Childhood – The Dawn of Life

Childhood – The Dawn of Life

Practice and Theory

As white as snow!

Is there any sight more uplifting more joyous than a child playing with a new toy? We have all seen the child’s wonder as he shakes the toy back and forth, turns it upside down, maybe even tries to taste it.

You may have witnessed this scene hundreds of times, but perhaps you have never really seen it. What is this child?

What you see before you is the most precious gift G-d has given us – a new life, as unmarked as fresh snow, whose parents have been blessed with the opportunity to nurture, protect and teach so that the child becomes a productive and good human being.

Every quality of a child is there for a reason, and must be cultivated.

Every child carries great resources, the potential for the entire future.

How you raise this child will not only influence the child’s life, but his or her children’s lives and their children’s lives.

Practice and Theory

Children – The Greatest Pleasure

In our society we may see childhood as a transitory stage, and children merely as adults in the making.

People sometimes look at childhood and education as a pure investment – some statisticians have even calculated the age at which a person becomes worth more than the amount that was spent on his childhood, care and education.

How we see children very much reflects on how we see ourselves.

If we are overly concerned with our material comforts then a child may seem like a nuisance, interrupting the world we have carefully constructed for our own gratification.

But if we are in touch with the sublime in our lives or at least seek it out, a child’s curiosity and vivacity will enchant us to no end and be a source of the greatest pleasure.

Practice and Theory

 More than we can teach our children we can learn from them

It is extremely important to understand children for what they are, not for who we see them as.

Whereas an adult is shaped by man and society, the child is shaped by G-d.

Because of their innocence, their curiosity, and their purity, children stand closer to G-d than an adult.

And so the great secret to childhood is not that our children have much to learn from us, but that we have much to learn from them.

Wisdom

The necessity of the innocence and truthfulness of the childhood years

Have you ever wondered if it might not be easier if we were all created as mature adults instead of children, fully functional and able to provide for ourselves?

But there is a beautiful lesson in childhood itself – above all that a child is genuine and innocent, and that such innocence is the foundation of life.

If we were born as adults already prepared for the struggles of life, we would never experience the magic of childhood, the freedom to explore life with your wide open eyes, indiscriminately, unselectively.

Childhood gives us that chance to soar through the sublime before we trudge through the mundane.

Wisdom

Children’s Trust

What do we think when we see a child’s hand reach for her mothers and follow her wherever she goes.

We surely don’t need anyone leading us by the hand.

But the child’s receptivity and vulnerability, his simple faith comes from a very deep pure place – from the very essence of the soul, which is receptive to that which is beyond itself.

Wisdom

The Benefit of a Child’s Imaginative Mind

As adults we like to think that we are in control. After all we have spent years developing our ideas and sharpening our minds.

But which is truly more fundamental: an adult’s intellect or a child’s innocence and faith?

Whereas an adult has narrowed his hopes and expectations, a child dreams and wonders.

The same goes for education: a child’s mind is not clouded by the self interest of the adult, concerned only with how he will benefit from a certain idea.

Wisdom

The Magic of Wonder

While educating children, it is vital to cultivate this spirit, this faith, this genuine curiosity.

Otherwise much of the information we impart will be misdirected; instead of allowing a child to experience a sense of awe at G-d and His world, we push him or her to analyze and categorize everything.

Think of a child’s first trip to the Grand Canyon. Which is more significant: to drink in the sight with awe and think about what it all means, or to boil it down to a pile of data and statistics?

Wisdom

Children are naturally Spiritual

We must be especially attentive to cultivating the G-dliness in children, the awe that comes through spirituality.

Children have a glorious gift for realizing that the here and now, the visible world, is not always what is most important.

Allow a child’s imagination to wander, for it recognizes that we are all part of something greater than ourselves.

Children innately have a deep thirst for the ethereal and the natural sense of wonder and faith that is so receptive to spiritual matters.

Wisdom

Balancing the immaturity and the positive imagination of a child

Still we must remember that a child is vulnerable and impressionable who has been put in our care, entrusted to us for his or her well-being.

We must take into account the two opposing elements of a child’s nature: the curiosity and openness to learn versus a spirit of frivolity; and strive for a balance.

A parent or educator who is too concerned with discipline might rob the child’s free spirit; on the other hand we cannot be so lenient as to let a child wander without direction.

Practice

The most important ingredient in education is truthfulness

The main ingredient in shaping good behavior is truth; these truths, especially about G-d, and about right and wrong, should never be arbitrary.

A child is naturally sincere, and compromising the truth is anathema to sincerity.

A parent’s tentativeness or ambivalence toward the truth will come back to haunt the child; it is vital that a child learn clarity and conviction, which are the roots of every decision a healthy adult will make.

Practice and Theory

How To Treat a Child

Once you fully accept and understand that a child is a gift from G-d, the question of how to treat him or her becomes quite simple.

The child does not belong to you; he or she belongs to G-d!

And G-d entrusted you with the child, coupled with a commandment to protect and nurture.

Children do not need to be taught fear; they have natural fear.

So for example, before punishing a child we must take great care to think: Am I doing this in the best interest of the child, or because he or she made me angry? There is no place for ego in raising a child.

