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Parenting With Rabbi Ackerman
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
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When a parent tells me that she is overwhelmed, I usually say "That sounds very difficult. What do you do when you're overwhelmed?"
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The End of the World, at Least! Or: How to Ride a Bike
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC Does your child have an overactive amygdala? Is there any way to know? Is it your fault? Can you fix it? Yes, there is a way to know. If he does, it’s not your fault, and you can’t fix it. What you can do is help your child learn how to manage it. The amygdala is a small, almond shaped mass of nuclei located in the temporal lobes of the brain near the hippocampus. It can trigger the so-called flight-or-flight response, which prepares the body to either fight or flee a threat. This acute stress response can be triggered by both real and imaginary threats. If the amygdala is too excitable, you react with fear to things that others wouldn’t find all that scary. Some would find those same things pleasant! Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan has studied children to determine which ones have a relatively calm amygdala and which ones have an overly reactive one. He shows a 4 month old baby a toy he’s never seen before. After twenty seconds he shows him another one, twenty seconds later another one, and then another. Some of them find it pleasant, but some “hate it, crying so hard they shake in protest.” (Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence, page 147) When one 4 month old reacts to a situation with glee and another reacts to the same situation with terror, it isn’t their parents’ fault. Infants are born with different neurotransmitter patterns. Those patterns excite each infants’ amygdala to a different degree, and you see a very different response to the same stimulus. So yes, you can tell, and it’s not your fault, and you can’t fix it. So why discuss it all? And what is any of this doing in a book called “Social Intelligence.” According to Professor Kagan, the infants who are discomforted by the changing toys grow into the toddlers who are wary of new people and places, and the school children who are shy. In other words, if your child is shy, it’s not your fault. He was born that way. He will find it harder to be gregarious than someone who wasn’t born that way. Your role is to help him when it’s hard. Helping him doesn’t mean that you tell him it’s not hard, or that it shouldn’t be. Here’s a conversation I had with a mom who wanted her son to make friends with some boys in his class. Why can’t I get him to realize that there’s nothing for him to be afraid of. They’re just children like him. They’d like to be his friends but he’s so awkward, he comes across as aloof. He appears awkward because he is nervous. He stands apart from them to avoid risking rejection, and they think he is rejecting them. But if he would walk over to them and be natural, they’d be fine with him; they’re nice boys. Can you ride a bike? Sure. Why? When you bought your son his first bike, did you assume he would be able to ride it as naturally as you can? No, I got him training wheels. He still managed to fall down a few times, and then a few times more when I took the trainings wheels off. When he fell off, he eagerly climbed back on? Oh no. He wanted to quit. He said he didn’t care if he never learned how to ride. But I told him he’d get hurt less often if he kept trying, and then he’d enjoy it. That it was worth the bruises. Right. You didn’t tell him that it didn’t hurt, that there was nothing to be afraid of. You told him to brave the fear and tolerate the discomfort, and you soothed and encouraged him when he did get hurt. Gradually, he gained his balance, and now he enjoys riding his bike. So it’s okay for him to be afraid to try to make friends? Yes, just as okay as it is to be afraid of falling when you try to ride a bike. What’s not okay is to let your fear stop you from learning something or doing something that’s scary. With practice, it becomes less scary, and maybe, after a long time, it isn’t scary anymore at all. The fight or flight response is sometimes appropriate. Some things that are scary should be avoided. Other fears can be overcome. Not fixed; managed. The Rambam wrote that to overcome a bad trait you have to go the opposite extreme. A miser needs to become profligate, not just generous, for awhile. Why is that? Because it is not enough to expand your comfort zone. You have to move out of your comfort zone into a place that is truly uncomfortable for you, and learn how to tolerate that discomfort. The novice bike rider falls down, but over time he creates and stabilizes neural networks in his brain that enable the coordinated physical movements that come with repeated efforts, and setbacks. Eventually he stays upright. If he cannot tolerate falling down, he’ll never get to enjoy riding. So what should I say to him when he says he’s afraid to walk over to the boys and try to join their conversation? Ask him what he thinks will happen when he does what he’s afraid to do. What if he says he’s afraid he’ll say the wrong thing and they’ll laugh at him? Ask him what he wants to say to them. Role play with him, and see if he can come up with something to say that he thinks they won’t laugh at. But he’s still going to be afraid that they might laugh at him. How can I convince him that they won’t? Convince him that they won’t? How can you predict that? Maybe they’re going to laugh at him no matter what he says? Right, that why he’s scared. I understand that. So ask him what he intends to say or do if they laugh at him, because you agree with him that they might. What do you do when you try to be nice to someone and they laugh at you? You can ask them what’s so funny, or you can decide that maybe this person isn’t your best choice for a friend and look elsewhere. You get knocked down, and it hurts. You feel bad, get up, dust yourself off, and try someone else. Your world doesn’t come to an end. Help your child learn to overcome his fear of being hurt and disappointed. Not because it won’t happen; you can’t promise him that. What you can promise him is that when it does, it won’t be the end of world. 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 groups for men and women. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC


I recently had the honor of chairing a session about parenting at the Agudah Convention.   One of the points that was made is the importance of dovening for the well-being of our children. 


How important?  According to Rav Shlomo Wolbe, z’tl, “Dovening for our children is so important that it is possible that tefillah is the most important aspect of chinuch.“  (Rigshei Lev, Rav Menachem Nissel, p. 214)


The Mishna Berurah (Siman 47, sif katan 10) identifies three places in shacharis where parents should have intense kavanah that their children should be Torah scholars and tzaddikim and have exemplary middos:

a)   In Birkos HaTorah when saying the words “V’niheyeh anachnu v’tze’etza’einu…  - May we and our offspring…”

b)   In Ahavah Rabbah.

c)   In Uva L’Tzion when saying the words “Lema’an lo niga larik v’lo neled labehalah – So that we do not struggle [in raising children] in vain nor produce for futility.”   (ibid. p. 212)


What’s missing here?   There’s no mention of the Shemonah Esrai.   We express 13 different requests, and never ask for help in raising our children.  Why not?


Truthfully, I didn’t think of that question on my own.  It was asked by the Belzer Rav zt’l.  His answer is recorded in footnote number 3 at the bottom of page 212 in Rav Nissel’s book Rigshei Lev.


He explains that Chazal included the parents’ tefilah for their children in the Modim prayer.

 â€œThe expression of the tefilah [in many siddurim] is:

magen yishainu atah hu l’dor va’dor, nodeh l’cha un’sapair t’hilasecha.

But you should be careful to place the comma before the words l’dor va’dor as follows:

          magen yishainu atah hu, l’dor va’dor nodeh l’cha un’sapair t’hilasecha

This is the tefilah that we have children and children’s children who thank Hashem and tell Hashem’s praise.”


I have not conducted an exhaustive search of contemporary siddurim, but I can tell you that the Siddur Vilna does have the syntax that the Belzer Rav recommends.  Interestingly, so does a not-so-contemporary Siddur: the Shiloh Siddur is punctuated that way in the weekday shacharis (page 73 of the 1932 Nusach Ashkenaz 4th edition).


Those are some suggestions that may enhance how we doven for our children.   How do we enhance our children’s dovening?


Here are excerpts from an article I wrote a year ago that addressed that.


Please write down 13 things that you think we ask for from Hashem when we doven.


The first time I gave that assignment was in 1974.  The 12 year olds in my class impressed me with some very thoughtful and compassionate requests.  We then opened our siddurim, and I showed them the 13 requests we make in the weekday Shemonah Esrai.  We spent a lot of time analyzing their lists and discovering that they had intuited much of what the anshei kneses ha’gedaloh had put into words for us.  What a wonderful success for those children!  They were able to see how closely their wishes and hopes aligned with those of some of the wisest sages of all time.  Now it wasn’t hard for them to express their own thoughts through the words of the prayers, and dovening was a pleasant part of their day.


Another time I gave that assignment was in the mid-1980s.  My class comprised a group of women, members of my shul.  They too suggested poignant and heartfelt concerns to express to Hashem.  When they opened their siddurim they discovered how closely their concerns matched those of the Men of the Great Assembly who composed that prayer so many years ago.


Both times, I continued the discussion by asking them which of the 13 requests in the Shemonah Esrai they had not included in their list.  That resulted in some very interesting conversations about how to make a request you hadn’t thought of, relevant to you.  Most of the time, we were able to figure out some way that every request could be relevant to each of us.  When the answer was, “it’s not relevant to me,” the next question I asked was, “why do you imagine all of these requests are in the plural rather than the singular form?”  I was not surprised at how quickly the women in my class realized that in addition to the deeply personal concerns we express in our dovening, we also pray for the well-being of others.  I must admit that I was surprised, and very impressed, by how quickly the children in my class grasped this idea and embraced it.  Those 12 year olds began to think of friends, family members, and people whom they didn’t personally know, for whom they could pray with various of the paragraphs of the Shemonah Esrai. 

A child asked me:


What if I can’t think of anybody who needs what a certain paragraph is asking for? Could I just ask Hashem to take my tefilah and use it to help somebody that Hashem knows about?


Children are often sensitive, compassionate, and generous when given the opportunity. 


As adults, we have opportunities to express our sensitivity, compassion, and generosity by giving of our time to those closest to us, our children.


The Malbim (on Psalm 90:17) wrote that we can be a source of pleasure to Hashem.  I think our prayers, especially when we say them carefully and thoughtfully, are a source of nachas to Hashem.


Sometimes it’s hard to give Hashem nachas.  Think about that the next time it seems hard for your child to give nachas to you.


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 groups for men and women.  He can be reached at 718-344-6575.


Can a Child Forgive?
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC


It was very nice of Malka to express to her 6 year old son that she regretted having spoken to him harshly.  So I was a little bit puzzled when she asked me what I thought about that.

I think it was very nice of you to tell Laibel that you felt bad about how you had spoken to him.  What is it that you’re concerned about, Malka?

I’m just not sure how he took what I said to him because he had kind of a funny look on his face.

Malka, what exactly did you say to him?

I said, “Laibel, I’m sorry I yelled at you when you spilled your juice.  Yelling is not a good thing to do, and I’m sorry I yelled at you.  Are you mochel me?”

And then what happened, Malka?

Laibel said, “yes, mommy.”  But he had this look on his face… I don’t know if he was confused or unhappy or… I can’t really put my finger on it but somehow he didn’t look like everything was okay.  What was I supposed to do then?

What did you do then, Malka?

I didn’t do anything then, I just said, “okay.”  That was the end of it.

