TO LOVE THAT WHICH IS MOST PRECIOUS OF ALL
October 21, 2014
Beis Moshiach in #945, Tznius

With the start of the school year, we visited a teachersroom to ask teachers how to teach our girls to love tznius. * Those who were interviewed were: Mrs. Elisheva Schwartz, an educational advisor and psychodrama therapist; Mrs. Diamant Berger of Petach Tikva and Mrs. Yaffa Spinner of Kfar Chabad who are experienced preschool teachers; and Mrs. Miriam S, a veteran seminary teacher.

BEAUTY AND HOLINESS

How do you get a little girl to love tznius?

Mrs. Schwartz: Let’s start with an example that is common in a preschool, school and at home. Little Mushky is sitting on a chair in a way that her skirt does not cover her knees. There are two approaches on the part of the mechanech, the spontaneous reaction and the thought-out reaction. The spontaneous reaction is: Mushky! A Chassidishe girl does not sit like that, it’s not tzanua! Fix your skirt right now. In most cases, this reaction goes along with a look and tone of rebuke which the girl internalizes at a young age.

The thought-out reaction is effective in the long run and implants in the child a positive memory for tznius. It goes something like this: Mushky, what a pretty dress you have. Come, cover your knees and show how pretty and tzanua you are. Or: How pretty your dress is on you when your knees are covered. You are a pretty and modest girl!

With this reaction, we have achieved a number of goals. The child did not feel rebuked. She did not get a message that her body is not okay, and in addition, she received a positive self-image and a compliment about how she looks and how flattering her dress is. With this kind of reaction there is no doubt that for this child the concept of tznius is associated with a compliment and beauty. Isn’t this the goal we want to achieve?

We always need to remember and convey that tznius is not rebuke! It is a way of life that leads to simcha, bracha and beauty too.

Unfortunately, for many older girls the word tznius is immediately associated with negativity, feeling choked, fear, and memories of the principal chasing after them. We can change this stigma by not, G-d forbid, conveying fear and rebuke, but beauty and holiness instead, and it all starts at a young age.

Another thing that can implant love for tznius in a little girl is being particular to dress her in modest clothes which are also esthetically pleasing, clean, and up-to-date. The way a girl perceives her body image is very closely linked with the clothes she wears. A girl does not want to wear an item that is not flattering to her. It can make her feel socially rejected and will lead to her not loving that which represents tznius. When we dress a child in a modest and pretty outfit, we achieve our goal.

FEMININE ROYALTY

Mrs. Berger: Boruch Hashem, we have many options today with which to create a love for tznius in preschool and at home.

First, when I sit facing the girls, I always double check to make sure my skirt is covering my knees fully. The girls see this and it has a direct impact on them.

We expect of our girls/students to dress and behave modestly, so we need to do the same. A child is mature enough to understand when it’s genuine and when “you have to dress like that in school – what can you do …” When she sees a teacher that she admires dressing modestly, it makes her want to associate with her in dress too.

In general, I am not in favor of focusing on those who are not careful about tznius (because that is what sometimes happens by pointing things out). Rather, it is preferable to praise, encourage, and promote those who are careful about it. This creates a desire and even a good competitive spirit among other girls to adopt and behave in modest ways, because it’s great and worthwhile to dress modestly.

We start the morning with a nice song in which we mention the rules of tznius and what a privilege it is for us. You can actually see how, while singing the song, the girls straighten out their skirts and sit modestly without my having to say anything. There is an additional benefit in that the girls love to sing and be happy and that there is also an emphasis on the rules of tznius in an experiential way.

Stressing the rules of tznius is also done in other ways; for example, in touching up picture books. Sometimes we get books in which the girls are not always depicted modestly. The girls absorb the pictures. Of course, we want them to absorb only good things, so I fix them. Sometimes this is done near the girls who watch and ask why I’m drawing stockings and sleeves. This gives me a wonderful opportunity to explain the rules of tznius in a hands-on way.

After thirteen years of teaching experience, I can pray and hope that we women should have the kabbalas ol of the little girls who understand, when we explain to them pleasantly, that tznius is a woman’s royalty and are happy to observe it!

PREPARING FOR GEULA

Mrs. Spinner: Rebbe, Rebbe, and Rebbe. Every girl loves the Rebbe with an essential bond that is inestimable. The Rebbe is part of our very personas and part of our way of life. In preschool I teach the girls that the Rebbe wants us to be modest and when we dress modestly it makes him happy. A girl who exercises self-mastery in tznius understands that the Rebbe is smiling at her now and is very pleased with what she does. I tell them that soon the Rebbe will come and now we are preparing for this, because when he comes he will be so happy to see us dressed modestly. There’s no question that this gives them a lot of motivation.

