Last week, we discussed important safety information for your home. This week, we’re going to discuss safety out of the house. Many of the items we’ll discuss here are obvious; nonetheless, they bear repeating. As with last week’s article, please read carefully and take it seriously.
Baruch Hashem, this parenting blog has grown by leaps and bounds. We have been picked up by many fantastic newspapers, and the number of online subscribers we have is growing every day. I feel that it is time to share an important article with everyone, one that I’ve been working on for quite some time.
I remember hearing an amazing thought from Rabbi Yehoshua Kalish about 28 years ago. He told our class that when people are speeding while driving on a highway, they are always on the lookout for police officers. If while driving they pass a motorist who has been pulled over, they slow down instinctively. After a while, they pick up speed again — and that’s where the next officer is waiting.
The police department understands that you’ll be driving slowly once you pass the first officer, and they space the patrol cars accordingly. I pointed out that the smart move would be to speed up when someone else is pulled over. Rabbi Kalish chuckled. Obviously, I’m not condoning speeding. My point is that after an event has passed, we tend to become more complacent.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, people were lining up to buy home generators. After a few months, however, the demand dropped. It doesn’t mean that everyone already installed one. On the contrary, many people who really needed them simply forgot how serious the need was.
When it comes to our children’s safety, we are always so careful. When a tragedy occurs, we make all these resolutions about how cautious we’re going to be. Then we procrastinate. Other things come up that are important. We don’t have the time or patience to deal with it. I’m here to remind you. I’m begging everyone to please read all parts of this article. The first part deals with safety at in your house. I suggest signing up at yidparenting.com for e-mails on other safety tips.
Part I: Your Home
(1) Every bedroom should have a functioning smoke detector. Building codes require that they be interconnected, but many older homes don’t have this. It’s not that expensive, and you can even have them connect wirelessly these days. Make sure that every floor and every bedroom has a working detector. They need to be installed properly, so please go online to verify where in the rooms they should be placed. Replace the batteries once every year. Lives depend on this. Bedrooms that are on a second or third floor should have an emergency ladder kept under a bed or in a closet. Anyone in the room should be taught how to use it.
(2) Your family should have an emergency plan and location. You should all understand that if there is a fire, chas v’shalom, you will meet up at the same point. You don’t want the firemen to rush into a burning house looking for someone who escaped and is in the backyard.
(3) You must make sure your home insurance is up to date and set up properly. In the afternoon, I work as a public adjuster, which means I help families deal with insurance after a fire, flood, or burglary. I have seen countless families suffer very serious financial hardships because they were underinsured or improperly insured. You can ask around if you’re not sure, or you can contact me for a list of brokers in your area.
(4) Every floor should have a carbon monoxide detector. It should be installed five feet from the ground, and near every sleeping area in the house. It doesn’t need to be in every bedroom. Carbon monoxide is very scary since it’s silent and has no smell. Typical symptoms of CO poisoning can include headaches, nausea, blurry vision, and more.
(5) All windows should have bars on them. A screen is useless if a child decides to go exploring. All windows should also have strong locks.
(6) You should have Hatzalah’s phone number on each phone (and saved in your cellphone). It’s also a good idea to have the number to your local fire department. Calling 911 works, but calling the department directly can save seconds.
(7) It’s a good idea to take a picture of all important documents and make sure they’re stored in the cloud (Dropbox, OneDrive, etc.). Documents can include birth certificates, passports, driver’s licenses, insurance cards, and the back of your credit cards in case you need to cancel them. Small fireproof and waterproof safes aren’t expensive and can save you a lot of aggravation if there is an incident, chas v’shalom.
(8) Make sure all medications are kept out of sight and out of reach. Never refer to medicine as candy and consider child-proofing the medicine cabinet. Finish all doses and dispose of any medications that are expired. Keep the number to poison control on a sticker in the cabinet.
(9) An alarm system is important and can get you a nice insurance discount also. There are many different types available, although you need to make sure that it won’t cause an issue on Shabbos. Installing security cameras has also become very cost-effective, and it’s an excellent deterrent.
(10) Make sure all doorways that require a mezuzah have one, and check them once a year.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly emails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.
I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now, and my wife and I are very impressed. This question is not going to make you a lot of friends. After the Siyum HaShas last month, my 13-year-old daughter decided she wants to learn daf yomi. She has been feeling very left out over the past few years, as having three older brothers isn’t always easy. She is constantly telling us that boys have all the fun. We’re usually careful about making sure that she acts like a bas Torah, but our gut is telling us to tread carefully. What do you think? Shira.
Thanks for writing in. Your question really is a tough one, and you’re correct in assuming that people will not be happy with my response — no matter what I write. I wouldn’t have responded to this email if not for the fact that I’ve received similar questions over the past few weeks. I spoke with a few rabbanim about this and got varying responses. Some rabbanim thought it was a great idea and proved it with various sources. Other rabbanim were vehemently opposed to it and brought proofs of their own.
Last week I responded to a similar question, but about a boy. I received many responses via email, some upset that I thought it was OK for the boy to learn the daf, and others upset that I didn’t support it enough. Add in the halachic aspect to this particular question of a girl learning the daf, and the response is all but guaranteed to rock the proverbial boat.
So your daughter wants to learn the daf because why should only boys and men get to learn the daf? One of the many challenges we face these days is convincing our girls how important they are to our future. It’s easy to tell your daughter, “You’re wrong! Girls have a huge part in Yiddishkeit!” I don’t think you’re accomplishing anything except teaching her that you don’t understand her feelings. While that response might have worked 100 years ago, it won’t work now. If that was what you wanted to tell her, you probably shouldn’t even have the discussion with her.
As a general rule, dismissing the emotions of children is a surefire way to lose your connection with them. This applies even if their emotions are silly. If your seven-year-old son is crying and saying, “You don’t love me!” you can’t walk away and say, “You’re being ridiculous!” He might be acting ridiculous, but you still can’t discount his emotions. Give him a hug and tell him, “Even if you’re sad, you should know that I always will love you!” Or you can do what my father did. When I was eight years old and crying on my bed for some random reason, my father asked me, “Why are you crying?” I responded, “Because you don’t love me!” My father replied, “If I don’t love you, why am I up here talking with you?” “’Cuz you love me,” was my intelligent response.
Even if a child is wrong, you still need to validate him or her.
A few parents asked me why rabbanim don’t address this issue of women feeling “left out.” The answer is simple. This issue is one that needs to be resolved case by case. It’s not that rabbanim aren’t acknowledging the problem — it’s that each situation is unique. One girl I know wants to sing for a talent show (which might be listened to by men) while a different girl wants to be able to dance with a Torah on Simchas Torah (on the women’s side). Each situation needs to be dealt with properly, and there is no “one size fits all” response.
Getting back to your original question, what is her goal in learning the daf? I’ve come up with three possible options.
On the other hand, if she is doing this to brag to her friends, I don’t think it’s a good idea. Not only is it likely she will stop learning soon after, but she’ll probably want to do something else to show off to her friends. You might think that even though her intentions aren’t good (lo l’Shmah), it still might lead to the proper intentions, but that doesn’t apply in a case like this. Explain to her that while you understand that she wants to prove to her friends she can learn the daf, it’s not the proper thing to do.
Certainly, if she is learning the daf, you should review last week’s article. The same guidelines that apply to that young boy hold true for her. Her grades should stay consistent, and she should take the daf seriously.
Have a good Shabbos!
PS - Due to the nature of this week's column, I will not be allowing comments. Feel free to send me an e-mail with your thoughts using the contact page.
Dear Rabbi Ross. My children were fascinated at the attention that the Siyum Hashas garnered. They were inspired as well, and my 7th grader who we’ll call Avi, decided he wants to “Do the Daf”. He doesn’t have great grades and I’m worried that the extra pressure is going to cause his grades to dip even lower. My husband is worried about something else entirely. He feels that our son will stop after a few months and doing the Daf should be a commitment. He feels that stopping shortly after will be teaching him the wrong lesson. On the other hand, it’s learning Torah. Isn’t this a good thing? What should we tell him? Please guide us so we don’t make a mistake.
Learning Daf Yomi is not a good thing. It’s a great thing. I’m not Chas V’Shalom taking away from your question, but that’s the beautiful thing about the Daf; it’s a unifier. There are Chassidim, Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish, Israeli and so many other types of Yiddin joining for this amazing initiative. The fact that your son was inspired is fantastic. Nevertheless, you and your husband both have understandable concerns, so let’s address them individually.
You’re worried that doing the Daf will cause your son’s grades to get worse, and you might be right. The real question is, what is the goal of Hebrew studies in 7th grade? If it’s to learn Torah, that’s exactly what the Daf is all about. If it’s to gain skills, then learning the Daf won’t help that much.
It seems that the prudent decision regarding your fears would be to set up some guidelines. These should be based on what you expect from him based on previous performance. If he’s a straight “B” student, he has to continue to get a “B” average. It’s unfair to expect him to maintain a higher average, since he’s doing something that’s ultimately beneficial. If a child wants a reward of some sort, it makes sense to push for higher grades. In this case, I think it’s a bad idea.
Your husband’s concern is also very valid. Children learn in many ways, and if they don’t follow through on their commitments, it can have negative ramifications. That being said, there are many variables here that we’re missing. First of all, even if he wants to stop learning after the first Mesechta, that means he’s making a Siyum on Mesechtas Brachos. Not too shabby!
