Home Perspectives Advice Parent column: Ask Rabbi Anthony Knopf – Spirituality & Rewards

Parent column: Ask Rabbi Anthony Knopf – Spirituality & Rewards


In a crazy world in which there is such a strong pressure to value money and material things, how do we give them a spiritual connection? Surely, that is the most important thing, but it’s so often ignored by our society?

Kim and Michael

Dear Kim and Michael,

You’re certainly asking the right question!

Just two years ago, psychologist Lisa Miller wrote a book called The Spiritual Child showing that a huge amount of research indicates that children who have a well-developed spiritual life are better equipped to deal with the challenges of life.

To give your child a spiritual sensitivity, try to give them a sense of connection to something beyond themselves. This can include connection to friends and family but, on the deepest level, it involves a relationship with God.

Our kids can’t see God so how can they connect to Him? Here are some practical ideas:

  • Ask them to look out for instances in which they see signs of God’s guidance and influence. They might refer to coincidences or wonderful things that happen to them. Some families do this every Friday night at Shabbat dinner and adults, children and guests alike are given candies when they tell their stories.
  • Model spirituality in your own life. Particularly, when you are performing mitzvot, do so with a sensitivity to the connection you are forging with your Creator. It’s particularly important to remember this when in synagogue. If our kids see us talking through the service, how can they see as role models for the spiritual life?
  • Encourage questions. Many children ask lots of questions about God. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe emphasized that it’s wrong to dismiss those questions or to tell the child he will understand when he’s older. Let your child see that you are happy when he asks and answer him according to his level of understanding. And then learn more about the topic so you’re able to explain further!


My husband and I have different opinions about whether we should reward our kids for doing mitzvot and being kind to people. My husband thinks that this is a good way of teaching them the best way to behave. But I’m concerned that we’re teaching them to do things for the wrong reasons and that, when the rewards go away, the behaviour will stop. Who is right?


Dear Michelle,

You have a fair point. There was an analysis of over a hundred studies on this issue and the consensus was that tangible rewards such as money or stickers significantly undermines a child’s natural drive to succeed. Rewards may help in the short term but, once the reward stops, the children typically become unmotivated. They develop an attitude of ‘what do I get for doing this?’

It’s interesting to note that research on Gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust found that, when they were children, their parents taught them the importance of helping others in a spirit of generosity, without concern for rewards. That, surely, is our goal. We want to cultivate our kids’ characters to help them become kind and caring.

That said, there are times when we need to ‘jump start’ our child’s good behaviour. If done with care, you can use rewards to this end without undermining your long-term goals for your child’s behaviour.

Offer rewards systematically. That means don’t make up rewards on the spot to get your child to fetch something for you. Instead, identify two or three behaviours that you want your child to do regularly. An example might be helping her younger brother get into his pyjamas or tidying the living room in the evening. Make sure your kids know how much you care about this behaviour and the values of giving and caring. And make sure that what you are asking of your children doesn’t clash with the model you provide with your own behaviour.

If you do this, you should succeed in teaching your children to develop good habits. After they have done it a few times, they should no longer require a reward and you can move on to something else.

Wishing you success in teaching your children good character!

Anthony Knopf is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Ora in Montreal and the father of four children.

If you have a parenting question for Rabbi Knopf to be included in CJN, please email him on [email protected]

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