As a parent sending their first child to school this coming year, I thought I would turn to this panel of mechanchim who have many decades of combined experience in chinuch. I know that there are many variables not in a parent’s hands, and for that we daven for siyata diShmaya, but I turn to this forum to ask for advice: What is in a parent’s hands to help their children grow? What have you seen that parents can do to make or break a child?
Rabbi Dovid Engel: Menahel, The Toronto Cheder:
I think it’s great that you’re being proactive. In life, we train for every profession besides the two most meaningful, yet most difficult, ones: Marriage and parenthood.
Here you go:
Attend as many lectures and seminars on parenting as you can. Take copious notes and make a chazara every once in a while.
Listen, listen, listen. It’s going to be hard to hear criticism about your child. Remember that it’s coming from a good place (Rabbi B. Appelbaum).
Organize your child’s time at home in a productive way so as not to set him back while he’s at school. Ensure that homework is done properly, is signed, there is an adequate amount of sleep, a proper breakfast is eaten, and, above all, send your child to school in a happy frame of mind.
Unconditional love. Rav Matisyahu Salomon writes that while in our relationship with Hashem, yirah comes before ahava, in parenting it’s the opposite. You can only discipline a child if the child knows how much you love them. Otherwise, the discipline will not accomplish anything and no chinuch value will come from it.
Spend meaningful time with your child, have patience, and take an interest in what interests him. If a father wonders why his mesivta-aged son doesn’t come home to him with Rav Akiva Eiger’s kasha, it’s because when the son wanted to talk about the baseball game or the like, the father wasn’t interested (Rabbi Yosef Elefant).
Act in their best interest, not yours. They know the motivations behind everything you do. Rav Matisyahu Salomon writes that although there is a concept of mitoch shelo lishma boh lishma, this is only true between us and Hashem. Hashem has patience and sees the big picture, and is willing to overlook the shelo lishma for the time being. Children, on the other hand, only see the now. If you have your own agenda in mind while you’re being mechanech them, it can backfire. You should always think about what’s in the best interest of your child. Otherwise, the child will sense that you’re in it for yourself and resent it. Don’t make him say a devar torah or perform in front of other people to glorify yourself. Leave your needs out of it, and just act entirely in their best interest (Rabbi S. A. Kleiner).
Speak to the rebbi/teacher often enough to show that you care, without being a nudge. Every time you speak to them, find something to praise them about. By the same token, keep those hakoras hatov notes coming. Don’t wait for Chanukah or Purim. There’s Rosh Hashana, Sukkos, and Rosh Chodesh.
Take your children to gedolim to receive brachos whenever the opportunity presents itself.
From an early age, give your child daily responsibilities around the house that are age appropriate. It will remove much of the feelings of entitlement so prevalent in children be’ikvisa deMeshicha.
Never undermine the rebbi/teacher within your child’s earshot. Your child should see and feel the respect that you have for the malochim that are your worthy shutfim in raising your precious children.
Curtail or eliminate the child’s viewing time (kosher material). It’s always better to have him listen to a CD, where his mind is working, than watching the video, where his mind is frozen.
In today’s fast-paced world, this next one is a tough one: If Mommy could be home and available when each of her children arrive home, wow!
Make brachos out loud and train your child to answer amein. The Steipler Gaon writes that this is a segulah for raising sons who will be talmidei chachomim.
Praise, praise, praise. Catch them doing good. Try the 90/10 approach: 90% of your interactions with your child should be positive.
Finally, as my rosh yeshiva, Rav Mottel Weinberg zt”l always said: A Yiddishe mama’s tefillos and treren (tears) help their children the most.
Rabbi Dovid Morgenstern: Menahel, Yehiva Darchei Torah, Far Rockaway
The Steipler Gaon zt”l was asked a similar question. Someone approached the Steipler and asked how his child can be matzliach. We can paraphrase his response: Tefillah, tefillah, un mer tefillah. I’m still being mispallel for my Chaim’l.” At that time, his son, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, was in his fifties, already a gadol baTorah in his own right.
In essence, what you are asking is not just how we can prepare our children for school, but rather how we can prepare our children for life.
Parents should strategize together and clearly outline their goals for what middos and hanhagos tovos they want their children to develop.
Here are some ideas:
There is value to children knowing that life has struggles and one of the greatest feelings is to work hard in order to accomplish. That is an incredible tool that can help them overcome many of life’s difficulties.
We want our children to be resilient. When they feel that their parents are a source of strength for them, that helps them develop resiliency.
We want our children to celebrate the successes of others, and when they lose, to do so graciously.
We don’t want to hover over our children. It’s okay to make a mistake; that’s how we learn. Share your own experiences with them, and they will follow. Remember that quality time is no replacement for quantity time. Talk with them. Listen to them.
Teach them to root for the underdog and to make sure that all children are treated fairly and included in activities. As the great mechanech Reb Josh Silbermintz used to say, “We lead by example. As the saying goes, our actions speak so loud, they can’t even hear the words we are saying.”
Also, make it clear to the child that you are partnering with the school. Even if something needs to be addressed, one must be careful about how school issues are discussed in front of their child.
Rabbi Yisroel Hisiger: Brooklyn New York
I want to congratulate you on being a devoted parent looking to be proactive so that your child will begin his school career on the right foot.
