Conflicting Principles

The other day a parent dropped their child off for a session at the child center where I work. My job is to help children to feel calmer and better about themselves. But this parent was behind on their payments. The center has a strict policy: if a parent owes money, we aren’t allowed to accept the child. If we do, we won’t get paid for the session.

So I had a decision to make. Should I turn away a child who has arrived without a parent? Or should I accept the child and just forgo payment for the session?

I accepted the child. I didn’t want the child to feel rejected through no fault of their own. I’d rather forgo payment than create a bad situation for the child.

This was not an easy decision because I have my own principle of getting paid for my work and I don´t think it´s healthy to work for free (unless I’ve volunteered my services).

That´s when I realized that there are situations where our principles clash and we must decide which principle takes precedence.

When I think of the holiday of Shavuos, I think of this very conflict. On the one hand, there are our obligations to G-d, and on the other hand, our obligations to our fellow Jew. It happens more often than not that out of our zealousness to fulfill our obligation to G-d we forget about other people and in the process hurt them.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l was once walking on Shabbat and saw a father and son walking toward him with the father carrying a chair. Rav Auerbach was not pleased with this sight and stopped to ask why the son was letting his father carry the chair. The son answered that he is stringent not to rely on the eiruv and therefore doesn´t carry in this area. Rav Auerbach was visibly shaken and said, “You are stringent on a rabbinic level and transgress the commandment of kibud av on a Torah level!”

This is but one example how we sometimes don´t keep the big picture in mind. The same G-d that commanded us to fulfill the mitzvos between us and G-d, also commanded us at the same time not to neglect our fellow Jew.

What is mind boggling about this story is that neither the son nor the father realized that something was off or at least the father didn´t make a point to teach his son about respect. It took the awareness and sensitivity of an outside person to notice that was wrong.

I bet this happens to you as parents as well…

You want to educate your child and therefore create important family rules and principles such as speaking respectfully, listening to authority, having children clean up after themselves, etc. You want to raise a well-mannered child who will contribute to society (and yes, let´s face it: not shame your family name!).

Take a minute and ask yourself to what extent do you enforce those rules?

Do you sometimes criticize, yell or threaten your child in order to instill in him those virtues and in the process of teaching and educating him, forget to live up to those standards as well?

Let’s look at it from another point of view.

You surely have a principle or value to make your child feel respected, loved and safe.

However, I bet it happens sometimes that you transgress these values of respect and love in order to follow through on your other educational values of turning your child into a “healthy and functional member of society”.

I am certain that this situation has caused you some internal conflict as well.

As mentioned in the above story it sometimes takes an outsider to notice that something is not the way it is supposed to be.

I want this blog to be that place where you can become aware and get the help to change things for the better. In order for me to do that I need to get your feedback.

So, my question for you is: how do you deal with your blind spots and your “conflict of principles”?

Just jot down a few lines and reply by email. I want to know what each one of you is struggling with so that I can tailor my blog to your needs.

Best wishes,

Eli Weiss

A Letter To Mom And Dad About The Pre- Pesach Stress

Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m writing to you because I’m worried about getting ready for Pesach and I don’t know how to talk to you about it.

Even though I’m in fourth grade, you know that school is still really hard for me. There is so much going on there. Kids are running around, screaming, bumping, and pushing each other. All the noise and motion make me pretty stressed out and sometimes I need space just to calm down.

When I’m in class, it’s hard for me to concentrate and keep up with my work. And when it’s time for recess, sometimes I’m left out of the games and I don’t feel like part of the group.

Overall school is okay, but I can’t wait to get home every day just to rest. No one at school is really trying to understand me, but I still have to follow all the rules. It’s hard work and it makes me tired.

And now Pesach is coming. I am happy for the break, but I’m also nervous. What if home becomes like school?

You often get upset at me at home because I “drive you crazy” or bother little Moshe. Then you get frustrated with me and ask: “Why can’t you be a good boy like in school?” You don’t understand that because I am working so hard to be a good boy in school, I don’t have much energy left to be a good boy at home. My batteries are pretty empty by the time I come home and when I feel upset at something I don’t have the strength to control myself like I do in school.

