The virtue of a principle-driven life.
Raising Jewish children has become an extremely challenging task. Children today live in a complicated world, driven by a social media frenzy guided by one overriding principle: Tell and show it all. Make no mistake; it is a complete game changer. I would like to offer one path to the successful raising of our children which Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, zt”l, referred to as perhaps “…the greatest task of all.”
Aim and Process of Principled Parenting.
Have you ever thought of a message of great importance that you would like to pass on to your children that they would always remember?
I refer to the concept of raising children according to a set of principles as they relate to child rearing as Principled Parenting. Principled Parenting represents a positive way in which you may impart your important values and principles to your children.
What is a PRINCIPLE? A principle is a rule often related to ethical behavior that one lives by and does not violate regardless of the circumstances. They are proven to have enduring, permanent value.
The Biblical command: “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue” is a stand that ties them (the laws) together. I keep those words on the wall of my chamber as an ever-present reminder of what judges must do “that they may thrive.”
I am a judge born, raised and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of the Jewish tradition. I hope, in my years on the Supreme Court of the United States, I will have the strength and courage to remain constant in the service of that demand.
—Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
What is the principle that Justice Ginsberg followed throughout her career?
The search for Justice.
An example of a principle from the Torah. Several weeks ago, we read the story of Avraham taking his son Yitzchak to be sacrificed. On the way, Yitzchak asks: “Dad, here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb offering?” Avraham answers: “Hashem will show us the lamb for the offering, my son.” The Torah then continues, “And the two of them went together.” Rashi says that they went bilev shalem, with complete hearts. Despite the fact that Yitzchak realized at that moment that he was to be the sacrifice, he fully subscribed to his father’s value system and core principle:
Devotion to Hashem above all else.
Reward and Punishment
Principled parenting means raising wholesome children upon the foundation of family values rather than through reward and punishment.
Consider this scenario. The family is sitting at the breakfast table when the older child wallops a younger sibling, who bursts into tears. There are some parents who might respond loudly saying: “How dare you treat your brother like that! Apologize this instant! Go to your room and don’t come out until you are ready to behave!”
As an alternative, parents may choose to hold a quick meeting with the offending child to discuss the incident. Such conversation is likely to lead to an important family principle: We treat one another with respect. The conversation can then more easily lead to recommendations as to how this problem can be resolved positively and in the future.
Similarly, a classroom teacher who has just punished the whole class for the perceived misbehavior of a few, will likely meet with subtle acts of revenge and retaliation instead of positive change.
Rules to remember regarding the use of punishment (in the home and school):
Punishment for the most part does not result in improved behavior. It just drives the behavior underground. Imagine what happens between the two siblings in the above situation when no one is around!
A regimen of proscribed punishments tends to COERCE a change in behavior, but does not really change it. Rather, punishments are often a form of
extrinsic (outside pressure) or imposed behavior.
Surprisingly, REWARDS can be equally ineffective, as they are also a form of extrinsic motivation that does not lead to real character and behavior growth.
The goal of successful discipline is to encourage children to act through intrinsic motivation—the inner desire to do the right thing. Family principles help guide your child’s internal ethical compass.
Next time – how to determine your most important family principles.
Stanley Fischman has served as the supervisor of general studies instruction at the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth. He was a yeshiva elementary school principal for 35 years and was also director of general studies at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. He recently celebrated his 50th anniversary of educating Jewish children. He is the author of “Seven Steps to Mentschhood—How to Help Your Child Become a Mentsch.”