Second of all, if it is getting too difficult, he can simply slow down. He can start doing an Amud a day instead of a Daf. Alternatively, he can listen to a Shiur about the Daf instead of actually doing it inside. In other words, he doesn’t need to quit. Lastly, he doesn’t need to make this into a commitment. He can start doing the Daf for 2 weeks and see how he is feeling afterward. This isn’t necessarily a seven-year commitment.
The one thing you neglected to mention in your e-mail, is how proud you must be of him. He’s a 7th-grade boy, and he was inspired to do something. One of the biggest issues I’m finding with this generation, is lack of a drive. Perhaps I’m a “Boomer” but I love when kids have that inner drive to succeed. Your son wants to act in a positive way, and you should be encouraging this behavior.
Here’s what I would say to your son. “Avi. We’re so proud of you that you want to join with thousands of other Yidden to learn Daf Yomi. It’s a sign of maturity that you want to be involved, and we are behind you 100%. There are a few things that we need to tell you before you begin. Although we’re super impressed that you want to do the Daf, we know that it requires time and focus. You’re still in Yeshiva, and we can’t let your grades suffer for any reason. Therefore, as long as your grades are consistent, we’ll continue to encourage you to keep up with the Daf. If, however, your grades start to slip, we’re going to ask you to put the Daf on hold until you can get back on track.
We also want you to realize that even if you only learn one Daf, we’ll be super proud of you. You’re not competing against anybody, because we’re all on the same team. If you feel that you want to stop at any time, there’s no shame in it. You can always start up again. No matter how much you do, we are so happy that you’re pushing yourself, and we’re very confident that you’ll complete Shas many times in your life.”
I would like to tell you one more thing. You seem awfully worried about making mistakes with your children. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you learn from them. Children are a lot more resilient than we think. I’ve seen parents make really big mistakes, but if they are more careful in the future, there won’t necessarily be repercussions. If letting your child learn the Daf is a mistake, it’s a great mistake to make.
Have a good Shabbos.
PS – Next week, I’ll be answering a similar question – this time regarding an 8th grade girl.
I’ve been grappling with the decision of letting you respond publicly to this question for many months. On the one hand, I’m scared my son will read this question and know it’s me, on the other hand, I feel that many other parents have the same problem. I’m going to ask you to reply publicly and hope that others will gain from your reply. I’ll keep this question simple. Some of my kids are brighter than others. The Rebbeim of the smarter ones constantly compliment them and the other ones are hurting. They don’t say it, but I know it. What can I do? Anonymous – Queens.
I would like to begin by pointing out something. You are a fantastic mother. Any parent that recognizes and feels their children’s emotions is doing a great job. The scenario you described is a common one, and unfortunately, many parents seem oblivious to the hurt they are causing to their other children. It’s not only the Rebbeim that compliment them, but it’s also teachers, neighbors, and even the parents themselves.
As someone who’s spoken to the “other” children, I can assure you that the pain is real. Here’s how a fourteen-year-old (With a twelve-year-old brother that’s amazing) described it to me a few weeks ago. “My first emotion is always anger. Why is he a better student? Why can’t anyone recognize that I’m trying also? My second emotion is jealousy. I wish I was that smart. I want the life he has. The last emotion is always depression. I feel like a horrible person and brother. Why can’t I just be happy for him.”
I asked this question to an older and experienced Rebbe many years ago. His advice was “Tell the weaker child(ren) that Hashem has a plan, and we are all a part of it. Their sibling might have one responsibility and they have another.” I walked away with a special insight that day which was as follows. Being an older and experienced Rebbe doesn’t mean you always have the right answers.
His answer wasn’t wrong. It was just completely useless. Of course, Hashem has a master plan. That’s not going to help a teenage boy who’s watching a sibling excel while he’s struggling. If we’re looking at the questions from a completely altruistic perspective, then yes, we should tell him Hashem has a plan. Realistically speaking, this will give him a lot more questions than answers.
Let’s try and analyze what the proper approach is. It seems that there is only one way to deal with this, and that is to build up your son(s). Certainly, telling him that his siblings “aren’t that great” is a big mistake. Parenting is about positive reinforcement, and if you start putting other people down, even for a good reason, it’s very hard to stop.
Here are some ideas that you can try. There is no shame in asking for help, so if these ideas don’t work, it’s probably a good idea to enlist the help of a professional. To help keep these tips simple, I’m calling the stronger sibling “Child two” and the weaker sibling “Child one”.
Every child has a skill they excel in. It could be drawing, chess, sports, puzzles or even swimming. It’s the job of a parent to find that skill set and help them shine. If child one’s younger brother is a better student and athlete, find what he is good at. For argument’s sake, let’s pretend the child one is better at cooking. Have him help you prepare Shabbos and make a huge deal about it. When he walks into the kitchen and you’re on the phone, pretend you didn’t see him and say, “And he cooked everything for Shabbos, and it was delicious!” You can’t imagine how happy he will be.
