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Dear Rabbi Horowitz:
Our family is recovering from the terrible, unexpected loss of a loved one who passed away far too young.
My husband and I have differing views on seeking professional help to help our children cope with the tragedy. (Thankfully, at least on the surface, they all seem to be doing well.) I am strongly in favor of seeking this help, while my husband, who is an amazing father and has been our bedrock throughout this ordeal, thinks that we should leave well enough alone and not subject our children to the agony of pouring their hearts out to a stranger.
We are regular readers of your columns and recently re-read your “Open Letter to Teens Who Lost a Parent,” where you very clearly encourage them to seek help if they are having difficulty dealing with their grief. But what if they don’t seem to be exhibiting any such signs?
We would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this matter.
Al regel achas (literally “on one foot”), I would most certainly encourage you – in the strongest terms – to seek out the assistance of a trained, mental health professional to help your children (and their parents) cope with your grief. However, as this is a topic where input from a mental health professional is crucial, I reached out to Moshe Borowski, LMSW, ACSW, who graciously accepted my invitation to share his thoughts with our readers on the subject of grief counseling and the overall topic of helping children cope with trauma. Below, please find his slightly edited response to your letter.
For background, Moshe has spent more than two decades counseling members of our community who have suffered losses. Over the past 10 years, he has always made himself available to me, around the clock, whenever I’ve called him on behalf of individuals suffering through traumatic events who have reached out to me for guidance. I am profoundly grateful for this. On behalf of our readers, I would like to express my gratitude to Moshe for taking the time from his busy schedule to respond to these questions. Here are his comments:
At the risk of sounding self-serving, I strongly concur with Rabbi Horowitz’s advice for you to seek professional help in aiding your family members through this trying time in your lives. It is common for children and adults to “look OK” on the outside, but doing very poorly on the inside.
As a trauma therapist, I am often called upon to lend a helping ear after accidents or deaths. While situations should always be dealt with on an individualized basis, here are some general tips for helping children cope with trauma:
Explain that their feelings and reactions are normal and acceptable. Children often fear that they are weird or “going crazy” due to what they are experiencing. This additional level of distress can complicate attending to their inherent reactions to the incident.
Being reassured that their experiences are shared by many (while being careful not to minimize the uniqueness of what they are going through) is a tremendous relief. Keep in mind the incisive adage of the psychiatrist/author Dr. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor who wrote the seminal work, Man’s Search for Meaning: “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal.” [Emphasis added]
Stress the importance of family unity. Explain that the entire family is going through this together. Children may be concerned that they are alone in their thoughts and feelings. Knowing that you are there with them – and for them – is exceptionally comforting. “Imo Anochi b’tzarah – I (God) am with a person in his troubles,” the Psalmist tells us. Hashem’s empathic caring, so to speak, is an essential trait for us to emulate.
Be an “Active Listener” – even if they have already described the incident and their responses to it. Make sure to maintain your composure and, if needed, have someone available that you can turn to for support. If you are unable to accomplish this, explain that the situation is difficult for you as well, and have your spouse or another familiar adult (family member, friend, neighbor, teacher, rabbi) “be there” for the children. Keep in mind that on some level, your child may be asking, “Will this happen to me and my family? Who would take care of me? Will I really be okay?”
Initiate hands-on projects. When trauma occurs, children feel as if their world has turned upside down. There is no longer any feeling of control, power or safety. This can be terrifying for anyone, especially children. It’s the role of adults to help restore some sense of control, at least over the “inner world” which we all carry around. Be sure to allow them input in choosing their projects. They can write stories and poems, or opt to paint and draw. They can focus on the event or express themselves in general terms. Encourage children to give tzedakah, preferably to a charity or fund where they can directly sense that they are helping people directly.
