Hi. As our children are getting older, we’re scared they will hear about the crazy things going on in the world. Terrorists are shooting up places and blowing themselves up. Countries are threatening each other, and violence is permeating our atmosphere. How can my wife and I shield our children from this so they don’t hear about everything? Jason
(This reply assumes that your child does not personally know any of the victims. In the event of a personal tragedy, chas veshalom, there are different steps that need to be taken.)
This is a great question, one that I’m sure many parents have to confront. A few years ago, while I was driving one of my sons home from Yeshiva, I inadvertently had the news on. The radio blared “A man blew himself up…” I quickly turned it off, but after a few moments my son asked me, “Does it hurt to blow yourself up?” As I began stammering while trying to focus on both the road and the question simultaneously, he continued, “What kind of air pump can blow up a person?”
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.
Many grandparents clearly remember practicing hiding under desks during the cold war, and they dealt with it. One grandfather told me they welcomed the drill so they didn’t have to listen to the teacher drone on (times haven’t changed much apparently). September 11th was almost 15 years ago, and many kids that were younger then were not horribly affected.
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.
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.
Oddly enough, some parents try to protect their children from gratuitous violence, but have no problem letting them watch inappropriate movies or play violent video games. If you think that your child in not being affected by these violent images, I have a Nigerian prince to introduce to you who has over 35 million dollars in a locked account.
You mentioned you wanted to “shield” your children, and I’m not sure if that’s the best thing to do. It might make more sense to prepare your children. It’s much smarter to introduce sensitive topics in a proper environment, this way they can understand events on their level, and won’t be as susceptible to anxiety. Here’s an example of what to say to a seven-year-old who might hear of a violent attack. “Yesterday, a bad man hurt a lot of people in Turkey. We feel so bad for the people that were hurt. This doesn’t happen very often, because bad people are usually in jail. When we Daven today, we’ll ask Hashem to bring Moshiach so this never happens anywhere else.”
To make this conversation with your children easier, I have included some tips for parents;
Rabbi Ross. I’m writing this question to you because I’m at wit’s end. I can’t afford to send my kids to camp, so they’re staying home with me. My children are naturally upset and have been complaining nonstop. What worries me is that they are always comparing us to other families. They say, “How come they get more than one snack every day?”, or, “Why can’t I get new sneakers?” I don’t want to tell them that we’re broke, because I’m so scared that they will resent our family. As it is, I hide collection letters from credit card companies or my mortgage servicer, so they shouldn’t feel trapped, but I feel like I’m losing the battle. What can I tell them? Should I be honest? Thanks for all your answers and time you put in every week. Private - No Location
Dear readers. When I started this weekly parenting email/blog a few months ago, I didn’t expect it to become so widely read. Baruch Hashem, we seem to have filled a niche and you are all a part of this wonderful program. Your blog comments, private emails with great advice and constructive criticisms have really enabled us to help thousands of families.
There are a few things that I promised myself a few months ago. I will never sell your email addresses. I will not allow advertisements on the site. I am not even allowing people to “Sponsor” the emails for the first year!
Many emails I receive really affect me, and I worry about the parents and even more so the children. However, the email above really shook me to the core. This mother provided her name. She was not asking for help, she wanted my advice. I will offer the advice, but I’m going to do more than that.
I decided that we’re going to try and raise money for this family. No, there is no one offering to double your donation and you won’t get a special raffle ticket. You will, however, be helping a family that it is in dire straits. I did verify their situation, and involved Rabbi Simcha Lefkowitz, Shlita, as Da’as Torah - as well as some local organizations. We're running the campaign through a 501c3 so every donation is tax deductible.
I understand that many people are going through rough times, and we can’t help everyone, but we can try. You can help in two different ways.
One, donate money.
Two, forward this email and share it with your friends and family.
In the Zechus of your help, Hashem should bless you and your families with Gezunt, Parnassah, and, of course, wonderful children.
Click Here to view or donate.