You and your husband should have someone on one time with child one. Validate his emotions and let him know that he’s an amazing son and brother. Make the night about him. Discuss summer plans, career goals and anything else. Let him understand that he’s super important to you. You know it and he knows it. He just needs to hear it sometimes.
Involve his Rebbeim and his teachers. Most educators would love to help a child in need. Explain the need for discretion and ask them to build up his esteem. Make sure they understand to never make comments like “What can’t you be more like your brother?” I’ve unfortunately heard of teachers using this information the wrong way. “Now I understand why you are jealous of your brother! At least he doesn’t talk during class!” Obviously, that would be a huge mistake with horrible consequences. If you feel that specific Rebbe or teacher isn’t capable of helping you or can’t be trusted with this sensitive information, trust your gut.
When the family is together, for example, supper, Shabbos, or any other occasion, keep the conversation steered away from anything that can cause anyone to become uncomfortable. If school or anything extracurricular is brought up, don’t change the subject immediately. That only means you have something to hide. Rather, respond appropriately, give credit where it’s due, and then change the subject.
You must always keep in mind that child two also needs some attention. Just getting it from others isn’t enough, and he’d love to hear it from you also. Of you think he’s mature enough, you can tell him that you don’t make a huge issue of his accomplishments because you’re worried about Ayin Hara.
I was involved with a family that was dealing with a similar issue almost twenty years ago, and both parents felt it wasn’t a big issue. I distinctly remember the father telling me “It’s ok. He’ll deal with it, and he’ll become stronger.” Suffice it to say, they don’t have many family reunions. I’m not saying that you need to always make a huge issue out of this, but certainly, it behooves all parents to ensure that all of their children feel successful.
Wishing you a good Shabbos,
Rabbi Ross. Our son is getting bullied. He’s in 3rd grade and is being mercilessly picked on during the bus ride to and from Yeshiva and possibly in Yeshiva also. We verified this information with other boys in the class. We spoke with him and asked him to change his seat and sit with the younger boys to stay away from the other boy, but it hasn’t helped. The Yeshiva called them both in and tried to work out the issues, but it made things worse. He is fighting us every day about going to Yeshiva, and although we keep telling him it’ll be fine, we’re really at wits end. What should we do? Names Redacted
I’m completely baffled. It seems that all the wrong decisions are being made.
1) You asked your son to change his seat to sit with younger kids? That’s such an embarrassing thing for a child to do. The reason that kids say “I’m 7 ¾ - almost 8, is because age is a serious status symbol in their eyes. Asking a child to sit with younger kids will likely get him bullied more. Besides, why should he change his seat if he’s not doing anything wrong?
2) The Yeshiva called them both in? Has that ever worked? I have been to many courses that discuss bullying and proper tactics. I’m pretty sure that calling both parties in makes things much worse.
3) How are you telling him that everything is fine? It’s not true! He’s terrified to go to Yeshiva, and you’re forcing him into a situation that will make him miserable. To top it off, you’re telling him it’s going to be fine?
I’m sorry if this response seems forceful, but I’m quite agitated. These poor decisions can have horrible ramifications and can affect your son for many years. I’m going to share a story with you that I rarely tell over. Before you read this story, please understand that I was a very young Rebbe, and I’m not condoning my judgment.
I had just turned 20 years old, and I was the Rebbe of twenty-five very rambunctious 7th grade boys. One of the smaller boys in the class (We’ll call him Eli) came to me and told me that one of the bigger boys (We’ll call him Yoni) was not only starting up, but actually pushed him around and was taking his snack. Apparently, this issue had been going on for a few years.
My suggestion to him was as follows. The next time he comes over to you and pushes you or is physical in any way, punch him as hard as possible. I also taught him how to make a fist. The next day (it was during Chanukah) during English, Yoni came over to Eli in front of a few other boys and shoved him very hard. He promptly stood up and punched the other boy in the face and fractured his nose. (I want to reiterate that violence should never be the first response!) Needless to say, Yoni’s parents were less than pleased with me, and I didn’t receive a “Thank you” Chanukah gift from them.
I was told off by the administration, and even Eli’s parents were unhappy. His mother told me “I can’t believe a Rebbe would tell a boy to punch someone. Is that the message we want to send?” I wasn’t feeling very proud of myself. Until Eli came over to me a few weeks later with a private letter. He wrote “Thank you for your great advice. Yoni doesn’t ever bother me anymore, and the other boys seem to respect me a lot more. I’m sorry if my mom yelled at you.”
“Eli” is now an outstanding member of the community, and we keep in touch. Was my advice wrong? I’m still not sure. Granted, he probably shouldn’t have punched him in the nose, but he was defending himself. He also ended up a lot happier and his grades picked up.
I’m not telling you that your son should start punching other boys. I’m merely saying that you’re not giving your son the help and confidence he needs, and it will come back to bite you.
The bullying must stop immediately. You need to drive your son to Yeshiva tomorrow and insist that the principal and school psychologist meet with you immediately. Here are your goals for the meeting.
