Building Our Children’s Self-Esteem


rav-moshe-meir-weissBy Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss

It’s hard to believe that very soon it will be the shloshim for the much loved Dovid Winiarz, Dovid Avrohom ben Chiya Khas Z”L ZY”A, who departed from us so suddenly several weeks ago.  When we improve ourselves from the way he lived his life, we know it brings an aliya, an uplifting to his neshama.  So, I would like to share with you one extraordinary lesson that all of us can better ourselves from.

We have heard much about how Dovid impacted thousands through Facebook and many other ingenious means of outreach.  Very often, when someone is so involved with the masses, their immediate family tends to suffer.  After all, with so many followers, who has time to do the homework and take the kids for pizza?  However, such was not the case with Dovid and his ten children.

This reminds me of the famous question asked when we make a siyum on any masechta.  In the siyum’s ritual language, we mention Rav Pappa and his ten sons.  This is very odd for, what does Rav Pappa’s family have to do with the finishing of a tractate?  One answer is given that the gematria of Rav Pappa’s ten sons’ names is the numerical equivalent of all the dafs in Shas.  Another amazing answer, given by the Topiker Rav, is that in ten places in Shas there are arguments where one sage says ‘one way’ and another sage says ‘another way’ and Rav Pappa says, ‘Therefore let’s do them both.’  Since he was such a great peacemaker – ten times – he was rewarded with ten children who finished Shas.  But, I like the beauty of the simple answer which is: Even though Rav Pappa was very busy with his ten sons, he was still able to finish Shas.

Likewise, with Dovid, it went both ways.  Even though he was busy with ten children, he still had 12,400 followers on Facebook.  And, even though he had 12,400 followers on Facebook, he still set a beautiful example as a loving Abba.

We should never lose sight of our priorities in life.  Rabbi Wein, Shlit”a, sites a Harvard study where they tracked 1,500 children over the course of their development.  In the first stage of the study, when the child was coming out of pre-1A and entering first grade, the child was asked how he felt about it.  Eighty-two percent answered in the positive.  Then, the study took a shocking turn. The second stage of the study was when the children went from 8th to 9th grade. The results, amazingly, were just the opposite:  Eighty-two percent of the children answered that they were feeling very poorly about themselves.  Only eighteen percent felt good about themselves.  Finally, in the last stage of the study, the situation deteriorated further.  By the time they left high school, only eight percent of the children felt good about themselves.  This study reveals how fragile are the feelings of self-esteem that our young ones cradle and how they get buffeted by the pressures of school and home.

In this area, Dovid, as an Abba, set a great example.  He always chose to shine the light on the aspect of strength of each of his children.  One of his daughters told me that she has seven binders of notes that her father left on her pillow, messages of encouragement, poems that he wrote for her, sayings that he found for her, tips to strengthen her.  He was an Abba who supported and didn’t harass his children.  Sadly, I can think of parents who, if their children come home with a score of 89 on a test, they are berated with ‘Why couldn’t you get a 90?’  If the child gets a 93, they hear, ‘What careless mistake did you make again, that you couldn’t get a 100?’  Or, there are parents who unwisely say to a child, ‘Why can’t you be like your older brother?’ or the unthinking parent who says, ‘You know, you’ll never change.’ It’s our role as parents to boost the morale of our children, to make them feel special.  That confidence implanted by parents will serve their children well as spouses, as employers and employees, as friends and as good servants of Hashem.

Another beautiful trait that Dovid employed in his home was a Loshon Noki Club, the Clean Speech Clan.  He would not tolerate use of a word like ‘dumb.’  He never said that he had a ‘bad’ day.  The children told me that they knew that things were not going his way if he just answered with the words, “Hodu l’Hashem – Thank the Lord.”  If they asked him whether he got the grant he was working on and he replied ‘Hodu Hashem,’ they knew things weren’t going his way because otherwise he was effusive with an enthusiastic response about what was going on.  It is certain that he was so successful in his kiruv conquests because he had such a positive approach and he pointed out the promising potential in every person that he spoke with.

So let us all try to emulate this skill and see how we can bring out in our children their latent strengths and impress upon them their fine qualities to succeed in making them the very best that they can be. In that merit may it be the will of Hashem that we should be blessed with long life, good health, all kinds of Yiddishe nachas.

Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’ articles.

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