Let’s discuss the actual question now. When children compare their lives to other children or families, it can really make things uncomfortable. Comments like, “My friend’s mom lets him do this”, or, “How come we can’t go to Florida?” How can we respond to our kids?
You should certainly not turn this into a religious issue, (“The Torah says not to be jealous”), because that’s really asking for problems. It’s not the appropriate time for a shmooz about the important things in life. Kids are allowed to be kids, and learning how to deal with specific emotions is a part of the growing process.
The first and most important step is to validate their feelings. Other families definitely have things that you don’t, and it’s frustrating at times for the kids. You can even empathize with your kids. “Sometimes when I’m trying to get my car to start, I wish I also had an Infiniti Q50.” Let them know that their feelings are normal.
After you have validated your child, the next step is to discuss with him how to deal with his emotions. This should not be done immediately, wait until he’s relaxed and calm. By the way, we’re obviously not talking about younger children, because in most cases a five-cent lollipop will solve most of the world’s issues. We’re talking about a 9-year-old and up. These children understand more, and require a bit of help dealing with their feelings. The two main emotions he’s dealing with now are jealousy and frustration. What we want to do, is introduce two positive emotions - happiness and success. Here’s how we do it.
First, you want to explain that having an expensive car or fancier toys does not make people happier. Ask him what his favorite toy was one year ago. He probably doesn’t even think about it. Real happiness comes from doing activities with friends and family. (Remember, this is not a therapy session here – we’re having a light and fun conversation.) Ask him if he remembers the last time he was truly happy – what made him happy? As he recognizes that true happiness is not achieved through material items, his pangs of jealousy will recede.
Secondly, you want to discuss what he can do to be successful. “If you really want to have a nicer car when you’re older, that’s OK! However, you need to work hard if you want that level of success – better work ethic usually equals more money.” You might be thinking now, “That’s not necessarily true”, but it is. Yes, there are people that work really hard and are not successful, and some people that don’t work and make a lot of money. However, following the teaching of Chazal, “If one says he worked hard and succeeded, believe him.” We want to channel the frustration in a positive way, and use it as a stepping stone for success.
Last and certainly not least, I would buy your child a small token of love. Maybe a small Chatchke or a special treat. Let him know that you’re always thinking of him. You can end the conversation by saying, “I’m so proud that you are maturing and understanding yourself better. I’m so confident that you will be a huge success!”
I wish you Hatzlacha and Gezunt and a Great Shabbos!
Remember, you can help a family in need! Please share with your friends!
Rabbi Ross. I’ve read with interest your Parenting e-mails, and I must admit that I greatly enjoy them. Your advice is really spot on, but there is one point I would like to add. There are many single parents like me, and we really get frustrated at times. In many of these situations you write about, there is a spouse backing you up. What happens when you don’t have that luxury? It could be that your spouse has passed away, divorced, or like me, is an accountant and is never home. How would that affect parenting in general? M.R. Brooklyn
Thank you for your kind words. I know several accountants, and completely understand that they are not home many evenings. However, to call this being a “single parent” seems very wrong. I’ve received a few emails from actual single parents, and I can assure you that it’s a completely different situation.
Your spouse is making a living, he’s there for you in an emergency and is a shoulder to lean on. Additionally, your child knows that you are part of a team and not in it alone. Yes, there are times when your husband is not around, but it’s comparing apples to oranges.
Nonetheless, being alone when dealing with children is certainly a game-changer. You have no break, no one to vent to, and everything just seems so much more challenging. In order to respond properly to your question, I’m going to break this answer into two parts. The first part will discuss dealing with children when you’re alone. The second part will deal with being an actual single parent.
When dealing with children alone, the trick is being prepared with a good plan. If you’re getting them to school in the morning, make sure you’re ready to go as they wake up. It makes everything so much easier if you are prepared in advance, such as having their lunches and snacks ready. If you’re running supper alone, try and have everything ready before they get home, and even set up the table. This will enable you to give your children a friendly and warm welcome while focusing on them, rather than on what else needs to be made for supper.
