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Preparing Fertile Soil for the Seeds of Education - Rabbi Zamir Cohen

A healthy mind and a balanced outlook on life and the world around him, can only be developed in a child via a combination of two seemingly contradictory and conflicting tracks, which in fact complement each other superbly

Preparing Fertile Soil for the Seeds of Education - Rabbi Zamir Cohen
Education consists of two parallel parts:
 
A. Preparing the child for education. This is the tilling phase of the “fertile soil” that will receive and properly allow the seeds of education to sprout.
 
B. The act of educating. This is the planting itself. The first part of educating deals with building a child with a balanced temperament and a healthy mind, and the second part consists of practical educational guidance toward how he should behave in his daily routine and handle the events of his everyday life. Both of these parts are fashioned and implemented concurrently.
 
A Healthy Mind
 
A child with a healthy mind is fertile ground for absorbing the seeds of practical education. He does not suffer from poor self-image (we’re not referring here to a healthy sense of humility, but rather to despondency and feeling of inferiority and incompetence), phobias, anxiety, or chronic sadness. He does have a clear understanding that it’s neither right, proper, nor necessary to boss, control, or bully others. He’s buoyant with the joy of life and at the same time thoughtful of others.
 
Drawing Close and Distancing: Complementary Tools
 
A healthy mind and a balanced outlook on life and the world around him, can only be developed in a child via a combination of two seemingly contradictory and conflicting tracks, which in fact complement each other superbly.
 
These are:
 
A. Giving him warm, loving, and respectful attention on a regular basis.
B. Setting clear borders and boundaries when necessary.
 
A child who grows up without warmth, love, and attention from his parents, even if he does not suffer from shame and inferiority, feels lonely and threatened by the very presence of the big world versus his small self.
 
Conversely, if a child grows up with the feeling that everything is allowed without limits, apart from the educational flaws that are expressed in his harmful and annoying behavior toward those around him, he is also frightened of and feels threatened by others, because if he is never taught the boundaries of how he can treat them, he naturally assumes that they too are unrestrained in their behavior toward him.
 
But a child who grows up in a warm, loving, and supportive environment, yet at the same time has been taught that there are limits and boundaries of behavior that are not to be crossed, grows up with a healthy mind and a pleasant and balanced personality.
 
This successful formula appears in the words of the Sages of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 107b) that in the education of children: “The left hand should distance him while the right hand draws him closer.”
 
The left represents the usually weaker hand, and the right the stronger. Therefore, our Sages teach that in order to educate a child, it is not sufficient to exclusively draw him close, because sometimes distancing is necessary as well. Sometimes a parent must raise a “stop sign,” which appears to the child as distancing, and whatever distancing is necessary should be infrequent and effected gently — i.e., with the “weaker” hand. The “drawing close” should be wholehearted, vigorous, and strong. This doesn’t merely mean that if one day we need to distance the child, the next day we should draw him close; rather, even within the very same “distancing” conversation, we should also apply the healing balm of the “right hand” drawing him close.
 
A child must know that there are limits and boundaries; not everything is allowed, and parents do not need to agree to every request that comes up in his mind. But, any requirements that we impose on the child — when we must do so — and any refusals of his requests — when we must refuse him — should always be conveyed in a respectful and inoffensive way. At the same time, in order to develop and sustain a healthy self-esteem, we should shower him with plenty of warmth, love, and positive, respectful attention.
 
So even when he is being reprimanded, the child should feel that he still holds the same beloved and wanted status in the eyes of his parent or teacher as before, and that he is simply being guided toward what’s good and proper by way of this rebuke interspersed with praise — rebuke for what is in need of correction, and praise for the good that is already within him. This will elevate him to understand that it is good for him to change for the better, in line with the verse (Proverbs 9:8): “Rebuke the wise, and he will love you (for helping him to improve).”
 
This is why the Sages mention the “left” before the “right,” to teach us that even when it’s necessary to employ the “left hand” of distance and reprimand, as soon as the lesson has been delivered, the parent or teacher should then immediately switch to the “right-handed” approach of drawing him closer, in order to balance out the child’s feeling of being pushed away.
 
This is the concise yet important message of the Sages of the Talmud. “The left hand should distance him while the right hand draws him closer” is meant to be a guiding light for every parent and educator in their approach to each and every child.

Adapted from 'The Complete Guide to Successful Parenting' by Rabbi Zamir Cohen. Coming to you soon in English

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