How can we motivate our children so they will want to be “sparkling clean”?
contemporary home has an abundance of timesaving appliances. One that I particularly appreciate is the dishwasher. What a brachah! I can load dirty dishes into the dishwasher and voila! They come out sparkling clean.
Except when they don’t.
Not so long ago, my dishes weren’t coming out clean after having gone through a dishwashing cycle. Various repairmen came to my home but weren’t able to hone in on the cause of the problem. All the parts of the dishwasher seemed to be working well. Why, then, were the dishes still dirty?
Finally, one repairman came up with a diagnosis. He noted that after turning on the hot water in the sink, it took a few minutes for the water to actually become hot. The water that was filling the dishwasher was cold and therefore the dishes weren’t coming out clean. He suggested that I first run the hot water into the sink for a few minutes. Only after the water was sufficiently hot should I turn on the dishwasher.
It was hard for me to believe that something so simple could be the answer to my dishwasher dilemma. However, I followed the repairman’s advice and made sure to run the hot water first before pressing the start button. Lo and behold! The dishes were sparkling clean once again.
As we know, everything in the physical world has a parallel in the ruchniyus world.
Turn on the Hot Water
As parents and teachers, we work hard to be mechanech our children and students. Our greatest desire is that they be “sparkling clean,” untainted by the outside world. How can we motivate them so they will want to be “sparkling clean”? What is the most effective way to censure them when they become tainted? What can we do to enable our words to enter their hearts? These questions are constantly on our minds.
Perhaps there is an additional question we should be thinking about, as well: Are we acting or reacting primarily when we feel cold, frustrated, or annoyed? If the answer is yes, our acting and reacting will most probably not have the desired effect. They may temporarily halt undesirable behavior, but for true chinuch to take place, we need to wait until our cold feelings pass, until we once again feel warmth and love for our children or students.
Because it’s through warmth and love that our words will have the greatest chance of reaching their hearts and accomplishing our goal.
So often, we attempt to teach our children lessons in good middos immediately after they have done something wrong. They lied — and we teach them about the importance of honesty. They didn’t share their toy — and we expound on the virtue of sharing. We’re upset and our child or student is defensive; neither state of mind is conducive to true chinuch. The problem behavior may need to be addressed at the time it occurs, and in a firm and strong manner.
However, it’s vital to recognize that the real chinuch — which motivates the child to want to change his behavior — needs to happen at another time, when there are warm and positive feelings between the parent and child, or between the teacher and student.
If a child has a problem with lying, a parent can tell stories before bedtime, or at the Shabbos table, or during suppertime, about people who sacrificed a lot rather than say an untruth. If a child has trouble sharing, a parent can tell stories about children or adults who shared the little they possessed. A parent can try to coax her child into a discussion about how difficult it sometimes is to tell the truth or to share, and together come up with ideas as to how to deal with those feelings.
The chinuch of true change will be most effective when there are warm and positive feelings.
Rav Mattisyahu Salomon shlita notes that we learn this principle from none other than the quintessential Mechanech, the Ribbono shel Olam Himself. The pasuk tells us: “Vayikra el Moshe vayedaber Hashem eilav.” (Vayikra 1:1) Rashi comments that the word vayikra is lashon chibah, an expression of love. Rashi also tells us that preceding every conversation and commandment to Moshe, Hashem first called out to him with an expression of love. Rav Mattisyahu Salomon says that just as Hashem first assured Moshe of His love before He would teach Moshe something new, in the same way, we need to make sure our children feel our love before we can effectively teach them.
See Their Soul
The problem is that it can be very difficult to have warm and loving feelings for our child or student when she is acting in a defiant or selfish manner, or displays negative and offensive behavior. How can we magically feel warmth and love when we’re feeling the exact opposite?
I believe the answer is that we need to work hard to train ourselves to see through the external behavior and try to connect to the child’s neshamah, which is pure and good. If we can internalize the concept that negative behavior is often the child’s way of dealing with some underlying pain or insecurity, then perhaps we’ll feel less frustrated with him or her.
If we can keep in mind that the child doesn’t yet have the tools to constructively deal with his pain or insecurity and that is why he’s acting a certain way, perhaps we’ll feel more compassionate and less exasperated, and we’ll focus our energies on how to give him those tools.
When the Ribbono shel Olam charged Moshe Rabbeinu with the mission of taking Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim, Moshe Rabbeinu responded by saying: “V’hen lo ya’aminu li v’lo yishme’u b’koli — They won’t believe me and won’t listen to me.” (Shemos 4:1)
Hashem then asked Moshe, “Mazeh b’yadecha? — What’s in your hand?” To which Moshe replied: “mateh — a staff.” Hashem instructed Moshe to throw the mateh to the ground and it turned into a nachash, a snake. Hashem then instructed Moshe to hold on tightly to the tail of the nachash, and the nachash turned back into a mateh.
Rav Avrohom Blumenkrantz ztz”l explains that this interchange between the Ribbono shel Olam and Moshe was to serve as guidance for Moshe Rabbeinu on how he should view Klal Yisrael. When Moshe criticized Bnei Yisrael, Hashem responded by impressing upon him that in essence every Yid is a mateh Elokim. When Yidden feel they’ve been thrown to the ground, they can turn into a nachash, but that’s not their essence.
How can we transform them into who they really are? By holding on to them tightly, by supporting them, by seeing through the exterior of the nachash and recognizing that they’re really a mateh Elokim. When we view others as the mateh Elokim they really are, that will enable them to turn into a mateh Elokim once again.
We invest so much time and energy into trying to change our children and our students. In actuality, before we can change them, we need to first change ourselves. When we can train ourselves to see through the exterior and see the neshamah underneath, when we can work on ourselves to change our frustrations to compassion and our annoyance to warmth — that will be the key to open the hearts of our children and students, enabling them to accept our words, and bringing about true and lasting change.
Rebbetzin Suri Gibber has been involved in chinuch habanos for decades, first as general studies principal in Bais Yaakov High School of Miami, and, for the past 15 years, as principal of Bais Yaakov High School of the Twin Cities. She also gives adult education classes.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 830)
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