My son is a wonderful boy (I know I’m biased) and is in 5th grade in Yeshiva. Recently he had been coming home unhappy and seems very down on himself. Not only that, but his Davening has taken a turn for the worse, and he mopes around the house in the morning and at night which he never used to do. I have a weird feeling that something is wrong but when I try talking to him he says “Everything is fine!” and walks away. My husband strongly feels we should bring him to the Rav or let his Rebbe from last year speak with him (they were very close). I want to bring him to a therapist. My mother who is very close with us feels that he’s just becoming a teenager and he’s fine. We agreed to follow your suggestion. Can you please weigh in? R.L.F. – Kew Gardens
Your question is one of the most common ones I receive. There are so many factors that can affect a child of this age, and some are serious while others are just a part of growing up. However, if you think that something is bothering your child, you should trust your gut. Before we discuss who should be talking to him, I would suggest finding out as much information as possible.
Call the Rebbe and English teacher. Ask how he’s been doing, and if they noticed any recent changes in his behavior or work. Find out if anything is going on with any of his friends. Try and establish if there are any points of the day that seem to be more stressful than others. Is he more or less relaxed on Shabbos? This information can be very useful in helping determine the cause of his mood swings.
The next step should be to have a talk with your son. This shouldn’t be a flippant conversation in the kitchen, you need to have your husband in the room and your son should have to come in and sit down. It shouldn’t be an attack on your son. Rather, you can explain to him that you love him and are concerned about certain behaviors. Explain in detail how his moods have changed. I wouldn’t bring up the Davening as a main point, but you can mention in passing that he seems “more distracted” than usual in Shul.
If he is responsive, but doesn’t think it’s a big deal, in most cases it’s ok. The fact that he’s able to communicate with you implies that he is just going through puberty and needs some extra attention. Unless his behavior drastically changes for the worse, I would just keep an eye on him in this case. You might want to give him a one on one day with you, you’d be surprised how talkative kids get when they’re given a day off school.
If, however, during the conversation he gets very defensive or shuts down, quickly stop and tell him it’s ok. Don’t make an issue out of it, and don’t start whispering with your husband when your son walks out. (kids hate that.) This isn’t something that you’ll be able to resolve, so you’ll need some outside help. Here are your choices.
I would like to mention one important thing. You need to tell your son that you’re bringing him to someone to talk to. Most kids don’t have a problem with this, especially once the therapist tells him that in most cases everything is confidential. However, you should never make it into a threat or say insulting remarks. Comments such as “Well, in that case we’re going to have to bring you to a shrink” or “Behaviors like this are why you need to see a doctor!” are hurtful and will lessen the therapist’s ability to help your child.
Wishing you a wonderful & relaxing Chodesh Nissan,
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.