It’s summertime, and many of you have communicated that it’s difficult to read the emails for whatever reasons. Therefore, I’m going to keep the next few emails a bit shorter than usual.
I have an odd question for you. How can I impress upon my children the seriousness of the three weeks? I have 4 wonderful children ranging in ages from 9 to 16 and the three weeks and nine days are a huge annoyance to them. An example would be, that they listen to all this aCapella singing, which in my opinion is real music. When I stop them, they get all upset at me. How can I help them understand how serious these days really are? Do you have any suggestions? Shifra - Brooklyn
Wow. I must admit that this question was unique. It seems that you have 4 amazing children and you are worried that they are not taking the three weeks seriously enough. In many families, the extent that kids relate to the three weeks, is by getting a haircut immediately before they start.
There are a few points I would like to make.
In the Zechus of your wonderful parenting, may we be Zoche to experience the coming of Moshiach.
Thank you for your wonderful work with these e-mails. My husband and I really enjoy reading and discussing them. We’ve been getting a little frustrated with my kids regarding something, and we were hoping we could get your opinion on it. When they were younger, my kids were always silly. They made immature comments and acted childish. Now my oldest son is 13 and he still acts like a baby as do the 11, 9 and 6-year-old. It really aggravates us, and we need some advice. Thank you. Sharon, Cedarhurst.
Your issue is one that frustrates parents around the world. When kids are young and act silly, it’s cute and we encourage it. A few short years later, and the same behaviors irritate us. Silly or immature behavior is one of the subjects in the “Nature versus Nurture” debate. Do children act immature because of the personalities they were born with, or is it learned from their parents?
The reason this matters is simple. In order to fix this issue, we need to understand it better. If your kids are acting silly because it’s their personality, it would be dealt with as a behavioral issue. On the other hand, if this is a learned behavior, you would need to understand what you might be doing wrong, and how to correct it.
One father wrote me an email and asked, “Is it OK for a twelve-year-old boy to have a temper tantrum because he doesn’t like supper? He acts like a three-year-old! When will he grow up?”
I happen to be really good friends with this particular father, so I called him up. During our conversation, he confessed that as a young teenager he was extremely immature as well. Eventually, he admitted that his wife wasn’t that mature either. If both parents were immature as kids, it’s not really fair to expect that their children should be models of maturity. I suggested that perhaps he and his wife needed to be a little more tolerant.
That doesn’t mean the situation can’t be rectified. Rather, it means that it should be treated as any other behavioral issue. There needs to be consequences and rewards, and possibly some serious motivation. Most importantly, it requires patience, understanding and love.
However, many kids act immaturely because their parents unintentionally encourage it. When your 3-year-old sticks her tongue out at you, do you laugh or do you ignore it? When your five-year-old makes an inappropriate comment, do you call it “cute”? As parents, sometimes we encourage immature behaviors, but children don’t grow up overnight. We reap what we sow.
It would seem therefore, that it’s definitely in the nature of every child to act silly, and very mature children are the exception, not the norm. Nonetheless, I believe that the way parents react to these behaviors help shape their tendencies going forward. We need to be cognizant of this when our children are young…very young.
I’m not saying that you should read the riot act to your 2-year-old if he does something silly. Yet, clapping and making it into a big deal is extremely unwise. I’m sure it’ll happen a few times, and that’s fine. If, however, you consistently encourage your children through positive reinforcement, you can rest assured they will end up being immature as they get older.
I have included a few tips to help deal with the immaturity. As always, some of these might work with some families, some with others.
Please be aware that I have limited access to the internet for the next few days. Your comments might take a while to be approved. Thanks for your patience.
After twenty-one articles on Parenting, I have decided to respond to some of the more frequent questions I’ve received over the past four months. Additionally, I’m including a list of all the Parenting emails that have been sent out. We’ll continue the regular emails next week IY”H.
How long does it take to answer each question you receive?
It really depends on how difficult the issue raised in the question is, although an average is about 4-5 hours. Private questions that I respond to take considerably less time. Once I finish writing, I have someone review and proofread. If I think it may be controversial, I send it to either my Rav, or an appropriate professional. For example, the article about dealing with trauma was sent for advice and review to one of the top social workers at Chai Lifeline.
Why don’t my comments appear in the Comments section?
