective and what your goal is in speaking to them.