It is that time of year again. Chanukah, one of my favorite holidays. Of course, for most children, the focal point of the story of Chanukah is the brave and daring Maccabbis.
This is a great opportunity (after you’ve lit the candles, fried the latkes and eaten your donut) to highlight the character trait of bravery, Gevura and teach your children all about it.
What is bravery all about?
We tend to admire brave people but generally think that they act with courage because they are fearless. We focus on the act of bravery; we rarely think about the conflict and the fear that they may have experienced before they acted courageously. Could it be that they were fearful…and that they overcame those feelings to do something great? If that is the case, doesn’t that make them truly brave? Like it says in Pirkei Avot: “Who is truly strong? The one who subdues his inclinations.”
A child friendly definition:
My daughter had a minor surgery a few years ago. To prepare her, my pediatrician recommended the book “Franklin Goes To The Hospital” by Paulette Burgeouis and Brenda Clark.
In the book, Franklin hurts his shell (he is a turtle) playing soccer. He needs to get it fixed and requires a surgical procedure. During the days leading up to the operation, his friends and family keep telling him how brave he his. When he arrives at the hospital on the day of his surgery, the nurse tells him that they need to take an X-ray. Franklin, a normally mild-mannered turtle, refuses and starts to cry. The nurse asks him what is wrong. He says, (and I paraphrase): “Everyone has been telling me how brave I am. But if you take a picture of my insides you will see that I am very scared. I am not brave at all.”
The nurse calmly explains to him: “Franklin, everyone gets scared, especially before a surgery. Doing that what you have to do even though you are scared to do it, that is what makes you brave.”
I thought that was the best description of bravery that I ever heard. It gives kids and adults a clear understanding of what bravery is: doing what we need to do despite being scared.
Do the right thing:
There is one more aspect of bravery/Gevurah that applies to children, and that is doing the right thing, even though you don’t want to. That is hard for an adult and obviously even harder for kids.
So many times, kids are told what to do and they argue with us, they don’t want to go to bed, do their homework, go to school. They eventually comply. However, we don’t focus on the fact that they complied- we focus on the arguing beforehand. That is a mistake, we want to let them know that we noticed that they complied even though it was hard for them.
In order to reinforce the many ideas that bravery encompasses we can use the following pat phrases, liberally and often in our homes:
“In this family we try new things.”
“This family we try to do things even if we are scared.”
“When we do the right thing, especially when we don’t want to, and it’s hard, that’s being brave, that’s called Gevurah.”
“Being brave and doing brave acts does not mean that you were never scared. It means that you were scared but you did what you had to do anyway.”
Whenever we want to teach our children anything, it is best if we role model this ourselves:
We can say:
“I really didn’t want to go to my meeting this morning. I knew it was the right thing to do. It was so hard!
“I was really scared to get my shot today. I closed my eyes and hummed my favorite song! That helped! It was over before I knew it. I was brave today!”
If you know your child has fears, it is great if you can role play what they can do or say to themselves in that given situation.
It is also helpful to role play with your children what they can say to help themselves, when they have to do something, they don’t want to do.
This is especially helpful for those very independent and strong-willed kids. They have a really hard time overcoming their aversion to authority, obeying direct commands and following other people’s directions.
In order to reinforce these concepts of bravery/gevurah we want to praise our children:
“You didn’t want to get your shot, but you did it anyway. That’s called being brave.”
“You got into the pool even though you were scared! That’s called being brave.”
“You stood up for yourself. You told your friend that you did not want to play the game that she was playing even though you knew she was going to be angry at you. That is called being brave.”
“You were so upset that you had to stop what you are doing for dinner, you didn’t want to come to dinner. In the end you came, that’s called Gevurah, listening to your parents, even though you didn’t want to.”
Your timid child:
There are children who are more timid than other children. We need to let them know that any time that they move out of their comfort zone, it is an act of bravery for them. For example, there are children who have a time sharing their knowledge in the classroom, or have difficulties trying new experiences like boating, zip-lining or being in a play. It is very important that these children are praised when they do overcome their fear, even if it is just one small step towards bravery:
“Wow, you came down to the pier with us, even though you don’t love boating. That’s called being brave.”
“Mrs. S. said that you asked her to tryout in private for the play. You moved out of your comfort zone there!”
“Wow, you tried the zip lining. You didn’t like it but you tried it. Trying new things is brave!”
When their siblings or friends call them a scaredy-cat, we can still help reinforce their image of themselves as brave.
“Sara called you a scaredy-cat! Well, she did not see you trying that zip line last week. That was brave!”
“Yes, in this family we try to be brave, but we also try to support each other when we are scared. Sometimes it takes a while for us to use our brave muscles. Some people need more time.”
This Chanukah, help your kids develop their bravery/gevurah muscles. Everyone can be a Maccabi.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.