Henny Elishevitz, Beis Moshiach
Sometimes, we are presented with a set of circumstances for proper education that requires just a few words. Can we let the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer pass by with just making sure that the whole family counts each evening? That would be comparable to walking away from a sale on an item we need right now…
Man lives in the cycle of time. Just as you need to speak with your children about Shabbos, not just being involved with preparing the food, etc., similarly Sefiras HaOmer is a marvelous opportunity and you should speak about it.
For example, you can take the time for reciting Pirkei Avos to speak about its content, initiating a discussion together with them in the house – offering one another good wishes, showing care, concern, admiration, etc. In other words, don’t give speeches, just a few words about the time of year (“You know that this is a season when it’s easier to improve our relationships with other people”) and lead to making good resolutions.
I would like to use this column to discuss a teaching mentioned in Pirkei Avos in several variations: “Syag lachochma shtika,” “Emor me’at” and so on – all statements about the virtue of silence.
There is however one exception to that rule, which is talking about the virtues of another Jew. The Rebbe teaches (Likkutei Sichos vol. 27 on Parshas Emor) that the lesson from Parshas Emor is to “speak” abundantly. Abundant speech is a good thing when we speak about another Jew’s good quality, it helps him bring it out and live up to it. This of course applies especially to our own children.
So, I would like to use this column to discuss encouraging speech vs. flattery.
ONE COMES TO BUILD – THE OTHER GOES OUT TO DESTROY…
Have you ever walked into a clothing store, and the salesperson explains to you that the outfit you’re wearing is totally outdated, and therefore, you absolutely must buy what she has in stock? You would get out of there rather quickly… However, perhaps you did happen to buy something, even at a slightly higher price than what you had planned after they flattered you so convincingly, about how the new outfit fits you so nicely…
It would be quite helpful to us if we ask ourselves from time to time: Does the language we use to educate our children actually lead them to adopt our “merchandise” for themselves?
The strange thing is that sometimes we really want to compliment and give encouragement, only to achieve opposite results. So how exactly do we “compliment” correctly?
The good words we should use with our children are words that encourage; less compliments, and certainly not to flatter.
What is the difference between them? Compliments and flattery are conditional: a child understands that if he pleased his parents, he was loved and accepted, only that compliments are genuine, and flattery is a bribe to get the child to serve our needs.
Children will see right through us if we flatter them, and if we use compliments too much, then in moments of “failure”, he will get a message that now that he’s not doing well he isn’t deserving of our love.
For example, his mother compliments him for a good thing he did, saying, “You’re wonderful, you’re a marvelous boy – you went to sleep on time”, maybe even adding “I love you so much”. Everything is still conditional (“Then yesterday, when I went to sleep late, Mommy didn’t love me!?”).
A GOOD BANKER GIVES YOU AN UMBRELLA IN THE WINTER AND TAKES IT IN THE SUMMER
In contrast, encouragement is “You took responsibility for yourself and you managed to go to sleep on time; that makes me very happy.” Encouragement is a manner of urging a child to use this means of success again (“You have been so diligent in your studies. How wonderful!”). It possesses something from the attribute of Netzach (eternity); it has a continued effect… With flattery, there’s something that soon passes from memory without any continuity – “You’re terrific (for the moment…).”
A girl helps in the house, and her mother tells her: “You’ve been such a big help easing my burden.” What happens to the mind’s search engine? It begins looking for other ways to be a “big help” to Mommy and “ease her burden.” If I say, “You’re wonderful. Thank you so much.”, I haven’t really given the search engine enough data to do more.
Naturally, it’s also important not to exaggerate needlessly. We must be honest, providing proper direction with our words, suitable for a specific child, even thinking and planning this out beforehand. This usually produces results that are far more effective. Of course, this doesn’t come to negate the power of spontaneity, rather to add something to its potential!
While on the topic of encouraging words, we should remember this crucial difference, which reminds us ever more why we should choose encouragement even over classic compliments. Genuine compliments come when the object of our compliment is doing well, but what about when they’re not?
The need for good encouraging words is needed then the most! It’s most important to encourage a child when he’s feeling down. First, we have to identify the incident or occurrence that is overwhelming him (failing a test, being teased by his peers, etc.), and then with this identification, we expose and invite him to participate in positive activities out of a sense of faith in his abilities, even if they’re not in this specific area.
He needs to hear two messages: a) he can always improve; b) each person has his own individual strengths and fortes.
With that being said, lets always keep talking to our children and about our children in the most positive and encouraging terms, helping them shine (“U’sfartem” – to count – also means to shine), lighting the world up with the light of Moshiach!
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