Latest update: May 26th, 2013
Have you ever noticed that when four year olds play baseball every member of the team runs to field the ball? Do you pay attention to the fact that toddlers are eager to help with clean up regardless of whether they made the mess? And that three year olds want to push the button on the elevator for every person who walks in? Or that children of all ages enjoy handing money to the cashier at the grocery store?
All of these examples are instances in which children naturally wish to help those around them – whether in a sports game or a mundane activity. Lawrence Shapiro, the author of How to Raise a Child with a High EQ: A Parents’ Guide to Emotional Intelligence, explains, “Kindness and consideration are part of your child’s genetic coding, but if these traits are not nourished, they disappear.”
The question for parents is how to nurture these “helping” traits in order to continue to raise your child’s emotional intelligence. In other words, how do you raise a mentsch?
Balance: The Key To Mentschlichkeit I recently heard Dr. David Pelcovitz speak about how we can raise our children to be mentschen. 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, is 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.
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 guidelines.
These help impose order and schedule into children’s lives. They help them understand the world around them through specific limitation. These limits also help prepare children for the idea that there are other considerations in the world besides their own.
All Love, No Limits But what happens when children are brought up in a home with unconditional love and no limits? Often, these children 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” in the home.
In the end, children who grow up with no limits will often end up selfish and egocentric. As opposed to healthy self-esteem, these children 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.
Weighing the Scales With the right combination of love and limits, children can grow and develop ethical and moral character. That combination is perhaps the most important element in raising a mentsch. However, if you are looking for specific hands on ways to instill menschlichkeit, take a look at some of the following suggestions:
Volunteer together. Nothing raises moral awareness like doing chesed for others. Find a project that you and your children will enjoy doing and make a commitment. Maybe the family can volunteer at a soup kitchen on Sundays or maybe you can do bikur cholim every Friday afternoon. Regardless of the activity, seeing people in need will give your child perspective on the world. In addition, giving to others will build their confidence and allow them to see themselves as contributing citizens of the world.
Use your dinner table as a moral forum. Try to eat together as a family at least three times a week. Then, spend that time discussing your children’s days, current events, and Torah issues. If you use your table as a place for discussion, you will be able to guide your children to think about issues through an ethical lens.
Have high expectations for your children’s moral behavior. If you see other children on the playground making fun of someone while your child does nothing, talk to him about it later. Explain that you expect him to stand up when he thinks something is wrong. Don’t allow him to simply do what others do. Gently demand that he stick to his principles.
Accept mistakes, but discuss them. If you volunteer, set a moral code, and maintain high expectation, there are bound to be mistakes. Your children will occasionally misstep. However, if you are truly a mentsch, your response should be calm and collected. Accept the errors your child makes and simply work together to ensure that they do not happen again. Take every mistake as an opportunity for learning.
A famous proverb states, “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.” Helping your child “do” good deeds will help him understand the importance of considering others and acting as a moral world citizen.Rifka Schonfeld
About the Author: An acclaimed educator and social skills specialist, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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