Having a Comments section always scares me. Unfortunately, some people use the shield of anonymity to post things on the internet that they would not say under ordinary circumstances. Therefore, I review every comment before it gets posted. Any comment that I feel is at all negative or condescending gets rejected. For example, this past week, one person replied, “That’s so stupid” to an earlier comment. Obviously, that’s unacceptable and it gets rejected. Additionally, commenters who want to be posted must be signed up for the emails.
How come you haven’t answered my question?
I have hundreds of unanswered questions. If you request a public answer, it’ll take some time until I get to it. If you would like a faster response, click the “Private Response” checkbox.
How come you don’t allow individuals or companies to sponsor the weekly emails?
When I began this advice forum four months ago, I made a commitment not to allow sponsors or advertisements for at least the first year. Many companies have offered to advertise, but I didn’t start this as a commercial enterprise and I don’t think I’m ready for that. I also will not sell this email list, or send more than one email per week.
Are there any emails that you won’t answer?
Yes. When an email contains information that I feel is extremely urgent or sensitive, I reply back with the names of either a Rav or appropriate professional. The goal of these emails is to assist others in Parenting, not to solve immediate and/or delicate issues. Additionally, any email that I think would be inappropriate to share, I reply privately.
What is the most common email you receive?
Believe it or not, it’s a question that I won’t ever answer publicly. “My husband is a poor role model. How can I explain to my children that he’s doing the wrong thing?” These types of questions are more about marriage than parenting. When a couple is not working together, it makes parenting much trickier, and I would often suggest counseling for the parents first.
What’s the funniest email you’ve ever received?
I received the following email from a 14-year-old girl: “Rabbi Ross. My parents think they know everything. They also are trying to live vicariously through me, and are projecting their emotions and attitudes on me. What do you suggest?” For some reason, I always get a kick out of reading that one.
I hope you all have a wonderful Shabbos.
Boys & Dolls
Kids & Trauma
She's a Slob
My son's a Bully
Electronics Part One
Electronics Part Two
My Son acts like a Baby
My Angry Son
Hitting Part One
Hitting Part Two
Purim Hints and Cheats
My Son is Lying
My Child resents Shabbos
My Son hates Homework
Dear Rabbi Ross,
I have been reading your emails for a few months now, and I'm confident enough in your advice to share something that's been eating at me for a long time. My middle child (I have 5 kids - 3 boys and 2 girls), is really into playing with dolls and he's almost 9. He also has girlish tendencies, and I'm petrified that he is going to have serious issues. I'm too scared to even share my fears with my husband. Please advise me. Anonymous
First and foremost, thank you for your vote of confidence. I tend to over-analyze many of the questions I receive, and yours was no different.
I can’t imagine any scenario in which a spouse would be scared to share his/her fears (unless, perhaps if your mother-in-law is coming to visit). Seriously though, part of marriage is sharing thoughts and working together. Keeping these fears to yourself just makes everything worse.
Your question really forces me to differentiate between regular parenting and Jewish parenting. In a non-Jewish family, you might be told, “There is nothing wrong with what he’s doing. If he identifies with being a girl, he can even use the women’s bathroom!” However, as Yidden, we answer to a higher authority.
It’s really hard to answer this particular question without more information. For example, have you tried setting up play dates? How did they work out? Who are his good friends? Have you introduced him to the exciting (and expensive) world of Legos?
Let’s take a step back. You’re assuming that there is a problem because he’s playing with dolls and acts different than your other boys. However, it could be that he just does not like sports, and enjoys playing quietly by himself. Alternatively, what you are interpreting as “girlish tendencies” could just mean he is a sensitive kid, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
What you do need to be careful about, is how you respond to these “issues”. Even if you are subtle, you run the risk of creating a real issue. Your son might resent the “hints” to go play outside, and even worse, might act out because you’re bringing it up. For example, if you keep saying, “Let’s stop playing with the dolls, and play some boy games”, he might deliberately play with the dolls more frequently.
On Purim a few years ago, a six-year-old boy that I know wanted to dress up as Elsa from the Disney movie, Frozen. His mom spoke with me, and decided to let him, although she warned him that kids might laugh at him. She also prepared an alternative costume. After a few hours of snickers, he decided that he was sick of it, and switched over to the Spider Man costume. By not making his costume choice a big issue, she allowed him to make his own decisions.
On the flip side, it might not be a bad idea to wean your son off of what you call “girlish tendencies”. You certainly don’t want to encourage him in any way. There are a number of ways to do this without antagonizing him, and I’ll list them below. Keep in mind, this article was only written in regards to boys.
Have a wonderful 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.