I never cease to be amazed at the number of children who feel coats are just uncomfortable burdens that should be avoided at all costs. Even in Charleston, mornings can be chilly yet many students race from their car to the school with no coats and sometimes even wearing t-shirts and shorts. One Addlestone student who was wearing a coat walked by and said: “I can’t believe I have to wear a coat since my mother was cold.”
When adults make decisions that are in the best interest of children, they are not always popular, to say the least. Yet it is our responsibility as adults to help be the quality control agents who can dispense experiential wisdom in the form of well-informed guidance to help keep our children safe and sound. The problem is, we know that anything we suggest to children stands a good chance of being rejected mearly because it came from us. Paradoxically, the best way to tell a child to do something is not by telling them to do something. Experience has shown that wise teachers and parents model the behavior they want to see children emulate. If we really want children to put on coats, we should put on our own coats in front of them in a matter of fact way that they may want to emulate. This way they can buy in and have some autonomy by making their own choice to put on a coat. This is how they start to gain a sense of self and independence. In school, research from ISM, Independent School Management, indicates that the highest level of satisfaction in schools comes from children having choices throughout the school day. The scary part is sometimes they will just decide to not put on a coat anyway and then we have to have the fortitude to watch our child remain cold.
Another possible approach in non-life threatening situations, is to provide limited choices for a child to choose from such as, “Do you want to wear a sweatshirt or a coat?” This allows for limited autonomy by the child while still bringing about a choice that is acceptable to the parent. Sometimes it is not prudent to leave a choice open-ended for a child such as when there is a dangerous situation like walking in the street or putting a fork into an electric socket. In these situations, we merely have to set a clear boundary of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.
One of the most basic wants of a parent is to be liked by their children. One of the most difficult things is to make an unpopular decision that will not be appreciated by a young person. There is a misunderstanding about what the Torah requires of Jewish parents when it comes to raising children. Since it says, “Peroo U’Revoo – Be fruitful and multiply”, many people understand this to mean we should strive to have many children, which is historically an ingrained Jewish value. Rabbi S. R. Hirsch explains this verse not only in quantitative terms, but also in qualitative terms. He explains that “Peroo – to be fruitful” means to have many children, but he explains the word “Revoo” not to mean multiply from the word “Harbeh” which means many but rather from the word “Rav” which means lead, grow, or raise. In essence, he means that there are two parts of Jewish parenting, part one is to have children and part two is to raise them once you have them.
Rabbi Hirsch maintains that the best way to raise children is for parents to be on the same page as much as possible rather than sending mixed messages to children and allowing them to play one parent off the other. In this age of highly individualized, tailored education, one size rarely fits all, and in fact, one size often fits one. Different children, even those in the same family, are often remarkably unique in some way. Rabbi Hirsch says Yakov and Esav were not treated as unique individuals with one being more studious and spiritual and one being more kinesthetic and physical, which lead to sibling rivalry and almost erupted into fratricide. Rabbi Hirsch maintains that the root cause of this conflict stemmed from their parents, Yitzchak and Rivkah, not being unified in their parenting approach to each of their child’s unique needs.
The Rizhiner Rebbi taught that the redemption will come when Esav’s tears are dried. May we all have the wisdom to know how to prevent, and if necessary, dry the tears of all our children throughout their lives.
Rabbi Elisha Paul
Head of School