There is an intriguing interchange that is recorded in last week’s Sidra, Parashas Bereishis, that took place as Hashem was about to chastise Adam and Chava for eating from the forbidden Eitz HaDaas – Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. The Pasuk (3:9) says: And Hashem the L-rd called to (the) Adam, and He said to him “where are you?” Rashi is troubled by the need for such a question, as Hashem obviously knows where Adam is. Rashi explains Hashem acted in this manner to take the edge off the confrontation, to not come upon Adam suddenly and throw him into a state of shock and confusion.
Rav Tzadok HaKohein (Resisei Layla sec. 38) pointed out that the Yetzer Hara uses the element of surprise as one of its most potent weapons. When something unexpected happens, the usual rational thinking that can protect a person from sin doesn’t take place, and therefore it becomes more likely that lusts and desires can take hold. When a person is thrust suddenly into a situation, he doesn’t think clearly or rationally, and is prone to significant errors in judgment. We’ve all experienced moments of shock and panic, when our thinking either freezes or we become somewhat flooded.
It is common decency to not intrude suddenly upon others. Chazal teach us to always knock before entering a room, similar to the Kohein Gadol having bells on the bottom of his garment so people would know he was approaching. If someone dozes off we gently rouse him, rather than forcefully shaking him awake. The childish game of hiding and then suddenly saying “BOO!” is frequently fun for only one participant.
If rational thinking doesn’t function properly in a surprised adult, then the same is true many times over for children. The awareness of this human reaction can be used to our great advantage in educating and disciplining children. By not springing demands and changes on children suddenly, we allow their rational thinking to guide their decisions and reactions. If we know we want to serve supper at 6:00, it is not wise to wait until 5:59 to first demand that the children come to the dinner table, NOW. Rather, 15, 10, 5 and 2 minute warnings that supper time is approaching will acclimate the children’s thinking to the need to finish their games, and proceed to the kitchen.
I was reminded of this basic rule in human and child psychology this week, when we were finally able to begin using the magnificent new EECC playground. The children were understandably super excited to get to run and play in this gorgeous new play space they have been watching for weeks and months – from behind the barriers. As with everything, there is an appropriate time and circumstance for the opportunity, but the children were basically unstoppable when they arrived at school Tuesday morning. Telling them not to play, would have degenerated into raised voices, and unhappy and barely compliant children. Instead, the children were told to go play and have a great time – for 5 minutes. They jumped and ran and frolicked and climbed and slid and then were given a 2 minute warning. When the time arrived and they were told time is up and they needed to proceed to their classrooms, there was no resentment, no fuss and a good deal of compliance.
This `technique’ works because it is working with the child, not against the child. It is respectful in that it recognizes and honors the child’s need, it gives time for the child’s rational mind to take hold, and it avoids resentment and resistance which allows the child to do the right thing. It requires some forethought and creative thinking, but it is a real gift to both parents and children. By knowing and having some time to process what is going to happen shortly, children feel more secure. That subsequently translates into happier, more cooperative and even compliant children, a peaceful home and calmer, more satisfied parents.
Best wishes for a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann