web analytics
July 25, 2014 / 27 Tammuz, 5774
Israel at War: Operation Protective Edge
 
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Dear Rabbi Horowitz’

Temper Tantrums

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

Our 10-year-old son, the oldest of our six children, has a very strong-willed personality and is very energetic. He has a very hard time sitting in school all day. (He attends school from 8:30 a.m.-4:45 p.m.) At home, he is frustrated with having to sit and do his homework.

He often has temper tantrums when asked to do his work. My husband says that he is lazy and self-centered. I agree, in part, but isn’t this what all children are like? Don’t we have to teach them how to act properly?

Thanks,

Rachel

Dear Rachel:

Reading your letter reminded me of an incident that took place some 12 years ago. I was in a mini-van winding through the streets of Yerushalayim with 17 American school principals en route to meet with Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, zt”l. I got a frantic call on my cell phone from an Israeli kollel yungerman who asked me to provide him with a mental health professional referral for his son. It seemed that his six-year-old son was having full-blown temper tantrums nearly every evening upon arriving home from school, and his parents were naturally quite concerned.

I asked this fellow how many children were in the family. (The father sounded rather young and frazzled.) When he informed me that this child was the eldest of five, I asked him if he knew what brand of disposable diapers his children wore. When that question was met with silence, I attracted quite a bit of attention from my chaveirim in the van by politely but firmly suggesting that he go to shalom bayis classes before sending his son to a therapist – as he clearly wasn’t household shopping, or changing their children’s diapers. I informed him that my wife and I were blessed with four children in six years, and during that entire time I always changed our children’s diapers whenever I was home.

A temper tantrum is often a sign that a meltdown of sorts is occurring. Think of it as an emotional overload – similar to what happens when too many appliances are plugged into one outlet. This usually results in a blown fuse. While kids can’t blow fuses (or we don’t allow them to), they respond by throwing a tantrum. I do not think that “lazy and self-centered” fit the symptoms that you are describing. Granted that your son may not want to do his homework, but there are other possibilities to consider. He also may be responding to his frustration at 1) not being able to do it; 2) not wanting to do any more work after eight or more hours in school; 3) not having a hobby; or 4) not getting the attention or tranquility that he desperately needs and deserves after a long school day.

It is always helpful to take a few steps back and look at the broader picture of your son’s life before admonishing him for his purported shortcomings. Rabbi Wolbe, at the aforementioned meeting, told our group of school heads that we should always view children as “klayne menschen” (miniature adults), meaning that we should understand that kids have needs, wants, mood swings, etc. – just like adults. While we certainly need to teach them the life skills that will help them function in the complex and demanding world in which they live, forcing them repeatedly to do things they don’t want to do, or browbeating them into silence, usually backfires in many ways. (I strongly recommend Rabbi Wolbe’s classic sefer/book, Zeriah u’Binyan b’Chinuch – Planting and Building in Education. It is a masterpiece that should be studied, not just read.)

I would also suggest that you contact your son’s principal and inquire how things are doing – academically and socially – in his school life. It is quite possible that things are not in order there, which is what is contributing to your son’s stress level. You should also consider going to a mental health professional for a few sessions to explore your parenting techniques, and develop strategies for effectively reducing your child’s stress.

Rachel, I strongly suggest that you and your husband step back and reflect on your family unit. Having dealt with children and their families for nearly 30 years, I have found that the symptoms that a child exhibits often mirror what is transpiring in his/her family unit. Thus, your son’s temper tantrum or meltdown may be a sign that your family is going through a meltdown of sorts. Having a few young children, especially with them close in age, can be – and usually is – a great deal of nachas. It is also very, very stressful.

With that in mind, perhaps you ought to consider changing established routines in your lifestyle to lower the stress level in your home. Attending less smachot, going out with your husband alone one evening a week when the kids are sleeping, and having your husband get more hands-on with raising the kids (even having him change his night seder to a morning shiur) are ideas that should be explored. And I don’t know a more delicate way to say this, but if you are feeling very overwhelmed with raising your children, please make an appointment for the two of you to meet with your rav as soon as possible to discuss your family’s situation. Seek his guidance and p’sak as for what is right for you at this time in your lives.

