Dear Reader--If you are looking for the continuation of the article on the Heebroots website, this is the wrong place--it repeats exactly what is on Heebroots. Please go to the True Story called The Secrets of Raising Successful Children on the main True Stories page. Thank you.
If you have no idea what I am talking about, please go to www.Heebroots.com, or just keep reading:
Teaching Your Children about their Specialness:
The Secrets of Raising Successful Children
What do you want for your children when they grow up?
Sure, you’d like them to be healthy. And financially secure would be nice, as well. Oh yes, living in a world at peace—don’t forget that. And happy, whatever that means.
But these are factors over which you have little control. Certainly, you can keep them properly fed, exercised, and immunized, but it is going to be up to them to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and somewhat up to chance as to what illnesses may befall them.
You can prepare them to earn a living, make sure they get a good education, and give them a shot at getting a good job—or you can set up a trust fund to take care of them—but ultimately, their financial success or failure will be a result of their efforts, plus chance.
World peace? Happiness? Good luck—if you can plan out those two, you don’t need to be reading this.
So what do you want, that you can control?
Different people use different words to describe it, but it inevitably boils down to this:
When my children grow up, I want them to be decent human beings, well-grounded, and secure in who they are.
In order to get them there, I need to teach them good values, model those values, and support them emotionally as they grow.
Values don’t exist in a vacuum. They are based on a belief system. For instance, hitting our neighbor over the head with a shovel and taking his possessions is not inherently wrong. If you participated in a belief system that said “Might makes right,” perhaps this would be an acceptable behavior. However, we have, as a community adopted a belief system that says:
--people are allowed to acquire items, by working for them or buying them, for their exclusive possession
--we do not commit acts of violence on others to take these items away
--if we do, we have offended our neighbor, our society, and a higher power that expects more of us.
Teaching values means teaching both what society expects, and what we believe a higher power expects. For most of us, the higher power is called G-d, and our belief system says that we are all created in the image of G-d. In other words, there is a spark of the Divine within each of us. This means that, ideally, how we treat is other, is how we would treat G-d. Because of this spark of the Divine, we are supposed to act like G-d acts—with compassion, mercy, kindness, etc. This is what is meant by “walking in G-d’s ways.”
What we say to our children, and the way we act, needs to be consistent with our beliefs, in order for our children to adopt these beliefs and these behaviors as their own.
It is not enough to just say what our values are; we need to act them out as well. If we want to grow up with values that include not taking advantage of the weak, for instance, we’d better not habitually kick the dog when we get angry. Kids see through hypocrisy.
Similarly, if we want kids to believe that all people are created in the image of G-d, we ought not to use racial, ethnic, or sexual slurs. Even seemingly innocuous jokes, (like the “dumb blonde” jokes) teach kids that it is okay to stereotype people based on appearances, and that it is okay to make fun of some people at their expense.
Just as important as the way we model treatment of others is the way we teach children to think about themselves. We live in a very judgmental society. Due to the ease of mass communication, and the incredible amount of money advertisers spend in making us feel inadequate, we are consistently evaluating ourselves with respect to outside norms. Let me explain. A hundred years ago, most people had bad teeth. Dental care was poor, and a full set of white teeth was practically non-existent. Now, with improved dental care in some parts of the world, and helpful products on the market, people who have access to both can have beautiful healthy teeth. But there is a continual push in ads for people to have bright, white, straight teeth—whether it is in ads for teeth products, or any other ad that just happens to show people smiling. You just don’t see ads for clothing, cars, beverages, or anything else with people who have less than a full set of bright, white teeth. Models with imperfect teeth can still get jobs posing for magazines, but you can be sure that their teeth are retouched in the photo.
But in reality, many people have yellowed, missing, or crooked teeth, either because they don’t have access to dental care, or because they cannot afford all the dental care that it would take to fix their teeth. And many people are embarrassed to smile as a result. They think they don’t look good when they smile, or that people will think less of them because their teeth are not perfect. (And many us of will think less of them, because we are conditioned to feel that there is something “wrong” about problematic teeth.) But the actual fact of the matter is that many of these people with problem teeth are wonderful, warm, loving, kind, noble, and admirable people, loved by others and by G-d despite their teeth!
This may seem like a trivial example, but if we expand it to include people who are overweight, people who have excessive hair loss, people with physical disabilities, people who are cross-eyed, or people who have major or minor personal appearance quirks, you get the point—most people can find something inadequate about themselves to be embarrassed by, and for most of them, advertisers have a product that remedies the “problem.” But the real problem is not the alleged defect—it is that people don’t feel comfortable that this is how G-d chose to create them. They attach part of their sense of value to the way they look.
Now go one step further. Take a child who does not perform as well in school as a sibling. Or a child who “gets into trouble” more. Or a child who does not live up to a parent’s expectations as well as another. For instance, how many times have we been guilty of telling a child “I’m disappointed in you because you did not clean up your room. Susie always cleans up her room when I tell her to, and usually I don’t even need to tell her—she does it on her own!” This judging, evaluating, comparing, measuring causes many children develop a negative self-worth image.
Of course, children need to learn to clean up their rooms, and it is legitimate to express disappointment when they don’t, but the trick is to build up their self-image when you do, make them realize their potential, and, most importantly, implement a system that regularly reinforces in them the image you want them to have of themselves, irrespective of behavior. Here’s how: (continue with the True Story called The Secrets of Raising Successful Children from the main True Stories page)