Rabbi Ross. My wife & I have started reading this column weekly, and we enjoy it tremendously. We feel that you have a good grasp of what’s going on, and your advice is very helpful. You wrote a column last year about families in a specific location going away for mid-winter break, and I wanted to ask a bit further. We don’t go away since we both work, and logistically it won’t work out. Therefore, we have four children at home that are bored with “Nothing to do”. Any recommendation that won’t break the bank? It seems that many mid-winter camps are popping up, but we can’t afford or justify spending almost fifteen hundred dollars altogether, so our children shouldn’t be bored. Do the Yeshivos realize what they’re doing to us? What are your thoughts? Yanky – Flatbush
First of all, thank you for your kinds words. The column you’re referring to was written last January – you can click here to read it. Your question has two parts. First of all, you want to know what working parents should be doing with their children when they are home from school. Secondly, you are wondering why the Yeshivos give off.
To answer your first question, yes, there are ideas I can share with you. Most of them won’t break the bank, although they might take some time to set up.
However, a little time off isn’t a bad thing. It gives Rebbeim and teachers a chance to recharge their batteries. It also gives the kids a break from school, and time to unwind. It’s not easy on the parents all the time, but I’m pretty sure that Yeshivos have been giving this vacation for many years. As kids, you probably loved it, so it’s not really fair to complain now that it’s an inconvenience.
You should certainly not complain about it in front of your children. If you display disrespect towards the Yeshiva your children attend in front of them, you really can’t expect them to take it seriously. If it really bothers you, call up the Yeshiva and ask the Menahel or principal what the logic is.
Enjoy your vacation and have a good Shabbos!
Dear Rabbi Ross. Now that Chanukah is over, my wife and I want to vent. What is going on with this world? Why do kids need presents and parties all day? Chanukah is a special Yom Tov during which we celebrate miracles that happen. If I don’t buy my kids any presents, they will resent it. If I do, I’m giving in to the new-age mentality. Aren’t we supposed to stay away from presents. How can we stop this downward spiral? Chaim – Kew Gardens.
Chaim, surprisingly enough I’ve received a few similar e-mails over the past few weeks, although most people didn’t wait until after Chanukah to email. I have a feeling that this will be one of the shortest responses I’ve ever written.
One of the hardest parts of growing up these days is that children don’t get to be children. We expect them to act like adults, and because they are so “in the know”, we forget that they are in fact still children. I once heard a mother tell her child in Pre 1A, “You’re acting like a five-year-old!” When I pointed out that he was indeed only five, she responded, “But he’s much more mature than a typical five-year-old boy.”
If we don’t let children act like kids when they’re little, they’ll act immature when they’re older. Let me tell you some thing else that children love. Yomim Tovim. Look at it from their perspective. No school, they get to spend time with their parents (and, dare I say, siblings), and it’s fun. I asked a few boys what their favorite Yomim Tovim were, and I got Purim, Pesach, Shavuos, Rosh Hashana, Sukkos, and Chanukah.
Each one has a spiritual part that the kids love, and a material part. Purim? Kids love dressing up and going to Megillah. They also love Hamentashen and getting Shalach Manos. Chanukah? Kids love lighting Menorah. They also love making latkes, playing dreidel, and yes, getting presents. Now I’m not advocating giving kids 8 days of handouts, but what’s wrong with thoughtful gifts? Let them enjoy a new toy, book or MP3 player.
I wouldn’t make the focus of Chanukah the presents, but if that’s what excites your kids, so be it. My younger kids were so excited for their presents, that they asked to look at them before Chanukah. They just wanted to see them. My older kids, who were the same way years ago, well, they didn’t even ask for presents. As they matured, they became more excited for Chanukah, and forgot about the presents.
In regard to your comment that we’re supposed to stay away from presents, I don’t think you’re correct in this situation. When you buy your wife flowers for Shabbos, does she refuse them? How about jewelry? If your wife bought you a new watch, would you tell her to send it back? Don’t tell me it’s different, because to a child a new toy is just as appealing as a necklace is to one’s spouse.