Stick to routine and be flexible. Which one is it? Actually a little of both. Routine can provide a child with structure and comfort. But be prepared for the distinct possibility that compromise and flexibility may also be needed. Schedule some extra time for them to fall asleep, read or play. If you feel that a young child needs to sleep with you for the night, or that you need to go into his or her room to facilitate sleeping, use expressions like, “Since it has been such a tough day, you can join us for tonight.” You want to avoid unwittingly fostering a situation where your child now “needs” to constantly sleep in your room.
Take care of yourself. Make sure that you have someone to vent to (spouse, sibling, neighbor, friend, rabbi/rebbetzin, therapist). Review some of the tips for children and find those that are also applicable to you. Be sure to exercise and find time for the things that give you emotional energy. Always keep in mind that the healthier you are – in body and spirit – the better positioned you will be to help your children when they need it most.
Moshe Borowski, LMSW, ACSW, is the founder and director of SSTART (School & Synagogue Trauma and Resilience Training), a non-profit organization helping children and families, schools and communities cope with various types of trauma or loss. He is also in private practice in Brooklyn and the Five Towns. He has been involved in counseling, chinuch and kiruv for over 25 years. SSTART can be reached at HealTheHurt@gmail.com or 646-673-5909.
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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Today, fifty years and six million (!) people later, Israel is truly a different world.
There will always be items that don’t freeze well – salads and some rice- or potato-based dishes – so you need to leave time to prepare or cook them closer to Yom Tov and ensure there is enough room in the refrigerator to store them.
This is an important one in raising a mentsch (and maybe even in marrying off a mentsch! listening skills are on the top of the list when I do shidduch coaching).
While multitasking is not ideal, it is often necessary and unavoidable.
Maybe now that your kids are back in school, you should start cleaning for Pesach.
The interpreter was expected to be a talmid chacham himself and be able to also offer explanations and clarifications to the students.
“When Frank does something he does it well and you don’t have to worry about dotting the i’s or crossing the t’s.”
“On Sunday I was at the Kotel with the battalion and we said a prayer of thanks. In Gaza there were so many moments of death that I had to thank God that I’m alive. Only then did I realize how frightening it had been there.”
Neglect, indifference or criticism can break a person’s neshama.
It’s fair to say that we all know or have someone in our family who is divorced.
The assumption of a shared kinship is based on being part of the human race. Life is so much easier to figure out when everyone thinks the same way.
Various other learning opportunities will be offered to the community throughout the year.
Those of us familiar with the do’s and don’ts of accepted practice in the mental health profession saw similar blaring warning lights in our minds, as should have occurred when the facts were made public regarding the accusations against Nehemia Weberman. This case may very well be our community’s most important abuse trial during our lifetimes. It is imperative that we have a huge turnout in support of the victim, a courageous young lady who, may she be gezunt andge’bentched, is determined to see this through to the end so others won’t suffer like she did.
These lines are written in loving memory of our dear father, Reb Shlomo Zev ben Reb Baruch Yehudah Nutovic, a”h, whose first yahrzeit is 7 Menachem Av. May the positive lessons learned from this essay be a zechus for his neshamah.
All responsible leaders in our community have roundly condemned the recent violence in Beit Shemesh and Meah Shearim.
A surefire way to gauge the generation in which a person was raised is to have him or her fill in the following sentence: Where were you when ?”
Baby Boomers would ask, “When President Kennedy was shot?” Thirtysomethings would respond, “When the space shuttle exploded?” Today’s teenagers would reply, “On 9/11?”
One week ago on my website I announced my intention to attend the next court appearance of a man who was arrested last year and is now standing trial on 10 felony charges of child abuse.
Dear Rabbi Horowitz:
We were taken aback when our 18-year-old son just called us from Eretz Yisrael (we live in Europe) and told us that he was coming home and wants to immediately go to work. He said that he is wasting his time in yeshiva, and just can’t take it anymore. He said that he will “run away from home” if we don’t allow him to go to work.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/helping-children-cope-with-trauma-2/2009/03/04/
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