Dear Rabbi Knopf,
My husband and I have two children aged three and five. As the kids are getting older, we’re starting to think about the best way to set a good example for them and teach them to be good people. Can you give us some guidance?
Indeed, this is very important. The Sages of the Talmud teach of the strong impact of parental example when they said that the speech of a child heard in the street is either his mother’s or his father’s. Similarly, scientific research shows that the most powerful force shaping a child’s behaviour is not what parents say, but rather what they do. In hundreds of interviews, psychologist Tom Lickona asked people, “What did your parents do to try to teach you good values and good character?”. Lickona reports that, by far and away, the most common answer he received was simply, “They set a good example.”
Research in neuropsychology has uncovered two types of learning which are part of moral education. When a child learns rules of behaviour, it mainly involves the brain’s left hemisphere. When a child sees moral behaviour in adults, this engages the right hemisphere of the brain. When the right hemisphere is activated the moral learning becomes part of the person rather than just disconnected pieces of knowledge. That’s why setting an example is such a powerful way of transmitting values to our children.
If your children see you saying one thing but doing another, they are likely to see you as untrustworthy, unfair and perhaps, even hypocritical. Your child be will less likely to respect your value system if she sees that your actions don’t match the standards that you ask of her. So, it is indeed very important to make sure your deeds are aligned with your words!
One example of where parents often slip up is when they promise something and don’t follow through. The Talmud warns that a parent shouldn’t say he will do something or purchase something for his child and then not do it because the child will sense a lack of integrity.
One way to set a good example is in the way you treat each other in your family. It’s important to treat our kids with respect, even when we need to discipline them. We also need to make sure that we treat our spouses with love and respect and watch how we treat, talk about and show concern for others outside the family.
Remember, setting a good example doesn’t just mean behaving well. It also includes explaining why we think the way we do about moral issues. Your goal should not just be that your kids learn to practise moral goodness but that they are able to develop an understanding of right and wrong.
Wishing you success in the important role of parenting!
Dear Rabbi Knopf,
One of the big challenges of parenting today is teaching our kids that they can’t have everything they want. In today technology-obsessed culture, how can Judaism help us to teach our kids the ability to wait?
There are a number of things you can do. You can help your children by soothing them during emotional outbursts, teaching them to shift attention to something else to help them delay gratification and, of course, by modelling self-control in your own lives.
But most important is not to be afraid to declare boundaries. Children need rules if they are to understand that they cannot expect whatever it is they want. Ask yourselves if you have rules in your home which communicate this lesson.
As far as Judaism is concerned, we are blessed that Judaism provides us with built-in avenues toward self-discipline. As Slovie Jungreis-Wolff has written, Mitzvot help us train our children’s hearts by teaching them that there are things that are not instantly available to them:
Yes, you want to have that chocolate bar but it is dairy and you need to wait between eating meat and dairy.
Sure, you have a juicy piece of gossip but that’s lashon hara, and we cannot hurt others with our words.
These rules and so many more, in addition to their inherent wisdom, help us to teach our children to rule over their desires.
Wishing you lots of success!