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Sunday
Oct012017

‘ESROG’ CHILDREN AND ‘ARAVA’ CHILDREN

We spoke with R Assaf Shahino, principal of the Chabad school in Ohr Yehuda. We asked him questions that parents and teachers deal with every day. * How do you teach children to live together peacefully? How do you resolve arguments among children? How do you teach children to notice when someone else is having a hard time and to take responsibility for what is going on around them? * Esrogim, aravos, sukka and peace.

One of the central motifs of Sukkos is the unity of the Jewish people. We have this theme on the Yomim Noraim too, but in a more subtle fashion; on Sukkos the theme stands out. On Sukkos, not only do we not ignore the differences between Jews, we put together all the different types. We arent afraid of dealing with anaravaas he is, “without taste and fragrance,” and as the Midrash says, they are all bound together. In fact, without the arava, you cannot do the mitzva.

We spoke with R’ Assaf Shahino, principal of a Chabad school in Ohr Yehuda, and an educator for twenty years. Under his leadership, the school in Ohr Yehuda has won prizes for most positive educational climate, which has placed the school on the list of elite schools in Eretz Yisroel in this area, but not at the expense of academics which has shown marked improvement as well.

When I asked him about achdus among the students, teaching mutual responsibility, creating peace among children and creating a positive environment, I knew he was the right man for these questions.

There is no home without arguments, even fighting among children. This is commonplace, and parents are often at a loss about how to deal with it. We asked R’ Shahino for practical ideas about how to create peace among brothers at home and among friends in school; how to instill values of mutual responsibility and caring; how to prevent the development of hostile positions between brothers and classmates; how to prevent fighting and hatred. And finally we wanted to know how educators should relate to both the successful students as well as the ones having a hard time.

EVERY CHILD HAS A JOB

The educational challenge we face on Sukkos is chinuch for achdus despite differences among children. What’s the best way of going about this?

The first and most important principle is to recognize the fact that every child is different. This is true in a classroom and at home. Every child has his nature, his talents, and a personality that is different from others. Some are cool by nature, some are passionate, some catch on quickly, and others don’t.

When we parents or educators absorb this point that every child is unique, then the next step is to believe that every child can express his abilities and use them and be successful; not just for himself, but in helping others. A child who is good at games can teach others and rope in his friends or kids his age and develop these talents. This is our job, to optimize his talents and teach him to share his talents with the child sitting next to him in class or with his siblings.

This is connected very nicely with a recent parsha, “You are standing, all of you, today … your leaders, your elders, your policemen, every man in Israel.” The well-known question is written at the beginning of the verse, “all of you.” Why was it necessary to enumerate the different categories within Israel? The answer is that each Jew has his role in the world; nobody is like another, not in character and not in his mission and role in the world. When we understand this, then it’s possible to look for the uniqueness in each one and optimize it, not at the expense of anyone else, but actually in a complementary manner.

I get the concept, how everyone is unique, but how do we as parents, or educators, unite all these disparate types when you have a number of children at home or 25 students in a class? Is it really possible to develop an approach for every one individually?

It can be done in various ways. For example, in school, I make sure every child has a job in class. I gain in two ways: I get him to feel he belongs, to care, and I develop his responsibility toward others. There isn’t one person who does things for everyone; there is everyone doing for everyone.

When we speak about mutual responsibility, well, it’s not a simple thing to teach children responsibility toward their classmates or siblings when children, by nature, think of themselves!

True, especially in recent years, when the world has become more competitive and this affects children too. Every child naturally seeks to buttress his standing in the social circle and looks out primarily for himself. The best way I see, in my experience, is through personal example. These messages don’t need to be conveyed only in lectures aimed at teaching life skills, but also through playtime and actually, any time, whether at home or in school.

When a child sees that his father respects his mother and considers her opinions, and sometimes he gives in on things that he wants because she wants something else, that’s a tangible model for educating the children. Or, for example, when a child asks his father for something and he says he’ll discuss it with the child’s mother, he is allowing space for another party in the decision making. A child definitely absorbs this.

