ROLE MODELING – THE FOUNDATION OF CHINUCH
The most important area of child-raising that parents should focus on is
being a good role model for their children, as the Stiepler Rav once
remarked, “Role modeling is 50% of child-raising.”
A story is told of a young man who asked the Chofetz Chaim when and how he
should prepare himself for child-raising. The Chofetz Chaim asked
him, “Where are you holding in life?”
“My wife just gave birth to our first child,” he responded.
“Mazel tov,” replied the Chafetz Chaim. “But you are a few years too
The Chofetz Chaim was conveying an important message: Chinuch starts when
parents are still single, when they create and mold themselves to be the
best role models possible for their future children.
The Dynamics of Role Modeling
Parental role modeling can be broadly defined as: actions, behavior or
conducts that have a subtle and very powerful influence on their children.
The reason for this influence is because children naturally imitate &
emulate their parents’ behavior.
The Kaminetzer Mashgiach, Rav Moshe Aharon Stern, explained the dynamics
of role modeling as follows:
“The greatest people in a child’s eyes are his parents, and what they do
is like Torah from Sinai. Children observe and study all their parents’
actions and behavior and record them in their subconscious minds, leaving
lasting impressions. Why is this so? Because parents are the most reliable
source for priorities and values in their children’s life. Children have
the simple trust that their parents won’t transmit any non-Torah or non-
ethical ideals to them. Parents are the children's prime rebbis and
educators, and their actions are the basis for their Chinuch.”
Moreover, since children's intellects are not fully developed, they
function mostly from their emotions rather than from logic. The result is
that they learn and absorb more from what they see than from what they
hear. Therefore, showing one's children how to properly fulfill mitzvos
and be a G-d-fearing Jew (yiras shamayim) has a greater impact and
influence than telling them so.
This concept is further explained by Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky who defines the
parents' role in Chinuch not only as educators, but also as mashpiyim –
educating by influencing. A teacher or professional educator merely gives
over information. Mishpiya is from the root shipuah – slant. The way that
parents act, talk and behave automatically flows down to their children.
It is irrelevant if it is advertent or inadvertent, conscious or
subconscious – everything flows down. Rav Yissachar Frand terms this “Rav
Yaakov's trickle down theory” because the parents’ actions trickle down to
their children, both in influencing and becoming part of them.
He said that he personally witnessed this concept by an incident that
occurred to him. One day when he left his home and was halfway to the
yeshiva when he suddenly remembered that he hadn't benched. Since it was a
hot and humid summer day, he was debating with himself if he could bench
away from home b’dieved (post facto). In the end, he decided not to look
for any kulos (leniencies) and he returned home, perspiring from the
sweltering heat. That day his young daughter happened to be home and asked
her father in amazement why he returned home so suddenly. When he told her
that he had forgotten to bench, she exclaimed, “What! You came back to
bench?” Rav Frand realized that he had just “scored a win.” Seeing her
father’s great effort to fulfill the halachos of benching properly made a
greater impression than countless times of telling her the importance of
benching. Rav Frand further notes that since it was done inadvertently, it
made an even greater impression because it showed true sincerity. (From a
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern and Torah.org