Teaching Your Children about Derech Eretz
How to raise a family of mensches.
At the playground…at synagogue…at a birthday party…it almost doesn’t matter where, you’ve seen it or heard it. Where are the manners and the values that our parents taught us? Where are the polite, well-mannered kids?
Way of the World
Jewish tradition teaches us abut the notion of derekh eretz, commonly translated as "the way of the world." Derekh eretz is the code of proper behavior that binds us to each other as human beings and as Jews. According to the midrash, derekh eretz "precedes" the Torah (Leviticus Rabbah 9:3). We can understand this to mean that even before we begin to do important things like study Torah and live in accordance with the mitzvot, we must live with derekh eretz. Helping your child to learn common decency and appropriate behavior is crucial, and one of the most difficult parts of parenting. Here are some easy and not so easy ways you can begin to model derekh eretz in your own home.
Please and Thank You
Many interpret derekh eretz as good manners. Make please and thank you a part of your regular conversation, with every person. When your children see you thanking the service person at the gas station or the server at a restaurant, they learn that each person is valuable, and that each person’s role in the world is important.
The Golden Rule
Life is busy. We don’t often think about what we say when we talk to others. But children are sponges, and soak up every action and every word, for good or for bad. They respond to the way you interact with them as parents, and they respond to the way you interact with their teachers and caregivers. Treat your children with the kind of respect they deserve: this helps to lay a foundation for a mutually respectful parent-child relationship. Additionally, treat your parents with the same respect. Your children will learn how to relate to you by the way you treat your parents.
Some say that the family meal is an endangered species. We’ve lost the way to talk with each other as a family, reflect and share, learn table manners and conversation skills. Family mealtime allows us to create a sacred Jewish space for sharing blessings and giving thanks. Set aside time to begin your meal with hamotzi, the blessing over bread, and recite part or all of Birkat Hamazon, grace after meals. Create other family rituals of giving thanks. Use please and thank you when passing food, and always thank the person who prepared the meal. Setting the table together and cleaning up together can also become family rituals. Derekh eretz also includes the ways we relate to one another, and family mealtime conversation is a part of that. Take time to check in with all family members.