One of the least attractive interactions that have been known to take place between parents and children is disrespectful behavior on the part of children towards their parents. Ignoring instructions, speaking as if to a peer, outright defiance, publicly berating, expressing how inadequate they think a parent is, are all, unfortunately, not so uncommon behaviors of children of all ages.
Rabbi Shlomo Goldberg (Sefer Al Pi Darko p. 186) quotes the Alter of Kelm, who provides an insight as to why this scourge of disrespect is so prevalent, especially among the frum community! He asks: “Why is it necessary for the Torah (in this week’s Parsha – Vayikra 25:17) to include a prohibition of Onoas Devarim, hurting another with words. It would seem that believing Jews who live with recognition of the Almighty would not need to be warned against such obviously inappropriate behavior.”
The Alter explains that developing the humility necessary to avoid such behavior takes years. However, in the interim, when one has a worldview that Hashem is infinite and omnipresent, he or she can easily view others as puny and insignificant in comparison. It therefore may follow that such beings are not entitled to derech eretz and respect! It seems, ironically, that the more one recognizes Hashem’s greatness, the greater the potential tendency one might have to belittle others! Non-believers on the other hand, who view man as the center of the universe, are more likely to exhibit greater respect to other humans.
How do we shed such a `frum’ misconception? The Parasha tells us – Don’t abuse (verbally) your fellow, and you shall revere Hashem. Truly revering Hashem means to emulate His ways. Hashem, Who is so great, is kind and caring and respectful of His creations. You should follow in that path. Rav Shlomo Wolbe writes that the hallmark of our Yiras Shomayim, (fear of Heaven), is the recognition of the Kedusha (sanctity) that exists in every person and our expression of that understanding is in the sensitivity and respect we show others.
The obvious place for us parents to start is in the imperative of Onoas Devarim. We are hopefully quite good at not being hurtful with words when it comes to our co-workers, neighbors, colleagues and friends. On the other hand, have we ever listened to how we speak to our children? Does the respectful tone and manner change when it comes to kids? Do we see the G-dliness inherent in our young child(ren)? Do we feel it when they just carelessly spilled the milk on the kitchen floor, when they knocked over their brother’s Lego tower? And how about when they are whining about going somewhere that you feel is not right but aren’t self-confident enough to let them know with grace, empathy, and a smile that it is not okay. When they ignored our warnings and touched the stove, do we find ourselves saying “I told you so” or some similar stinging critique in place of empathy for their pain? It is not enough to demand that children speak and act respectfully to us, which is, indeed, something we must insist upon. Even more important, however, is how we speak and act to the children. When we are able to speak respectfully to our kids, we will have a very deep-seated and far-reaching positive impact on them.
When we speak respectfully to our children we are not only modeling the proper way to interact with another person. We are revealing our view of how much the child is worth in our eyes. We reflect our belief in the latent greatness and G-dliness that could flower and grow large. The child is so much more than a careless preschooler or uncouth elementary age child. He is a potential Gadol. Being treated in this manner by parents will enhance the child’s self-esteem, which will enable and nurture him or her to appreciate the value of others. Few things could add more to the ultimate happiness of an individual, a family and the success of all the children.
Best wishes for a great Shabbos,