Another important part of the preparation is the mental aspect. I have found that it’s a good idea to psych yourself up before the day begins. Look into a mirror and say, “I am going to be a great mom today! Nothing will faze me!” Granted, if your kids walk in they might think you’re crazy, but it actually helps. Furthermore, if there is a particularly difficult activity or event scheduled for that day, try imagining what different kinds of scenarios might occur, how you might deal with them. This way, when the difficulty should arise, (which almost always does!), you will have a prepared response, and not lash out with something you might later regret.
When you’re an actual single parent, it can feel like you’re on a never- ending roller coaster. If you have more than one child, every day can be a struggle and you might think you’re alone.
You are not. There are so many organizations that would love to help out, you just need to be willing to accept it. There are high school kids that will mentor your children free of charge, and places that will help with after school activities.
I have spoken with many single parents, and they all felt that spending some alone time is the best way to recharge their batteries. As one father told me, “I tried to be a martyr, but I realized that I was doing my children a disservice. They need a healthy parent.” Although it is beyond the scope of this email to list organizations that can lend assistance, a great way to start is to get in touch with your Rav and let him know you need help.
If you have older children, it might be harder on them than you realize. I would recommend giving them some one-on-one time, and letting them know how grateful you are that they are picking up the slack. Recognition goes a long way.
If your spouse has passed away, make sure that you bring him/her up in positive ways. An example would be, “Tatty is looking down on you with such a smile! You’re such an amazing Ben Torah!” You want to avoid anything negative. I once heard a single mother say to her daughter, “You think Daddy would approve of that dress?” That will never work. We’re trying to convey to them that you’re still working together.
As your kids get older, they might inquire as to where your spouse is. You should never ignore such questions, and if you’re not equipped to answer, call Chai Lifeline.
If you’re divorced, you need to be very careful. Although I’ve been working on a completely separate email about divorces, here’s a small tip. You never want to say anything negative about your ex. There is no “off switch” once YOU introduce negativity.
Should your ex be saying not nice things about you, you can tell your child, “I can’t say anything bad about your father/mother. All I can tell you is that we both love you very much.” I can assure you that the parent who speak badly about his/her ex, will be the one to ultimately suffer a poor relationship with the child.
I would like to make one more point that many single parents should think about, although to be fair it applies to all parents. As humans, we make mistakes. It could be we’re frustrated, upset about something else, or even in a bad mood. Whatever the reason, we all make mistakes every day. Yelling at our kids, punishing them severely for no good reason, or even hitting them out of anger.
Kids are resilient. All you need to do is apologize to them. Sit her down and say, “I’m sorry I yelled at you before. I was having a bad day and I took it out on you.” There’s no shame in it, and it might actually teach your child how to apologize. Furthermore, be sure to tell each child at least once a day how much you love them. I know this seems obvious to some parents, however, this unfortunately does not come naturally to all. If a child knows, hears and feels that you love them, they will certainly be more forgiving and understanding.
Have a wonderful Shabbos
Hi. I’ve never written into any advice columns before, but I’m really at wit’s end. My 10-year-old daughter is a huge slob. Her siblings are not like this, and it’s getting to a point that I’m losing my mind. We have cleaning help, but even so, I strongly feel she should at least try to be neater. Not only does she leave everything all over the place, she herself doesn’t care about the way she looks, and I’m so embarrassed. I would love to hear your opinion. Private Flatbush
I would like to give you a bit of insight as to how I answer questions. The first thing I do is read each question and see if anything jumps out at me. In your email, there were a number of things that got me thinking. First of all, I noticed that you wrote “Her siblings are not like this.” Although I understand your frustration, I can assure you that all kids are not created equal. It could be you are trying to prove that you have a clean and organized home, and I get that. However, once you start comparing your kids to each other, you’re playing a very dangerous game.