It sounds like that was the end of it but it isn’t over because you’re still not comfortable with the whole situation as it turned out.  First let me tell you that I admire your humility to apologize to your child when you’ve done something inappropriate.  I think that’s a beautiful modeling of a wonderful midda.  Secondly, you have a sensitivity toward your child which is truly a gift.  That’s how you arrived at the point where we are now, the point at which you have expressed your regret and you’re concerned about your child’s reaction.  The next step for us is to think about what your son might be reacting to.


What do you, dear reader, imagine that Laibel was reacting to?  Do you think he was caught off guard by his mother’s apology?  I would hope that no child ever be caught off guard by a parent expressing regret for having said something inappropriate.  It does not come as a surprise to children that their parents are fallible.  It should not come as a surprise to a child when a parent says, “I’m sorry.”  Knowing Malka’s relationship with her children as well as I do, I knew that Laibel’s reaction was not about being caught off guard by his mother’s apology.

Laibel was struggling with something else.  Here again, are his mother’s words:

“Laibel, I’m sorry I yelled at you when you spilled your juice.  Yelling is not a good thing to do, and I’m sorry I yelled at you.  Are you mochel me?”


Remember, Laibel is 6 years old.  What do you think might have been hard for him as you look again at the words he heard his mother say?


His mother’s statement of apology was not hard for him.  What was hard for him was the question she asked him at the end.  Here’s some information that you probably already know, and he probably does not.


You can forgive or you can pardon.  What’s the difference between them and when does each one apply?


In the Shemonah Esrai, we say “s’lach lanu, forgive us, our Father, m’chal lanu, pardon us, our King.”


A father will forgive a child because he knows and understands the child.  To forgive means to understand how the child made this mistake and feel compassion towards the child who didn’t do well.  The father does not resent the child or bear ill feelings towards him.  That’s what “forgive” means, in contrast to “pardon.”


A king may pardon, which means not punish, someone who did something wrong.  A king feels resentment, perhaps even anger, but sometimes doesn’t punish the offender. 


Where does all this leave six-year-old Laibel?  He remembers the time when his mother tripped and nearly fell over the toy she had asked him to put away half an hour earlier. When he said he was sorry, she kissed him and said “I know you didn’t mean for me to get hurt,” and she didn’t seem to feel bad about it anymore.  But now, his mother had asked him to be mochel and he said he was mochel but he still feels bad about how she had yelled at him, so maybe now he didn’t really tell the truth when he said he was mochel.


Yes, I can see how that might be why Laibel looked perturbed.  What do you think I should tell him now?


Nothing.  I’d rather you ask him what it means to be mochel someone.  What it means to him.  If he does not understand it the way you meant it, then you get to explain to him how you meant it and see what he thinks then.  I suspect that he’ll be a lot less perturbed when he finds out you didn’t expect him to forget that it ever happened.  That is not realistic to expect of a six-year-old who was frightened when you yelled at him.  What he can do is hear that you feel bad that you scared him, and you hope that he will better soon.


Thanks to your compassion, he probably will.


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 groups for men and women.  He can be reached at 718-344-6575.
First Bais
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC


A person should strive to be as humble as Hillel…


It once happened that two men made a wager with each other, saying, “Whoever of us makes Hillel angry will win four hundred zuz.”  It was erev Shabbos, and Hillel was bathing.  The bettor went to the door of Hillel’s home and called out, ‘Is Hillel here, is Hillel here?”   Hillel put on his robe and went out to him, and said, “My son, what do you seek?”


I have a question to ask.


Ask, my son, Hillel prompted.


He asked: Why are the heads of the Babylonians round?

Hillel replied: My son, you have asked a great question.  It is because they have no skillful midwives.


The bettor departed, but returned a few minutes later and called out, Is Hillel here, is Hillel here?  Hillel put on his robe and went out to him, saying, My son, what do you seek?


I have a question to ask.


Ask, my son, Hillel prompted.


He asked: Why are the eyes of the Palmyreans bleared?

Hillel replied: My son, you have asked a great question.  It is because they live in sandy places.  


The bettor departed, but returned a few minutes later and called out, Is Hillel here, is Hillel here?

Hillel put on his robe and went out to him, saying, My son, what do you seek?


I have a question to ask.


Ask, my son, Hillel prompted.


He asked:  Why are the feet of the Africans wide?

Hillel replied: My son, you have asked a great question.  It is because they live in watery marshes.


I have many questions to ask, the bettor said, but I fear that you may become angry.


Hillel put on his robe, sat before him, and said: Ask all the questions you would like to ask.

The bettor said, Are you the Hillel who is called the Nasi of Israel?


Yes, Hillel replied.


If so, may there not be many like you in Israel.


Why, my son?  Hillel asked.


Because I have lost four hundred zuz through you, the bettor complained.


“Be careful with your spirit,” Hillel replied. “Hillel is worth it that you should lose four hundred zuz and yet another four hundred zuz through him, yet Hillel shall not lose his temper.” (Shabbos 30b-31a)


Here are two questions about this fascinating passage:


Hillel repeatedly called him “my son.”   He was not Hillel’s son.  Why did Hillel begin the words “my son” every time he answered his questions?

Hillel had been bathing.  Obviously, he clothed himself before opening his door.  Why does the gemara tell us, each time, that Hillel put on his robe?