First of all, this bully should not be allowed on the bus. It’s simple. Most schools have some sort of system in place to ensure that boys that misbehave aren’t allowed on the bus. If the boy’s parents complain that there was no warning, they’re right. They should have been contacted by the school the first time there was an incident. It doesn’t matter. Bullying a child must have an immediate consequence.
Second of all, you owe your son an apology. You should have taken this much more seriously the first time. You forced him into an uncomfortable and frankly terrifying situation. Let him know that you’re making his safety your priority, and you won’t rest until the situation is resolved.
Lastly, let your son take karate lessons. This isn’t only so he should learn how to defend himself, rather it’ll help him develop the confidence required to stick up for himself. Below are some other tips you and the Yeshiva can utilize to help prevent bullying.
Have a good Shabbos!
Rabbi Ross. With all the anti-Semitic incidents occurring all around us, our children ages 5,8 and 12 are becoming very apprehensive. My husband and I have noticed some odd changes in their personalities, and we are worried that they are going to start having panic attacks. At what point do we get them professional help, or is this normal? Should we tell them everything is fine, or should we let them understand that there are bad people out there. We’re both trying to stay calm about this. Please help us understand our kids. Thank you very much. Shayna and Max.
I recall answering a similar question a few years ago, but I certainly agree that we need to address some newer issues. This reply assumes that your child does not personally know any of the victims. In the event of a personal tragedy, Chas V’Shalom, you should speak to a licensed therapist immediately.
I know we believe that our children understand everything, but the fact is they don’t have the same grasp of these situations as us. In most cases, they don’t give this information a second thought, and only get nervous if their parents are nervous.
On the flip side, the graphic images and practically instant online access of current events certainly make things more challenging. Whether we like it or not, our kids are definitely being exposed to far more traumatic experiences and images than we ever were, and we do need to be careful. With the increase in anti-Semitic attacks, Jewish children all over the world are feeling the stress.
Additionally, even if you minimize your child’s access, he will most definitely hear about these things from a child whose parents are more open. We even have drills in most schools to be vigilant. There are active shooter drills, bomb drills, and kidnapping drills. Your child is instructed to hide in corners and stay low. This can also have an effect on your child’s mental health, and he can start developing anxiety as a result. After any event, for example the recent attack in Monsey, there is increased awareness everywhere. While this is a smart move, it’s still another point of stress for a child.
It seems from your e-mail that you are both somewhat stressed also. I can assure you that if you’re both worried, I’m sure therefore, your children are worried as well. It seems that you should both (parents) speak to a therapist who can properly guide both of you. After speaking to this therapist, he or she will advise you regarding you children.
In general, when discussing serious events with children, I suggest reading the tips below. Some may work better than others.
1) I always recommend the “tag team” method of talking. One parent speaks to the child while the other sits in the room, seemingly preoccupied. If the parent who’s talking needs help, the other one can take over. Having two adults talk to one child about something simultaneously makes it seem very serious.
2) Ignoring questions is not a good idea. They won’t forget, and it can literally come back to haunt them.
Tell the truth but omit any details that are not age appropriate. Using words like “death”, “kill”, “murder”, etc., is not advisable
3) Always reassure your children that they are safe and protected.
4) Children can be very different. Some might ask you for information or details, while others may not care. As a result, these conversations might be better off with one child at a time.
5) After a traumatic event, it can take a while for a child to return to normal. If you feel that your child is fixating on a negative event, don’t dismiss it. There are plenty of qualified mental health specialists that can help nip these issues in the bud. Waiting for the issue to resolve itself isn’t a good idea.
6) If your child doesn’t seem to have any negative reactions to a traumatic event, you don’t need to get nervous. There are some kids that are either too immature to care or are very easygoing.
7) If you notice any mood changes in your child and he/she is developing odd fears (school, bedtime, public places), contact a mental health professional.
8) If your child is constantly coming home with disturbing information, find out the source and contact the parents. It always worries me when a child is sharing scary information all the time, and his parents should be made aware.
9) One of the best ways to fight violence and hate, is love. These days, more than ever, you need to remind your kids constantly how much you love them. They might say, “I know you love me”, but it is always worth repeating.
10) I recently read that a Rebbe told his class “Hashem will always protect you!” While that’s a wonderful thought, it’s a dangerous thing to tell children. Yes, Hashem is always by our side, but if something traumatic does Chas V’Shalom happen, you’ll have some very confused children. A better comment would seem to be, “Hashem loves us, and it’s important that we always Daven for the safety of Klal Yisrael. When Moshiach comes, we won’t have to ever worry about these events.”
Hatzlacha and Good Shabbos!
