Henny Elishevitz, Beis Moshiach
How do we know that a Jew is truly “alive”? In a sicha (Parshas Vayechi 5730) the Rebbe provides the formula: when he goes through trials, difficulties, and confusion in his Avodas Hashem, yet he continues to cleave to G-d by fulfilling His Torah and mitzvos.
The challenges, the hardships, and the tests – with all the pain and difficulty they entail, usually strengthen, invigorate, and prove — to the world and to ourselves — how much we really can.
It is important to challenge each child in the place where he is currently holding – even when we’re talking about, thank G-d, a very successful and talented child. Yet, how do we challenge such children? By setting appropriate tasks.
And now comes the question of questions: How will we know what is appropriate for him? The answer provided by the approach developed by my dear mother and master educator, Mrs. Ester Meizlish, is quite simple and starts by making good on the Rebbe’s directive in Hayom Yom: “It an absolute duty for every person to spend a half hour every day thinking about the Torah-education of children.”
What should we think about? The child’s development: at what stage is he best suited now, his inclinations – what he likes and doesn’t like to do, special talents, specific difficulties, etc., and his social and emotional status. It is desirable to start in the area where he is strongest in any case. Here, we can challenge him a little more, then praise him and let him experience a feeling of success.
When he has accumulated enough successes and points of strength in his arsenal, the child is happy, encouraged, and more confident in the stronger part of his world. Then, it becomes possible to enter the part of his world where he is lacking, to those places where he has greater difficulty, and gently challenge him. Under no circumstances do you make a blanket statement such as “Look how well you succeeded in organizing the Mesibas Shabbos! Surely you can also organize your room nicely.” Unless this is a most exceptional child, this gives no indication whether he knows, wants, or is willing to organize his room.
So how do we encourage him to try something in an area that so far has been difficult for him? To go through the experience with him once: Go with him into the room and try to understand what’s hard for him, and where he appears to get stuck. Sometimes, we discover that the child just doesn’t know how to carry out the task from a simple technical standpoint or he lacks the necessary skills required to complete the job. Thus, we must take the initiative and show him how he can fulfill the task gradually, more easily, and impressively.
And again, praise and more praise. Focused and honest praise, describing clearly to the child the action that has earned him this praise. Such praise demonstrates to the child what among his actions were appropriate and special in his parents’ eyes, thereby proving to him that he is capable of achieving success, and what he must do to merit more praise.
Failure Shouldn’t be Shameful
And what do we do when the child does not succeed? Here is where the tool of encouragement comes into the picture. The difference between praise and encouragement is that while we are happy to receive praise as an added extra after a success, after a failure, we need encouragement as a first course.
Encouragement shows the child that he has the ability, even if for the moment it doesn’t completely manifest itself. It emphasizes to him the singular importance of investing effort and highlighting those successes that, thank G-d, do exist.
Now, we can examine together what difficulties are currently standing in the way of success? Is it something emotional? Something technical? A lack in certain knowledge? Then, we focus upon the problem itself, providing the appropriate response, in a sense of partnership with the child to set out once again along the path to the plateau of success…
It’s important to remember that to allow the child to have his “freedom” with some respect, we sometimes need to give him the chance to choose another alternative: “Do you want to do this or that? This way or that way?” By presenting things in such a way, this already poses a challenge, enabling him to find the strength to deal with the issue at hand by his own choice. In the final analysis, the whole purpose for the Creation was that we should take action in the world through the power of our free choice. With G-d’s help, we will reach the point that in the merit of our actions and our efforts, we will see the Divine revelation of the True and Complete Redemption, immediately, mamash, now!
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