Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
Dina and Menachem were both on the phone when they called. I was struggling because I don't multitask well, especially when the task is to listen to two people speaking to me at the same time. I was able to discern that they both wanted to talk with me about a child named Levi. They made an appointment and came in later that week.
Here's how the session began:
Menachem, please tell me about your son.
He is an ingrate, a liar, a stubborn ox, and he's insensitive.
Thank you, Menachem.
Dina, please tell me about your son.
He is appreciative, truthful, flexible, and sensitive.
Thank you, Dina. And Dina, I'm curious. Why did you choose to describe a different one of yours sons from the one that your husband described?
I didn't. We told you at the outset that we wanted to meet with you to discuss our concerns about our son, Levi. When you asked me to tell you about my son, I assumed you were asking about Levi, and that's who I described.
Really? Menachem, you also described Levi to me?
Yes, like Dina said, we came to speak with you about Levi. You started out by asking me to describe our son, and I assumed you meant the son we told you on the phone we wanted help with, Levi.
As I describe this conversation to you, dear reader, it seems obvious that either Menachem or Dina has an incorrect impression of their son Levi. How could that have happened, and how could I fix it?
The answer is that both Menachem and Dina have accurate impressions of their son Levi, and that happened because he reacts to each of them very differently. I didn't fix it, but I did help them understand why he reacts to them differently. They're fixing it, gradually.
I asked mom to give me an example of a situation in which she saw Levi as a child who is appreciative, truthful, flexible, and sensitive.
I heard his sister screaming at him. I went to see what had happened and I saw that he had her doll in his hand. I asked him what was going on, and he said she had used his pencil sharpener without asking him first, so now he had taken her doll without asking her first. He was truthful. Then I asked him what else he could do to let his sister know that he is upset with her. He put the doll down and told her to ask him first next time. He was flexible. He looked at me and said, "I'm sorry, mommy. Thank you for not yelling at me." He was sensitive and appreciative. That's the kind of child he is.
I asked dad to give me an example of a situation in which he saw Levi as a child who is an ingrate, a liar, a stubborn ox, and insensitive.
I heard his sister screaming at him. I went to see what had happened and I saw that he had her doll in his hand. I asked, "what are you doing with your sister's doll, how many times have I told you not to touch her things." He started to say something about his pencil sharpener; I stopped him and told him there is no excuse for touching her things. All this was not even 20 minutes after I had let him have the apple he'd been asking for. He's an ingrate. He said he thought she wouldn't mind that he was playing with her doll. He's a liar. I asked him why he can't do what he's told and he said his sister should do what she's told. He's a stubborn ox. Then he looked right at his sister and yelled, "I hate you." He's insensitive.
I told them that all of this reminded me of a boy with whom I met many years ago. His menahel asked me to speak with this child because his rebbe was becoming very frustrated with him and repeatedly sent him out of the classroom. The menahel told me that the rebbe had wondered if the boy needed to be treated for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD without hyperactivity) because this 5th grader had become unable to stay focused and on task.
I met with the child and gave him a set of pictures depicting various feelings. I asked him to circle all of the feelings he could remember experiencing over the past couple of days. Like most children, he circled "bored." One of the only other feelings he circled was "exhausted."
I asked him to tell me about "exhausted." He told me that he doesn't get enough sleep because he reads in bed after his mother has turned off the light. We discussed strategies to increase the amount of sleep he could get, and he decided he would put the book away sooner and go to sleep earlier.
When we met a week later, he said he had been unable to limit himself to a shorter period of time to read in bed. I asked him if he'd like me to invite his parents to meet with us to figure out how they could help him, and he said yes.
The following week, his parents and I discussed their role as helpers towards their son's goal of staying focused in class. They agreed that getting more sleep is an objective towards that goal with which they could help by more carefully monitoring their child after his bed time, removing books from his room, checking under his pillow, and coming in to look in on him periodically.
The child agreed to all of this. At my next meeting with the child, he told me, with a big smile, that he has been focusing much better in class because he has been getting more sleep since his parents have been making sure he doesn't read in bed.
What's the comparison? That boy you met with in yeshiva wanted to be able to focus and stay on track, he wanted help. Levi never said he wants to behave better.
That's true, Menachem, he never said that to you. But he expressed himself quite clearly to Dina; he apologized for what he done and he put down his sister's doll.
But why can't he be more patient with her to begin with?
That's a good question. You might be the answer. It might help him to cultivate the middah of patience when he sees it more often from you.
I'm not Dina. She is a patient person. I'm not.
Menachem, I hope you will doven for the patience and tolerance to stay calm so that you can help your child when he is behaving in a way that you don't like. You and I can talk about what happens to you to when you're unhappy with something Levi has done. I don't know if you'll ever be a "patient person" like Dina. I think you can be patient more often than you are now.
That's what we ask Hashem to do for us; to be erech apayim, forbearing. We are taught that Hashem treats us the way we treat others (b'midah she'adam modaid bo modidim lo).
We ask Hashem to help us even when we might not deserve it. No relationship parallels our relationship with Hashem more closely than our children's relationship with us.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor
with specialties in marriage, relationships, and parenting. He works with
parents and educators, and conducts parenting seminars for shuls and
organizations. He can be reached at