Avraham ben Yaakov
Parents' Guide to Teaching Children Healthcare

3 Teaching Our Children

"Educate the youth according to his way, even when he grows old, he will not turn from it" (Proverbs 22:6).

How many prayers we pour out to the Almighty for our children. Even before they are born, we beg Him to bring them into the world healthy in soul and body. As soon as they are born, thank G-d, the first thing done in the delivery room is to examine the baby to ascertain that everything is normal and functioning. As our children grow, so do the numbers of details to which we must pay attention to check that everything is developing properly.

We go to enormous lengths for the sake of our children's good and to spare them even the slightest pain and suffering. Every cry, every little sore or sign that indicates that G-d forbid something may not right arouses immediate anxiety and often sends us running to the doctor.

Are we also prepared to invest effort to save our children from adverse health and future suffering by learning to educate them to guard their health, so that their bodies will serve them well for the good, long years we wish them?

Children are a pledge

As loving parents whose natural need to protectively hold and embrace a child has been fulfilled, we are certainly prepared to invest in the wellbeing of our children. In order to direct this natural feeling in a way that brings maximum benefit to our children, we must always remember that first and foremost these precious children are a pledge entrusted in our hands by the Creator of the World. As God's agents, it is our obligation to protect and guard these pledges to the best of our ability. Every Jewish soul that comes into the world adds to the greatness of the Holy One, each one in his or her own unique way. Each boy and girl is a living continuation of the Jewish People. Every single one is an entire world.

An essential part of protecting of these precious pledges is the protection of their health. From earliest childhood we must help them develop healthy habits and instill in them an awareness of the importance of health. What we as parents do to protect our children's health is not enough. As they grow older, we must educate them to take responsibility for their own health, so that when they leave us and embark on their own independent lives, they themselves will take the proper care of themselves.

The mitzvah of taking care of our bodies is alluded to in the verse "Guard yourself and guard your soul very much." The continuation of the verse -- "and make them known to your children and your children's children" -- alludes to education!

We are commanded to educate our children in practice of all the mitzvos. Our sages also taught us to prepare our children to face the realities of life in this world and the challenges it brings us. For example, the sages said that a father must teach his son a skill in order for him to make a respectable living. Similarly, they said he must teach his son to swim (Kiddushin 29a). Why? In order to save his life if he should he ever need it. If our sages instructed us to teach our children skills they might need to save themselves from possible danger, how much more are we obliged to teach them to protect themselves against definite harm from unhealthy practices.

How do you teach children healthcare?

Educating our children to take proper care of their health is a work of many years, often having no set times and applicable in all spheres of life. From birth and in early childhood, the responsibility of caring for children's health falls on their parents, who must provide them with their needs and protect them from hazards. As children grow older, the emphasis shifts to teaching them the importance of health and helping them develop healthy habits.

As soon as children leave the home and enter an educational framework, their teachers must become partners in this enterprise. The nature of the guidance and its content develop according to the needs of each age. Step by step, responsibility for taking care of their health shifts to the children themselves.

In order for the work of education to succeed with the help of God, it is necessary to pay careful attention to a number of points:

1. Parents themselves must make every effort to lead a healthy life so as to serve as living examples of what they seek to instill in their children. When parents invest in their children's health, this enhances the quality of life in the home in general.

2. Throughout the day there are constant opportunities to transmit live messages to the children on health: while attending to little children, at mealtimes, around the house, in the classroom, in the street, on a visit to the doctor.. It is worth taking advantage of every opportunity. All the different comments and explanations add up, and with time, the message will get through and bring results.

3. Many mitzvos are connected with physical functions, from those associated with food and its blessings to saying the blessing Asher Yatzar, "Who formed man in wisdom.." An integral part of educating our children to carry out these mitzvos is teaching them to satisfy their bodily needs in the manner and within the limitations prescribed by the Torah.

4. Healthy habits are important, but we must avoid turning healthcare into a strict regimen that irritates our children and makes them hate it..

5. We must exercise our imagination to find ways of making healthcare meaningful, practicable and attractive to our children. Everyone needs encouragement. Games, competitions, prizes and other inducements play an important role in gaining children's cooperation in acquiring healthy habits.

An interesting educational method

Once the king's son went mad. He thought he was a turkey. He felt compelled to sit under the table without any clothes on, pulling at bits of bread and bones like a turkey. None of the doctors could do anything to help him or cure him, and they gave up in despair. The king was very sad...

Until a Wise Man came and said, "I can cure him."

What did the Wise Man do? He took off all his clothes, and sat down naked under the table next to the king's son, and also pulled at crumbs and bones.

The Prince asked him, "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

"And what are you doing here?" replied the Wise Man.

"I am a turkey," said the Prince.

"Well I'm also a turkey," said the Wise Man.

The two of them sat there together like this for some time, until they were used to one another.

Then the Wise Man gave a sign, and they threw them shirts. The Wise Man-Turkey said to the king's son, "Do you think a turkey can't wear a shirt? You can wear a shirt and still be a turkey."

The two of them put on shirts.

After a while he gave another sign and they threw them some trousers. Again the Wise Man said, "Do you think if you wear trousers you can't be a turkey?" They put on the trousers.

One by one they put on the rest of their clothes in the same way.

Afterwards, the Wise Man gave a sign and they put down human food from the table. The Wise Man said to the Prince, "Do you think if you eat good food you can't be a turkey any more? You can eat this food and still be a turkey." They ate.

Then he said to him, "Do you think a turkey has to sit under the table? You can be a turkey and sit up at the table."

This was how the Wise Man dealt with the Prince, until in the end he cured him completely.

-- Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

In the parable of the Prince who thought he was a Turkey, the Prince is a symbol of the rebellious side of children that pushes them not to listen to parents and teachers. Children live in their own world, a world in which the rules and relationships are different from those of adults. We can learn from the Wise Man that it is possible and necessary to give children a feeling of trust that they can do what we ask of them without giving up on their own private world. Similarly, the Wise Man shows us that we can achieve good results only with patience. Getting our children to acquire good health habits is a very important goal. The way to attain it is by going with small steps at their rate. With God's help these small steps will lead to great achievements.

Chapter 4: Understanding and Appreciating the Body




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