As part of Mitzvot Unplugged I am happy to review Stanley Fischman’s Seven Steps to ”Mentschhood” – How to Help Your Child Become a Mentsch: An Interactive Guide for Parents, published by Urim Publications.
Mentsch at Home
In our home we are constantly telling our children that we want them to grow up to be mentchen. However, we did not have a definitive way to discuss what this really meant for our children and our family. I also was looking for resources to help discuss behaviours in our family or in inter-child relationships that have concerned me as a parent. For this reason, I was happy to be able to review Stanley Fischman’s Seven Steps to ”Mentschhood” – How to Help Your Child Become a Mentsch: An Interactive Guide for Parents.
Fischman’s book is a result of a “How to be a mentsch” or mensch course he gave to fourth grade students. The seven steps of the title are seven sections, based on 6 mitzvot/Torah based values and one verse from Nach. I think that if I had been designing the course I may have substituted one or two values for the ones that were included, (such as Vayikra 19:15 the source for dan lkaf zechut), however overall the values that are being relayed and which the students are asked to think about seem appropriate to help guide a child to be a good person. For instance, the first value is loving your friend like yourself, and the second is not hating your friend in your heart.
A Guide for Parents and Children
The book is intended as both a guide for parents and for children. The idea is to build in difficulty from thinking before acting to actively doing things in the proper way. I am not sure if there is an exact linear building of difficulty, but there is most definitely a division between thinking about how you treat your friends well, working on treating even people who are not friends properly through going out of your way going out of our way to do the correct thing, with a smile not a frown.
One of the best things about this book is that when teaching his course, Fischman would ask his fourth graders to give examples of what they thought each theme meant to them in school. He includes the replies that the students gave. These are great both for a parent to really get a sense of the social issues for children in a school setting and to discuss with children. I used these with my 6 year old to make the themes less abstract for her. Not all the themes are yet relevant to her, and she is on the younger side of intended audience of the book. These examples made the themes more concrete to her.
Each of the themes are discussed, and Fischman provides illustrative stories to help teach the ideas to children. Sometimes he explains how he relayed the story to his students. For instance, stopping at certain points and asking his students “What would you have done?” or “What do you think he should do?” I really enjoyed that.
Overall I found the book provides much to think about as a parent (and role model) and is a useful tool to open discussions with children. I use this book now by explaining the Torah concept to my daughter, give her some of the fourth grader examples or one of the stories, and ask her to illustrate the idea with a picture. I will post her picture for, V’Ahavta Lreacha Kamocha later in the series. In addition, I think we may make use of the request by Stanley Fischman to send email followups to the various sections. Fischman has provided a way for students to share stories for each step in the book. I hope later on these stories will find their way to the book website.
In all, this is a useful tool for the parenting arsenal. We hope to use it in the future. Fischman also gives workshops in schools related to this course and the book.