Hi Rabbi Ross. My wife and I are a bit confused because our son is being tracked in middle school. The Yeshiva puts boys in 6th grade into one of two classes, one of them stronger and one of them weaker. Until 6th grade, the classes are pretty much even. Our son was put in the weaker class even though we think he’s a strong learner, and the Yeshiva said there were specific reasons. We’re monitoring this situation, and it seems that they’re not learning as much and rather spend more time doing Chesed and other Mitzvos. Are we right for being aggravated? Do you have any advice? M.G. Brooklyn
Tracking children is a huge discussion, and it’s not only limited to Jewish children. Should stronger children be pushed harder? There are so many variables that it’s difficult to answer a question like this. Nevertheless, you asked for my opinion, so I’ll share it with you. Please keep in mind that there are MANY Yeshivos and Mechanchim that strongly disagree with me.
Before sharing my thoughts, I want to clarify one important point. This response will tackle the issue of tracking students based on their learning. I’m not discussing behavioral concerns in this article. Although the behavior of a student is typically factored into tracking decision, nevertheless we’re going to focus strictly on the level of learning.
For arguments sake, let’s pretend that there is a Yeshiva where the students are being tracked after 5th grade, and there are 3 classes per grade. Assuming each class has 24 students, you’ll have 3 types of children. There will be children at the top, children in the middle and children that aren’t as strong in learning. Let’s see how each group is functioning in 5th grade before they’re tracked.
The strongest students might be a bit bored. They know the learning very well and understand it after hearing it one time. Many Rebbeim and teachers are on top of this and give these kids advanced extra credit to keep them occupied. The middle children are working hard and accomplishing. They look up to the top kids, and really push themselves to succeed. Even the kids that can’t keep up with the class gain in many ways. They’re surrounded by well-behaved and mature kids in a structured environment.
Here’s a case in point. A few years ago, one of the weakest students I’ve ever taught was on cloud nine during our Siyum on Mishnayos Brachos. “We finished it!” he was telling everyone. Did he understand the learning? Probably not. But he was a part of something amazing. All the students in the class are supposed to be involved at some level. Maybe they aren’t learning as much since it’s geared towards a stronger student, but, at least they’re in a mainstream class. The boys are cohesive and work together. They might not be gaining skills, but they feel like a part of something special.
Now, that last sentence was scary. How is it ok if they’re not gaining skills? In order to answer that, we need to try and understand the goal of Yeshiva. It seems to me that there are three primary goals. I am not listing them in any particular order.
It’s a difficult question to answer. The reason we send our kids to a Yeshiva, is to learn Torah. Even if the kids are not gaining skills, there’s a Mitzvah to learn Torah. I personally believe that even if the child doesn’t look like he’s gaining when learning Torah, it’s seeping in. Now, if the student in question is so weak that he’s not learning anything, obviously he either needs to be pulled out for one on one, or possibly switch to a Yeshiva more geared to his level.
Gaining skills? That’s so important. Without skills, it’s so difficult for kids to grow. The famous line is “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” If we give our precious children skills, they will have the ability to learn on their own as they grow older. There’s no denying skills are crucial. The question that needs answering is, if a student isn’t gaining skills, should he be removed from the class? If he’s just sitting and listening, and not getting great grades, is that enough? Are we helping or hurting a child like this?
That brings us to the last goal, which is helping kids develop confidence and feel accomplished. Personally, I think this is the most important of the three. I have seen the excitement with kids that aren’t amongst the stronger ones. I have watched them learn things that I never thought they would. Most importantly, I have observed these “weaker” students look up to, and yes, even respect the stronger students. They become their role models.
Then they get tracked. Now, this happens in many Yeshivos. There is a top class, and a medium class, and a weaker class. The smarter Yeshivos have an advanced class, and the other classes are equal, which ensures that there are no “weak” classes. Here’s where the problems begin in my opinion.
I’ve always felt that every class has similar personalities. There are the top students that strive to succeed. There are the super sensitive ones, the immature ones, and the weak ones and a few others. Sometimes you’ll have a fun mix of a strong and sensitive student, and other times you’ll have a weak and immature student. In the past 23 years, I’ve always had a random mixture. Some classes are stronger, and some are more mature. No matter what, each class in unique and diverse, yet somewhat predictable.
Once these students are tracked, you have a strong class with 24 “Top” kids. I don’t think this works. Indubitably, some of them are going to sink. These students that are sinking would’ve been top kids in a typical class, but when they’re surrounded with other top students, they begin to sink. To be fair, I haven’t done any official studies on this, but I have met with many students that were put in this situation from many different schools. Their parents always bring them to me and say “I don’t know why he’s having issues! He’s always been a top kid!”
The lower tracks have more serious problems. Even if they have a dynamite Rebbe or teacher, it’s very hard to convince a class that they’re a wonderful group, when they’re already, at the very least, in second place. Now, the Rebbe has a class of kids that aren’t as strong in learning. What’s the easy solution? Make the year fun!