Children are a gift from Hashem who deserve and need our undivided attention and love. I have found over the years that when children don’t get enough of their parents’ energy and focus, they create the circumstances that practically force their parents to give it to them.

Incentives Or Bribes (Part II)

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We would appreciate your thoughts regarding offering our children incentives, financial or otherwise, for doing well in school this year.

We don’t want to bribe our kids but, on the other hand, incentives seem to work very well.

What do you think?

Yaakov and Susan

Dear Yaakov and Susan:

There are portions in the 10th perek of the Rambam’s Hilchos Teshuvah that ought to be required reading for every parent and educator, as they clearly and succinctly lay out a vision of setting long- and short-term goals for our children’s chinuch. (I encourage all readers to study these portions in the original text of the Rambam. It can be found in the first volume of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, Maddah section.)

The Rambam (10:1) opens by noting that the service of Hashem should be done lishmah (literally, for His sake/name), meaning that one should do so altruistically. After all, one who performs mitzvos in hopes of being rewarded and refrains from sin for fear of being punished is certainly operating on a far lower level than one who does so as a result of his love for Hashem. In fact, the Rambam points out that this service is, “not the way of wise men,” and should be reserved for, “simple and unlearned folk.”

Having said that, he notes later in that perek (10:5) that it is perfectly appropriate for one to start at the lower level of doing things for reward, as doing so will eventually result in reaching the more elevated plateau of doing what is right with no expectation of a “payback.” The Rambam then (ibid.) used phraseology that has worked its way into our lexicon, “[sh'e]mitoch shelo lishmah, bah lishmah” (doing mitzvos for extrinsic motivation will eventually lead to things being done for the sake of Hashem).

The next portion of this halacha is not as well known, though it ought to be. The Rambam continues (ibid.) by stating that when teaching young children, one should only do so on the lower, extrinsic level, until their wisdom broadens (and they can then appreciate the exalted level of serving Hashem strictly out of love and appreciation for Him].

The language that the Rambam uses to convey this theme is simply fascinating. He says that once the children begin to grow in their understanding of Hashem, “megalin lahem roz zeh ela me’at me’at b’nachas ad she’yasiguhu v’yedouhu v’yavduhu me’ahavah” (we reveal this secret slowly, in stages, a little bit at a time, until they understand and get to know Him, [and at such time they will be prepared to] serve him out of love).

The roz (secret) the Rambam refers to is that their current service to Hashem is merely a pale shadow of the elevated lishmah level that one should strive to achieve later in life. Worded differently, it means that while they are in “phase 1,” we should not degrade their current efforts as being substandard – even though in the scheme of things it is far from perfect. Rather, we are better served waiting until they become more proficient at doing mitzvos (for reward), and only then gradually inform them that there is a much greater hill to climb.

The Rambam does not give a lengthy explanation for his suggestions. But the more you think about it, the more logical it becomes. After all, there are few things more detrimental to a child’s spiritual development than to set expectations that are unrealistic and age-inappropriate. That inevitably results in frustrated parents who exude negative energy when their children act like, well, children.

Truth be told, we as adults often do things she’lo lishmah. Why should we expect our kids to act differently? One of my rebbeim used to ask us to imagine how differently things would be if we said our pre-bedtime krias shema in shul and made the brachah on our esrog and lulav in our bedrooms. And while he was encouraging us to concentrate more on the privately-said prayers, the fact remains that human nature is such that we all appreciate compliments, attention and she’lo lishmah motivation.

It is important to keep in mind that rewards and incentives need not be financial in nature. For your children, your time and attention is often a far more valuable commodity than money. In fact, a friend of mine offers an hour of his time as an incentive program for his kids. Each child who earns a number of points over weeks or months for attention to schoolwork/homework, or for completing chores at home, gets an hour to spend with him. And he/she gets to decide how that time will be spent.

On a very practical level, it is often a good idea to make charts with younger children, where they earn points for good behavior, getting along with their siblings, etc. Set categories that clearly delineate what it is that you want from them, and perhaps even get them to self-evaluate when you “grade” them. Here’s an example: “Avi, on a scale of 1-10, how do you think you played with your brothers and sisters over the weekend?”

Another great thing about making charts is that it allows you to discipline your child for poor behavior by deducting points – rather than through “punishment.” Sorry if I sound like a broken record (remember those?), but please stick to the golden path of moderation with this. Keep in mind that anything that is overdone usually backfires.

Finally, don’t frame these incentives as bribes. A bribe is when you pay or reward someone for things that should not be done (such as telling a police officer, “Here is $200; please don’t give me a speeding ticket”). An incentive assists or recognizes someone for doing the right thing. There is an important distinction between the two, and you ought to frame things like that to your children. We are rewarding you, you should say, not paying or bribing you.

Midwinter Break

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We have an upper-middle-class family. Baruch Hashem, we both work and are able to make ends meet, pay full tuition for our children’s educations, and have some money left at the end of the month to save for our children’s future educational needs and our retirement.

We find ourselves faced with an increasingly challenging experience each year when midwinter break comes around. Some of our children’s friends go on expensive vacations with their families, and our kids are asking us to send them on similar trips. Our children are respectful whenever they discuss this with us, but there is a clear sense that they feel “left out” because they don’t go to the exotic location like some of their friends.

We keep going back and forth on this issue. Should we just “go with the flow,” or instead stick to our guns and say that we just don’t feel the need to spend so much money on a vacation that lasts a few days.

Respectfully,

Aviva and Yosef

Dear Aviva and Yosef:

Having raised our children on a mechanech’s salary, I can certainly identify with your dilemma of raising your children on a lower standard of living than some or many of their classmates. Stepping back a bit, the overall matter of “Keeping up with the Cohens” is something that many adults have a hard time dealing with. With that in mind, I give you a great deal of credit for not taking the expedient route of charging an expensive vacation on your credit card(s) and caving to communal pressure. If all adults built their homes, purchased their automobiles, and planned their simchahs that way, we would have less stress in our lives.

Therefore keep in mind that there are profound lessons for your children to learn from this experience, and significant opportunities for your family to bond during the mid-winter break. Here are some suggestions:

1) Be honest with your children. Sit down with them as a group and explain things to them just as you described them to me. Many parents never discuss finances with their children, and then complain when their teenage children think that money “grows on trees.” The more you acquaint them with budgeting and making appropriate choices with the finite amount of money at hand, the better prepared they will be to mange their own household finances in the future.

2) Give them choices of less expensive things to do during their midwinter break. In fact it may be a good idea to give your children an overall figure of what you can afford to spend on the midwinter break, and let them have a voice on how to spend it. There are lots of inexpensive things you can do together as a family (i.e. ice-skating, snow-tubing) that are less expensive than skiing or taking trips that require you to spend money on airfare and hotels. Most of what children appreciate and cherish as fond memories of vacation time is your “quality time” with them. Try to set things up so that you can give them your undivided attention during the time you spend together on mid-winter break.

3) In the broadest sense, I suggest that it is a good idea to teach your children about the value of money and the importance of budgeting. Open custodial savings accounts with them and encourage them to put some of their birthday, Chanukah and Purim gifts there. Perhaps offer them a “matching gift” incentive where you give them, say, 50 cents for every dollar that they bank and leave in the account for a year. This will ingrain in them good habits of thrift and responsibility. It will also allow them to better understand your line of reasoning when you refuse their request for financial reasons.

4) Finally, always keep in mind that the golden path of moderation is the preferred one. Worded differently, I would say that when we veer too far to the right or left of the shvil ha’zahav, things tend to backfire. So don’t go overboard in your refusal to “keep up with the Cohens.” Remember that you can pick and choose with whom you wish to associate, while your children – like it or not – spend 8-12 hours daily with their class peers.

Helping Our Children Deal With Tragedy (Conclusion)

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We are all aware of the terrible churban that recently took place in Yerushalayim’s Merkaz HaRav yeshiva, where eight precious neshamas were taken from us.