When the father helps the mother out at home, or when the father takes an interest in the neighbor’s needs or he deals compassionately with a beggar, and when guests come he goes out of his way to host them and does so happily, all these are examples from daily life that generate an awareness of mutuality, acceptance and making room for someone else in your life.

Obviously, in addition to this, we also need to tell stories of tzaddikim that convey these ideas. But under no circumstances can it remain as “stories of tzaddikim,” but as real life examples.

In our school, there is a “joint classroom.” What is that? It’s when, once in several weeks, one class hosts another class. We teach the children to welcome the children from the other class respectfully and with open arms. We have gemachim in our school for an array of things. We have a bikkur cholim gemach in which, when a child does not feel well, children will go to visit him. This is mutual responsibility, which unfortunately children don’t necessarily learn at home, and we teach it.

A few days ago, I told a group of students who were in my office about my daughter who made a 2000 piece puzzle. She worked hard at it and when she finished, we gave it to someone to frame. When we went to pick it up, we saw that one piece was missing. It was small but it stood out. My daughter was really disappointed. I shared this with the children in order to show them how important every child is in the general mosaic, and how we do not overlook anyone.

In general, I recommend that parents and educators speak to children without condescension. Share your life experiences with them. It creates an incredible sense of relating and identifying on the part of the children.

WHEN YOUR CHILD
IS AN ESROG

I want to go back to the question we started with. We understand that on Sukkos we unite disparate parts of the Jewish people as this is expressed in the Dalet minim. How do you connect and unite with a child who is the “arava?” This child just gives you headaches and is constantly testing boundaries.

There is no such thing as a bad child. What there is, is a child that is having it bad. We Chassidim know that the evil is only in the external packaging and so we need to seek and find reasons for the difficulties the child is contending with, and help him accordingly. We need to try and find his good points and strengthen them, to find those areas of learning where he can succeed and lead him to success. This will get him to trust in himself and his abilities. We cannot give up on a child. There are children who come from difficult homes. They live with endless negative experiences, have nobody believing in them, and this is where we come in.

I will share a personal experience with you. There is a child in school who, one year, had a teacher who kept on reporting on his bad behavior in the classroom. This happened day after day and it was sad. I tried to speak to the teacher, telling him that these reports were not helping since I wasn’t there, and he had to come up with another approach. But in this case, the child and the teacher clashed.

A year later, I was very curious to see how the child would do with a new teacher. I was tense on the first day, the second day, but I got no report from the teacher. I called to ask what was doing with the boy and the teacher said all was well. It continued that way throughout the year.

The reason for the change is simple – the child met a teacher who believed in him, who saw him and his abilities and gave them a means of expression. He had no more problems, it was fun for him in the class and this was reflected in his behavior. I tell parents and teachers again and again: believe in children! Even when it seems so bleak, it is almost always external. A child by nature is a good boy who wants to succeed and progress like his classmates and wants approval and real accomplishment.

What challenge is there for a parent or teacher when a child is an “esrog?” A child like this doesn’t need much input and always brings home good marks and nachas …

First of all, there is no child who doesn’t need real investment. Every child wants to be noticed and complimented and to be cultivated. Second, I have these children become helpers to the children who need help, thus connecting children on different levels. Both at school and at home, the child who is stronger, sometimes the older one, helps the younger one or the one having a hard time. Thus, we build up the character of the child who gives, and develop his leadership abilities and sense of responsibility.

In the Rebbe’s sichos we see that the achdus of Sukkos is greater than the achdus of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. Why?

During the first holidays of Tishrei, the achdus is in a way that ignores the differences between people. It’s an achdus that focuses on the inner point that all Jews have in common. On Sukkos and Simchas Torah, the achdus takes differences into account and blends them. A person can be united even when he is different.

