By: Rabbi Shalom Arush
Chinuch – Childrearing – begins with birth. The first few years are the time to lay the groundwork for all future behavior.
One of the most complicated tasks facing parents is chinuch – proper child rearing. Considering thatchinuch begins with a child’s birth and continues for close to, if not more than, two decades, it’s far from being quick and simple!
As parents, our task is to prepare our children for the future, giving them foundations that will last them their entire life. Accomplishing this is a continuous and formidable challenge facing parents on a daily basis.
Chinuch is often mentioned in the Torah, for example, “And you shall make [these statues] known to your sons and your son’s sons (Devarim/Deuteronomy 4),” “and you shall teach them diligently to your children (Ibid. 6:7).”
In the Talmud we find, “May Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla be remembered favorably, for if not for him, Torah might have been forgotten from the Jewish people… He established that the community must hire Torah teachers for the children in every province and every city.” (Masechet Bava Batra 21a). This was probably the first comprehensive, nationwide system of compulsory education in world history.
Chinuch begins with birth. The first few years are the time to lay the groundwork for all future behavior. Children are the most astute observers! They absorb everything they see and hear and then internalize these observations to create their personality. From their parents, they learn habits that will remain with them for their entire life.
For that reason, it is extremely important that even when a child is very young, parents must do their best to impart proper values and to behave ethically. Since parents are their children’s main role models, it becomes obvious that the children’s chinuch begins with the parents’ chinuch!
Children do not learn ethical and proper behavior through listening to lectures or discourses. They learn from observing their parents! When a parent behaves in an unethical or irresponsible manner, the impression deeply impacts their children’s souls, influencing their future behavior.
Clarify and Uproot!
It’s up to us to clarify what moral principles we want to instill in our children, and then perfect ourselves in them, so that we will become the type of role model we want them to imitate. This chinuch is based on the parents’ commitment to personal character development.
If we don’t want to see negative character traits in our children, we must first uproot them from ourselves. We need to learn to be careful in how we express ourselves, in both speech and deed. If we, as parents, are lax in certain behaviors, we certainly can’t criticize our children about them!
“He who spares the rod hates his child” (Mishlei 13:24). If we spare the rod of mussar – ethical exhortation – from ourselves, we are demonstrating a lack of concern for our children’s development.
When children hear words of rebuke from their parents while observing behavior deserving of that rebuke, they become confused by the hypocrisy. Hypocrisy destroys chinuch! When faced with imitating what they’ve seen or what they’ve been told, children almost invariably choose to model the behavior that they’ve seen in the home, and then continue to educate their own children in the same way.
Modern democratic societies are concerned about the education of its citizens. But even more important than formal education is the chinuch that children receive at home.