How can I explain and respond to my children when they ask why Hashem has punished these young innocent bachurim, who were the “cream of the crop?” What is going on in Eretz Yisrael (and in Sderot and Ashkelon in particular) is very frightening to kids, especially when young children are suffering so much.

How can we explain the right hashkafah to children who are questioning Hashem’s ways?

TZ

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Perhaps the simplest way of explaining “tzaddik v’ra lo” (loosely translated as, “Why bad things seemingly happen to good people”) is to frame things as many sifrei machshavah do in terms of a linear timeline. The underlying theme is that one cannot properly comprehend events unless they can view the entire time frame associated with that occurrence. There are many variations of a common mashal (analogy) used by our chachamim to drive home this concept.

A well-known one tells the story of a city dweller who needed to spend time in the fresh-air environment of a farm while convalescing from an illness. As he had no understanding of the farming cycle, he was shocked and distraught to see a beautiful field plowed. “Why are you making this grass into mud?” he asked. The farmer told him to be patient if he wants to understand things. Things really turned south when he saw the farmer throwing wheat seeds into the ground. More waste and insanity, he thought. Again, the farmer told him to be patient. The city dweller felt better when he saw beautiful sheaves growing, but that quickly dissipated when he saw the threshing and grinding. On and on the story goes until the city dweller finally saw freshly baked bread. At that point, it all made sense to him.

The nimshal is simple but profound. In order to understand things, we need to see a full story. In the case of the farmer, it was a six-month event. In the case of making a scrambled egg, it is a five-minute timeline (Why did you break those perfectly good eggs?) However, Hashem’s world is timeless and mere humans cannot understand events in this world – as the timeline of our lives is so short compared to Hashem’s eternity.

This would explain the dialogue between Moshe and Hashem after the sin of the egel (Golden Calf). Moshe asked Hashem, “Hodi’eini na es derachecha – Please make your ways known to me” (Shemos 33:13). The Gemara (Berachos 7a) explains that Moshe wanted to understand the age-old question of why so many righteous people suffer while it often seems that the wicked are prospering. This understanding was the “derech” of Hashem that Moshe wanted to understand. Hashem informed him, “Lo suchal lir’os es pa’nai – You shall not be able to see My face” (Shemos 33:20).

Several pesukim later, Hashem informed Moshe that He would permit him to see the “back” of Hashem. To see one’s face is to examine every detail of their being. Moshe wanted a clear understanding of what transpires in this world. Hashem denied his request, not because He did not wish to grant it to Moshe, but rather because it is simply impossible for a human to understand all the details of Hashem’s world.

Hashem was explaining to Moshe that humans have a limited life span, and cannot always understand Hashem’s world. We cannot see the “face” of Hashem, as we are unable to see the larger picture. Just as flying in an airplane affords people a different view of the earth, so too Hashem, in His infinite wisdom and global view, sees things in a way that we humans cannot. Hashem, however, did grant Moshe the ability to see things in retrospect – to see the “back” of Hashem.

It is still extremely difficult to make sense of such a terrible tragedy even with this insight. Therefore, it may be helpful to offer another thought that many sifrei machshavah expand on. This relates to the concept of an exemplary person fulfilling his or her life mission in a shorter period of time. Once that mission is completed, Hashem calls that neshamah back to the heavens.

Whatever twists and turns this discussion takes, one theme that parents should stress to their children is that after all is said and done, we must have emunah (faith) in Hashem. I do not think that we ought to tell our children that we can explain everything – because we cannot.

While writing this column, a mashal was dropped on me by my son. He asked for some driving directions. It turned out that my directions were in conflict with both GPS and MapQuest (gasp!) I told my son, “Trust me.” And since I have given him good driving directions over a period of 10 years, he did.

Ultimately, it all boils down to bitachon. And it may be helpful to explain to our children that, just like we trust our parents because we have a reservoir of good faith, so too we need to place our faith in Hashem – who provides for our every need.

