How Do We Raise Confident Children?

What do you do if your child disobeys you when you say “no”? How should you react when your child complains to you about his teacher?  How do you handle a child of yours who’s not up to the standards of your other children? The following is an article published in Chabad House Compass Magazine, a publication of Merkos Suite 302, exclusively for shluchim and is being released to the public for the first time.

An interview with Rabbi Yoseph Vigler, Shliach and Rav of the Mayan Yisroel Center of Chassidus in Flatbush.

“Chassidus Demands Structure”

There was once a Bar Mitzvah in Poland that both the Frierdiker Rebbe and the Radomsker Rebbe attended. For some reason, only bochurim and adults were invited, but not children. However, one child snuck in and hid under a table. When he was discovered, the Frierdiker Rebbe saw to it that someone escorted him out. The Radomsker turned to the Frierdiker Rebbe and said, “Lubavitcher Rebbe, vos art dir?” What is the big deal? It’s just one child.

To this the Frierdiker Rebbe replied, “Chassidus mont pnimiyus, un pnimiyus darf seder. Chassidus demands pnimiyus, and pnimiyus must be with an order. And without seder, there can be no Lubavitch.”

In order for our children to become confident and self-assured, they need to see structure and stability. This means first and foremost in our own homes, and then later, in school. That is why the number one foundation to chinuch is the personal Sholom Bayis between father and mother.

If a child sees friction between his or her parents, if he senses that his parents don’t get along with each other, then he is in a state of constant anxiety. After all, his parents’ relationship with each other is the ground from which he grew.  If he doesn’t see a loving relationship, he feels a lack, the ‘ground’ is not solid, and he or she becomes troubled and anxious. A rocky and chaotic marriage will lead to fearful and suspicious children. Many times, inexplicably, the child also blames himself for his parents’ issues. The child then doubts himself and becomes insecure.

On the other hand, when a child sees that his parents love and respect each other, the child feels grounded on a solid foundation. Just as he knows he is loved and valued by his parents, he comes to believe in himself, in his own inherent worth to his friends and to the world around him. He feels that he deserves to be loved and is not desperate to constantly prove himself. He is now free to grow and explore, to develop himself.

This healthy feeling of worthiness is not to be confused with arrogance. The Frierdiker Rebbe learned from the possuk, “וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ – You should love your fellow Jew as you love yourself,” that you must first love yourself. He who hates himself has no room to love others. First respect and love yourself, then you will feel able to give to others as well.

This is especially true for us as Shluchim, since we devote so much of our time to others. We need to take extra measures to build a very solid family foundation.

Do You Respect Your Child’s Teacher?

The same way that it is crucial for our children to see their parents as a single unit, they must also know that their parents and teachers are united in their role of educating them. They are the ones they look up to and strive to emulate.

It is often enticing for us parents to think that by supporting our child against the teacher we are gaining our child’s trust and boosting his self-esteem. The exact opposite is true. We are actually belittling ourselves, the teacher, and the child in one fell swoop. When a child believes that his teacher is foolish and wrong, and the biggest proof is, “Look! My parents agree with me!” then the child concludes that there is no one truly worthy of respect, his parents and himself included. The hierarchy, the structure, the סדר, disintegrates – leaving nothing in its wake. “If my teacher and I are equal, then we are all nothing.”

We must make an effort to show our children how much we appreciate and respect mechanchim and yoshvei ohel.

Once, my daughter came home from school fuming about how her teacher was so unfair to her. After hearing the whole story, my wife was forced to conclude that she was right and the teacher was wrong. But if she told her as much, she would undermine the teacher forever. So she told her, “I hear you, you have a point. But you have a very good teacher. Let me call her and see how we can help you.” Validate your child’s position, but not at the teacher’s expense.

(Parenthetically, in the long run, the most affective chinuch is what happens between the lines.  The child learns most from seeing how we act and deal with real-life situations, not from when we preach to them. They learn most from who we are, not what we say. There is a great line,  “What you are screams at me so loud I can’t hear what you say.”)

Children, as chutzpadik as they may sometimes act, actually crave role models and people that they can have absolute respect for.

