Section:  Avodah   Category: Chanoch L'Naar
Hurray For The Champion?

Positive reinforcement is the key to productive child development.  Maybe harder said then done but we all realize this to be the truth, if only we had the patience.  Even when we practice it we tend to “cheat”.  How do we cheat?  By going over the top.  Too much of a good thing is also not good.

The Nesivos Sholom of Slonim zt”l in his sefer Nesivos HaChinuch (6:5) says that there is relatively recent phenomenon of “competitions and contests in which the most successful child is crowned among much fanfare as the “Mishna Champion” or the like.”  While this may effectively drive children to greater heights by tapping into their competitive spirit, “for the more elevated type of education we seek for our children the damaging effect of such competition outweighs the advantages.”  One of the major goals of chinuch says the Nesivos Sholom, is subduing a child’s arrogance.   Heaping doses of praise, feeds this negative trait and you “run the risk of implanting in the child a frustrating need for constant reinforcement of their ego and delusions of grandeur.”

Not only in the public forum is this harmful but even between the parent and the child the same bad result can result from showering our children with a dangerous overdose of accolades for achievements.  Especially when done in front of others.  Praise used for positive reinforcement should be understood by the child as a way of communicating to him that the path he has taken is a good one.  Praise is a tool to propel children higher.  It is not a reward for reaching the top.

Our goal in Chinuch is not to create champions.  It is help each child maximize the potential they were blessed with by Hashem to perform His avoda.  Maybe in fact, average children are better off since they have a better chance of striving and reaching their full potential.  If a child is greater than the others around him, to whom can he look to as a role model to set a high enough target for himself?  He will more often than not satisfy himself with attaining a level where his comfortable with himself relative to his peers.  He has no impetus to go higher nor will he have the guidance to take him there.  

With Hashem’s help we should be zocheh to raise wonderful Yirei Shamayim and not “Champions”.  They should always strive higher and higher to reach Hashem and not to set themselves apart.