Before Pesach you are very stressed; there is so much going on and so much to do. In the morning, Dad wants me to get dressed and come to shul with him or at least daven at home and learn something before we start the day. You ask me to help you clean and make sure there’s no chometz in the house, and you need me to help you with errands. There is a lot of pressure around the house and this is too much for me.

With all this stress, I can’t behave well because I need some space to calm down and be myself. But you then start to yell at me.

I really want to help you get ready for Pesach and I like it when you plan the day for me. Knowing what’s going to happen and what to expect makes me feel calmer. I want to have fun and be happy at home with you. It helps me when you tell me exactly what you expect me to do. When you say “clean your room” for Pesach, I don’t know where to start. One time you told me specifically which drawer to clean out and how to do it and that worked really well for me.

Another time you did a chart for each specific chore I needed to do and put on a sticker after I finished each one. Everything was so much easier and it was kind of exciting to work toward a treat when all the stickers were in place.

Having the music on while cleaning for Pesach also puts me in a better mood so I can do the work you want me to do.

I want to say thank you for cooking “normal” meals and caring that I eat well, because when I’m hungry, it´s even harder for me to help you.

At the same time, I wish you would let me get up later, stay in my pajamas longer, and just let me play without having pressure every morning. I wish you would let me do things my own way, even if it’ll come out different and not as perfect as you´d like. Please let me have some space and freedom to find out what my own way is. I like it when you ask me how I want things to be. It makes me feel like what I have to say is important to you.

Sometimes I just need to be silly! You do let me be silly sometimes—maybe not before Pesach—and those times you didn’t mind or make me feel bad about it. Then, when I get my silliness out, I don’t need to be silly so much.

Dear Mom and Dad, I wish you would talk to me about how to get ready for Pesach in a fun way. Even when you are so busy preparing, I hope you’ll stop to give me a smile and a hug and just ask me if I am doing okay. Home is that special place where you don’t just look at what I do but who I am.

Bouncing Back After A Stressful Event

Bouncing Back after a Stressful Situation

You are taking your family out to eat at a restaurant and as you sit down you notice a young lady sitting on the chair behind you looking very pale and not herself. Her friend has called an ambulance and the staff look unsure about how to help her and deal with the situation.

Your children see the scene, look the paramedics and start to get scared. You feel nervous as well, not sure whether to leave the place with the food still waiting to be eaten or to wait. No one feels like eating so you decide to wait outside. Your kids are fidgeting around clinging on you and observing the scene and asking you tons of questions. Why did the ambulance come? Why is she sick? Does she need to go to the hospital? And more and more. You as a parent weren’t really prepared for such a situation and feel yourself a bit lost for answers and as much as you try to calm them down they can see that you are anxious as well.

Fortunately, scenarios like this don’t happen to us every day but they do happen occasionally and can create stress and fear, especially for children. They might think or dream about the scenes they witnessed or get scared that they or their parents will get sick. These experiences where children feel helpless and scared can be very stressful on the child’s emotional system especially when his or her caretaker wasn’t physically or emotionally there for him at the time of the stressful experience. You are not always with your child to protect him from seeing or hearing scary things and sometimes you as a parent get overwhelmed or scared yourself, which leaves little space to hold the child when he needs it.

How can you help your child to bounce back after a stressful situation?

There are 3 things you can do to help:

  1. Take care of yourself first

It’s like in the airplane; before you put the oxygen mask on your child, you must make sure that you can breathe and be of help. So, do whatever is necessary to calm down. Talk the experience through with someone you feel comfortable with such as your spouse, family member or friend. If you need more expression than talking, you can consider writing it on paper or drawing a picture or any other art that you resonate with. Some people find sports or relaxation exercises helpful to get back on track. Whatever it might be that helps you, make sure that you yourself calmed down from that experience.

  1. Allow expression

Once you are calm, allow your children to express their thoughts and emotions about that particular experience. For example, you can bring it up and ask what they remember from that scenario and how they felt. If having all the kids discuss it simultaneously is too difficult then find time during the day to bring it up with each child and maybe another time bring it up as a shared experience. (This is important because a shared stressful experience has less of an impact than if it is re-experienced alone).

