In a culture that invites disrespect, is it possible for us to teach our children to speak and act with reverence and consideration?
The Torah and our sages offer us tools to help us instill this sense of honor and respect within our children. These guidelines empower us and help us create an environment in our home that becomes imbued with a spiritual standard of living.
Here are a few of the guidelines:
1. Children should not call parents (and grandparents) by their first names. This includes toddlers, who we think are adorable, but they can easily cross lines we feel to be unacceptable. When we laugh they are encouraged to continue their behaviors. It becomes difficult to instill new rules when they grow older and we don’t find their behavior adorable anymore.
2. Children should ask permission before sitting in a parent’s designated seat. For example, a parent’s set seat in the kitchen or dining room cannot be sat on without asking first. If a child is sitting at the computer and a parent is standing as they work or look at a site together, the child should be taught to offer the chair or bring another one so that the parent can sit down.
3. Children should be taught to request with respect. For example, if your child is playing and you say it’s time for showers and bath, do not establish a pattern where a child screams ‘NO!” and then you negotiate each night. Instead, teach your child that when it’s time to move to the next activity, be it showers, dinner, or homework, and he is in middle of something, you will consider his request for a few more minutes if he asks in a pleasant and respectful tone. This does not mean that his desires will be granted all the time. And he should understand that when you say ‘no,’ there are no stomping feet, slamming doors, screaming, or just plain ignoring you. That is disrespectful and unacceptable. If he cannot ask respectfully, there is certainly no way to consider his request. Give your child examples of how you would expect him to speak. Often we get upset in the moment without realizing that we have neglected to give our children good alternative behaviors.
4. It is not okay for kids to go through their parent’s wallets and pocketbooks, assuming that it is fine to take cash when needed. Wearing mom’s outfit or dad’s sweater without permission is also showing a lack of consideration and reverence.
5. Encourage children to do for you and think of you while doing for themselves. When a child fills a cup with water, he should be taught to ask if you would like a drink too. When a young adult drives and goes out to pick up pizza or ice cream, implant in him the idea that it is considerate and respectful to find out if parents (and other family members) would like some too. We can enlighten our children to grow sensitive and more reverent.
Is This Realistic?
Some of you may be wondering if all this is really possible. Can children today really live up to our expectations and teachings?
Yes – if you really expect it.
Allow me to share with you a moving encounter that I recently had with a child.
It was Thursday night and I found myself in my local supermarket for the third time that day. Somehow the number of guests at my Shabbos table kept growing and I needed to pick up some additional foods. The store was packed and I did not see any free carts. I balanced many items on top of each other and hoped that the heavy glass jars would not come crashing down.
In front on me at the checkout counter stood a young girl and her mother. The child turned around and noticed how difficult it was for me to juggle everything. She asked me why I didn’t use a cart and I told her that there were none.
“Mommy,” I heard her say, “I feel so badly for this lady with all this heavy stuff. I am going to try to find her a basket.” As she went off on her search I told this mother that she has such a special child.
“You don’t even know the half of it,” she replied. “My daughter became a paraplegic this year. She has only begun to walk now. And it is not easy for her.”
As this little angel walked back carrying a basket, I noticed the braces on her legs for the first time.
“You are the sweetest child,” I told her and her mother. “Parents dream of having children just like you. May God bless you and watch over you always.”
As I drove home, I wiped away my tears.
Children are our gift from above. Teaching them kindness and compassion coupled with honor and respect paves the road for us to help them discover the greatness that lies within.