Featured Ads

Spreading the light: Teach basic Jewish tenets to the next generation

With Hanukkah right around the corner and Jews remembering our spiritual and military victories, it’s important to remember our Jewish responsibility to “spread light” to all corners of the world.

We often do this by continuing to do mitzvahs such as visiting the sick, giving charity to the poor or lighting Shabbos candles. But we often forget the “light” that is inherent in every single one of G-d’s creatures, especially children. The topic of children’s “sense of self” (self-esteem) is something we need to shed some “light” on.

I have been a child therapist, in particular a play therapist, for almost 40 years. In that journey, I have focused on children, ages 11 and younger, and their families. It has been a most rewarding adventure. The types of problems I have encountered, helped resolve and navigate to resolution have been quite gratifying. In most of the situations, the issue of a child’s self-esteem, his sense of self, has been part and parcel of the healing process. Freud, Jung and Adler, each from very different perspectives, help us understand how a child’s ego strength helps him navigate difficult challenges in his life. Whether it be divorce, sibling death, or abuse, this phenomenon of self-esteem always is a factor to navigate with these young children and their parents. Those who “feel good about themselves” are independent, think creatively, manage social situations, and interact with their parents, and those are the children who can overcome most challenges in their lives.

So the obvious question is how do parents, educators and therapists help in this process … even if there is not a presenting problem such as abuse, divorce or death. An important part of a child’s sense of self is for us to help the child realize that s/he is a significant being. We need to raise children who believe they are loved and important, encouraged to take chances, and given opportunities to fail in order to succeed. At the same time, we must not instill in them a sense of entitlement, privilege or arrogance. Children must learn how to do simple chores without parents constantly reminding them, undertake school tasks without parental nagging, engage in social events without continuous organized or orchestrated play dates, or just take chances in life without parental hovering. This is the dilemma. Put simply, how do we raise children who will get out there and realize they are important or significant, yet not believe they are the center of the universe?

Judaism certainly teaches us this every minute of the day, especially every morning when we wake up. We say “Modeh Ani” (“Thank you G-d for returning my soul, with compassion, great is our faith in you”) and wash our hands, known as “Nagel Vaser.” We in fact say out loud every day that there is something greater than us, G-d. G-d watches out over us, loves us, cares for us, believes in us, gives unlimited opportunities to succeed, and encourages us (not unlike a parent). At the same time, we are reminded that we are not fully in charge of the universe, or even our own daily thoughts, actions, accomplishments and successes. But all is ultimately in the hands of something greater than ourselves. This is precisely what we try to instill in our children: The sense of how great and powerful they are, but at the same time how limited they are. Their mission is not exclusively about themselves, but connected to others and something larger. Imagine all of this by simply waking up every morning and acknowledging G-d with a simple sentence, a 30-second washing of hands! Imagine how a child would feel that he has a mission in life, a task to fulfill, people to engage, A Divine Being with whom s/he can have a relationship with. It’s unbelievable how simple this is and what a profound impact it will have on the child’s sense of self.

In a world that is filled with “noise,” I have come to appreciate that we need to simplify, apply and impart basic Jewish tenets to the next generation. Perhaps Modeh Ani and Nagel Vasser can be introduced into our children’s lives so they can become more complete beings. Maybe this will help in igniting the “light” in each and every Jewish child. Try it for a month. Let me know what you and your kids think. And, of course, enjoy the “lights of Hanukkah!”

Allan M. Gonsher LCSW, RPT/S, is president of Kids-Inc., which provides counseling for children and families in the Overland Park and Omaha, Nebraska, areas.