The Ben Ish Chai answers the first question.  In Ben Yehoyada on this gemara, he writes that Hillel reminded himself of a hashkafa and a halacha each time the boy spoke to him impertinently.  The hashkafa is to be gentle with someone who behaved inappropriately.  By calling him “my son,” Hillel was showing affection.  The halacha is that an Av may be mochel on his kovod, not insist on the honor due him.


I would like to suggest an answer to the second question:  what is the significance of the robe?


The Mishna in Avos lists the qualities of someone who learns Torah lishma.  One of them is Malbashto anava  - he is robed in humility.  Perhaps Hillel reminded himself that humility is the prerequisite to responding gently and listening respectfully to someone who didn’t properly respect you.  Humility allows you to concentrate on helping him improve, instead of focusing on how he mistreated you.  Humility allows you to think about how to help a child who didn’t do well, rather than ignoring bad behavior or attacking it.


If you ignore inappropriate behavior because you’re too angry, resentful, and frustrated, you’re doing the best you can when you say, “That was unacceptable.  IYH we’ll discuss it later,” and you walk away.  When you can do better, go back and sit down with your child, and talk over what happened, and what you would like her to do instead the next time.


Hillel, whom the gemara describes as the paradigm of humility, also said Im ani kaan, hakol kaan  (Succah 53a)  Rav Nisan Alpert, z’tl, taught us that the words mean, “when I’m here, all of me is here,” you have my undivided attention.


That means that sometimes you sit down with your child, and you give her your undivided attention.  You choose a place and the time when there will not be external distractions such as other children or your cell phone.  (You’ve silenced it and if it vibrates, you will NOT look to see who is on the caller ID.) 


Now comes the hard part: you carefully monitor internal distractions.  If you begin to think about what you need to convince her of or get her to do, or start to feel impatient or frustrated, tell her that you’d like to change the conversation over to some of your concerns; or postpone the conversation until another time.


When you attack bad behavior, with harsh words and recriminations, you may be “shutting her down.”  Your child may become reluctant to engage you in conversation next time.  That’s the opposite of what hinuch is about.


The names of many of our schools begin with the word Bais.  But the first bais is not the one your child attends.  It’s the one you help him become so that his school will be effective.


Hinuch is about creating a bais kibul, helping your child become receptive to the middos and the maasim you value and hope to impart to him.  Hillel modeled the middos and the maasim that make that happen.



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 groups for men and women.  He can be reached at 718-344-6575.

Listen Left
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC


I bat right, throw right, and listen left.


I wasn't born that way.  When I was very young, I used to listen with my right ear because I used to hold the telephone in my right hand.


Reader (you): I know; when you got older and you wanted to write things down while you were talking on the phone you switched the phone to your left hand to write things down with your right hand while you're talking on the phone.


Writer (me): Actually, that's not how it happened.  I wasn't writing anything when I was five years old.  What happened was that I got a severe infection in my right ear and it took so long for my hearing to return, which B?€H it eventually did, that I became accustomed to holding the phone in my left hand and listening to it with my left ear.  To this day it feels awkward for me to hold a phone in my right hand.  I assume that at first it felt awkward to me to hold it in my left hand, although I truly don't remember.


I recently read about an interesting experiment which I would like you to try right now.  Fold your hands.  Now fold them again but this time, weave your fingers the other way, so that the thumb that had been on the bottom is now on top.  Perhaps you are more dexterous than me.  When I fold my hands without thinking about it they fall together quite comfortably, but when I decide to fold them the other way, my fingers bang into each other on the way towards folding.  And, once I've managed to fold my hands in the alternative manner, my hands feel strange. 


I was reassured to learn that it's not just me. In a study, subjects reported that it took two weeks for them to feel comfortable with their hands folded in the new way.  


Can you imagine reminding someone every time they want to fold their hands, to fold their hands the other way from how they naturally have been doing it for years until they become comfortable with folding their hands in this new way?


Do you believe that over time something that feels unnatural can begin to feel less awkward, and eventually, literally, become "second nature??€


I was reminded to take the phone with my left hand and hold it against my left ear.  The pain I felt when I pressed it against my right ear reminded me.  Over the course of a couple of weeks, it became second nature to me to listen left.  To this day, if, for some reason, I take the phone in my right hand and place it against my right ear it feels weird.  What had been natural to me has been replaced by a second nature that has supplanted my innate proclivity and rendered it awkward.

In addition, there is the advantage that my right hand is free to take notes while I hold the phone in my left hand.   What started out as an accommodation turned out to be an advantage.


I did not break the habit of holding the phone in my right hand against my right ear. I replaced that habit by taking the phone in my left hand and placing it against my left ear.  Most of the time, you cannot "break a habit.?€  Broken habits have a remarkable resilience.  They rejuvenate; the broken pieces seamlessly bond and the habit returns unscathed.   Most of the time, you can only stop doing something by doing something else instead.  You don't break habits, you replace them.


