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November 26, 2015 / 14 Kislev, 5776
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Changing Schools (Part III)

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Our 12-year-old son is not doing well in his 7th grade local yeshiva class.

We are considering moving him to another local yeshiva in mid-year, as things are rapidly deteriorating. We are not asking for specific advice, as you do not know him or us. But can you share with us what questions to ask and answers to give when making this difficult decision?

Names Withheld

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

We will begin Part III with the following question: How well does our child adjust to change?

A very important component of the school change issue is the social aspect. Attending school is far more than the X’s and O’s of what children learn in their Jewish and General Studies classrooms. It is also about socialization, namely developing friendships and navigating the (what often seems like) minefields of personal relationships. When a child switches schools, it is a very big deal for him or her. I have found that parents often think in adult terms and mistakenly compare a child’s school change to an adult who is faced with the prospect of switching shuls or jobs. This is not the case. It is far more traumatic for a child to change school settings because at that age, peer pressure is so much stronger.

Before you get into fourth gear and speed forward with the school change concept, I very strongly suggest that you think about your child’s adaptation to change in terms of a risk factor. Thus if your child has a difficult time making friends, you should keep in mind that he or she is at a significant risk of not “making it” in the new setting, which can be very painful and might potentially undermine any educational gains realized by the move.

Parents will often observe that their child is unhappy in the current setting and assume that the other children are to blame. That might be the case. Or it might be shortcomings in their own child’s social skills that are causing the friction. If the second scenario is the correct one, changing a socially awkward child to a new setting could prove to be an unmitigated disaster.

Here’s another question to be considered: Are we open to exploring the way we parent our children?

A friend of mine, who is a prominent mental health professional, often says that the vast majority of the people coming to his office do so because they don’t want to change, while only a small percentage of the people come because they really want to transform themselves. Once I digested his sentiments, I found that comment to be profound and powerful.

When we experience difficulty in life – with coworkers, spouses or children – we tend to assume that the “significant others” are always to blame for the discord. Rarely do we have the courage to turn inward and engage in the type of cheshbon hanefesh that will allow us to proactively improve things. That destructive pattern often kicks into overdrive when parents are confronted with significant problems regarding a preteen or teenage child. The result? Parents bring children to mechanchim or therapists with the mindset of people who bring broken appliances to customer service for repair.

My friend was expressing his frustration that most people come to him hoping that he can give them “pain relief” from their difficult teenager – the type that will not require them to change.

That doesn’t exist!

Having dealt with this issue for over 25 years, I believe that the best thing you can do as parents facing a school change for your child (or other variations of parenting challenges) is to take a few steps back and ask yourself, “What can we, as the adults in this equation, do differently to improve the schooling experience and quality of life for our child(ren)?”

In the case of school change, it means exploring some hard questions:

· Are we giving our children enough of our time?

· Should we severely curtail our social obligations for a few years while our kids need us during homework time?

· How are we responding to our child when he/she brings home a poor grade?

· Do we have unrealistic expectations?

· Should we consider going for professional counseling to help us raise this challenging child?

· Would we have the courage to do what may be right for our child even if it is not the “politically correct” thing to do?

Please be open to doing things differently than you have in the past. That does not mean that you are currently doing things “wrong.” But it does mean that you ought to be open to positive change, as that is the best shot you have to improve things.

As the saying goes, “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you are likely to keep getting what you’ve been getting.”

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S. To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s D’var Torah sefer, Growing With the Parshah, or his popular parenting tapes and CD’s – including his 2-CD set on “Raising your Adolescent Children” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail udi528@aol.com or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

About the Author: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and founder and director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S.

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