Sunday, October 3, 2010

Punishing Children With Mitzvot

Sometimes parents threaten little children with the prospect of being denied the opportunity to participate in a mitzvah. For example, "if you [fill in the blank] one more time you're going strait to bed and there's no kiddush grape juice tonight." I've always felt very uncomfortable with this type of punishment because kids should be encouraged to look forward to performing mitzvot and get to revel in the act of the mitzvah. They should never have to associate mitzvah with discipline. (I'm not sure if this makes sense, but I'm having trouble expressing myself here.)
Recently I've become even more attuned to this. Now that David attends public school I've become hypersensitive to our obligation to provide him with a thoroughly Jewish experience at home. (This really deserves further elaboration at a different time.) For about half a year our Sunday morning routine has involved going to minyan followed by a visit to the a bagel store for a plain bagel and perhaps a donut (which is a special treat for him). This morning the bagel store we usually go to was closed and I continued to drive home. David insisted that we go to another store and I tried to explain that this wasn't an option because then I would come late to work. David didn't care and he started freaking out in the back seat.
I was about to tell him that if he doesn't calm down he will have to stay home next week, but I stopped myself. That would have been a bad move because at this age I think that delayed punishments are not yet effective. But I was at the point where rational thinking no longer dictates the punishment. Nonetheless I didn't punish him from minyan next week because the last thing I want to do now is to deny him exposure to mitzvot.


Leah Goodman said...

You're absolutely right about the mitzvot not being something to take away.

It's really good that you think these things through. All too often, as parents, we mete out punishments that don't teach what we want our children to learn.

(the classic being slapping your child while saying "don't hit your brother" of course)

In moments like these, it's SO hard to keep your emotions in check and decide on a consequence or penalty that makes sense in terms of teaching what you want to teach, such as saying that if he doesn't stop whining then you won't get bagels tomorrow or the next day either; you'll just bring an apple from home.

Abba said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abba said...


"SO hard to keep your emotions in check "

sometimes parents feign anger when punishing in order to scare the child, but some times it just seems to me that punishment (especially when it involves hitting kids) is more about the parent venting and making them feeling better than an attempt to discipline the child