For two weeks, or more, you have to stop what you impulsively begin to do and consciously replace it with what you've decided to do instead.  Deciding to replace a habit with a different habit doesn't make the original habit go away.  You impulsively begin to do what you've been accustomed to doing and you have to stop yourself in mid-motion or midsentence.  "That's why psychologists advise: If you want to change, the most important thing to do is to learn to strengthen your impulse control. The first step is to become aware of your own behavior. Ask yourself three questions: Is my reaction justified?  Is there an alternative to my impulsive reaction?  And what would the benefits of the alternative be?" (Ideas and and Discoveries, August 2012, page 61)


Although the magazine article uses the term "reaction,?€ I would prefer to describe it as a behavior.  I like to distinguish between a reaction, which is a visceral experience that takes place inside of me, versus a behavior which is how I express myself as a result of my visceral experience.  Over the course of time, different behavioral responses do result in calmer internal reactions to the same stimuli.  It's not about saying, "if I didn't get so upset I would respond more calmly.?€  The more realistic approach is "I will respond as though I were calmer, trusting that eventually I will actually remain calmer in these types of situations.?€


I told the children to clean up the toys from all over the living room floor and put them into the toy box while I finished what I needed to do in the kitchen.  I also told them that we would all have ice cream when I was finished with what I was doing as long as the living room was cleaned up.  But when I came back from the kitchen 20 minutes later, the living room looked like they had not put anything away all.  I was furious, and I yelled at them, "Forget about the ice cream!  Why don't you listen to me when I tell you to do something??€  I hate yelling, and I wish I could stop, but when they don't listen I get so frustrated and it's really hard for me control myself.


Three questions:

Is my reaction justified?  Yes, the emotion of frustration is justified.  The behavior of screaming is not justified.


Is there an alternative to my impulsive reaction?  Yes, you can walk away until you figure out how to express your intense frustration in a manner that is measured and purposeful.


What would the benefits of the alternative be?  Your children would see what it looks like to express frustration in a manner that is appropriate rather than screaming.  You would also end up with the toys put away sooner than if you were to scream.


For a couple of weeks, or more, your impulse will be to scream.  When you slow down and choose to respond differently, you will form a new habit of thinking first and responding in a way that is helpful; helpful for both you and your child.



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 718-344-6575.

Anatomy of a Tantrum
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

I did not have a tantrum yesterday but if I were younger I just might have.

It all began when I received an e-mail from my friends at the Flatbush Jewish Journal with a list of deadlines by which my columns had to be submitted. When I read it more carefully, I realized it was a single deadline by which two articles were due. There was nothing intrinsically unreasonable about that request. The tantrum I managed to avert would not have been directed at them; they had no way of knowing that my wife and I would be away for the next five days on vacation. It would not have been directed at anyone. It would have simply been an expression of frustration over a situation I was finding very difficult.

Some toddlers have tantrums pretty often. We expect children to have them much less often, and by the time they become teenagers we don't expect to see tantrums anymore at all. Adults seldom throw a tantrum in the usual sense of the word. They've learned that kicking, flailing, and screaming are unbecoming, maladaptive, and unproductive.

It would be nice to imagine that adults do not become frustrated with situations they find very difficult. It would also be evidence of a rich fantasy life. So what do adults who are very frustrated with a situation and who have outgrown having a tantrum do instead?

It varies. Some get drunk; that's unbecoming. Some look around for someone to blame; that's maladaptive. Some do as little as possible to get through the situation as quickly as possible; that's unproductive. Others marshal their inner resources and seek support and guidance from family and colleagues. They eschew assigning blame, and take responsibility. They adapt to the situation and produce more worthy results.

I did express my frustration to a colleague and she helped me adapt to the situation. I hope that you'll consider this article a worthy result.

I would consider this article a worthy result if it helped you think about your child's tantrum differently. Because when you think about your child's tantrum differently you will respond to it far more effectively.

What do you think to yourself when your child has a tantrum now?

First of all, I think that I didn't do anything so terrible to her. I don't deserve this behavior from her. Second of all, I can't stand it! How long am I supposed to let her scream and kick?

Mirel sounded really angry. Fortunately, I waited to hear if she had anything else to say. Her lower lip began to tremble. She continued to speak but now her voice was breaking.

She's three years old and she hates me. What did I do so wrong?

What you did, Mirel, is tell your daughter that it's bedtime. She can see that it's light outside and she'd like to continue to play with her siblings who aren't going to bed. The situation is hard for her and she's very frustrated. Is "hate" too strong a word? She probably does hate this situation, and she's not very good yet at the idea that "you don't shoot the messenger when you don't like the message." So first of all you're right, you don't deserve this behavior from her. That doesn't mean you're going to be able to explain that to her when she's three.

Second of all: when you can't stand it, and you can't make her stop it, where can you go until she's done?

What do you mean? I should just let her scream and kick? For how long?

Mirel what would you prefer to do?

I don't know what else to do. If I give in to her she'll stop screaming and kicking but then what did I teach her? That screaming and kicking is the way to get what she wants. If I scream back at her louder than she's screaming at me she'll probably get scared and she'll get quiet. But then I've taught her that if you scream loud enough you get what you want. What else can I do?

Mirel, what do you think will happen when you say to your daughter, while she is screaming and kicking, "when you're able to speak to me with your words please knock on my door, because I'm going into my room now,' and then go into your room and close the door behind you and find something else that will occupy your attention."

I don't know. How long do you expect me to ignore her?

I don't want you to ignore her. I want you to focus elsewhere. If you knew she'd be fine without you for an hour what else would you find for yourself to do? Think about it, make sure something is available for you to do in your room, and do it until she's ready to speak with you.

Mom did it. She was conscious of the fact that her daughter was continuing to scream right outside of her bedroom door. Rather than trying to ignore it, she continued to focus, to the best of her ability, on the magazines she had set aside in her room. When her daughter became quiet, and tapped gently on the door, Mirel noticed that 45 minutes had gone by. Mirel invited her daughter into the room, and they had a productive conversation about what she had been trying to express to her mother.