The one thing I would insist upon, is that if they got a present from a grandparent, they need to write a thank you letter. If the present is from you, they should thank both parents before they open it.
Have a great Shabbos!
My husband and I found Reese’s Peanut Butter wrappers in my son’s coat pocket (he’s eleven). We are Makpid on Cholov Yisrael, and are shocked and dismayed. The question is, what now? Do we let him get away with it? Should we punish him? I feel that we should ignore this, and it’ll hopefully resolve itself, my husband feels more drastic measures are needed. Please advise us. Rebecca – Brooklyn.
You bring up a wonderful question, one that has stumped parents for hundreds of years. The term for this discussion is called “Choosing your battles”. Obviously, there are many variables that prevent me from giving you a more personalized answer, but let’s discuss the pros and cons.
First of all, you can’t even be 100% sure that he ate it, just because it was in his pocket. Even if he ate it, maybe he forgot, or was unaware, that it was not Cholov Yisroel. Whatever happened to giving people the benefit of the doubt? I would begin by discussing it with him, in a non-threatening manner. Only one parent needs to talk (preferably the mom in this case). Be honest with him. “I was cleaning your pockets and found this wrapper. I’m sure you realize that we’re careful to only eat Cholov Yisroel products.” You’re not asking a question, you’re waiting for him to talk.
Make sure he understands that you’re not upset (at least not yet), although make it clear to him that you need to hear only the truth. Although it can be hard to ascertain if a child is being dishonest, usually parents know. If you’re unsure and he denies it, don’t start threatening. There are other ways to find out, including asking his friends or his Rebbe. Don’t create a situation that spirals out of control. Watch his body language. If he looks uncomfortable or nervous, it could mean he knows he did something wrong. If he looks confused, then it could very well be that he wasn’t aware and made a mistake. If he looks defiant, well, that’s not so good.
Let’s go through all options.
If he says he didn’t eat it, and either doesn’t know how it got there or was holding it for someone else, don’t ask, “Are you sure?” If you have no reason to suspect otherwise, end the conversation by saying, “OK, I trust you. We are makpid to only eat food that is Cholov Yisrael because that’s our Minhag. We are so proud that you understand how important this is.” Give him a smile and end the conversation. Nonetheless, be a bit more vigilant over the next few months.
If he ate it and feels bad, you are allowed to be disappointed. We’re not trying to make him feel like a horrible person, but you can show him that you’re disappointed. You don’t need to be angry, and there certainly shouldn’t be any yelling. You can thank him for being honest but explain that a Minhag is very important. Ask him to be more careful, and tell him that you’re confident it won’t happen again. If it happened to my son, I would take him to the local kosher market, and let him pick out some chocolates that he likes.
The last scenario is one that’s been occurring more frequently, based on the emails that I receive. What if your son is defiant. “Why can’t we eat Hershey’s chocolate? All my friends do!” This is a very troubling response, particularly because it’s usually not about the chocolate. If your son feels unhappy or trapped, you need to tread very carefully.
I can tell you what won’t work. Long discussions. Yelling and begging. Guilt trips. Punishments or consequences. Not only will these not work, they will more than likely backfire. You need to speak to your Rav or someone who can guide you. Turn to your son and say firmly, “I am disappointed now. I love you, but you violated my trust. We will continue this discussion later.” After that, walk away and get some help.
The good news is that many children get defiant about things and turn out just fine. However, by overreacting or getting emotional, you can really cause a serious rift. I would like to share one idea that has worked with many people, although it needs to be used with caution.
You can turn to your son and say, “I see that you don’t understand the Minhagim that we have. However, these are our family Minhagim, going back to your great-grandparents, and we expect you to follow them. Once you are married, you and your wife can make your own decisions, and we will respect them. Until that time, please be more vigilant.”
The advantage to this statement is that:
Have a good Shabbos.
