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Sunday, May 16, 2021
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Identifying Family Principles

Challenging situations:

1. Your child invited several friends to your home for a sleepover. She tells you that she will be serving snacks and showing a video. When you ask the title, you realize that this video is not appropriate for your child or her friends. She becomes upset upon hearing this and tells you that most of her friends have already seen it. You respond: “Well, I don’t care if they’ve seen it. I don’t want you to see it.” She continues arguing and you repeat your message loudly and more forcefully. The encounter ends with your child in tears and you feeling angry and frustrated.

Can you think of a possible family principle that might make your message more easily understood and accepted?

2. You are traveling in your car with your family and your seven-year-old repeatedly says or does something nasty to his sibling. You say: “If you don’t stop that right now I’m pulling over!”

Can you think of a possible family principle that might yield a more positive resolution?

Determining your family principles might make your message more easily understood and accepted.

Choosing principles

A principle is a rule often related to ethical behavior that one lives by and does not violate no matter the circumstances.

Stephen Covey in his book the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” says: “Principles are…guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring permanent value.”

Educators refer to such concepts as “big ideas” or “enduring understandings.”

Examples of Principles

In my book “Seven Steps to Mentschhood,” the following Torah precepts can be useful in determining family principles:

Love your fellow person as yourself.

You shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person (do not deceive anyone).

Other examples:

The Boy Scout Oath: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

Tenets of Taekwondo: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit.

In the previous example of the sleepover video, what if the parent said in response: “I understand that the video is OK with some of their parents. But as we have discussed so often, in this family we have different standards of what is proper and improper.” (This would of course require prior family discussions of special values and principles.)

In the above example of the fighting in the car, what if the parent response was: “You remember our rule: In our family we treat one another with respect.”

What makes members of Tzahal risk their lives in battle? There can be many principled reasons: care for comrades, love of country, the principles of אמונה and בטחון (faith and trust in Hashem).

Some principles require no words. A well-known rabbi, having heard that his son misbehaved that Shabbos morning in shul, did not serve jam to his son with his challah. The father then went without the jam himself.

Beginning the Process

At this point, parents should meet together and begin the process of identifying their most important family principles. These are the rules of behavior that parents want their children to remember and live by for the rest of their lives. Before beginning this process, parents should keep the following in mind:

1. Remember, a principle is a rule of life that one follows and does not violate no matter what.

2. If you believe that you are a person of principle, yet you want your child to always be first no matter what, you might be creating a double standard in your home.

3. When your child gets the message that grades are the only thing that count, you might be teaching the child to cheat.

4. When parents cheat or cut corners with the truth, they are teaching their children to do the same.

5. When parents speak disparagingly about a community leader or neighbor, they are teaching their children to disrespect their teachers and classmates.

6. If you park in a handicap parking space (without requiring it) you might be handicapping your child.

7. Being principled means being straight on both the inside as well as on the outside of oneself.

8. When we unify our behavior and our principles, we have INTEGRITY.

I would welcome your sharing with me your most important family principles. [email protected]

Next time: How to conduct your family meeting.


Stanley Fischman has been a yeshiva elementary school principal for 35 years.

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