That was two months ago. Last week, Mirel informed me that her daughter still has tantrums. Very seldom, and much shorter than before.

If you're concerned that your child might hurt himself or someone else during a tantrum, do whatever you need to do to keep him safe while you focus elsewhere. Take off his shoes, hold him in your arms, put him into a safe environment, and then direct as much of your attention as you can onto something else.

When something seems like the end of the world to your child and he's intensely frustrated over it he's sometimes going to have a tantrum.

You will help him more effectively when you realize that his having a tantrum is not the end of the world.

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 groups for men and women. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Fun for the Whole Family!
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

It's that time of the year again. School has ended, camp hasn't begun, and parents don't have as much time off as their children do. What are some good suggestions for activities that your children may enjoy when they come over to you and say, "I have nothing to do!"

I remember some of the things I suggested to our children when they were little.

You could mow the lawn, you could pull the weeds, you could plant the seeds you wanted to buy when we were at the store a month ago and have been sitting on the windowsill in the dining room ever since.

Dad, it's way too hot out to do that stuff. What can we do inside

Well, you can find some place to put those seeds so that they're not in the dining room anymore; you can sort through all the papers, folders and projects you brought home from school and decide which ones you want to keep and where you'd like to put them; you could organize the playroom and put all the game pieces back with the games they belong with that you always tell me you don't have time to do when you finish playing a game; and you could ask mom if there's anything she'd like some help with.

I was always amazed that my kids didn't think these were wonderful ideas. But they didn't. They'd find some things to read and play a game with one another. And so the days went by. Until, at last, it was time for our vacation, the pursuit of "fun for the whole family."

Baruch HaShem, we occasionally found it! Sometimes we even found it where we had been looking for it. We thought we would all enjoy a visit to our siblings where our children could enjoy some rare time with their cousins, and we were right. The 10 hour drive was well worth it. Five hours a day on the road each day went by pleasantly when we played family trivia games we had made up and had plenty of food and drink on hand. Having a "party" of snack foods and soda every night we stayed in a motel made bedtime a little less difficult, not so much from the food as from the camaraderie.

There were other times that we had a wonderful time together because we let things happen. Driving through Pennsylvania, we thought we would find picnic tables along the road but all we found was an outlet shopping mall parking lot. We parked under a tree in a far corner where it was not unbearably hot. We had, thanks to my very organized wife, bottles of water for washing, sandwiches, fruit, and assorted dessert items. What we didn't have was any place to sit. Until our kids realized that the hood of a 1985 Caprice station wagon affords spacious seating for many children. My wife and I opted for the tailgate, a little less of a climb.

I am tempted to lament the shape of minivans. The hood slopes too steeply to sit upon it, and the back of the car opens up, not down.

I hope you'll find some other unconventional places to sit and eat a picnic lunch with your children this summer. I hope you'll make up a family trivia game or let your children make one up.

When our youngest was six he asked some trivia questions about things that had happened during school a month before that none of us could possibly have known about. It gave him the opportunity to tell us about some things he had found interesting. None of us was in a rush or too busy with something else. Yes, what he told us was trivial. It was important to him to be heard, and we listened. It was all part of the game, it was fun, and everyone had a turn to try to stump the rest of us. And there were prizes! Each correct answer was worth up to three cents!

Another way for your whole family to have fun together is to tell stories. Not stories from books; stories from your life. Some of our children's favorite stories were the adventures and minor misadventures of our childhoods.

Like the time I went with my friend to the World's Fair, and got lost on the way home because we had gotten off the train and gone outside and only then realized that the IRT to 142 St. that we were supposed to have taken and the IRT to 141 St. that we took cause we figured it would only be a block further to walk don't actually take you to places just one block apart and we had spent all of our money at the World's Fair keeping only the 15 cents we needed to get home so now we couldn't get back onto a train and we asked a policeman to help us and he escorted us underneath the turnstile and made sure we understood how to get to the train we needed.

My wife told our kids how she took the train to school and back every day from the time she was in 7th grade.

For our carpooled, suburban children these were amazing tales. Trivial details of our younger lives became memories to share with our children, opportunities to enjoy some time talking with one another. When we found ourselves with nothing to do, what we did was to create memories for ourselves and our children of the time we spent together when they were young.

Ben Azzai said, do not minimize any person, and don't discount anything [in your life].

When you and your children have nothing to do and nothing important to say, cherish them and the time you have together. Tell them your stories and listen to theirs. It can be wonderful for the whole family.

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 groups for men and women. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.

Teaching Gratitude
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

The women in one of my parenting groups asked me to speak with them about hakoras hatov. I began by describing the term and asking them to think about what it literally means. We tend to think of it as "saying thank you." That's not what the words mean. Hakoras hatov means "noticing something that is good." It follows that if your child doesn't notice something that's good she's not going to express appreciation for it. It does not necessarily follow that when your child notices something as being good, she will express appreciation.

Where would you prefer to begin? Do you want to help your child become more aware of what there is to appreciate and then teach her how to express her appreciation, or would you rather just tell her, "say thank you."

I would prefer that you help your child express something that she would like to express rather than just put words into her mouth. When she does not express appreciation, slow down, and wonder the following to yourself:

Is she grateful and she didn't tell me, or did she miss what I think she should be grateful for?