The important point is to just listen and validate whatever thoughts and emotions come up for the child without judging them. Just observe and reflect for the child what you hear him say. For example, you can say: “You are telling me that you were really scared when all the paramedics showed up and didn’t know whether we should stay there or leave. It was sort of confusing for you especially because it was so unexpected …”

There is no need to force your child to talk about it, just the fact that you brought it up and he knows that whenever he wants to he can talk to you about it is tremendously helpful to him.

Some children will have difficulty expressing their experience (or some of it) in words and for these children fantasy (pretend) play can be a safe way to help them process and express it. To do so you can offer to play a matching playmobile game, for example, ambulance or hospital or pretend that he is a paramedic and you the patient (without telling him necessarily why you do that).

  1. Be nurturing and patient

Finally, realize that vulnerabilities are higher than usual and that you can balance out the difficult emotions and experiences with positive and safe ones. This is a time where you as a parent need to be more nurturing and patient with you child and yourself. Spent some more quality and connecting time and give yourself time to get back on track.

Best wishes,

Eli Weiss

 

3 Steps To Help Your Child Talk About Difficult Things

Your 10 year old comes home from school in a bad mood. He slams the front door, throws his coat and schoolbag on the floor, grabs a book or the paper, and slumps on the couch without uttering a word.

You see that he obviously had a tough day and are wondering what is going on with him. You try to greet him warmly – overlooking the mess – but he just ignores you. As soon as one of his siblings gets too close he screams at them and pushes them away. So you ask him what happened and why he is in such a bad mood. He frowns and screams “NOTHING!”

Different parents react differently to such a situation. Either way a parent is wondering what really happened and how he can make the boy talk so that he will feel better.

There are a variety of reasons why your child doesn’t want to talk to you about his problems (especially as they get older). It could be that they feel weak about coming to their parents with their problems or that they are afraid of being judged or punished by their parents. Other reasons might be that they don’t believe that their parents can actually help them or sometimes they are so upset that they just need time to calm down before they can talk about it.

 

His inner conflict

What sometimes happens is that a part of your child wants to communicate to you that he is upset at something and wants to share the burden of whatever distressing experience happened, which he does with his difficult attitude. In other words, he is using nonverbal communication to let you know that he is upset. However, another part of him is not quite ready to talk to you about what´s bothering him and that´s why he doesn’t start telling you what kind of day he had or answer your question of how his day was.

This inner conflict of how much he can trust your relationship at that moment and whether it will be safe and he will feel soothed or it will be unsafe and he will feel bad can create a distressing experience for him.

 

Be nurturing and patient

At that point it´s important to reflect his struggle to him and honor and respect his ambivalence to share without pushing him to reveal anything. The next step is to create an atmosphere inviting enough for him so that he feels at least tempted to share. For example, saying “I am here if you want to talk” instead of “talk to me.” This stage needs a lot of patience and trust because it is really about his ability to share and not about you knowing the details of the story. The goal is to develop within him a sense of responsibility and independence of what to share, when to share, and with whom to share, which are crucial skills he will need to use later in life.

After he reveals some of his experiences it´s crucial to make him feel safe, which means to empathize with his difficulty, not to make him feel guilty for what happened and, at least in the beginning, not to take any concrete action about it (unless in very severe circumstances). Right now, he has the need to share his experience and not carry it all alone.

 

Practical Application

The point is to understand that you don´t want to make your child talk to you, but instead you want to create an atmosphere where he feels willing and safe so that he will share with you.

  1. Respect your child´s dilemma

Honor and respect your child´s dilemma and ambivalence in talking to you about something difficult. Tell him that this is really a difficult struggle.

 

  1. Be inviting

Be inviting, create safety through acceptance and patience and show him that you care about him. Give your child time until he is ready to share out of his own volition. Find a way to connect to him and spend some quality time with him, independent of his decision to share with you or not.

 

  1. Maintain his feeling of safety

After he does share, maintain the feeling of safety by just empathizing and being there with him. Don´t take any immediate action – most problems don’t have to be solved within 24 hours. Know that sharing is a process that comes in levels and he might not share everything the first time or there might be parts of the story he will choose to keep to himself. Understand that his experience of sharing his burden with you is the biggest gift you can give to your child and it will be an important factor in processing and overcoming whatever difficulty he is going through, and it will enable him to seek support and help in the future.

Best wishes,

Eli Weiss