Another thing I do is praise a girl for what she is doing modestly. Yes, her skirt might be short and her blouse open, but if she came to preschool today with tights after many struggles, that’s fabulous and she deserves a compliment and a big deal made about this. The girl then feels that she has something modest about her even though there is more to fix. I will add that if she came today with tights, then I am sure she will eventually come with a longer skirt.

It is vital to make the effort to find that which is modest about a girl, whether it’s proper language, long sleeves, or anything else it may be. When we see a girl as someone who belongs and is with the program, it gives her the strength to continue and progress. I am delighted in the morning when they run (literally) to show me what they are wearing that is modest today.

A few weeks ago, we learned how Hashem created Chava. I told the girls the Midrash that when Hashem created her, with every limb that He created He said, “Be modest.” This is what is primary about us. The girls feel and experience this. This is just one example of how, at every opportunity, we can convey messages of tznius in an interesting way that is enjoyable to them.

And of course, above of all is being a positive role model to the girls, not just in dress but in speech, thought and action.

Terrific. As a preschool teacher, do you have a message for mothers?

Definitely! We need to remember that girls of this age are so impressionable. The way we shape them today is the way, with Hashem’s help, they will be at age 17. This is the age that is so uncomplicated in which they accept everything with innocent kabbalas ol and a genuine desire to do what is expected of them. The more they internalize tznius with joy and love, the easier it will be when they are older. Now is the time to influence them in the short and long run. Don’t say, “When she gets older, I’ll teach her.” 

Also, a mother benefits when she teaches her daughter tznius because it gives her an opportunity and a boost to advance in her own tznius.

Every mother needs to remember that she has the ability to endear tznius to her daughter at this age, because this is what symbolizes her being a Jewish girl and in the future, a Jewish woman. When a little girl plays the role she wants to be when she grows up, she is training herself, as the Rebbe said. The same is true for tznius. When, from a young age, she dresses according to the rules of tznius, she is actually taking a step toward being a woman! 

Another message I’d like to convey is, let a child be a child! Little girls love to run and slide down the slide. Doing so with a tight skirt is difficult and uncomfortable. Even from the standpoint of hygiene, tights and long skirts protect the girls from germs. So, for their good, let us enable them to enjoy their age as pure Jewish girls and, with Hashem’s help, we will have much Chassidishe nachas from them.

When a girl is in the presence of an admired teacher, she has more of a desire to be careful about tznius. How can we accustom a girl to tznius wherever she is, not just at school?

Mrs. Schwartz: Habits begin from seemingly trivial things. These seemingly insignificant things are what accustom and train a girl to tznius even when she is with her cousins or her own family.

An example of habituation to tznius from a young age is dressing her after a bath. Sometimes, mothers feel that when the girl is three or four, it’s not a big deal to take her in a towel to the bedroom and to dress her there. But habits die hard and when she is six it won’t be that easy to start getting dressed in the bathroom. Then, when the girl is in the company of strangers and is not covered properly, we can’t be sure she will understand what we mean when we tell her, “It’s not tzniusdik,” because it all begins at home. If we are not particular at home, among family members, the tznius won’t be strong outside of the home either. 

However, when a girl is accustomed from a young age to get dressed in the bathroom, then when a situation arises in which she is with extended family, even if she will be running around she will remain modest since she became accustomed to the idea that her body is covered even at home.

JEWISH ASSERTIVENESS

It is easier to manage with younger children because they are desirous of earning our approval with good behavior. But what about adolescent girls? Can you give mothers some tips about how to handle tznius then?

Mrs. Schwartz: Adolescent girls are influenced by their peers who are the ones to set the standard. So it is much harder for parents. At this stage, parents need to be alert to early indications for a desire to change. These indications can include speaking differently than usual, a different style of behavior, and at a certain stage, a change in dress. There are a number of reasons that can lead to a desire to change and we will address some of them (there are crises that can lead to these behaviors which need professional intervention – MR).

There is the desire to belong to the group in one’s way of talking, behaving, and dressing. Dealing with it is complicated and needs to be done gently and warmly. The girl’s feelings and experiences need to be understood and she has to be told that her conduct is natural and results from the transition from childhood to adulthood. A parent can also share struggles she had when she was an adolescent.

The way that has been proven to be most effective is assertiveness training or, more correctly, “Jewish assertiveness.” When a parent teaches her child assertiveness from a young age, the child will take pride in being an individual and having the ability to go against the current, when necessary. When the child receives a lot of positive feedback about this, he or she has a chance of prevailing over social pressure.

In adolescence, a girl feels a need to change, to develop a new image and to appear well groomed. This is positive and should be encouraged in a good, modest way. When we allow her to buy modest, pretty clothing now and then (even as a surprise), and we don’t wait for her to say, “I have nothing to wear,” “It’s a year since we’ve bought anything,” we show her that it is also important to us that she look nice, as well as modest. When a parent is involved in the process the adolescent is going through, it’s much easier all around.

