Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Not a week goes by that I do not hear from parents describing scenarios that are filled with entitlement and disrespect. Holding onto long lists, they shop with their kids for endless camp items. ‘Bunk junk’ and mounds of nosh take over our space without a sense of ‘Wow! Thank you mommy and daddy!’ That which we used to think of as ‘luxury’ has become ‘normal. Vacations, ordering Uber Eats, manis, pedis and getting hair done for Shabbos, and after school activities are all expected. Constantly taking selfies reinforces the feeling that ‘life is all about me.’ If the lens is always on ‘me’ how can our children learn to see and think about others? Along with being self-absorbed comes a lack of appreciation which breeds chutzpah.

We are the ones responsible to teach our children how to speak and act with respect. Derech eretz is not automatic. We must plant the seeds, pull out the weeds, water, and nourish our ‘garden of souls.’ Just as flowers cannot bloom if they are neglected and overrun, so too our children. We cannot ignore bad behavior and look away at rudeness. Thinking that they will grow out of it spoils the atmosphere of peace in our homes.

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Creating an atmosphere of respect is more than teaching good manners. It is about transmitting a sense of kavod, honor and dignity within our home. It is about living with an attitude of gratitude that brings appreciation for the people and things we have in our lives. If I value you, I cherish having you in my life. I watch my words and actions so that I don’t cause hurt. It is when a child takes his parents and life for granted that he begins speaking with contempt. Reverence is missing. Disdain sets in. Nothing is ever good enough.

How can we bring a spirit of respect into our homes?

Build a home filled with shalom.

Our homes are our greatest classrooms. Children absorb every word, every eye roll, and every gesture. How we wake up in the morning and greet each other, how we sit at the Shabbos table, how we deal with differences of opinions or a spouse’s mistake, are all part of our greatest life lessons. When we use calm tones and dignified language even if we do not agree, we teach our children how to live with respect.

Children who witness put downs, sarcasm, yelling, extended silences, and a lack of consideration, believe that this behavior is ok. It is not o.k.

Create for your children an atmosphere of peace. Show appreciation and gratitude to your spouse for the little moments that are easy to take for granted. Be positive about your spouse. Try to keep away from negative words and body language. Be kind.

Teach respect for others.

Treat the people in your life the way you would like to be treated. Expect your children to act and speak respectfully.

There are many opportunities we have each day to reinforce derech eretz.

Here are some examples:

When we look at people in their eyes instead of down at our screens we are conveying kavod habrios. Grandparents bring beautiful moments of potential for building middos. Teach children to stand up, greet grandparents and offer refreshments and a place to sit down. Sitting on the computer or staying in your room are not options. Interrupting others, even if it’s ‘only’ your younger sibling is simply not nice and is disrespectful to another person. Remember to treat the ‘regular’ people your child will encounter each day respectfully. These are the people we usually take for granted. It is the bus driver, the restaurant server, and the school security guard. Teach your children to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ Acknowledge another human being with a smile and gracious spirit.

Parents who discipline without shaming and embarrassing a child are also teaching that we do not cause anyone to feel as if their feelings don’t count. No one should think they are a zero. Making a mistake is not the same as being a mistake. Let us parents never convey that we look down upon a child, and that he is bad. We are trying to raise the child up to higher, better behavior, not lower his self-esteem.

Teach respect for possessions and the world around you.

Hashem gifted us with a beautiful world. When we look around and see the majesty of creation we come to understand that we must not destroy needlessly; the mitzvah of bal tashchis.

How often have you eaten out and plates piled with food are waiting to go into the garbage? Kids ordered with their eyes and now it’s getting wasted. Camp trunks that are heavily jammed return half empty. Where did all the stuff go?

Yarmulkas and hair bows bought in abundance are scattered and lost all over the house. Children stop valuing because they know we will buy more.

Teach Yiras Shamayim.

We are partners with Hashem in creation. The way we daven, set aside time for learning, make brachos, and welcome Shabbos are all windows into the world of kavod Shamayim. When we speak about the rav or the rebbie/morah/teacher do we speak with derech eretz?

As we grapple with a world that seems upside down, our home must remain our mikdash me’at. This is our highest mission.

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Slovie Jungreis Wolff is a noted teacher, author, relationships and lecturer. She is the leader of Hineni Couples and the author of “Raising A Child With Soul.” She gives weekly classes and has lectured throughout the U.S., Canada, and South Africa. She can be reached at sloviehineni@gmail.com.