Last week, we discussed a topic that I feel is a prevalent problem in our communities, and that is depression. Depression manifests itself in many different ways, and If we play our cards right, we can catch many cases before it’s too late.
Many of you emailed me (thank you) to remind me that we should discuss common symptoms of depression before we discuss solutions. I compiled a basic list of symptoms, but it’s certainly not all-inclusive. On the other hand, just because your child exhibits some of these symptoms, doesn’t mean that he/she is depressed. Like anything else in life, you need to make educated decisions based on knowing your child. If you need help with these decisions, ask your Rav or doctor.
Children have all types of personalities. If your child’s personality changes dramatically, it’s usually a sign that something is wrong. For example, if your child suddenly becomes withdrawn, moody, or extremely irritable, that’s a clear signal that something is up. Physical symptoms of depression can be manifested by a change in appetite (either increased or decreased), sleeplessness or excessive sleeping, and physical complaints (such as stomach-aches, headaches, etc.), that don't respond to treatment. In all the above cases, you need to sit with your child and figure out what’s causing the change.
Some symptoms are a bit more serious. If your child has developed serious concentration issues out of nowhere, has feelings of worthlessness or guilt, or has mentioned death or suicide, you need to act immediately. You should call a mental health professional and get help making an informed decision as to the appropriate course of action.
The solution. I’m always shocked when people contact me expecting solutions to serious problems. When I get an email regarding a child not Davening well, having issues with homework, or even making trouble in Yeshiva, I can offer advice. It may work for some children, for others, not as much. Baruch Hashem, many people have used information from this blog/column to improve their parenting.
I bring this up, due to an email I received a few days ago. Rabbi Ross. Reading your article last week confirmed what I’ve been thinking for a long time. My fourteen-year-old son is very depressed. We have been giving him his own space, and for the past few months it’s just getting worse. He doesn’t join us for Shabbos meals, and my wife has to physically pull him out of bed for Yeshiva. Any ideas?
Sadly, this is not the only such correspondence that I’ve received. I would like to reiterate that if something is seriously wrong, or requires immediate assistance, an advice column is not the solution. There are many trained professionals that can help in these instances. If you need names, you can ask your Yeshiva, your Rav, and, if you’re too embarrassed, feel free to email me for a list of suggestions. However, don’t wait until it’s Chas V’Shalom too late!
There are a few things you can try to ensure that your children are more upbeat, and to prevent depression. Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list, rather it includes ideas that have worked for many families.
Sunlight. Open the shades and use natural light as much as possible. Sunshine has a therapeutic effect, as does being outdoors.
Music. Try and keep fun and upbeat music playing in the house. We’re not talking about using headphones. You can buy a good sound bar for under $100. Obviously, your kids shouldn’t be listening to depressing or inappropriate music.
Compliment. Give meaningful and sincere compliments to your kids whenever possible.
Limit electronics. Although it seems like a perfect way for kids to relax, I’ve noticed that when children engage in too much electronics usage, they become moody. I’m sure someone must have done some sort of case study on this.
Reduce stress. We discussed in last week’s article that children have age-appropriate stress as well. Speak to your child to see if something in particular is stressing them out. As insignificant as it seems to you, if it’s stressing your child it should be dealt with.
Check for bullying. Many schools have a zero tolerance for bullying. Your child might not want to talk about it, but see if you can figure out what’s going on. Sometimes speaking to other parents can be a huge help.
Money. Although I’m working on a separate article regarding financial smarts for children, there is one thing worth mentioning. Don’t project your money issues onto your children. You can explain that you can’t afford something, but telling your children how much you’re struggling is counter-productive.
Last, but not least, smile. If parents walk around with a smile, the kids will pick it up. If you’re always stressed or annoyed, screaming or slamming things down, your children will turn out the same. As we’ve discussed, children are frequently like a mirror. A brutally honest mirror.
Again, there is no shame in asking for help. If you feel that you are out of answers, don’t ignore the issues as it will usually get worse. If anyone has any other ideas, please feel free to post them in the comments section on the blog.
Have a great 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.