Take note – sometimes, clothing works for one body type and not for another. It is very possible to have two girls who are wearing the identical item and on one it is flattering and on another it is ugly. In order for the girl to be happy with her clothing, you need to check that it is both modest and flattering.

Remember, although it’s hard, try not to get to the point where you are arguing, which will end up in “yes, boss” but won’t have your daughter internalizing the values you want her to have. At the same time, don’t be afraid to state your opinion. You can be forthright but convey love and caring at the same time. It is important for the girl to notice that her parents love her and give her attention not only when there are problems but also, mainly, when everything is just fine. It is definitely hard to be both firm and to convey love, but with consistency, love, and empathy, we can achieve the goal, with Hashem’s help!

HEARTFELT MESSAGES

How can we convey the message of tznius to an adolescent girl so she will be receptive?

Mrs. Miriam S: We are in a generation in which real commitment is required in order to live with kabbalas ol. When we want to transmit a message to girls that to dress modestly is smart, good, beautiful and useful to them, we need to speak to their hearts and not just focus on what they have to do, on what their obligations are. They we can have an impact.

Every Bas Chabad wants to establish a Chassidic home and to merit a husband with good middos, a yerei Shamayim and yes, someone who is also modest. The key to all this is tznius. When we explain to a girl, nicely, kindly, how much her way of dressing will affect her choosing a husband, she will realize that it is smart on her part to dress properly.

As a teacher of many years’ experience I can tell you that many families nix shidduchim suggestions in the initial stages just because of the girl’s manner of dress. Even if a bachur is interested in a more “worldly” girl, his mother is the one who makes the inquiries and she is the one who sifts through the names. She is certainly not interested in a daughter-in-law who will sit immodestly at the Shabbos table with her husband and sons.

It’s easy to be shortsighted and focus on the present, but we need to look to the future and a girl ought to realize that a Jewish home and a Chassidishe husband depend on her now and it’s a shame to miss out, for her own benefit.

As an educator, surely you have encountered girls who are not dressed modestly. How do you react?

When I see that a girl has shown up dressed inappropriately, I do not point it out in the first thing I say or in the first conversation that we have, and surely not in front of the entire class. First, you need to invest in an emotional bond and in communicating properly (this is true, of course, for a mother and daughter too). Then you can sit down together and talk in a good atmosphere, first seeing who the girl sitting facing you is on the inside and knowing what she has to deal with. Only after I know her and I’ve complimented her can I ask her to be respectful and come in proper attire. I explain why what she is wearing is not suitable. Usually, when you do this from a place of closeness and understanding, it is far more likely to be accepted than rebuke.

I remember an instance in which I taught a girl who came to class with long, styled nails that definitely were inappropriate for this school. It really annoyed me but I decided not to comment, because it was probably pointed out to her before and she still continued showing up this way. I arranged to talk to her and what can I tell you … From thinking of her as a girl who was a rule-breaker I discovered an incredible person. She had made her entire family into baalei t’shuva and she continued to set the tone for mitzva observance in her home. I admired her.

At the end of the conversation, I told her that I understood that her nails were important to her, but for the next class I wanted her to remove the nail polish so her nails would not be as showy. 

The next morning she came over to me and said, “Look, I cut my nails.” She did this even though I hadn’t asked her to. It just goes to show how much something is accepted when it is presented in an atmosphere of good will and proper communication.

How do you explain to a girl why, according to the principles of tznius, a certain accessory, although seemingly modest, is not acceptable?

This week, students came over to me and said, “Morah, we don’t understand why this skirt is not good. It isn’t tight and it’s even more modest than what other people are wearing!” 

I told them, “I’m sure you remember that a few months ago, there was a polio scare and in order to prevent it, everyone was vaccinated, even those to whom it wasn’t an immediate threat. It is very possible that a skirt made out of fabric that does not meet the standard looks modest to you even though on most other people it does not. It has to be off limits so that the epidemic does not spread, even if it looks as though you don’t need this rule.”

In my experience in teaching, I have seen that girls want to understand why something is not appropriate. We need to combine the two: to tell them that this is the situation and that in order to prevent deterioration we have to call a halt to it immediately, and to provide explanations as to why to dress like this and not like that. We need to take advantage of every possible time to reach them all. The best times are farbrengens and lessons, Shabbatons etc.

When hearts are open and people feel close and receptive and not threatened, we have an opportunity to focus on this important topic and to listen to their questions (let them ask and talk about the difficulties they are experiencing!). We will soon discover that many girls observe the rules because “that is what it says in the rule book from the rabbanei Chabad,” but they don’t understand why these rules are beneficial and desirable. They are interested in hearing answers to their questions.

Remember, the Rebbe does not remain in debt! For all our efforts, even the smallest, in this lofty matter, each of us will merit material and spiritual good!

 

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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