Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Kislev 5762 - December 5, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
by A. Ross, M.Ed.

In the recent Parshas Vayera Family Section, Miriam Adahan raised the point of the demands made on children in school, especially in the first few grades. Many of these demands are rather pointless: e.g. coloring in numerous pictures for homework. Some assignments, she says, are work for mothers and not for the children. Children are not university students and should not be treated as such. As she wrote, it is not likely that the people for whom the article was written would read it, but if only one of the clients is saved the considerable hardships she describes, the article will have served its purpose.

As always, there is another side to the coin. There are a few schools who have, indeed, incorporated Mrs. Adahan's views and cater mainly to the weaker children, who are praised for every small achievement and develop self confidence which they would never acquire if they had to compete academically. These schools are not `special needs' schools. They have two or three weak children in each class of about thirty children, two or three very bright children, and the rest are of average ability.

Although many people may not approve of the fact, competition is part of life. Every game we play is competitive. Whether it is a team game, a board game for the family or one where two individuals play against each other, they are all competitive. When children are very young, every sensible mother makes sure that they win. After a while, as they improve their skills, it is wise to let them lose once in a while. Everyone has to learn that failure is not such a distressing thing. We all learn from our mistakes.

When a child starts school, he soon learns that the classroom, too, is a very competitive place. While we might agree that stress should be put on middos, character, and not achievement, this will not work in practice. Perhaps for 20% of the children, it might be an ideal situation. I am not discussing the very bright children. They are a law unto themselves and it is a rare teacher who can stimulate them at the same time as trying to give the rest of the class their due. It is the 70% of the children in the middle who concern me. They need praise for high marks if they get them. Many have worked very hard to attain them and praise for high marks will make them want to do even better in the future.

Naturally, teachers have to inculcate good middos, and equally self understood is the fact that children should not be punished for not achieving. However, most children try to live up to what is expected of them. If a teacher expects high standards, most children will take pride in their work without feeling overly pressured.

Some children are born with a jealous streak in them. Most children suffer from jealousy at some time or other, whether they are conscious of it or not. But in some, this trait is quite destructive. They are always looking at the other child to see if he has a slightly larger portion or a better mark (which is surely undeserved in his opinion). These children may well become clients for Mrs. Adahan. It is quite likely that even if the achievement is not praised as such, the child is demanding it of himself. This was mentioned in an article on perfectionism.

It is not necessarily pressure from the school or from parents which is causing the child untold unhappiness. Some parents attempt to treat all children the same. If they buy one a gift, everyone has to get a gift. No child is every singled out for a special treat. In commenting on the story of Yosef, Chazal say that it is unwise to single one child out from the others. However, a normal home cannot be run on regimented lines. Some families celebrate individual birthdays, others make a fuss of a particular child who happens to need the extra attention. Some mothers make a point of taking one individual child out with them when they go without keeping a strict check on whose turn it is. Each family is run according to the way the parents decide. Nevertheless, however they do it, there may be one or two children who are consumed with jealousy for no obvious reason. They are the ones who always feel hard done by. If they grow into adulthood carrying this trait with them, they are unfortunate individuals.

There is a Yiddish expression `to fargin' (accepted in modern Hebrew, as well). There is no translation of the word in the English language. It is the opposite of to begrudge. Some children are born with a sunny disposition and fargin everything to others. Others unfortunately begrudge success, happiness and popularity to their siblings and peers. They even begrudge themselves by looking at the 18% of the wrong answers instead of the 82% of the correct ones on their exam papers. They are unhappy people who need help in overcoming their problems.

However hard parents and teachers try to help these children, they do not always succeed. Yet frequently, as they mature, the children suddenly realize that it doesn't really matter. They turn into successful adults in their own right without looking over their shoulder at what others have achieved, or let those achievements be an impetus to them. We as educators have to do our utmost to give the children in our care as much work as they can cope with, to stimulate without overburdening them, and to try to develop their middos at the same time.


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