Yossi was always the top student in his class. He knew the most mishnayos and his rebbeim and teachers were constantly praising his spectacular mental abilities. However, Yossi didn’t have many friends. When people wanted help studying, Yossi would hesitate knowing that working with others would slow him down. That was one of the reasons he didn’t enjoy being in school.
Reuven, on the other hand, was a student in the same class who loved school. While he did relatively well in his classes, he was never the top student. Yet everyone wanted to study with him because he was patient and calm. Every morning, Reuven would look forward to seeing his friends in school.
What’s the difference between Yossi and Reuven? You might say that Reuven is a mentch. In his book, The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten defines a mentch as “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.” In order to be a mentch you must have a moral character and be attuned to right and wrong. Above all, as Jewish parents, our goal should be to raise mentchen, children who enter the outside world with a strong moral compass.
Balance: The Key To Mentchlichkeit
I recently heard Dr. David Pelcovits speak about how we can raise our children to be mentchen. He touched on the idea of creating an environment of love and limits. What does he mean by love and limits? This is something that I see in my practice on a daily basis.
Love: In this case, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Most parents have unconditional love for their children. They provide them with food, shelter, enrichment, and attention (just to mention a few!). Knowing that a parent loves them unconditionally is an important part of self-esteem building for children. The parents become “home base,” a safe haven in which they know they will always be accepted.
Limits: All children need rules and routines to govern their lives. Some limits include bedtimes, junk food regulations, and no playing until after homework. Each house has different rules and limits which help impose order and schedule into children’s lives. They help them understand the world around them and help prepare them for the idea that there are other considerations in the world besides their own.
All Love, No Limits
But, what happens if children are brought up in a home that is based solely on unconditional love and offers no limits? Often, they will not have the safeguards in place to teach them that they are not the center of the universe. They will grow up believing that the rules do not apply to them. After all, in many cases, they have never heard the word “no” at home.
In the end, children who grow up with no limits will often end up selfish and egocentric. As opposed to healthy self-esteem, they will grow up with inflated senses of self. Ultimately, when faced with a negative response, children brought up without limits will be unsure how to function.
All Limits, No Love
On the flip side, a home that emphasizes limits, but does not have space for unconditional love creates a different set of problems. These children might have trouble building their self-esteem because they do not have a secure space to start from. While they are used to hearing the word “no” when they make extravagant requests, they do not feel comfortable in their own skin.
Eventually, with too many limits and not a lot of love, children may become angry and rebel. Without a strong connection to the family unit, these children may not feel that there is a reason to follow their parents’ directions.
About the Author: An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at email@example.com. Visit her on the web at rifkaschonfeldsos.com.
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