Confidence grows from stability and consistency. There is no security in chaos. That is why structure is so important in a Yiddishe, and especially a Chassidishe, home. There also must be rules, routines, schedules and boundaries. When a child sees that what happened yesterday happens today, he feels secure and comfortable at home and in life.

Respect Your Child

Just as it is important to respect our spouses and our mechanchim, it is important to respect our children.

There is a natural tendency to think that we have to mold our child from scratch into a certain form, a certain personality type, and into certain habits. The opposite is the case. My child is his own person, with his own unique character and interests, whether I like it or not. My job is to guide and direct him in a certain direction, and to figure out how to best utilize and maximize his inborn talents. I cannot force him into a pre-determined, one-size-fits-all mold.

A member in my kehilla once spoke to me about his two sons. One loves davening very seriously and literally sits for hours without skipping a word. The other is more of a wanderer and is always on shpilkes. This father would often fall into the trap of comparing him to his brother by saying, “Why can’t you be more like him?” Then, there was a tragedy in the neighborhood and people were collecting money for a family in desperate need. The kids heard about this and decided to donate from their own savings. While the serious davener struggled to part with a penny, his brother took his money box, turned it upside down, and donated every last cent that he had!

We have to “learn our child.” Each child is his own world. Each child has unique strengths and weaknesses, excitements and peeves. Never squash a child’s creativity.

My two-year-old is a very active little chevra-man. He roams around the house non-stop raiding the pantry, the fridge, even the freezer, in his endless search for nosh. He will find himself a treat, approach me or my wife and ask if he can eat it, hear the answer ‘no’, and then go off and eat it anyway. But he is also very honest. He will then come back and tell on himself. This creates a quandary. If we constantly rebuke him and punish him for his adventures, we will squash his creative spirit and stifle him. If we laugh at his clever antics, then all control is lost.

The solution is to show him our displeasure in a way that he understands that we are unhappy, but without hurting him. I can put my hands on my cheeks and say “Oyoyoy” and automatically he feels guilt, but his self esteem remains intact.

One Shabbos, the Rebbe arrived at 770 when there was a group of young girls gathered on either side of the walkway, leaving the Rebbe with no room to walk except through them. The girls were innocently unaware of the trouble they were creating. Bochurim who were watching saw the Rebbe approach one girl and say something to her. The girl quickly moved to join her friends on the other side, and the Rebbe walked through. The bochurim later asked the girl what the Rebbe said to her. She said, “The Rebbe told me to say good Shabbos to my friends.” The Rebbe was so careful to treat a child with respect and not to just order them around.

Make Room for Your Child to Grow

It is for this same reason that you can allow children freedom to explore, make mistakes and be responsible for their actions. A child can be allowed to climb up on a chair and fall, this way he learns the consequences of his actions and learns on his own that he should not do it again. Parents who are on constant vigil and control every move their child makes are not caring about the child, they are caring about their own anxiety. Let kids live and learn! If a child refuses to do his homework, don’t force him, but let him suffer the consequences the next day and learn accountability.

Another aspect of respecting our children is to make them a partner in our shlichus. We have to explain to them what we do and why, and not expect it to be self-understood. Amol, the Chassidishe avodah was to do things secretly so that no one, not even your own family, should find out about what you have accomplished. I believe that today this is largely not the case. If the treife messages of the outside world are so loud, our messages have to be even louder.  Kids have to be explicitly shown the simcha and greatness of their parent’s lives and sacrifices. If you really went out of your way for someone, if you have a mivtzoim story, tell your kids about it. Not to boast, but so they know that this is how we act, this is who we are, and for us, this is normal.

When Bnai Yisrael went down to Mitzrayim, the posuk tells us “ish u’vaiso ba’u.” When we go down to Mitzrayim, when we enter our makom hashlichus, it has to be as a solid family unit, “ish u’vaiso.” In this way we can be certain that “uvnei Yisroel yotzim beyad ramah”, and as the Rebbe always quoted, “binarainu uvizkeinainu, bibanainu uvivnosainu,” with the coming of Moshiach now!

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