The Sephardic Community of Fair Lawn, New Jersey

We usually think of lashon hara as speaking evil about someone behind his back.  However, lashon hara is also using the gift of speech to hurt people.  And those who are most vulnerable to such talk are our own family members.  No one can hurt us the way a close relative can.  And that’s where we have to be the most careful. 

 Trust in God is the only real security we have in life.  Trust in people is the only way to have a relationship.  Trust in ourselves is the foundation of self esteem and mental health.

 Whether you abuse a child with derogatory statements or beatings, what you are doing is destroying the child’s trust in people and in himself. Such an individual cannot really trust in God.  You know yourself that if you lose control your self esteem goes down.  Why?  You have lost trust in yourself.  You must then work extra hard to get yourself back in control or else the destructive downward spiral continues.

 This is often what happens in the home:  the child is uncooperative, and the parent reacts angrily; the child loses trust in the parent’s love, and so he not only distances himself to prevent additional punishment, he tests the parents further with even more obnoxious behavior, which makes the parent even more untrusting of the child and even more violent.  Without trust you instinctively close off your heart and mind to someone who lies often or is consistently unsupportive, unavailable and unreliable. 

 The reason lashon hara is so awful is that it destroys trust.  You tell a child that he or she is a lazy slob, an ungrateful brat, a nudnick, a pest or an idiot.  But the words stick in his or her mind and they do terrible damage.  Such words imply to devastating subtextual messages to the child (1) I don’t trust you, and (2) you can’t trust yourself.

Not only that, but because a child’s feelings toward God are inextricably bound with his feelings about his parents, he will find it difficult if not impossible, to establish a trusting relationship with God and will tend to see God as a force of indifference or cruelty.

Here are some tips to stop the bad habit of lashon hara:

 1.  Whenever you feel yourself getting critical flood yourself and those around you with endorsements.  It doesn’t matter who your endorsing or for what. Just say something –anything- positive about someone.  Give someone around you a hug or a kiss every time they do something positive.  If you look for positivity you’ll find lots of it.

 2.  Say your endorsements out loud.  Even better, write them down.  It makes them more real.  Keep a list of your child’s endorsable acts and read them to the child each night. Only light can fight darkness. So do something loving, even if it does not feel sincere at the moment.

 3.  To prepare your child for healthy relationships, let them hear you say words of appreciation to your mate.  Remember, the idea is to douse the fires of negativity with the healing waters of love.

 4.  Since many children feel embarrassed saying nice things to each other. You can have regular endorsement parties in which you sit around the dining room table and say things you like about each other.  One chocolate chip per endorsement.  It’s a great way to overcome negativity, and a wonderful activity when your stuck indoors during bad weather. 

 5.  If you do rebuke, do so in a way that the child is strengthened.  Say “I’m sure you didn’t mean to do this.”  Or, “Come, let me show you how we can avoid this problem.”  If a child does something you don’t like, tell him.  Don’t add on a string of poisonous labels.  Don’t imply that he’s a lost cause.  Don’t let him lose trust in himself, because then you’ve destroyed his spirit. 

 6.  A great tactic is to negotiate contracts with family members.  Sit down with a pencil and paper and say “Something you’ve been doing bothers me.  We have to work it out.  I’ll tell you what I want.  Then you tell me what you want. Then we’ll come to some kind of decision.”  Whether you want your children to wash the dishes after they eat or your spouse to help more with the chores, you will not have success if you are continually harassing the person with criticism.  Find some way to negotiate a compromise.

Don’t expect to be able to stop yourself or someone else from being critical “cold turkey.”  But remember, for every small step you take, Hashem reaches out to help you tenfold.  It is up to you to create a loving, nurturing environment in your home and in your head.  No one else can do it for you.  So take some small steps today to restrain your negativity and improve your own and others’ self esteem.

 Excerpted from “Living with Kids – Parents at their best”  by Miriam Adahan.

 

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