The tragic event in Merkaz HaRav yeshiva is really a microcosm of the history of our people. From the initial sale of Yosef that was so hard to understand when it occurred (but eventually resulted in the salvation of Yaakov’s children) and throughout the many generations, we have gone through very difficult times filled with seemingly inexplicable tragedies. And what sustained us though all those difficult times was our faith in Hashem.

It is interesting to note that when Hashem informed Moshe that he cannot see His “face,” chazal tell us that Hashem showed Moshe the knot of the tefillin. I would like to suggest that the image of a kesher is one of two individual straps joining together to form a knot. What happens is that the two straps become hidden from view at times, and actually reverse direction at times. But both straps emerge as a stronger and firmer unit. Perhaps this was the deep understanding that Hashem shared with Moshe; that although humans cannot understand why bad things seemingly happen to good people, eventually we become stronger as a result of these events.

Helping Our Children Deal With Tragedy (Part I)

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We are all aware of the terrible churban that recently took place in Yerushalayim’s Merkaz HaRav yeshiva, where eight precious neshamas were taken from us.

How can I explain and respond to my children when they ask why Hashem has punished these young innocent bachurim, who were the “cream of the crop?” What is going on in Eretz Yisrael (and in Sderot and Ashkelon in particular) is very frightening to kids, especially when young children are suffering so much.

How can we explain the right hashkafah to children who are questioning Hashem’s ways?

TZ

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

There is a timeless Yiddish saying, “Vos es feilt in hasbarah, feilt in havanah,” that is probably most appropriate in analyzing your dilemma in responding to your child’s questions. Loosely translated, it expresses the stark truth that when we find it difficult to explain concepts to others (hasbarah means to explain, while havanah denotes understanding) it is often because we ourselves don’t understand them fully.

This adage often rings true in the arena of parenting, as so many of the challenges we face when raising our children are really issues that we as parents are in the midst of grappling with. So I guess we ought to discuss both of the following issues simultaneously: How do we process tragedies through a Torah lens, and how do we respond to the questions that our children pose in trying to understand them?

Since this is such a difficult subject I will start with the don’ts before the do’s, as it is a far easier place to begin.

Do not suppress the questions of your children – about this topic or any other.

Always keep in mind that you never solve anything by taking that easy route. As I often note, an unasked question is an unresolved one. Creating an environment where your child can freely ask you anything that is on his or her mind means that you are positioned to properly be mechanech him or her.

Do not be intimidated or frightened to admit that you don’t have “all the answers” – especially to questions as difficult as these. It will, in all likelihood, be very refreshing for your child to see that you are also finding this challenging. In fact, you will have the opportunity to model appropriate behavior when you are stumped or find yourself looking for answers that are over your pay grade – by posing the question to a rav, rebbitzen or gadol with whom you are comfortable. This can perhaps be done even in the presence of your child.

Do not verbalize or even imply that respectfully asking for answers to questions like these is disrespectful or represent a lack of emunah in Hashem. To the contrary, you ought to explain that looking to gain insight into the workings of Hashem is really a sign of closeness to Him.

It might not be a bad idea to mention that the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is one that has been asked by our greatest leaders and nevi’im over the centuries. According to the Gemara (Brachos 7a), when Moshe Rabbeinu implored Hashem, “Hodieini na es drachecha – Please make Your way known to me” (Shemos 33:13), Moshe wanted to understand the age-old question of why so many righteous people suffer while it often seems that the wicked are prospering. This was the “derech” of Hashem that Moshe wanted to understand.

In fact, according to Rashi, it seems that this was something Moshe had wanted to ask previously, and waited until the opportunity presented itself – namely when Hashem’s mercy was granted to the Jews when He forgave them for the sin of the eigel (golden calf). It would seem that Rashi was wondering why Moshe chose that specific time to ask Hashem for the understanding of His “derachim,” for this request – at least at first glance – does not seem to follow the logical thread of Moshe’s beseeching Hashem to forgive klal Yisrael.

What is noteworthy and perhaps worthwhile mentioning to your child is that a simple reading of those pesukim would indicate that even our greatest leader and navi, Moshe Rabbeinu, was told by Hashem that a full and complete understanding of His “derachim” cannot be granted to humans during their lifetime.

