Most parents are very careful when choosing a cheder, Yeshiva, Bais Yaakov, or Bais HaMedrash for their each of their children, al pi darcho. They want to see and experience the saviva, the atmosphere created in the classroom, the nature and personality of the Rebbe or Morah, and the overall hashkafa of the school. Ideally, they observe the instructor in action, how he or she presents material and their demeanor towards their students. Parents know that the best mechanech for one of their children might not be a good fit for another of their children. And I hope you don’t try to make your child fit every mechanech; that seldom turns out well for the mechanech or the child. It needs to be al pi darcho, as is almost always the case.
Yes, there are at least two exceptions to the rule of being mechanech each child al pi darcho.
The first exception is based on the premise that the premier, most influential and effective mechanchim in every child’s life are his or her parents. It’s true that if you calculate the amount of time that children spend with their rebbe or morah versus how much time they spend with their parents, you’ll see that parents spend less time with their own children than teachers spend with them. But remember that very young children soak up a lot of the most important chinuch they will ever receive, from their parents: the chinuch of middos tovos.
And it’s not only very young children. School children only observe their teachers’ middos in a very limited context. They observe their parents over less time, but they observe their parents in a wide range of situations. How you speak to your own parents, how you smile and greet the mail carrier, how you thank the cashier, how your let another car merge in ahead of you. Children observe and learn from their parents’ behaviors in every situation. And we all know that saying to a child of any age, “don’t do what I just did” is not only hypocritical, it’s useless. You’ve made a roshem that you cannot undo. The ultimate model of appropriate middos is always going to be you, not a teacher, not a Rav, not a mentor, no one else. One of the many tough things about being a parent is that you need to be on your best behavior all the time. The Mishna in Avos (2:1) teaches v’chol maasecha ba’sefer nichtavim, everything you do is recorded in a book. This means in a book kept by Hashem, ka’viyachol. I think it may also refer to the book, figuratively speaking, kept by each of your children, the record of your middos as your child has observed them. Your child will often refer to that book to determine the middos he or she will express. You teach middos at least 99% by example because lecturing middos is rarely helpful. Your modeling of middos to your children is not al pi darcho. Every child needs to learn the same sterling middos you model even though some may be more successful at integrating them than others.
The second example of working with children not al pi darcho is described in the follow excerpt from Rutgers Today:
People who regularly read with their toddlers are less likely to engage in harsh parenting and the children are less likely to be hyperactive or disruptive, a Rutgers-led study finds.
The study by Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School researchers may be the first to focus on how shared reading affects parenting. [emphasis mine]
The study suggests that shared reading leads to a stronger parent-child bond and less hyperactivity and attention problems in children.
The study reviewed data on 2,165 mother-child pairs from 20 large U.S. cities in which the women were asked how often they read to their children at ages 1 and 3. The mothers were re-interviewed two years later, about how often they engaged in physically and/or psychologically aggressive discipline and about their children’s behavior. The study controlled for factors such as parental depression and financial hardship that can contribute to harsh parenting and children’s disruptive behavior.
The results showed that frequent shared reading at age 1 was associated with less harsh parenting at age 3, and frequent shared reading at age 3 was associated with less harsh parenting at age 5.
Mothers who read frequently with their children also reported fewer disruptive behaviors from their children, which may partially explain the reduction in harsh parenting behaviors.1
I am quite confident that a similar outcome will be found in a future study of the effect of shared reading on fathers and their children.
In any case, shared reading applies to every child, it is not al pi darcho. I refer only to the act of shared reading. Al pi darcho does apply to the nature of the material read, and it does apply to the duration of each shared reading session.
Accept each child’s shared reading preferences. One four year old boy might love hearing scary stories for twenty minutes at a time. When your next son turns four, he prefers happy, fun stories, and he’s had enough after five minutes. Don’t assume that young girls prefer different material from what young boys like. That may often be the case but sometimes it’s not. Don’t worry if a young boy enjoys something you consider “girlish” or a young girl likes adventures and action stories. Offer them a variety of content and you’ll learn each child’s derech in shared reading.
When you think a child is capable of reading, no matter at what age, don’t just leave her to read to herself. Offer to read to her sometimes, and ask her if she’d like to read out loud to you sometimes. If a child prefers to just read on his own that’s fine, but don’t assume it.
In your scheduling of your day, be sure to set aside time to spend with each of your children. They will appreciate it and you’ll enjoy the nachas.
Reading With Toddlers Reduces Harsh Parenting, Enhances Child Behavior, Rutgers-Led Study Finds
By Neal Buccino, May 22, 2019
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey