I’ve noticed that my children are lacking in basic Middos. My kids don’t hold doors open for people, and won’t run and grab packages when my wife comes in from shopping. What really gets my goat, is that my neighbor’s kids seem to have wonderful Middos, and I always thought we were the better parents. Any ideas what I can do to improve their Middos?
I’m not sure what you want from my response. Did you want me to give you some tips on helping your children develop better Middos? Perhaps you are more concerned that the neighbor’s kids have better Middos? I wasn’t sure from the question what you cared about more. As I’ve mentioned earlier in the blog, I need to glean as much information from the question as possible. I’m not a psychologist, nor the son of a psychologist, but it seems that you’re comparing your children to others. That’s not so healthy.
Nevertheless, the question is fair. How can we inculcate our children with good Middos? Your examples are spot on. How can we train our children to help others without being asked, and to thank others without prompting? These are what we’ll call the Basic Middos. When we say “Derech Eretz Kodma LaTorah”, we’re talking about these “Basic” Middos.
There are a few things we all need to understand about Middos.
There are so many little things that can change the way your children view Middos. When you walk into the supermarket at the same time as someone else, do you let them go first? You can tell your children that it’s more important to have good Middos than to finish shopping one minute earlier. Sometimes you can explain to your kids why you’re doing certain things, other times you can just let your actions speak for themselves. This brings us to the second point.
The way you treat your spouse is the way your children will treat others. (There’s also the way you treat your parents, but that’s a different article.) Think about it. Who do your children see you interact with the most? When your wife comes home from shopping, don’t tell the kids, “Go help your mother” - get off of your rear and help out yourself! If you see your husband is thirsty, don’t wait for him to ask for a drink, run and bring him one!
I was in Gourmet Glatt a few weeks ago, and I saw a family shopping. The mother was carrying eight different items to the cart simultaneously, staggering under the weight and bulk. The father was on the phone having a loud and fun conversation. The kids were wandering next to their mother. The father jabbed one of the kids and said, “Go help Mommy.” Granted that’s a step in the right direction, but why not hang up the phone and help? Perhaps I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt. The point is, he missed out on a great teaching moment.
This isn’t foolproof. I know of many kids that would see their parents helping out and think, “Good for them!” It could be that the parents started worrying about their own Middos when the children were already older, or it could be that there are other issues. This brings us to the third point.
There are certain children that have good Middos built in. It’s not parenting, it’s their nature. They run to help others, they say thank you, and they are respectful. Other children are not. I’ve seen amazing parents with wonderful Middos, and their children don’t have very good Middos…..yet. Even if it’s not their inherent personality, it will kick in eventually. Nevertheless, those in-between years are frustrating. You spent so long showing and teaching your kids Middos, and they’re not emulating you. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. Your child might be immature or he might be lacking in sensitivity. It’s not necessarily a reflection on you. Give it some time.
I would also not harp on the negative. If your daughter didn’t offer the UPS driver a drink, don’t read her the riot act. I heard a mother say, “You always see me offering drinks! Why can’t you do it?” That’s not the goal. They might think that you only have good Middos to show off to others. You can merely reinforce the lesson to your children. “It’s a great idea to offer the driver a drink. He must be so hot and thirsty” It’s not a big deal, but if you make it into one, it will very likely backfire.
The last point was your child’s Yeshiva. Baruch Hashem we have hundreds of Yeshivos in many areas. You need to ask yourselves the following question. “Does my child’s Yeshiva make good Middos a priority?” It’s not a difficult question. There are many ways of finding out the answer. When your child has a chart to fill out at home, does it include only questions about their learning? It should have Middos questions as well!
When you call a Rebbe or teacher, do they return your call promptly? Do they give you respect as a parent? These might seem unimportant, but I assure you that good Middos trickle down from the top. If the dean or Rosh Yeshiva value good Middos, so will the Yeshiva. If not, you might want to rethink your options.
Of course, we need to always Daven that our children should be respectful to others. You can even tell them that’s what you’re Davening for. Let them know it’s a priority for you. Lastly, maybe ask your neighbor - the one who’s not as good of a parent, what he’s doing right. Maybe he can teach you something.
Have a great Shabbos!
Rabbi Ross. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed something that drives me crazy. My neighbors are a wonderful Frum family, but they let their children call adults by their first names. My English name is Steven, and I find it so odd that these 9-year-olds are calling me like that. I would assume they would say “Mr. Sacks” because it’s more respectful. My children were taught never to address an adult by their name. I was curious how you felt about this. Steven Sacks – Brooklyn
Mr. Sacks, thank you for your question. This issue has been bothering me for so many years, and I was wondering when someone would bring this up. There is a simple answer to this question, and, although it may seem complicated, it’s pretty straightforward.
The answer is, yes, children should call adults with a proper title. You should be called Mr. Sacks by your neighbor’s children. This is not only an issue of respect for you, it’s a great way to teach children respect for their elders.
However, this somewhat simple concept often gets confusing. How do we define children versus adults? A six-year-old boy should not call his adult neighbors by their first name. How about an 18-year-old? At what age is it acceptable, if ever? Furthermore, what if this particular neighbor tells your six-year-old, “Call me Jerry”. Is that OK?
Additionally, there is also the family issue. When dealing with uncles and aunts, should children include a title when speaking to them? If the aunt’s name is Sara, should a child call her Sara, or Aunt Sara? What if this aunt doesn’t want the title added? Then there are those families that are careful to address adults by Mr. or Mrs., however, are less stringent with their own family members or very close family friends.
This is where parenting comes into play. I believe that we, as parents, should teach our children to address adults with a title. We should explain to them that we need to give respect to those that are older than us, and that one of the ways of accomplishing this is by calling them Mr. or Mrs., or even Dr.
However, we can also tell our children that there are exceptions to this rule. If someone requests that they be called by their first name, doing so in and of itself is a sign of respect. The same holds true with aunts and uncles. Ideally, they should have a title (unless the uncle or aunt is the same, or similar, age). If, however, this family member does not want a title, for whatever reason, the child (and you) should respect their decision. One girl told me that having “aunt” in front of her name, makes her feel old. That’s as good a reason as anything else.
On a somewhat related note, is calling someone by their first name only an issue of honor and respect? How about men calling married women by their first names? Although many people have no problem doing this, there are those who say it’s terribly inappropriate. There is something to be said (from a Tznius perspective) about not being on a “first-name basis”. This is valid sensitivity that some might have and should ask their Rav for guidance. A lot of this depends on situational awareness, but again, it’s not the type of question I can answer.
In conclusion, how we address adults and people in general boils down to one important lesson. Teach your children to be respectful of others – especially elders. Once you’ve accomplished this, everything else becomes smooth sailing. How to accomplish this? Well, you’ll have to read my response to that question in my next email. Alternatively, you can ask your own parents. They probably did a fine job.
Have a great Shabbos!
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.