This week let’s look at the beginning of the Torah portion Matos (Numbers 30:2-17) which discusses the legal ramifications of a person’s voluntary vows. In the Torah world view, a person’s word is his bond, recognizing the intrinsic power of speech. Words have the power to create reality. In fact, in the Hebrew language, the words for “Speech” and for “Thing/Object” are identical (D - B/V- R). Words build worlds, and so when a person makes a voluntary oath, it becomes legally binding in a Torah society. We recognize that words have power and must be honored accordingly.
Our society today has fallen far from this ideal. We’re surrounded by people spewing words that are meaningless through every medium and forum. Far from a person’s statements being a commitment they honor, today’s statements are sensational, said just for the sake of saying them. When hearing the latest commitment put forth by today’s cultural heroes, we don’t have any expectation that they will stand by and honor their statements. We expect tomorrow’s news headlines to contradict today’s promises. This is a far cry from the way the Torah wants us to live and a far cry from the seriousness of voluntary vows in Parshas Matos.
For those of us trying to raise children to be honest and keep their word, we must understand that they are being exposed to an outside culture where words are increasingly meaningless. If we want them to be people who value their commitments, we need to be proactive in the way we raise them. Quite simply, we need to be very conscious of our words, when we’re speaking to our children and when they hear us speaking to others.
Here are some practical ways you can teach your child the value of words.
Don’t make statements you’re unwilling to keep.
When a parent says bedtime is in ten minutes, bedtime should be in ten minutes. If you’re not sure you’re really ready to start bedtime in ten minutes, don’t say that you will. Once we make a statement, it is very important to do our best to honor it.
Refrain from making broad promises or long-range commitments
It is far better for our children to hear us say, “I will have to think about that and get back to you” or “I will try to take care of this today” rather than promises and commitments we’re not serious about fulfilling. In today’s fast paced world it is easy for us to forget what we promised last week. Keep our commitments to the here and now so that we can honor them promptly. If you do make a commitment for the future, let your children see you write it down in your calendar or otherwise make some clear plan to remember it.
When your child makes a verbal commitment to someone, help set them up to be able to fulfill their word.
Did a neighbor ask your son to bring in their mail while they go on vacation? Help your son write a reminder note to tape in a visible place where he can see it every day. Has your daughter agreed to be a mother’s helper this summer? Add it to the family’s calendar and ask her if she wants your help waking up on time.
(If your child makes a commitment and breaks it, it’s important not to overreact. Let them see the seriousness of a person’s word by watching the way we honor our words, not by feeling shame over the inevitable times they will forget theirs.)
Share with your children your efforts to keep your word.
There are many times that we are busy keeping our word to others, whether it’s making a meal for a new mother or driving a carpool. You can matter-of-factly share with your child that the reason you are doing whatever it is you are, is because you made a commitment and you believe it’s important to you to honor your word.
We don’t need to announce everything we plan on doing before we do it, (thereby leaving more potential for breaking our word). Sometimes we talk because we find silence uncomfortable, but often that leads to saying things which would be best left unsaid. Practice choosing silence. When we refrain from speaking for no reason, the words we choose to say have more impact. Our children are more likely to listen to us when they haven’t tuned us out because we haven’t stopped talking all day.
Praise your child when they honor their commitments
Did your child agree to take out the garbage? When you walk into the kitchen and see the empty garbage can, make sure to thank your child, not just for helping you, but for keeping his or her word. When they tell you they will do something later, use the opportunity to share with them how much you appreciate that you can trust their word.
Ready to learn more? Register for the upcoming webinar, “Parenting So Your Children Will Listen” scheduled for August 6. Do you have a scheduling conflict? Don’t worry! All registrants will receive a link to the recording which you can listen to whenever you like. Register today!
What do you think about personal honor and the power of words? I’m eager to hear your reflections. Share your thoughts and comments below.