Here is a worksheet that members of the group completed so we'd have some examples to discuss. I hope you'll cut it out, and make copies. It will help you teach your child both components of hakoras hatov: noticing good things and expressing appreciation.

What happened that you thought your child appreciated?

What did your child say about it?

How did you respond to what he/she said?

What would you like your child to say instead or in addition?

How did you express that expectation?

When are pro forma expressions of appreciation (or regret) appropriate?

One of the women shared what she had written.

What happened was that I took my 15-year-old son to the store and bought him a new hat and I thought he appreciated it. What he said was nothing at all, and my response was to say nothing in return because I didn't know what to say; I was so hurt. What I wanted was for him to say thank you, to show some appreciation. How did I express that expectation to him? I said something like, "don't you think you should say thank you?"

I didn't ask that mom to tell us what she had written about pro forma expressions. I was more interested in exploring what went wrong in the scenario she had described so I could help her teach her son how to get it right next time. I asked her to tell us what had happened after she told her son he should've said thank you.

He said he was incredibly embarrassed to be in the hat store with all of his little brothers, sisters, and me, when all of his friends go to the hat store with just their father, or by themselves. I guess he didn't notice what there was to appreciate right that minute because he was still feeling embarrassed over the whole situation. I realized that's why he hadn't said thank you. I've learned to slow down and leave him alone for a while. Sure enough, when he came over to say goodnight to me that evening, he looked me right in the eye, gave me that little half smile of his, and said, "Ma, you bought me a really nice hat. Thank you."

Over the past few months, I have explored with this group of women the relationship between our thoughts and our emotions. This seemed like a good time to revisit those concepts.

You said that when your son didn't say thank you after you bought him the hat you felt hurt. You thought he was being ungracious. In retrospect, you're thinking about it differently. Now you're wondering if he was grateful for the hat and he was embarrassed by having you and his siblings in the hat store and until he got over the embarrassment he wasn't able to express his appreciation but then he did. Now that you're thinking all these things, how hurt are you feeling, in retrospect?

I see what you mean. Had I thought about what the entire situation had been like for him I might've realized why he didn't express appreciation, and I would not have felt hurt, just curious.

Curious about what?

Curious about what was making it difficult for my usually gracious and appreciative child to express appreciation for his new hat, rather than hurt that he hadn't. In the end, he expressed himself very nicely, far more nicely than if I would've said to say thank you and he would have said thank you so I would leave him alone.

It took a while for her son to notice the good outcome beyond the unpleasant circumstances, but when he did, he expressed himself very nicely. The pro forma "say thank you" instruction was unnecessary.

When are pro forma "say thank you" instructions and "say you're sorry" instructions appropriate? When your child is not capable of cognitively discerning what there is to appreciate, or feel sorry for, even when you point it out.

When you think your child may be able appreciate something after you've taken the time to help her notice it, I would urge you to invest the time to help her feel and then express genuine thanks.

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 groups for men and women. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.

Teaching Gratitude Part 2
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Hakoras hatov means "noticing something that is good." Young children are taught to say thank you when they are given something because it's courteous to say thank you. You don't wait until your child appreciates that something good has been done for him and wants to express gratitude. You begin by teaching him to say thank you when something happened that he should appreciate, even though he doesn't understand what he's saying, and he doesn't understand what there is to appreciate.

Similarly, young children are prompted to say amen when someone says a bracha. They're taught to say amen even though they have no idea what amen means, and they don't know what the bracha they're responding to means, either. I would hope that as the child grows older, he will be taught the various intentions he may express with his amen as he discerns the meaning of the brachos to which he is responding.

This brings us to the subject of hakoras hatov; noticing, and acknowledging, bracha. How do you help your child discern bracha in his day to day life? How do you help him appreciate what you give to him?

I don't think my son appreciates anything I give to him or do for him because it's never enough. If I take him to the playground, he wants to go to the ice cream store afterwards. If I take him to the ice cream store, he wants three toppings on his cone, not two. If I let him ride his bike in front of our house, he wants to go past the next three houses, and if I let him go there, he wants to go around the corner. All I ever hear about is what he didn't get, and never a thank you for what he did get.

You want your son to say thank you for what you did give him, and not want more than you gave him?

Yes, why can't he ever be satisfied with less than every single thing he wants?

That's an interesting question. It reminds me of something we spoke about two weeks ago. You had been very frustrated with Gavriel because every time you gave him a short list of things to do, he did some of them but he never managed to do all of them. When I asked you how you express your acknowledgment of what Gavriel does accomplish from his lists, you said that if you acknowledged the part that he did do, you'd be condoning the fact that he didn't do the rest. Now you want Gavriel to appreciate what you give him at the ice cream store or the playground, and not be unable to appreciate it because of what you didn't give him. To me, it's parallel. You would like Gavriel to appreciate what he was given even when he wants more, and I would like you to acknowledge what Gavriel does even when you want him to do more. What do you think?

It can be very difficult to notice something your child did well amid the disappointment that she didn't do it even better, to appreciate the part that she got right and not be blinded to it by the part she didn't get right, yet.

It's very important to notice the good part even when it's incomplete or inconsistent. It gives you the opportunity to encourage your child to do even better instead of discouraging her with never having gotten enough. And it reminds you to think of your own success as a parent in the same terms.

Here's a handout I've given to parents attending my groups. It will help you experience, and model, hakoras hatov.

