Bright doesn't mean wise.
A child needs to know that he's a child in order to have a foundation on
which to build a successful adult life. Treating a child as a miniature adult is
really not helping the child to grow.
Sometimes children are very bright and very perceptive, and we can make the
mistake of thinking they are wise. We may treat them as confidantes or peer. But
by definition, a child's opinions, no matter how bright, are not wise. They are
not based on the kind of knowledge Judaism calls da'at. Da'at is a
maturity of the mind, an ability to make connections and perceive the
consequences of one's ideas, but without da'at, those ideas don't
connect with the real world.
A child before Bar or Bat Mitzvah, is not a Bar
Da'at. They may have alot of sense and intelligence, but not
da'at. That's why their behavior doesn't necessarily correspond to
their level of understanding.
So if you want to share knowledge with a precocious second grader, teach him
eighth grade math. But never debate the ground rules for behavior; that belongs
strictly in the realm of the adult who has da'at, and has learned
wisdom from experience.
There's a certain comfort for children in knowing that they can listen to and
trust an adult's judgment. If a child wins a debate with parents, not only will
the parents be distressed, but so will the child. That doesn't mean that you
have to disagree with them. If they come up with a good suggestion, listen and
genuinely consider it. You might say, "I thought about what you suggested and
I've decided that we should do it." But the decision about what to do should be
Never say, "Okay, you're right." That leaves them with the responsibility for
their judgment, when you are the one who should take responsibility. And if you
act on the idea an dit doesn't work out, continue to take responsibility.
Compliment your child for the idea, but provide the security of knowing that an
adult gave the final approval.
IT TAKES TIME TO GET IT RIGHT
We expect both too much and too little of our kids, mixing up
normal maturation with moral development.
There's a big difference between behavior that reflects a child
being a child, and behavior that is inappropriate for a child. One of the most
frustrating things in childrearing is when you tell a child something over
and over again - not to climb up to the cookies, or not to make a mess - and he
keeps on doing it. Inappropriate behavior must be stopped, but if the child is
merely being a child in spite of your expectations, then change your
Make sure not to get it backwards. There's the parent who knows
that the child lies and exaggerates and lets it go. If the same child takes some
cookies when he's not supposed to, or spills something at the table, it's a
disaster and he get spanked. A child can't not spill and a child can't not go
for the cookies, it's normal.
But if a child is lying, it isn't safe to let it go, saying, "He's
just a child, he'll outgrow it." Because adults lie, too. You can be confident
that the child will outgrow the juice on the shirt, but he or she may never
outgrow the lying.
When it comes to morality, we have to create expectations and we
have to have the courage to put some teeth into our expectations. Even a good
child with good ideas needs your authority to be able to do what is right.
Telling them what's right is not enough because they already know; you've told
them before and they are not lacking the information. What they are lacking is
If you consistently condemn and reject a wrong act, like lying,
then the child realizes that what you've been saying is not just theory. It's
the truth, the way to be. If a mother is horrified that a child did something
wrong, that's what the child needs to see. He doesn't need to be told that it's
wrong. Not after the first time. But to see that you are horrified, to see that
it hurts you, to see that you are disappointed, that you can't get used to it,
you can't make peace with it - that in later years, will be the teeth behind the
child'sown values. Meanwhile, we don't reject them for not getting it right,
becuase we understand that they are children.
The ideals eventually become the child's own. But until that
happens, the child goes along with your agenda. That's what it means that you
are responsible for your child's sins until they are bar or bat
The right balance to maintain is that you recognize that a child
may engage in immoral behavior such as lying, yet you also recognize that now is
the time to start changing it.
When we think about it, this is the parenting technique, so to
speak, that G-d uses with us. Three thousand three hundred years and some ago,
G-d told us not to lie. After that, He sent us a prophet. Over and over again,
many hundreds of prophets came to tell us, "Do what you were told to do. Keep
the commandments." G-d knows that even after He's taught us right and wrong,
we're not going to do it right; we're children and we're human. So He repeats
it, but He doesn't throw us out of the house. We need to do the same with our
own children: to teach them right from wrong forty times, but then not to be
surprised that they haven't change yet. Ultimately they will change. Our
frustration with kids still being kids after we've told them forty time is not
kosher. We don't have the right to refuse ourkids their childhood.