Practice and Theory

A child should never be made to feel fear

A child must be given the right to live his or her childhood free from fear.

Practice and Theory

Encourage good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior

It is always better to encourage good behavior than to have to punish bad behavior. Even when discipline is necessary, it must be carried out with the utmost sensitivity and love – remember, if you hurt a child you are hurting G-d.

Practice and Theory

Intimidating children is evil

The intimidating of children that masquerades as discipline is an affront to G-d who has asked us to care for these precious souls with sensitivity.

Wisdom

Children should be taught to respect their parents because this is God’s wish

A child should be taught to honor his parents not because they are authority figures, with controlling power over their children, but because it was they whom G-d chose to bring the child into the world.

Wisdom

Learn from a child’s amazement

Beyond innocence there are many other things about children that we would do well to study and learn from.

Consider a child’s pure sense of amazement when he or she discovers something new.

The child may not have the sensory tools to fully comprehend this new experience, but do not be deceived: a child absorbs the experience far more deeply than an adult might.

Wisdom

A child’s mind must be treated with sensitivity and respect

 

Why is it that we can hardly remember what we read yesterday yet we can remember what we learned in nursery school?

A child’s mind is extremely fertile, and must be treated with sensitivity and respect.

Practice and Theory

A child’s focus

 

A child is also very single minded, when a child is in the moment he or she is completely immersed in the moment.

An adult will often anticipate and personalize, thinking, where is this conversation heading? What does it mean for me?

A child can teach us to truly focus, to fully absorb the moment as it exists.

Wisdom

Using a child’s egocentricity for the good

Since it seems to a child that his parents and the rest of the universe exist merely to cater to his needs, a child can easily begin to think that he or she is the main focus of life.

The adverse effects of such an attitude are self-evident; indeed, in addition to enhancing our inherent positive qualities, weeding out the negative parts of our base behavior is a main focus of education.

But the child’s egocentric instinct also has a positive side; he is utterly convinced that his existence has meaning and that his deeds have a consequence.

This is one part of childhood that we especially need to cultivate – the conviction that every one of our thoughts and deeds is of real, even global, significance.

Maimonides wrote that a person “Should see the entire world as half good and half evil, so that with a single good deed, he will tip the scales for himself, and for the entire world to the side of merit.”

Wisdom

A Child’s Openness

It is easy to dismiss the simplicity of a child as a mere lack of knowledge.

But such simplicity contains a certain power, an integrity and sincerity that may begin to erode as we rush to acquire wisdom and sophistication.

We may get frustrated when a child cannot keep still, but this activity is a sign of healthy vitality; the external movement is reflective of the internal movement. It expresses a certain restlessness and spiritual angst.

Consider how a child will look at one simple object and ask more questions than we could have ever imagined: Why is it that way? How did it get like that? What is it for?

This questioning, this movement that assumes the form of curiosity, should never be discouraged.

Childhood is the one period in life when a person is free from the concerns of survival; it is the one opportunity to be totally dedicated to learning the value system through which all of life’s experiences will be filtered.

Practice and Theory

Teaching more rather than less

We should never worry about taxing the mind of a child.

We need to be realistic about how much a child can retain, but it is better to be taught more and retain less than to let a part of the mind remain unused.

And, since we haven’t yet discovered the true capacity of a child’s mind to absorb information, a child should embark on a rigorous schedule of study.

Practice

Morality

The first thing a child must be taught, of course, is the foundation of life – the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong.

This gives direction to all his other studies and life choices.

Practice and Theory

Cocooning Meditation

As adults, we should try to re-create the cocoonlike state of childhood.

Take ten minutes out of your day and go back to the state of mind of a child, when you had no material worries, when your only concern was learning how to conduct your life in a productive, meaningful way.

See how refreshing it is to substitute prayer, study, and good deeds for bill-paying, shopping, and running your business.

Practice and Theory

Learning form our children

A child, through his innocence and curiosity has many of the traits that we most crave.

We have been so buffeted by life and so conditioned to think only of ourselves that we lost touch with these beautiful traits.

As is written, “The hearts of the parents will return through their children.”

Once parents have resigned themselves to a certain way of life, they sometimes can’t even consider the possibility of change.

But, because they will do anything for their children in the course of teaching them to lead a meaningful life, parents do indeed stand a chance of changing.

So childhood is not just for the child; it also allows parents to tap the purest part of themselves: their souls.

Especially in our turbulent generation, it is often the children who end up teaching the most profound values to their parents.

Practice and Theory

Teaching and learning from and to children

When you next spend time with your child – or any child – do not be causal about the experience.

Look at the child intently and realize: G-d has given you this gift to nurture and care for; to teach good habits and the difference between right and wrong.

Your attitude toward this child and the sensibilities that you will impart to him will be crucial to how his life develops and how he influences others.

Now how much time can you possibly devote to this enormous responsibility?

And most important of all: Allow your child to be himself and to teach you how to live a more meaningful life.

 

Practice and Theory

Your child should represent the values of your home

When someone sees your child they should immediately be able to see that this child is the son or daughter of a religious home.

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