When you are looking for success to appreciate and celebrate:

  • Look for less. You'll see more.

· If the glass is half empty, you're looking at the wrong part of the glass.

· If the glass is usually half full, give your child a smaller glass.

Hakoras hatov is a 2 step process. Each step requires kavana, conscious intention.

Step 1

Kavana - think to yourself:

I will now build my midah of hakoras hatov by noticing and planning how to acknowledge something my child has done well.


Say to yourself: I will now give value to something my child did well even though I want him/her to do it better and more often.

Step 2

Kavana - think to yourself:

I will now build my child's self-esteem by effectively acknowledging something my child has done well.


Say to your child: You did that so well! You put all of those seforim onto the shelves so neatly! [Be specific and accurate about what your child did.]

Optional: And I'm proud /pleased /glad/ relieved. This may be added to, not substituted for, the "You did that so well!" statement of acknowledgement.

You will find that as you express hakoras hatov to your child more often and more effectively, your child will give you even more to appreciate. She will learn how to notice and express hakoras hatov more often, too. Perhaps that's because hakoras hatov is a mitzvah, and mitzvah goreress mitzvah. [When you do what Hashem expects of you, Hashem gives you the opportunity to do more of it.]

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 groups for men and women. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.

To Tell The Truth
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

In Derech Eretz Rabba (Ch.5), we find an expression that speaks to the conundrum you face as a parent of teenagers: kabdehu v'hashdehu, be respectful and be suspicious. You want to respect his privacy yet you wonder what he's doing in private. You want to trust his judgment and you worry that he doesn't always make the best decisions. He wants you to let go but you still want to know where he's going. You're ambivalent and quite sure about only one thing; that you mustn't reveal your ambivalence to your teenage child. And that's your only mistake. Because it leads you into doing the one thing you most wish he wouldn't do to you. It leads you to deceive him.

Your ambivalence is appropriate. You want to give your teen more independence, and you want to trust him with his privacy, but you don't entirely trust him and you want him to depend on you for guidance. What's the best way to address this puzzling situation? I think an example would be helpful.

Here are some excerpts from a conversation between a father and his teenage son.

Yossi, you got out of school at 6, and you should've been home by 6:30. Why didn't you get here until 7:15? Where were you?

At Eli's. We were working on a project together.

So you don't mind if I call Eli's parents to confirm that?

You don't trust me!

This isn't about trust!

Let's pause the conversation right here. At this point, dad has made it clear that he wants to confirm the veracity of Yossi's statement that he was at his friend's house. I would wonder, along with Yossi, why dad wants independent confirmation if dad does trust his son. If it really is not about trust, then what is it about? And where does this conversation go from here? If dad continues to insist that it's not about trust, the conversation devolves into a debate on why you would ask for confirmation of your child's statement if you do trust him.

There is an alternative. Here's how the conversation flows when dad responds to his son's statement more accurately.

Yossi: You don't trust me!

That's true, Yossi , sometimes I find it hard to trust you. Why are you reluctant for me to call Eli's parents to confirm that you were there? That would give you the opportunity to prove that you were telling the truth and that I was mistaken to think that you weren't.

Okay, fine, I wasn't at Eli's. I was at Public Library.

Doing what?

Why must you know everything that I do, why can't you just trust me?

Because you just lied, again.

Let's stop the conversation here. It's true that Yossi originally lied about where he had been after school, but then he told his father the truth, that he had been at the Public Library. Dad now heard the truth from his son who had the courage to admit that he had lied. Rather than thinking of Yossi as having no choice because his father "caught him," I would prefer for dad to see this as an opportunity to acknowledge something his son did well after having done something very poorly. I do not want dad to condone the lie. I want him to acknowledge the difficulty his son might have had in admitting the lie and telling the truth.

If dad were to say, "you see, Yossi, I was right, you were lying again, why should I ever trust you," Yossi would learn that the only thing worse than lying is getting caught. Next time he'll lie more carefully, and if he gets caught, he'll try to lie his way out of that, because his father taught him that admitting he lied just gets him criticized even more.

Here's an alternative. What does Yossi learn when his father says, "Yossi I really feel bad that you lied to me about where you had been. I appreciate your owning up to it now and telling me the truth. That took some humility and courage, and you did it well. Yossi, I would like to understand how to help you tell me the truth to begin with next time. What were you concerned would've happened had you told me the truth when I first asked you where you had been?"

What Yossi learns when his father speaks to him this way is that his father wants to trust him and that it's very hard for his father to trust him, sometimes. It's also hard for Yossi to be where his father expects him to be when he'd really like to be at the Public Library.

This is the conundrum of parenting teenagers. Dad has his concerns about Yossi being at the Public Library, and Yossi resents his father for not trusting him there. Yossi has no intention of looking at anything inappropriate at the Public Library. Dad is concerned that Yossi might be exposed to something inappropriate and have a hard time steering clear of it. Yossi wants his father to trust him to make appropriate choices when inappropriate choices are staring him in the face. Dad wants to shield his son from such temptations because he doesn't trust him to always withstand them.

So we are back where we started from. With one important difference. Dad still expresses appropriate and necessary suspicion. But he has added respect by being candid about it, and accepting the fact that his son resents him for it sometimes.

Nobody said parenting teens is easy. Check with your teen; he'll tell you being one isn't so simple, either.

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 groups for men and women. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.