The role of the parent is twofold. On the one hand, you must make sure that your child is prepared to the maximum throughout the year. This means getting to bed on time so that s/he has sufficient sleep to have the energy and focusing ability that are so necessary for learning. Their clothes and knapsack/book bag must be prepared the night before, with all the necessary supplies included. All notes from his/her rebbi/teacher must be read and homework signed where required. Doing this will enable your child to start off each day on a positive note, eliminating tension or stress from the home.
The other aspect of a parent’s responsibility is to have open and frequent communication with the faculty and school administration, of course without becoming a nuisance. At the very beginning of the school year, let them know anything about your child that might affect his/her school performance (allergies, sensitivities, any stressful situations within the family). Inform the school that you want to be notified immediately if there are any concerns regarding your child.
Wishing you much hatzlacha in raising your child. I hope that his school experience is pleasant, satisfying and rewarding.
Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Klein: Director, Publications & Communications, Torah Umesorah
The question is broad enough for a book to be written in response. In a nutshell, though, use the LMN method. L means love – unconditionally. M means mesorah, which is connecting your child with the legacy that goes back to Sinai. N is “no,” a word not used commonly enough by parents interested in fostering a sense of responsibility, accountability and moderation in today’s children. Use the N when appropriate… and fear not.
Rabbi Yechiel Spero: Rebbi, Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, Baltimore
Love your child. Unconditionally. Support him. Don’t live vicariously through him. Praise him with specific praises. Give him your undivided attention when he comes home and asks about his day. Don’t make him do his homework if he’s overwhelmed. Never criticize his teachers in front of him. Always validate your child. And back the school. Be proud of him. Always. Don’t be afraid to admonish him, but hug him afterwards.
Keep your family disagreements behind closed doors. Help him become him, not anyone else.
This should keep you busy for the next 20 years. Last, but not least, daven.
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger: Rov, Bais Medrash Shaarei Tefillah, New Hempstead
Talk about an open-ended question!
I’ll just address one aspect of chinuch that I think this generation particularly has to be reminded of. As much as possible, treat your child as an adult. Respect him as you would an adult. Hold him accountable as you would an adult. Enjoy his opinions, perspective, etc. as you would an adult. Joke with him. Be open with him. Demand of him. In short, try to look at him as an adult.
Of course, it requires seichel to know how to apply this at every stage of life, but push the envelope. There is no limit to the human potential, and you will be surprised how much a young boy or girl can do if he or she is given the opportunity, the responsibility and the respect.
Feeling loved feels good. Feeling respected feels great.
Rabbi Nosson Scherman: General Editor, Artscroll/ Mesorah Publications
The most important thing parents can – and should – do is live their own lives the way they want their children to be. That means creating an atmosphere of joy in being Jewish and having a home where everyone looks forward to doing mitzvos, helping one another, and learning Torah. Rav Moshe Feinstein often said that one of the reasons for the decline of Torah life in the first half of the 20th century was that people said and felt, “S’iz shver tzu zein a Yid (It’s hard to be a Jew).” When children grew up hearing that, they naturally felt, “Why should I want to live such an unpleasant life?” No, Rav Moshe said. It’s geshmak, it’s enjoyable, it’s a privilege to be a Jew!
As for raising your child, of course you must be supportive. Help with homework etc. and always express support for the rebbi, the morah, and the school. As the years go by, you will have complaints about the school – and you may be right – but never express them in front of your children. Also, let your children be children. Especially in dealing with firstborns, many parents have unrealistic expectations and expect and demand too much. They want their children to be second and superior editions of themselves: “When I was your age, I was much older than you!” Push your child to do his best and shower him with love when he does so, even if he can’t be at the top of the class. Don’t be satisfied with lackluster achievement if he can do more, but don’t demand the impossible. If you let him grow up normal and you set a healthy example – don’t skimp on tefillah – you’ll be gratified, im yirtzeh Hashem.
Rabbi Ahron Fink: Menahel Ateres Bais Yaakov, Monsey:
As a parent, it is very exciting to send off one’s eldest to school. May you be zoche to see him/her grow to maximize his/her potential and to use the kochos hanefesh imbued within to make Hashem Yisborach so very proud.
There are many books that have been written on this subject and a thorough review of effective parenting is beyond the scope of this column. However, there are a few pointers I would like to share.
First, to paraphrase a quip attributed to Mark Twain, one should never let school interfere with their child’s education. Chinuch begins at home, and the school and its mechanchim are your partners in the lofty mitzvah of veshinantom levonecha.
As such, do not drop your child off at school and plan to pick him up twelve years later. Be an involved parent. Be on top of his lessons, help him with his homework, chazer the Chumash, and be engaged in his entire school experience. Volunteer to help out in the classroom. This will let your child know that you value the chinuch he is receiving.
Equally important is to establish healthy routines at home. From playtime to mealtime to bedtime, give your child a tzura of seder and purposefulness.
Finally, show him love and build his confidence. Encourage and support him. Give him the freedom to fail and the tools to succeed. Remember that his successes (or failures) are his and not yours. Applaud his achievements, reinforce his success, and im yirtzeh Hashem you will have bountiful nachas. In short, be engaged, provide seder, and shower him with love.