The second item that jumped out at me, was the fact that you wrote “I’m so embarrassed.” As parents, we need to focus on our children’s emotions and feelings when dealing with them, not our own. If your son has a temper tantrum in public, you can explain to him that he’s embarrassing himself. Remember that your daughter being messy does not mean you did anything wrong as a parent.
In any case, now that I’ve my had fun pretending I’m a psychotherapist, let’s look at your question. There are many reasons that children are sloppy and/or disorganized. It could very well be that your daughter has ADHD and is somewhat incapable of staying organized. Alternatively, it could be that she is trying to act out and she knows you’re frustrated. It’s also possible, she’s just a slob.
Before I go through some ideas you can try, I would like to point out one important thing. I’m sure I’ve said this many times, but one of the main tricks for parenting is choosing the correct battles. Whereas you are sick of the mess she’s leaving, you need to question your decision regarding this battle. Yes, it’s a battle. If you harp on the mess too many times, it might create an even bigger barrier that will be difficult to remove.
If your daughter is an otherwise well rounded and well-behaved child, then this might be a battle worth fighting. But if there are bigger issues that might be more important in her development as a Bas Torah and mature girl, then perhaps leave it alone for now. It’s okay to remind her every so often, but certainly not to make it into an issue.
I’m sure that a few of you are reading this and thinking “My parents yelled at me all the time, and I turned out fine!” You are correct. However, even fifteen years ago, kids were tougher. These days; not so much. I’m sure you would much rather deal with a bit of a mess now, than with a psychological mess in ten years.
All that notwithstanding, there is what you can do to help your children be neater and more organized.
Dear Rabbi Ross. I’m sure you’ve received many emails about children that are being bullied. I have the opposite problem. My 6th grader is the class bully. He picks on boys, intimidates the other boys into hanging out with him, and creates an atmosphere of fear in the classroom. I defended him for years, until a mother called me up crying, and I finally recognized that my perfect son was not perfect after all. However, he’s still a Yid, and my son, and I love him so much. I tried speaking to him, but he tells me it’s not true and these kids are making it up. I know he’s lying to me. Please help. Bruchie – Flatbush
Bruchie, you are correct. I received many emails about kids being bullied, but this one is a first for me. You seem to have hit the nail on the head in the way you described bullying. Many people still think it’s a physical issue. However, bullying is very often psychological, and can have seriously negative effects on children.
There are many different types of bullies in Jewish schools. Although physical contact is usually no longer tolerated in our society, bullies still exist, and will continue to, until we address the problem. Over the years, I’ve bullying down into 3 main categories.
First of all, you need to contact the school. Speak to his Rebbeim and teachers, both current and from previous years. Explain that you need to make sure your son is not picking on other kids, and you need their help. Find out who his targets are, and which kids he likes to hang out with the most. This will give you a better idea of what you’re dealing with.
I would not ask the school to deal with the situation. Unfortunately, Yeshivos have a very bad track record when it comes to dealing with bullying. I’ve heard cases of schools calling both the bully and the target in together for a meeting (horrible idea), or rewarding the bully if he stops (yes, I’m serious). Even the school psychologist might not be prepared for confronting bullying unless he/she is properly trained.
Second of all, you need to speak to a psychologist. In most cases, bullying is a learned behavior and can therefore be unlearned. You wouldn’t send a sick child to a poorly rated doctor, so be just as vigilant when finding a psychologist or social worker.
Your goal should be to instill in your child a sense of right and wrong so he can better understand that he’s hurting others. Personalities don’t change overnight, and you can’t expect immediate improvements either. You can make it clear that there will be serious consequences if he intimidates others in any way.
A great way to develop Middos that can really help your son, is to is to impress upon him the concern for others. You can make comments like, “That security guard must be hot, maybe we should offer him a cold drink.” Or, “The secretary in your school works really hard, let’s get her a coffee.” You might also try, “Maybe bring an extra snack today in case someone forgot theirs.” In this way, he can begin to understand the feelings of others.
I made a small list of do’s and don’ts regarding bullying. Please feel free to add your thoughts by commenting on our blog (link below).
If your child is being bullied.
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.