*Warning* I’m generalizing.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The Rebbe, (who’s an amazing Rebbe), has to convince these kids that they’re awesome. The funny thing is, they ARE awesome. The issue is, in order to make the kids happier, they spend time in class doing exciting things. Playing games. Watching Jewish videos. Hearing stories. How much time is spent learning? Wasn’t the reason we tracked them so that the weaker students have a chance to shine? If the point is to give them a stronger foundation, we might be failing miserably.
Therefore, if some of the advanced kids aren’t doing as well as they should, and the medium and weaker students aren’t gaining skills, why are we doing this?
Here are a few thoughts.
A) Many people would respond that the strong students should learn on a higher level. That’s true. However, there’s no reason that they can’t have an accelerated session once a day. It doesn’t have to be a class. Any boys that have for example an average higher than 95%, can join.
B) To those that think that I’m generalizing, well I am. However, I speak to many children and parents, and I think I’ve encapsulated what they tell me. Are there exceptions? I’m sure there are. I still think it’s not worth it.
C) Yes, your son is in a lower track and his Rebbe is amazing. I’m not Chas V’Shalom insulting any Rebbeim. It’s the opposite. I think this Rebbe will do accomplish more with a diverse class. Let all the kids feel like they are the best. I used to teach a 7th grade lower track for many years. Rabbi Herzberg zt’l told me on day one, “If you learn with them, they will respond”. I learned and they responded.
D) One last thought. I understand that this isn’t a topic that can be debated on an online blog (or in a newspaper for that matter). It’s been discussed by many people, and I’m sure that it will be debated for many more years.
To answer your original question, yes, you should be aggravated. I agree that you’re sending him to succeed in his learning. You should insist that your son be put in the advanced Shiur and arrange for someone to help him catch up to the class.
Have a good Shabbos,
Hi Rabbi Ross. My question is regarding screaming. More often than not, I find myself raising my voice when dealing with the kids, and I’ve noticed that my husband does the same. MY parents screamed at me all the time, and as many issues I think I’ve had, the fact remains that I’m just an average Jewish mother. My husband feels we should try cutting back on the yelling, but yelling works. Otherwise they don’t listen. What do you think?
Yelling is certainly popular. It also seems to work well, otherwise, as you pointed out so eloquently, parents wouldn’t keep doing it. Here are the questions we need to ask.
The same holds true when people are in a noisy situation. The loudest voice is the one that’s heard. In a classroom setting, a good Rebbe or teacher will talk quietly and as a result the class will quiet down to hear what’s being spoken. When dealing with children in an uncontrolled environment, even in your own home, the loudest voice prevails.
So, yes. Parents yell. Nonetheless, I would like to make a distinction between a few different types of yelling.
The second type of yelling isn’t so helpful. It might help you release some stress, but it does more harm than good. Your kids know you’re angry, and you’re basically telling them “When a person gets angry, it’s ok to yell at others.” Sure, they’ll probably listen to you. You might even get the respect you are looking for. It’s just that there is a high price to pay.
To be fair, kids are resilient. If you get really upset and yell at them occasionally, they’ll get over it. You can even apologize for your behavior. “When I yelled at you before I was very upset about a few things. I shouldn’t have screamed at you. I’m really sorry.” It can be a great learning experience.
The last type of yelling is inexcusable. Losing control is never OK, and the negative character traits your children will pick up can last for a very long time. How would you feel if your boss went crazy on you because he was upset about something else? Even if the yelling is justified, it’s completely wrong. Think for a second how it would feel if you were being screamed at by an adult, and possibly with others watching. It’s humiliating and so hurtful.
They are children. Whatever they did, losing control is not an option. What will the result be if this happens? For starters, you might start noticing seriously negative behaviors in your children. They might only respond when you yell at them. They might begin to yell back at you. They might even start disregarding what you say. It only goes downhill from there.
The result can very well be having children that are completely estranged. They can’t or won’t have a relationship with their parents that constantly yelled and screamed at them. Their self-esteem will be in the dumps, and they have a much higher chance of slipping a lot further.
What can you do? First of all, when you’re upset at your kids, it’s ok to act stern. Lowering your voice works most of the time, but if you feel the situation calls for a raised voice, by all means, use an outside voice. Screaming isn’t ok.
If you’re that upset that you feel you might lose control, take a timeout. There’s no shame in taking a timeout, and you can actually turn it into a wonderful teaching moment. “I’m so upset right now that I am not going to speak because I don’t like to talk when I’m upset!” This will teach your children that even when they’re really upset, they still must act like Bnai Torah.
There is one last thing that I would like to mention. Many parents have written in, telling me that they frequently lose control. If you feel as a parent you are losing control more than once a month, you might benefit from therapy. There are some amazing techniques that you can learn to help calm yourself, and it’s a very worthy investment.