The same is true for chinuch. We don’t ignore differences. On the contrary, we highlight them and still bring everyone together.

HOW TO RESOLVE ARGUMENTS AMONG CHILDREN

The sukka is referred to as “sukkas shalom” - everyone leaves their permanent abodes for temporary abodes. There is no ranking, just peace and brotherhood. How can we create this feeling among our children?

You bring up a topic that every educator needs to deal with a lot; it’s not simple. Many children fight over various things and in order to prevent this, we need to do two things. On the one hand, set rules and clear boundaries. In our school, we established rules in the form of a traffic light. The rules hang in every classroom, and at the beginning of the year every teacher makes sure his students understand them. At home too, I recommend establishing clear rules that are incontrovertible.

On the other hand, we need to occupy children with positive activities. When a child has nothing to do, that’s when the problems begin. We talk to students a lot about how to lose graciously and why it’s important to lose graciously. One of the important ideas I can suggest from my years in chinuch is to be more present than absent. In our school, the teachers play with the children and are with them during recess. This way, small arguments that sometimes flare up due to inattention on the part of adults, end while the fire is still small, because we are there. So I am very particular about yard duty. (This is the reason, by the way, that the Israeli police have so many cameras on the roads and they don’t care that people know about them. The logic is not to look how to punish, but to be present in a way that serves as a deterrent, so drivers do not commit traffic violations. At home too, I recommend that parents be present with their children, play with them, show them it’s okay to lose, and do so graciously by personal example).

We know that children argue a lot. When should we intervene and when not? What is the proper response to their arguing?

A wise man said: if you want to win an argument, refrain from it! Arguing happens when a child wants to prove to his classmate or sibling that he is better. It could happen for many reasons, but that’s the simple fact. With most arguments, it’s best for parents not to get involved. The children will end it on their own and even make peace. But if we see tensions running high and it might escalate, it should be stopped but without getting into a debate about the subject of the argument. Wait till they calm down and then hear the opposing views, but more importantly teach the proper approach to differences.

How do you do that?

You let each student, or child in the home, express himself, state his complaint, and let off steam. It’s important to hear him out and then repeat what he said to give him the feeling that he is understood. And don’t rush to offer solutions. When one is finished, the other child is asked to state his complaint and he is listened to. Again, what he says is repeated and he is given the feeling that he was understood. They should also be asked whether we were right in our assessment of their feelings. Once they affirm that, they can be asked to look for a resolution to their conflict. In most cases, the children are the best judges. I have been amazed by the solutions that the children came up with for situations that seemed complicated.

By doing things this way, not only did I resolve this specific argument, but also the arguments that are sure to follow. Likewise, I have given the children tools to problem-solve and the means to resolve arguments that will arise.

I always suggest to teachers at the beginning of the year that they skip the teachers’ room and be outside with their students during recess so they can see that each child is doing alright. You can learn a lot about your student by his abilities on the court. The same is true at home: take an interest in your children and ascertain that things are going well for him during free time.

TO LOVE, SIMPLY TO LOVE

Can you give some educational insights that are your guiding lights in education?

There are two points I’d be happy to share. Point number one may sound simple. It’s to love the child, simply to love him. When you love someone, you also believe in him, and look for ways to bring out their potential. When you love someone, then even when you run into a rough patch with him, you don’t break down and you don’t give up.

Point number two relates directly to us as educators and parents: Never stop learning. Always consult, ask, and become proficient in any area that would help your child. When I learned couples’ guidance and marriage counseling, I brought quite a few tools to the students in my school; when I studied music, I brought these talents to the classroom. It is very easy to adapt good tools to any area in life.

Likewise, use your talents to enhance the chinuch experience and create a good relationship. On Purim, for example, I am not embarrassed to go into classrooms and use my talent to imitate voices and dress up like a clown. Children enjoy it, and it creates a positive environment in school and I think the same is true for the home.

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