You may worry that your child (and you) may be distressed to find out that there are no easy answers to these questions. But in all likelihood, the fact that our greatest tzaddikim were preoccupied with these thoughts will be comforting to him or her and not leave them feeling like they are on the outside looking in just because they are bothered by these questions.

Next: Some practical things you can tell your children (the do’s) to help them get their hands around this most difficult matter.

On Davening (Part I)

Friday, June 15th, 2007

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

My 12-year-old daughter is, B”H, a well-rounded, hardworking Bais Yaakov girl. She takes her schoolwork seriously and has a nice circle of friends.

Recently, I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend. On Shabbos and Sunday morning, when she does not have school, she has begun to sleep in unusually late and often does not daven Shacharis. Even when she wakes up with enough time to daven, she seems to be procrastinating and looking for excuses to avoid having time to daven. This is particularly disturbing to me as her mother, due to the fact that I’ve always made a great effort to daven every day – despite the challenges it entails.

How do I get my daughter to appreciate the chashivus and beauty of tefillah without making her feel that yiddishkeit is a burden?

Yocheved

* * *

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

My eight-year-old son comes to shul with me Shabbos mornings. I enjoy walking to shul with him, and we both like spending the time together. However, he quickly gets bored after about 15 minutes of davening. What can I do to motivate him to daven better?

My wife keeps telling me to “lighten up” with him, and not subject him to such a long davening in shul. I keep telling her that I went to shul when I was his age.

We would appreciate your hadrachah (guidance) with this issue.

Nachum

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Yocheved, Nachum:

I guess that an effective method for addressing your questions would be to analyze the factors and conditions that are conducive to creating the environment for sincere tefillah – in adults! If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that it is my strong feeling that many of the issues that we deal with in raising children are, in fact, issues that we as adults are struggling with.

Once we have a better understanding of these factors and conditions, it will be easier to reflect on your child’s unique situation as it pertains to his/her davening. You will then be in a better position to develop an action plan to help with that process.

I would suggest that among the many possible prerequisites for inspired tefillah, four important ones would be:

1) A rudimentary understanding of the Hebrew text of the davening and, preferably, an appreciation for the context and deeper meaning in these tefillos.

2) A feeling of vulnerability or a void/need in our lives that we hope tefillos will fill.

3) A feeling of connection to Hashem, and the faith that our tefillos are answered.

4) In the case of children, age-appropriate settings and expectations for tefillos are in order.

A careful reading of these factors will reveal that if any of these are lacking, it is entirely possible that the result will be rote, uninspired tefillos or, worse yet, a complete lack of participation in tefillah. Please permit me to expand on each of these items – with some suggestions for remediation in areas that may be lacking.

Understanding Our Tefillos

When parents would solicit Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky, zt”l, for advice on how to inspire their children to daven properly, he was known to ask them if their children understood what they were reading. When you think about it, it is a rather logical question. After all, imagine if we were asked to recite Latin poetry (lehavdil) with emotion and passion – while not understanding what we were reading!

If you find that your child is lacking an understanding of the basic tefillos (and perhaps this is an area where you are also in need of assistance), perhaps consider exploring the meaning of davening during your Shabbos meals. You may also think about approaching the rav or president of your shul to discuss the possibility of introducing shiurim on tefillah in your shul.

Another way to go would be to purchase some of the superb English-translation siddurim – including the recently released “trans-linear” ones. They are powerful tools in our efforts to increase appreciation for our tefillos. And please do not get hung up about what “others” or your children will think about your need for assistance in gaining a better understanding of davening at this stage in your life. It is a wonderful and powerful statement that you take davening seriously when you invest time, money and effort in personal and spiritual growth. Our children watch us very carefully, and they will be picking up an invaluable chinuch lesson from you when they see that you are willing to face your shortcomings and have the courage to self-assess and shteig (grow spiritually) – even years or decades after you left yeshiva or Bais Yaakov.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/on-davening-part-i/2007/06/15/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: