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!
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.