Have a calm and wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Ross. My 4th grade son has been complaining that his class goes “crazy” every morning before Yeshiva starts. They throw things around, pick on kids, and are extremely silly. Apparently, the Rebbi arrives at the exact time when yeshiva begins. He then proceeds to punish the entire class because of their behaviors. My son refuses to speak to anyone about it and insists that I stay out of it. I guess my questions are, should I listen to him and not tell the school? Should I send an anonymous email to make the school aware? Is it fair for a Rebbi to punish a class because of a few boys? Chaim Sokolov
I really try to keep this blog focused on parenting, but you are bringing up a few topics that are worth discussing. I’ll try to answer your questions as best as possible, but I’m sure that the Rebbeim that read this blog aren’t going to be very happy with me.
Question one – Should a Rebbe arrive early? As with every other job, there are pros and cons to being a Rebbe in a Yeshiva. The pay isn’t that great, and you definitely need to bring the work home with you. On the flip side, most Rebbeim finish in the early afternoon which allows for a second job, and, most importantly, teaching Torah is the most rewarding feeling.
When a typical job begins, an employee needs to be there on time. A Rebbe however, should be in his classroom a minimum of 15 minutes before Yeshiva begins. I say minimum, since I know of many Rebbeim that arrive a half hour early. It gives you time to get settled, organize your class if needed, and keep the early arrivals calm. When the kids trickle in early, you have the opportunity to shmooze with them and see how they’re doing.
There are Rebbeim that travel from Brooklyn to the 5 Towns, and they arrive on time. There are even a few Rebbeim that travel from Lakewood every day, and somehow, they manage to be early. It’s baffling to me that certain Rebbeim show up at the last second. Not only is it hard for the administration, it’s really not good for the class. I’ve heard all types of reasons. “I have to bring kids to the babysitter” or” I only get the car 10 minutes before Yeshiva begins”. It’s just wrong. The children need to have a Rebbe or Morah in the class when they walk in.
I also had that issue when I had younger kids and my wife worked. Somehow, we figured out a solution. You might think it’s ok, but I can assure you that the Yeshivos keep very good track regarding which Rebbeim arrive early and which ones arrive at the last second. The kids need a Rebbe (or Morah) to be there as they arrive. Some Yeshivos do have the kids meet in a common area which is a great idea. Nonetheless, it’s still so important for a Rebbe or Morah to arrive at least 15 minutes early.
Question two – Should you get involved in a school issue if your son doesn’t want you to, or perhaps contact them anonymously? That’s a difficult question. Typically, if your child asks you not to say anything, you shouldn’t say anything. Trust is a two-way street, and if you want your child to trust you, you need to keep your promises. The fact is, if your son is speaking to you about his day it’s a good thing. Violating his trust might cause him to stop sharing information with you.
There are understandably times that you need to make some crucial decisions. If your child is being bullied or there are other serious issues, you would need to call the school immediately. In this case, I wouldn’t call the Rebbe and ask him to verify, rather I would contact the principal directly and let him know what’s going on. You can preface your call with “This is what my son told me; I’m leaving this in your capable hands”.
The obvious question is, do you ask your son’s permission before calling, or at the very least tell him? It really depends on the child. If you think he’ll comprehend that you need to take additional steps to protect him (or other children), I would go for it. If you don’t think he’ll understand, just make sure that the school handles it correctly and discreetly. The proper way to deal with bullying incidents is beyond the scope of this article, but most Yeshivos do have training in place to guide the Rebbeim.
You asked about contacting the Yeshiva anonymously. I was taught years ago, that anonymous correspondence isn’t worth the paper it’s sent on. (This was obviously when people mailed things.) I receive a few anonymous emails every month, and once I realize it’s anonymous, I delete it immediately. I don’t even read it. Sending an anonymous e-mail to your school will accomplish nothing. Actually, they might find out it was you (it’s very hard to remain anonymous) which can backfire.
The last point you mentioned, was punishing the class for one or two children. I am not very fond of punishing in general, I’m more of a fan of consequences. In any case, it doesn’t seem very fair to punish an entire class because of the actions of a few boys. If a large amount of kids are misbehaving, that’s a separate story. One or two boys should not be causing an entire class to suffer.
One Rebbe told me that when he punishes the class because of one boy, they all “glare” at the offender. His (warped) logic was, since he’ll make the class upset, everything will magically work itself out. There are many issues with this. First of all, the ones making trouble are already suffering from low self-esteem. Making the class upset at them won’t help them at all. Second of all, if a Rebbe needs the rest of the class to help him with class management, perhaps it’s time he found alternative employment.
To answer your question, you should sit your son down and have a serious talk with him. Find out if he’s exaggerating, or if things are indeed out of control. (Resist the urge to ask, “Does anyone else think the classroom is crazy in the morning?” on the class chat). If he’s not exaggerating, tell him that you need to call the Yeshiva and find out what’s going on, but you won’t mention his name, and you’ll make sure it doesn’t get back to him.
Hatzlacha and have a good Shabbos.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.