The second temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred of one another. In every generation the Jewish people are called upon to rectify this by practicing ahavat chinam, loving others freely without judgment.
As parents we want to transmit this message of unconditional love in simple ways to our kids. We can do this by teaching children how to get along with their siblings.
Sibling rivalry is a tough one. It seems as if our kids are always fighting. We can’t get rid of sibling rivalry completely but there are ways we can ease the tension and teach them to at least try to love each other without judgment.
Here are four tips that can help teach our children ahavat chinam, loving freely.
1. Focus on solutions:
We often get so caught up in the accusations that our children throw at each other, we cannot think straight.
We try to play judge and jury:
“Why are you teasing her? You need to stop!” “Get out of the bathroom already!”
Instead we want to encourage our children to figure out solutions to their problems:
“There seems to be a lot of teasing going on. How can we work this out?”
“Two people need to use the bathroom at the same time. This is a huge problem. What kind of a solution can we come up with?”
When children are asked for their opinion and are encouraged to look for solutions, it is surprising what they can come up with. With a little patience and removing yourself from the problems, your kids can become quite adept at resolving their own conflicts. A key factor in practicing ahavat chinam.
When your children do figure out a solution, you want to praise them. We spend so much time pointing out what our children are doing wrong instead of what they are doing right. What we mention, we strengthen. If we focus on their peace-loving efforts, it is more likely that we will get more peace and love.
So make sure to say: “Thanks for giving your sister a turn. That was kind.”
“Wow, Eli let you go first in the bathroom and you shortened your time in there so he wouldn’t have to wait. That was a good solution.”
You might be thinking, but my kids are never kind to each other. Look very closely and carefully. When you start looking for instances where they show kindness and love, you might actually find them.
3. Make it a family activity:
During the Nine Days leading up to Tisha B’Av, let your children know that you are starting a Ahavat Chinam initiative. At this time of the year, I tell my younger children that when they compliment each other we will put a marble in a jar. Once the jar is full of marbles we’ll go get a special treat.
Did we get a lot of insincere compliments? Yes, my son who normally never says anything like this is repeatedly saying, “Tovah you look very beautiful!” My daughter, not to be out done, responds in kind, “Avi you are very handsome.”
In the end, it’s a fun way to motivate our kids to be much nicer to each other.
It is also helpful to have some neutral catchphrases handy that let your children know the rules or the values in your home. Let them know that Ahavat Chinam is one of the foundational principles of your family. When those rules are broken just use one of these handy sayings:
“Name calling is a no.”
“Let’s keep the peace!”
Depending on the age of your children, (I wouldn’t do this with teens) you can even say:
“We are working on Ahavat Chinam this week. No name calling.”
“Ahavat Chinam is our goal. Teasing hurts.”
The little things we do to foster kindness and love at home can have a big impact. Its ripples can be felt as our children venture out into the world and start practicing what they learned at home.