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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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Succeeding at Failure
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
August 23rd, 2012

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Koheles  (7:20)  makes a cryptic statement: adam ain tzadik ba’aretz asher ya-aseh tov v’lo yech-eta, there is no one who is a tzadik who does well and never sins.

 

Rav Yudin, in Koheles Rabbah, asks how can it be that Koheles describes someone as a tzadik and at the same time describes him as someone who commits sins.  His answer is that we are mistranslating the word yech-eta.  It doesn’t always mean sinning.  He brings a text from Shoftim to show that the word can also mean to ‘miss the mark, to fail.’  Rav Yudin says that Koheles is teaching us that a tzadik who does well is not perfect; he fails sometimes, and he is still a tzadik.

 

Greatness is not measured by how seldom you fall.  It’s measured by how often you rise.  You don’t become a tzadik by achieving perfection.  You become a tzadik by overcoming imperfection, again and again.

 

Unfortunately, we and our children sometimes get the impression that gedolim and tzadikim were born that way and never faltered.  Stories and books that portray gedolim without any description of how they became the paradigms of Torah and middos we wish to emulate, can lead us to despair.  We, who know we how often we fall, despair of ever rising to their heights. 

 

Rav Hutner, z’l, heard this despair in the words of one of his talmidim.  He responded in a letter.  Here, paraphrased, are some excerpts.

 

We tell the stories of their perfection but skip over the struggles that raged within their souls.  We depict them as though they had been created with their stature and character [as we know them].  We are all in awe at the purity of speech of the Chofetz Chaim, z.t.l., but who knows of the battles, struggles and obstacles, the falls and the set-backs that the Chofetz Chaim encountered in his war with his yetzer hara.

 

The result of this is that when a young man of spirit, of desire, of enthusiasm, finds himself stumbling, falling, declining, he believes himself unworthy of dwelling in Hashem’s home¦ But know, my beloved one, that the root of your soul lies not in the tranquility of the yetzer hatov; it lies only in the battles of the yetzer hatov¦ In English there is an expression, ‘lose a battle, win the war.’  Truly you have stumbled, and you will stumble, (and this is not a concern of opening one’s mouth to Satan), and in many battles you will fall defeated¦

 

The wisest of men said, ‘Seven shall a tzadik fall, and rise.’  The fools think that this means that a tzadik can fall seven times and will rise. The wise understand well that this means that the making of a tzadik is the result of the seven times he has fallen. (Quoted in Tuvcha Yabe-u, Chukkas, page 104)

 

The Tiferes Yisrael [Kiddushin 4:77] tells the story of an Arabian king who had heard wondrous things about his contemporary, Moshe Rabeinu.  The king sent his finest artist to Moshe Rabeinu to paint his portrait.  The artist returned with the painting, and the king summoned his wisest men to interpret from the visage what this great man is truly like.  They all agreed that the face in the portrait depicted a person of low character, arrogant, money-hungry, and callous.

 

The king was furious.  He assumed that either his wisest men were actually fools, unable to read a person’s character, or that his finest artist had failed to accurately depict Moshe Rabeinu in the painting thus misleading the wise men.  He wanted to know who had failed him.

 

The king traveled to the camp of the Jews, to see Moshe Rabeinu for himself.  As he rode near, he saw Moshe Rabeinu from a distance, yet close enough to see that the likeness rendered by his royal artist was strikingly accurate.  He respectfully approached Moshe Rabeinu, explained what had happened and why he had come, and that he now realized that his physiognomists were either complete frauds or had chosen to deceive him about Moshe Rabeinu.

 

Moshe Rabeinu told him his suspicions were unfounded; the portrait is an accurate depiction, and the physiognomists’ interpretation is correct.  ‘I am not ashamed to tell you that all of the failings that your wise men discerned in me are bound up in me by nature¦ I, with great strength have harnessed them and turned them into their opposites, a second nature.  And that is why I have respect and honor in the heavens above and on the earth below.’

 

Perhaps Rav Hutner would have been pleased to read:

 

‘The world renowned Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Moshe Feinstein, was known for his pleasant demeanor; even in the most provocative of situations he would avoid an angry response.

When a yeshiva student questioned him about his serenity however, he made it clear that the quality was not easy to attain, or even natural, to him.  ‘It is years that I have worked on perfecting this trait,’ he said.’ (Ramban: A Letter for the Ages, Artscroll 1989, page 31)

 

You, as a parent, are not, and will never be perfect.  Your struggles may be difficult, but they are signs of growth, not defeat.  The same is true for your children.   During the times of struggle, how do you sustain your optimism, or at least stave off despair?

 

On a good day, be in the goodness; and on a bad day, see.  (Koheles 7:14) 

See what?  See, on a difficult day, what you were able to accomplish on the successful days.  Let that be a source of reassurance that you will do better again.  (Likutei Oros page 25 note 16)

 

We tend to notice failure and gloss over success, in ourselves, and in our children.

 

Slow down and pay attention to the words of guidance you have spoken gently, reassurance you have given, a smile you have shared.  You do well, and you deserve to notice it.  You will continue to notice when you do poorly, but it will be a reminder that you have to keep getting up, not a frightening confirmation that you never stand tall.  Noticing how often you do well makes it possible to succeed at failing.

 

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.
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Kids Nowadays
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
September 2nd, 2012

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

 

There is one question that parents ask me that I refuse to answer.

 

"Why don't kids today do what they're told like kids used to do??€

 

Why do I refuse to answer that question?  Is there such a thing as a bad question?  Isn't it a sign of wisdom to ask questions?

 

There is no problem with the question per se.  The problem lies within the premise that generated the question.

 

The premise is, "kids used to do what they were told.?€  It's a false premise.  If it were true that kids used to do what they were told and now they don't, it might be useful to ask why they did then and they don't now.  But questions that are based on a false premise are not useful.  The truth is, kids nowadays sometimes do what they're told, sometimes they don't, and it was always that way.  It's not about culture or parenting techniques.  It's about ratzon, the desire to do something, or not do it.

 

When I explain this to parents, some of them think I'm describing something out of twentieth century Western psychology.  I am.  What they don't realize is that I'm describing a Torah hashkafa as well: you can bend a child's will but you can seldom break it.  The lesson is conveyed through two stories:

 

Let's say an 11-year-old boy wanted to fast on a fast day like Tisha b'Av or Yom Kippur or the 17th of Tamuz.  He wanted to boast to the world that he had the ability to fast like grown-ups do. Even though his father and his mother would tell him that he would not be able to, and that if he tried to fast he will faint, he would not listen to them. If they would hit him or try to force his mouth open he would cry and scream and not comply with what they wanted. In the end he would fast and it wouldn't bother him in the least; he'd walk around throughout the fast with no difficulty.  He would be able to because he had a strong desire to show off his ability to fast and this desire would give him the ability to bear the burden of the fast.

 

You will also find a seven-year-old able to walk an hour or more to an orchard and it doesn't bother him. This is because of the joy and desire in his heart to visit the orchard.  It enables him do something very difficult without complaint.

 

These are not the children of modern Western parents, the supposedly unique, modern children who don't do what they're told.  These are the children of a very different place and time.  Like the children of today, one of them steadfastly resisted doing something against his will, defying the strenuous efforts of his parents to gain his compliance.  The second demonstrated the ability to do more than you would expect when it got him something he wanted.  They are hypothetical children and they are typical children.  They illustrate a norm, not an exception.

 

The descriptions of these typical children are found in the sefer Od Yosef Chai (Parshas b'chukosai, page 245 in the Salem edition, Yerushalayim 5752).  The Ben Ish Chai is describing the children of his place and time, Bagdad at the end of the 19th century.

 

The second scenario shows us how you can bend a child's will.  It describes a seven-year-old boy who was willing to walk for over an hour to get to an orchard presumably to enjoy seeing and perhaps even tasting some of the fruit.  We can assume that this same seven-year-old would have strenuously resisted going for a 60 minute walk to nowhere.   I assume that's what would've happened in Baghdad 120 years ago.  I know for sure that it happened in Baltimore 25 years ago.  When we would suggest to our children that we all go for a somewhat lengthy Shabbos walk on a summer afternoon, they always asked us, "to where??€  When the answer was, "to look at the deer on the lawn" (they were lawn ornaments at a home about a mile from ours, not live deer!), or "to stand on the Beltway overpass and watch the trucks go by right underneath our feet!" we always got a far more cheerful response than when we said" just for a walk, to nowhere in particular.?€

 

The first story shows how difficult it can be to break a child's will.  The Ben Ish Chai tells us that even parents who hit and attempt to physically overpower their child to make him eat, will fail if their child is intent on having his way and fasting.

 

I would add another vital lesson from that story.  The parents told their 11 year old that he would not be able to fast, and that if he tried he would faint.  The Ben Ish Chai wrote that the child would not listen to them, and that the child would complete the fast successfully.  At that point, the parents would lose credibility.  Their assurance that their child would be unable to fast and would faint if he tried would turn out to be untrue.

 

Don't tell your child that you know something is going to happen when you really don't.  Don't say, "Don't' climb there, you're going to fall.?€   When they climb there and they don't fall, you lose credibility. 

 

The alternative is to express concern for what you think may happen.  It sounds like this:

 

Esti, don't climb on the railing, it's very high!

 

It's okay, dad, I climbed on it yesterday and I didn't fall.

 

I'm glad you didn't fall yesterday, Baruch Hashem, Esti.  I still don't want you climb on it because I'm afraid you might fall and if you did you could really get hurt.

 

But maybe I won't fall, and it's fun!

 

Right, and maybe you will, so I want you to come down and see where else you can climb where it's padded underneath.

 

Her will is to climb because it's fun.  Climbing is also a good source of strength and stamina which I recommend to parents for their children. 

 

Your will is to keep her safe.   Don't break her will or discount yours.  Bend her will to a place where she can climb safely.

 

 

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.
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Back to School
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
September 2nd, 2012

What is the most impressive accomplishment in professional sports? What is that question doing in this newspaper? One of the lessons Ben Azzai teaches us in Pirkei Avos is al t'hi maflig l'chol davar, which means there is potential value in everything in Hashem's world (Tiferes Yisrael on Avos 4:3).  Maybe we can even derive a musar haskal from professional sports. In most sports, there is a champion every year.  Every year, someone win …
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Can This Be the Same Child?
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
September 11th, 2012

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 718-344-6575.
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Listen to Me
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
September 26th, 2012

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

 

I was told the following fictitious story.

 

A man observed a woman in the grocery store with a three year old girl in her shopping cart.  As they passed the cookie section, the little girl asked for cookies and her mother told her, "No."  The little girl immediately began to whine and fuss, and the mother said quietly, "Now Monica, we just have half of the aisles left to go through - don't be upset. It won't be long now."

Soon, they came to the candy aisle and the little girl began to shout for candy. When told she couldn't have any, she began to cry. The mother said, "There, there, Monica, don't cry - only two more aisles to go and then we'll be checking out."

When they got to the checkout stand, the little girl immediately began to clamor for gum and burst into a terrible tantrum upon discovering there'd be no gum purchased.  The mother said serenely, "Monica, we'll be through this checkout stand in 5 minutes and then you can go home and have a nice nap."

The man followed them out to the parking lot and stopped the woman to compliment her.  "I couldn't help noticing how patient you were with little Monica," he began.  The mother replied, "I'm Monica - my little girl's name is Tammy."

 

Monica was talking to herself. 

 

I remember when talking to yourself was considered a sign that there was something wrong with you. Years ago, when we saw someone walking down the street by themselves talking out loud we would think they were a little strange.  Now we assume they're talking to someone on their Bluetooth, and what's strange is the private things people talk about in full voice in public places.

 

Monica told the man that she'd been talking to herself rather than to her little girl as he had imagined.  It's a good punch line if you see this story as a humorous anecdote.  We can also see this story as a parable and take from it an important musar haskale.

 

Im ain ani li, mi li.  If I don't talk to myself, who will talk to me?  Do I expect my child to help me put things into perspective, to think about what choices I have and how I can express myself more effectively, and to slow down long enough to weigh the potential outcomes of the choice before I make it?

 

My wife and I were discussing what you said last week about weighing the outcomes of choices that we can make before we make one.  You quoted a chazal that says "ai-zeh hu chacham? Ha-ro-eh es hanoelad- Who is wise? One who can see the outcome of his action.?€  We're not nevi'im; how is that possible?

 

You're right.  The example of roe-eh es hanoelad is Lot.  Rashi points out that Lot knew what had happened with his older daughter, yet he made the same choice again rather than learning from the "nolad" of his prior choice.  He made the same choice that led to the same unfortunate outcome instead of learning from how this choice had turned out before.  You've told me that one of the most frustrating things for you is when Li-el tries to carry more groceries into the house at one time than she can and she ends up dropping and sometimes spilling things even though you've told her numerous times not to.

 

Li-el's mom:  You mean we need to get Li-el to be roe-eh es hanoelad, to see what happened the last time she took too many groceries so she won't do it again.  But we've tried to.  I don't know how many times we've said to her, "you should have learned by now that every time you take too many groceries you drop something.  How do you not realize that it's going to happen again??€

 

Me:  I believe you that you don't know how many times you've said that to her.  I'd like you to take a guess.  Would you estimate that you've said that to her seven times or maybe ten times; maybe more than ten times?  What do you think?

 

Li-el's dad:   Between Aviva and me, we've probably said it took her more than ten times, but what's the difference?

 

Me:  I was about to ask you the same thing.  What's the difference?  What difference have you made, what have you accomplished by saying the same thing to her repeatedly?  I would ask you to consider being roe-eh es hanoelad of your saying the same thing to her over and over again.  You keep telling her to look at the results of her trying to take too many groceries at the same time.  I'm asking you to think about the results of what you're doing.  She keeps doing the same thing and you keep saying the same thing and nothing has improved.

 

Li-el's mom:  So what should I say to her to get her to stop taking too many groceries?

 

Me:  We'll get to that in a minute.  First I want to know what you say to yourself when you see her carrying too many groceries.

 

Li-el's mom:  I don't say anything to myself.

 

Me:  I would like you to.  I would like you to picture in your mind, right now, Li-el carrying too many groceries.   Imagine that you're about to tell her something, and tell me, out loud, what it is you're hoping to accomplish with what you're going to say to her, knowing that what you've said to her up until now hasn't helped.

 

Li-el's mom:  I don't know.  I don't know what else to say to her.  I still want her to know that she's taking too many groceries.   Shmulik, what else do you think I should say to her?

 

Li-el's dad:  I don't know either.

 

Their situation reminded me of another story I was told.  It's the story of a young couple who decided they wanted to watch the sunrise.  They got up very early in the morning and stood very still facing the night sky.  There was beautiful, clear, bright sunrise, but they didn't see it.  The next day, they rose earlier and walked briskly toward the night sky.  There was a glorious sun rise, and they missed it.  They were determined to achieve their goal.  So the next day, they rose even earlier, and they ran toward the night sky.   The magnificent sunrise that day eluded them once again.  Clearly they hadn't learned from their mistake.  They repeated it with greater enthusiasm, and got the same dismal result.

 

Had they spoken to themselves, and each other, they might have figured out what to do differently.   G-d willing, next week, I'll tell you what they would've heard.

 

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.


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Listen to Me part 2
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
September 26th, 2012

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

 

Last week I told you the story of a young couple who decided they wanted to watch the sunrise.  They got up very early in the morning and stood very still facing the night sky.  There was a beautiful, clear, bright sunrise, but they didn't see it.  The next day, they rose earlier and walked briskly toward the night sky.  There was a glorious sun rise, and they missed it.  They were determined to achieve their goal.  So the next day, they rose even earlier, and they ran toward the night sky.   The magnificent sunrise that day eluded them once again.  Clearly they hadn't learned from their mistake.  They repeated it with greater enthusiasm, and got the same dismal result.

 

I told you that had they spoken to themselves, and to each other, they might have realized that doing the same thing they had been doing, no matter how diligently, consistently, and carefully, would never get them the outcome they desired.

 

How can that be?  How can it be that even with sincere, concerted effort, achieving a goal as seemingly simple as watching the sunrise on a clear day, can be so elusive?  And given that it is so elusive, how can stopping to talk to yourself about it make a difference?

 

Because when you stop what you're doing and listen to what you're saying to yourself, you will hear what you're thinking.  Or you'll hear that you hadn't been thinking at all, just doing what you've always done, by rote.

 

Had the young couple in our story stopped long enough to listen to their thoughts, they might have realized that their thinking was flawed.  That flaw in their thinking, that unexplored premise upon which all of their actions were based, was rendering their actions futile.   No amount of diligence, no level of consistency or sincerity or effort could possibly bring them to their goal of seeing the sunrise.  No matter how still they stood, how far they walked, how early they rose, how fast they ran; they did not and would never see the sunrise.  Until they examined their thoughts.

 

Here is how Aviva and Shmulik examined their thoughts to discover the flaw in their thinking that was preventing them from helping their daughter Li-el.

 

Me:  You've told me that one of the most frustrating things for you is when Li-el tries to carry more groceries into the house at one time than she can and she ends up dropping and sometimes spilling things even though you've told her numerous times not to.

 

Li-el's mom: That's right.  I don't know how many times we've said to her, "you should have learned by now that every time you take too many groceries you drop something.  How do you not realize that it's going to happen again??€

 

Me:  I believe you that you don't know how many times you've said that to her.  I'd like you to take a guess.  Would you estimate that you've said that to her seven times or maybe ten times; maybe more than ten times?  What do you think?

 

Li-el's dad:   Between Aviva and me, we've probably said it took her more than ten times, but what's the difference?

 

Me:  I was about to ask you the same thing.  What's the difference?  What difference have you made, what have you accomplished by saying the same thing to her repeatedly?  I would ask you to consider being roe-eh es hanoelad of your saying the same thing to her over and over again.  You keep telling her to look at the results of her trying to take too many groceries at the same time.  I'm asking you to think about the results of what you're doing.  She keeps doing the same thing and you keep saying the same thing and nothing has improved.

 

Li-el's mom:  So what should I say to her to get her to stop taking too many groceries?

 

Me:  We'll get to that in a minute.  First I want to know what you say to yourself when you see her carrying too many groceries.

 

Li-el's mom:  I don't say anything to myself.

 

Me:  I would like you to.  I would like you to picture in your mind, right now, Li-el carrying too many groceries.   Imagine that you're about to tell her something, and tell me, out loud, what it is you're hoping to accomplish with what you're going to say to her, knowing that what you've said to her up until now hasn't helped.

 

Li-el's mom:  I don't know.  I don't know what else to say to her.  I still want her to know that she's taking too many groceries.   Shmulik, what else do you think I should say to her?

 

Li-el's dad:  I don't know either.

 

Me:  I don't know for sure, either, but I would like to suggest that before you say anything to Li-el, you first say to yourself, "I wonder how many groceries Li-el would be able to carry safely.  She apparently doesn't know how to gauge that.?€  Then you could help her figure it out, perhaps starting by carrying very few items, and gradually increasing the number.

 

The flaw in Aviva and Shmulik's thinking was that Li-el could do better if they kept telling her she was failing. 

 

She already knew she had taken more than she could carry as soon as she dropped something.   Telling her about her failure more consistently, or more promptly after she failed, or louder, didn't help her do better.  When they listened to themselves, they realized that their goal wasn't to show her that she had done poorly; she already knew that.  Their goal was to help her improve.  They did that by slowing down, and inviting her to think with them about how to improve.

 

What about the young couple yearning to see the sunrise, and expending much effort in what continued to be a fruitless quest?  What was the flaw in their thinking?  

 

They thought if they worked hard and long enough they'd be able to see the sunrise even though they were facing west.

 

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.


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The Siyum Paradox
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
October 20th, 2012

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Are you a sufficient parent?

If you think the answer is yes, beware of complacency.

If you think the answer is no, what do you think about that?  What is it like for you to think that you're not sufficient as a parent?  I would like you to think that it is all right.  And not become complacent.

You've got me confused.  You want me to be okay with being insufficient as a parent?

I would really prefer that you see yourself as a sufficient parent who provides for his children's needs and wants to give them even more.  Have you ever made a siyum on anything you've learned?

Sure, I made a siyum just last month on a Seder Mishnayos, Seder Moed.

Mazal Tov.  So you're finished with Seder Moed now, you've learned it sufficiently.

No, I mean, yes I learned it sufficiently, but no, I'm not finished with it.

You're not finished with it?  But you made a siyum.   If you're not finished, what were you m'sayaim?

I was m'sayaim the Mishnayos with the Rav.  But I'm not finished with it.  I hope next time to learn Seder Moed with the Tosfos Yom Tov, and maybe another time with the Tiferes Yisrael.

So you made a siyum but you didn't really celebrate since you haven't yet learned it with the Tosfos Yom Tov, and the Tiferes Yisrael.

NO, that's not true.  I was very excited about making the siyum on what I had learned.

You were excited about what you had accomplished even though there's a lot more that you want to accomplish?

Yes, I was.  What's wrong with that?

There was nothing wrong with that.  He was a sufficient Mishnayos Moed learner worthy of making a siyum, and aware that he wanted to learn even more. 

That's the way I want you to think about yourself as a parent.  Sufficient and not complacent.

Yaakov Avinu offered a gift to his brother Esau.  Esau demurred, saying, "I have a lot.?€  Yaakov replied, "I have everything.?€  Esau's statement sounds like a realistic assessment of his situation.  Yaakov's, on the other hand, is hard to understand.  It might even be mistaken for complacence.  "I have everything" sounds like there's nothing more I that need.

What Yaakov said was true.  Yaakov knew that he had everything he needed.  It may be that the lesson to us in Yaakov's words to his brother is that sometimes what you need most to realize is that you have everything you need.

The earliest version of a list of fundamental human needs may be the Mishna in Pirkei Avos that teaches us that even if one had to subsist on salted bread and measured amounts of water and had to sleep on the floor, one could still learn Torah.  The Mishna describes it as chiyai tsaar, a life of depredation.  One would want more, but not need more. 

A more recent version of this short list of needs, formulated by Abraham Maslow, was published in the 1943 issue of the journal Psychological Review.  Maslow drew a pyramid to illustrate how our basic needs must be met before we can aspire to what he called higher level needs.  The bottom level of his pyramid is labeled "Immediate Physiological Needs," and it refers to food, water and sleep as the fundamental human needs, the same ones listed in the Mishna.  Maslow's Pyramid rises to include esteem, respect, and self-actualization, which he described as higher level needs.  That's where I disagree.

If you need something and you don't have it, you are lacking something, you're incomplete, and perhaps even endangered.  According the Mishna, if you have food, water, and the ability to sleep, you have everything you need.  You are not lacking anything, you need nothing else.  There are higher level wants, aspirations, and desires, but, by definition, these are not needs.  You may strongly desire something, deeply yearn for it, and be genuinely disappointed if you don't achieve it, but it isn't essential to your survival.   The lack of a need is a threat that must be addressed.   Lacking a want, however important it may be, is not a threat.  Failing to make the distinction leaves people feeling and behaving threatened over unmet wants in the guise of needs.  Understanding the difference between needs and wants allows us to allocate our energies more appropriately.

Let's go back to my conversation with the dad who had made a siyum even though he wasn't forever finished with Seder Moed.  He said he had finished learning the Mishnayos with the Rav.  He hopes to learn it someday with additional m'forshim.  I suspect that if he were to re-learn the Mishnayos with the Rav he would learn more that he had learned the last time through.  So do I think his siyum was a farce, that he had no reason to celebrate?  No, I don't think that at all.  I think his siyum, and all siyumim, are echoes of Yaakov's words to Esau.  Echoes of the message that when we have what we need, we should acknowledge and celebrate that.  We may, and perhaps should, want more, but it's important to distinguish between needs and wants.  Siyum means finished, and there's more to do.

The ability to joyfully accept what we've accomplished and at the same time want more is the paradox of the siyum.  The lesson of that paradox is best observed through its converse, the insistence on getting more because you think what you have is never enough.  A sure recipe for frustration, disappointment, resentment, and ultimately, despair.

So what can I say to my child when he wants more than I can possibly give him?

That's a fair question.  I'll ask you one in return.

What do you say to yourself when you want more than you can have right now? 

I hope you have learned to cope with disappointment, and to think about accepting what is now, while you plan for and look forward to something even better. 

Teach your child by modeling for your child that contentment needn't breed complacency and a siyum is worth celebrating even though you want to learn more.

 

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.
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I Don't Know
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
December 2nd, 2012

Have you ever asked your child, “what’s the matter”, and he said “I don’t know.”

Children often say, “I don’t know” because they don’t know. They don’t have the words to describe what they’re feeling.

You can help your child identify and express feelings. Identify has to come first.

When your child can’t describe what he’s feeling, you may be tempted to offer some suggestions.

Mom: You look like something’s bothering you, Malka. What’s the matter?

Malka: I don’t know.

Mom: Are you angry about something?

Malka: I don’t know.

Mom: Are you upset with about someone?

Malka: I don’t know.

This line of questioning is often frustrating for both parent and child. There is an alternative.

Invite your child to talk about what happened instead of asking what’s bothering her. Ask her about events rather than feelings.

Mom: You look like something’s bothering you, Malka. What happened?

Malka: I was raising my hand nicely but Morah never calls on me.

Next, paraphrase your child’s report of what happened to her, and then ask her what that meant to her, how she interpreted what she saw and heard.

Mom: The teacher never calls on you, even when you raise your hand quietly, and you don’t even wave it around. Tell me more.

CAUTION: You may be quite sure that “never calls on me” is not an accurate statement. For the time being, accept your child’s perception and you will be able to help her think about it differently as your conversation continues. If you challenge her on it now, she will argue the point, and tell you that you never believe her. Your conversation will come to an abrupt end, and she’ll still think that her morah never calls on her.

Malka: It’s not fair. She doesn’t like me.

Mom: It seems unfair that she didn’t call on you. When that happens, what is it like for you?

Now you are inviting her to identify the feelings that she experiences as a result of things that happen and her interpretation of those events. Her teacher didn’t call on her even though she had been raising her hand nicely. You really don’t know why the teacher didn’t call on her. Perhaps the teacher saw 12 hands raised nicely and called on someone else, not intending to “not call on” Malka. Nonetheless, Malka was not called on.

Malka: It’s not fair!

You asked Malka what it’s like for her when she thinks it’s not fair that her teacher didn’t call on her. In your first attempt to elicit her feelings you asked her an open-ended question, “what is it like for you.” You were hoping she would tell you how she feels when she’s thinking those thoughts, but she again told you the thought, “it’s not fair,” rather than describing any feeling she has about it. Now, switch to a multiple-question:

Mom: I understand it seemed really unfair to you. And when that happened, you felt sad, or angry, or frustrated...

Malka: I felt sad. Morah never pays attention to me. It makes me angry.

Mom: So you felt sad and angry. (sigh) [Feel bad with her!]

Right about here, parents describing these types of conversations sometimes say to me:

I validated her feelings. Then I explained to her that perhaps the teacher saw 12 hands raised nicely and called on someone else, not intending to “not call on” her. I told her that it’s fair for other children to get a turn sometimes, and there’s no reason to be sad and angry, and besides, I’m sure because she gets called on sometimes, too.

When you say to your child, “I understand that you felt sad and angry” and then proceed to tell him that he shouldn’t have, you didn’t validate his feelings. You told him that you think his feelings were invalid and unnecessary, and that he got it wrong again.

You will be more helpful to your child when you really do validate his feelings. You would sound like this:

Mom: You felt sad and angry when Morah called on someone else even though you were raising your hand nicely. What happened then, Malka?

Malka: I make a little bird sound to get on her nerves cause I was angry at her.

Mom: And then what happened?

Malka: Morah said I’d be getting an assignment.

Mom: Is that what the teacher meant in the note she sent home with your punishment assignment? The note that says you disrupted the class?

Malka: Yes.

Mom: Malka, what else could you do the next time you feel sad and angry in school? I don’t want you to get in trouble again.

Malka: I don’t know.

We’re back to “I don’t know.”

This time, Malka doesn’t know what else to do when she’s sad and angry about something that happened in school, and last time she did something that got her in trouble. When your child doesn’t know what else to do when she’s sad and angry, you may be tempted to offer some suggestions. Slow down.

First, as we’ve already discussed, don’t try to talk her out of being sad and angry. She may decide, in retrospect, that she could have thought about the situation differently and she would have felt differently, not sad and angry. That doesn’t mean that she’ll never feel sad and angry in a similar situation.

You have the opportunity to help her think about what behavioral choices she could make the next time she experiences those feelings. I urge you to help her think about it, not think about it for her.

You help her think by giving her time to think. When she says, “I don’t know,” say to her that you understand (and accept!) that she doesn’t know. Then, gently tell her that you want her to think about it, and that you want her to come and tell you what ideas she thought of. If she asks you, “what do you think I could do,” offer her a suggestion, and ask her to think what would happen if she were to do what you suggested. If she imagines it would work well for her, fine. If not, see if you, together, can modify it so it would work.

What always works for a child when she’s sad and angry? I don’t know. What always works for you?

In Liketui Eitzos, R' Nachum of Breslov, wrote, “When you run out of tachbolos, you're left with savlonus.” You can’t always prevent or cure sadness and anger. You can cope with them in ways that don’t hurt you or those around you. That’s what you teach 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.
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Medication
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
December 2nd, 2012

How well do you do with taking medication? I don’t mean are you able to swallow a pill. I mean are you willing to take medication when it could help you feel better.

I know some people who will walk around with a headache for days rather than take an aspirin or aspirin substitute. I know other people who don’t think twice about taking medicine that they think might help them feel better.

I also know people who use alcohol as a form of medication because they see that as socially acceptable whereas taking medication would leave them feeling stigmatized.

Stigma is a serious concern for many children as well. Some children do not want to take medication because they believe it would mean there’s something wrong with them. To avoid this entire issue, parents sometimes tell young children that the pill they offer them every morning is a vitamin. If your child’s pediatrician recommends this as an appropriate way to work with your child, follow his or her guidance. Just be careful to tell your child the truth before he finds out on his own.

What is the truth? What is wrong with your child that you don’t want to tell him? You don’t want to tell your child that he is hyperactive? Or that he is attention -deficit or that he is bipolar or oppositional/defiant? I don’t want you to say any of these things to him, either. He is none of the above. He may, chas v’shalom, suffer from and struggle with any of the above disorders and they can make life difficult for him, but they do not define him. He may struggle with bipolar disorder; he is not bipolar. He may suffer from oppositional/defiant disorder; he is not ODD. Yes, I know that many people use those terms in that way, and most adults understand that being described as bipolar doesn’t mean that’s all that they are. Children don’t yet know who they are, and it is important to help them separate their challenges from their basic sense of self.

Think about the words borei n’fashos rabbos v’chesronan. Every one of us has chesronos, every one of us is incomplete. Some chesronos are more painful and stigmatizing than others. Teaching your child to be discreet is important. Speaking with your child honestly about his challenges is vital.

Borei n’fashos rabbos v’chesronan. The words also mean: HaShem has provided for the chesronos, every one of us can be complete enough to serve HaShem. Sometimes, medication helps with overcoming challenges or coping with them more effectively. First, you need to understand each chesaron.

The purpose of diagnosing someone is not to label them. The purpose of diagnosis is to understand the nature of a challenge in order to address it as directly as possible. For example, depressed mood may be effectively addressed by one medication while labile, or fluctuating, mood may be worsened by that same medication. The way that we hope a medication will help someone is called the main effect. For example, the main effect of an anti-depressant is to reduce the feelings and the thoughts of depression.

Medications also have side effects. Some side effects are merely unpleasant and should be tolerated, while some are dangerous and should be reported to a physician or emergency care provider immediately.

You should have a clear understanding of the desired main effect, and the side effects, of any medication that is prescribed for your child.

I encourage parents to discuss both main effects and side effects with children who are taking medication. I want a child to know how a medication is supposed to help him, and to be alert to how it might be affecting him in other ways he should report to a parent.

In addition, I want hear from a child what it means to him to be taking medication.

Dovid R. sounded embarrassed. His voice was halting and soft. He asked if I could tell him how to get his son to take the medication that he was refusing.

Me: You said, Dovid, that you haven’t been able to get your son Nissie to take his medication. What’s your impression of what it is that Nissie doesn’t like about his medication?

Dovid: I’ve explained to him why he needs to take his medication and he’s still refusing.

Me: And when you asked Nissie what it is that he doesn’t like about the medication what did he say to you?

Dovid: Actually, my wife tried that and it didn’t help at all.

Me: What did your wife say to him?

Dovid: She asked him why he refuses to take it, and he yelled back at her, “you can’t make me!”

Me: So you’ve told Nissie that he has to take his medication, your wife asked him why he won’t take his medication, and he’s still not taking his medication?

Dovid: Exactly. So what else can we do?

Me: Dovid, what do you think will happen when you say, “Nissie, what is it about your medication that you don’t like?”

Dovid: I’m not really sure, but I can tell you that this is the kind of stuff my wife does not want to hear. She told me she did not want to meet with you because Nissie’s medication is not optional, and she was afraid you’d make it sound like it is.

Me: Dovid, if the prescribing physician considers the medication to be necessary for Nissie, I would never mean to imply that it’s optional. My concern is that when your wife asks Nissie a “why” question, Nissie becomes defensive. You’re explaining how important it is that he take his medication, but he never gets to express what it is that’s hard for him about it.

Dovid: But I think that’s my wife’s point. It doesn’t matter that it’s hard for him; he needs to take the medication anyway! And you said you also don’t think it’s optional, so what’s the point of asking Nissie what’s hard about it for him?

Me: The point is that there may be something about taking the medication that you could make less unpleasant for Nissie, but we won’t know what that might be until we ask Nissie for some more information about what is hard for him. It’s more likely that Nissie will answer you when you ask him an open-ended question rather than putting him on the defensive by asking him “why” or trying to guess at what’s hard for him with a series of questions to which he has to answer yes or no. So, what do you think is going to happen when you sit down with Nissie in a private, quiet place and gently say to him, “Nissie, what is it about your medication that you don’t like?”

Dovid: I’m not really sure, but you know what; I’d like to give it a try.

Our conversation resumed the followed week.

Dovid: This is my wife Shany. She decided to join us after she heard the outcome of my conversation with Nissie about his medication. The first thing I realized about what you had said to me was that I’ve never had a “private, quiet” conversation with Nissie about his medication before. Just sitting down alone with him in the guestroom, we both seemed so much more relaxed.

Then, I did all the things you suggested. I made eye contact with him, I told him that I think it’s really important that he take his medication, and I asked him what’s hard about it for him. He said he hates it when his sister Devorah points out his pill on the breakfast table and says, “Well, Nissie, I guess you’ll have your head on straight for a few hours.” Then, like you had said, rather than offering a solution, I asked Nissie what he would suggest. He said he wanted to keep a bottle of water in his room and take the medication there before coming to breakfast. And he’s taken it every day since we spoke about 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 seminars for shuls and organizations. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.
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Layaway or Credit
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
December 9th, 2012

Does this sound familiar to you?

Every evening it’s a battle to get my son to sit down and get started on his homework. I finally decided to make a deal with him. Feivy promised me that he would do his homework as soon as he got home from school if I would buy him the sneakers that he wanted. We shook hands on it, and the very next day while he was in school I bought them for him and gave them to him as soon as he got home. Sounds good, right? But as soon as he had the sneakers, he said he was really hungry and he’d start on his homework as soon as he finished a snack. So he walks into the kitchen, takes out peanut butter, jelly, string cheese, and crackers. Twenty minutes later, literally, he is still eating. I told him I had given him the sneakers because he had agreed to do his homework right away and he said yeah he’ll do it real soon, but right now he’s thirsty. When I came back 10 minutes later to see what he was up to, I found him deeply engrossed in the fascinating fact he had found in the iced tea cap. By now, I was really annoyed. I had kept my part of the bargain and he owed me, and he wasn’t paying up. I got taken. It will be a long time before I trust him enough to make a deal with him again.

It sounds familiar to me. Parents complain to me that they wrote out a contract and their child signed it, or they made a chart and their child was all excited about it but then it “fizzled out,” or they gave their child something she wanted and she promised to behave better but she didn’t. When this happens, parents are frustrated and resentful because their child didn’t keep her word. They think that their child took advantage of them, and they are reluctant to trust her again.

There’s a different way to make a deal with your child. It’s the difference between layaway and credit.

When you make a deal to buy something on credit, you have something now and you expect something else in the future.

You have, right now, an item that you hope will live up to the expectations you have for it. If you bought a scarf, you hope it will keep you warm. If you bought a refrigerator, you hope it will keep things cold. Whether the item meets your expectations or not, you are expected to pay for it in the future when the bill arrives in the mail.

If you don’t pay for it, you end up in conflict with the person or entity with whom you made this agreement. You can try to convince them that you shouldn’t have to pay for something that didn’t meet your expectations, and they might agree, and cancel the charge. You might go to mediation and hope that some third party can help you come to an agreement. Or, you might resort to arbitration and hope to win.

Maybe you are thoroughly satisfied with the product’s performance, but when the bill comes in the mail, you aren’t able to pay it because you can’t afford to, and you didn’t realize that might happen when you agreed to the credit terms. You apologize and ask for more time or a renegotiation of the terms. The creditor, even if she agrees, might be unwilling to work with you again, fearing that you might again make an agreement you won’t be able to keep. She doesn’t trust you, you resent her for not trusting you, and you’re not going to be working together again until those bad feelings subside.

There’s another way to make a deal: the layaway plan. When you buy something on layaway, you have something now, and something else to expect in the future.

Here is how layaway works: you bring an item that you want to purchase to the cashier. You pay as much towards the price as you can afford now. The item you selected is tagged with your name and placed in storage, or “on layaway,” inside the store. You agree to pay small amounts over time until you have paid the full price, at which time the item is yours to take home. When you buy on layaway, what you have now is an agreement to pay for something. What you expect in the future is to get the item you’ve been paying for.

If you aren’t able to pay the balance over the agreed upon period of time, the item is removed from storage and placed back on the shelf, and you get your money back. You’re disappointed, but you will be allowed to put a deposit on another item because the store didn’t lose anything by giving you a chance. There is disappointment but nobody feels cheated or betrayed.

Whether you’re offering your child a chart or a contract or just a verbal agreement, structure the incentive as a layaway rather than giving it to your child up front on credit, with your child owing you something in return. If you give your child the incentive up front, you are the one who is motivated to receive payment, and your child may be unwilling or unable to pay. If you structure a layaway plan with pre-payments that your child is able to make in order to earn something, the onus and the motivation rest with the child, not you. If your child gives up on making the payments, slow down and help her figure out what happened. Has she decided the incentive isn’t worth the effort after all, or is she really unable to keep up the payments, and wishes she could?

If the incentive isn’t worth it to her, ask her what would be, and see if you can agree on something.

What if the incentive is worth it to her, she wishes she could earn it, but isn’t able to? Sit down with her and ask her what would help her. Then either adjust your expectation to put it within her reach, or help her to extend her grasp.

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.


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Self-Awareness
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
December 9th, 2012

René Descartes, in Principles of Philosophy, wrote: Cogito, ergo sum, "I think, therefore I am."

That’s a good start. “Therefore I am.” Therefore you are, what? It gets more interesting when you realize that what you think and how you think can affect who you are, what you feel, and the way you behave.

If I think that a lion is 20 feet away from me and it could leap from where it is standing to where I am standing, I will be terrified and I will freeze in fear or run in a desperate attempt to escape. If, instead, I think that a lion is 20 feet away from me and I know that the zoo was laid out in such a way that it appears 20 feet away yet it cannot come near me, I will be fascinated, and I will stand still pondering how they created that three-dimensional optical illusion.

Does it seem to you that many of your child’s thoughts are illusions? Does she become angry at an imagined slight, fearful of a harmless adversary, or deeply sad at a minor disappointment? How can you get her to think more accurately so that her feelings will be less intense, and her behaviors more modulated? How do you teach her to cultivate more objective observation of events and to give less credence to her initial impressions?

Batsheva’s mother Ruthie put the question this way:

What method do you recommend when a child overreacts to things, gets all wound up over nothing?

My answer was concise.

Empathy.

I find empathy to be a good place to start. Most parents are able to remember a time when they reacted to something as though it were a larger issue than it really was, objectively. But they weren’t being objective, their thinking was not accurate, and they allowed the emotions triggered by their initial impressions to drive their behavioral reactions, usually in an unhelpful direction.

Clinically, we use the term psychotic to describe thoughts that stem from inaccurate beliefs, or delusions. Here is a broader use of the term.

“Why are we so amazed by the fantasy thoughts of a psychotic, wondering how such craziness enters the human mind? Why are we not equally amazed by our own delusions, which are sometimes no less than the psychotic’s?

“This is because each of us has one or several emotional weak points where we still have not matured: self-indulgence…temper tantrums…ego-pride…Whatever it is, each one of us, in that area, has such irrational thoughts that only a born psychotic could entertain them. But we, sophisticated savants that we are, who become enraged at the slightest affront to our intelligence, are unaware of our own fantasy thoughts and entertain psychotic thinking.

“Take for example someone who is stuck in ego-pride. Everything he does or says will activate some or many thoughts of ego-pride: ”How clever what I just said,” or “How nice what I just did,” or “How so-and-so will envy me” or “Everyone will talk about me and give me my due honor.” Even if what he said or did was said or done in his own privacy, nevertheless his thoughts will still be there. And after all is said and done, his actions may have been not only not clever but even foolish. So this is the intelligent, rational being who now prides himself in foolish action? And what kind of delusive thinking is it to weave up illusory conversations of others who have nothing to discuss, because they did not see his actions? The only explanation is that as far as his ego-pride is concerned, he is psychotic-no matter how intelligent and genius he may be in all other matters. Such is the case with ego-pride, but the “rational” mind has similar delusions for self-indulgence, temper tantrums, or whatever.

“And what advice can we give to the human being who seeks therapy for his psychosis? The hard truth is there is no complete cure that will keep every unsound thought from rising to mind, but at least you can reduce the insanity of these thoughts and keep their appearance to a minimum. The way to do this is through heightened self-awareness.

“Train yourself to watch every thought that comes to mind; pay attention to all your inner self-talk. Listen to what these inner voices are saying, especially those surrounding your emotional weak points.

“At the beginning this very introspection will be with crooked vision, deluding ourselves how clever our thoughts are. But with perseverance, by the tenth time we will clearly see how irrational our thinking is and be shocked by how our sophisticated minds ever entertained such delusions. Our deified intellect will then lose its status and become an object of laughter for us. Never again will we blindly trust our mind and rely on its rationality.

“These two perspectives – objective vision and loss of credence- are necessary to reach our objective. As long as my thoughts are ideal in my eyes and my thinking is for me infallible, introspection will not help because in my heart I am saying how sound and straight are my thought patterns. I will not look with detached, objective vision. But after several times of experiencing our own psychosis, after laughing at our insane thoughts, we will be able to spot one the next time it comes and be able to correct it.”

The above paragraphs are taken from the diary of the Peasetzna Rebbe, Rav Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, HY”D. (To Heal The Soul, Pages 92-93)

Batsheva’s mother Ruthie asked:

What method do you recommend when a child overreacts to things, gets all wound up over nothing?

The answer begins with empathy, the willingness to accept Batsheva’s illusory thinking instead of challenging it.

Gently ask her to share her self-talk with you. “With perseverance, by the tenth time,” though it may take even longer, you will eventually hear Batsheva begin to think more objectively, lose her credence in the initial conclusions she jumps to, and slow down enough to spot her irrational thoughts and correct them. You will be giving her the opportunity to practice thinking more rationally, and you’ll be healing her soul.

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.


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Wishing Well
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
December 17th, 2012

I don’t like “why” questions. I don’t like them because when you ask one, you put
the recipient on the defensive, whether you intended to or not.

When a child does something that you don’t like, or doesn’t do something you had
asked him to do, you would do better to ask ‘what happened” rather than “why did
you” or “why didn’t you.” Ha’ksav v’Hakabala (Vayikra 19:17) writes that when you
want to give admonition, you should not say “why did you do that?” You should
instead describe what you observed the person saying or doing, and then ask them
what happened.

Children are usually pretty good at describing what happened, at least from their
point of view. Your best choice is usually to go with their point of view and then ask
them another question: “what were you trying to accomplish with what you did,
what did you want?”

How often do you know what you want?

You may have heard the expression, “begin with the end in mind.” It means to
have kavana, to think about what you could say or do that would bring you closer
to what you want. It’s a great idea. The problem is that it’s predicated on the
assumption that you know what you want, and you, and your child, often don’t
know.

I don’t have any formal statistics on the matter, but I would estimate that more
than 90% of the time when you ask a child, “what did you wish would happen when
you did what you did,” the answer is, “I don’t know.” When parents tell me that
they repeatedly scream at their child, I ask the same question, “what were you
hoping to accomplish, what was the end you had in mind?” They very often say the
same thing: “I don’t know.”

But they do know. They wanted their child to stop what she was doing, and she
did. She stopped. They knew that screaming at her would startle her and scare
her into stopping what she was doing.

I don’t know what to do anymore! I can’t tell you how many times have I seen
out of the corner of my eye, my four-year-old went over to her baby brother and
poked him or pulled on him or touched near his eye. How many times do I have to
scream at her before she realizes that she could hurt him? As soon as I yell, she
pulls her hand away, so yes I do know that yelling at her gets her to stop. But it
seems like no time at all before she does the same thing again! I’ve explained to

her that he is very little, and that she is much bigger and that she could hurt him.
I’ve been over this with her many times, and I’ve asked her, “do you understand?”
She either nods her head silently or she frowns at me and says yes. I wish I could
get her to remember what I have explained to her so many times.

And therein lies the problem; this very sincere and concerned mother is not wishing
well. She wishes her daughter would understand that she has been hurting her
little brother. That wish already came true. I believe her daughter when her
daughter says that she understands what her mother explained to her.

A better wish for mom to have for her daughter would be one that begins with the
end in mind. What does mom want? So far, it sounds like the only thing mom
wants is for her four-year-old daughter to stop hurting her baby brother. If mom
were wishing well, she’d be wishing for her daughter to play with her baby brother
in a way that is appropriate, in a way that both of them would enjoy.

I offered this suggestion to the mom. I asked her how she could help her daughter
come up with ways to play with the baby that would be gentle and pleasant. I
found out that that was not the end that mom had in mind. She could not imagine
it happening.

For over three years, Rachel Bina was the baby of the family and she has had a
very hard time relinquishing that position to Shmuel Dovid. And it’s not like he’s
so demanding. He’s a very easy baby, but Rachel Bina is jealous of any amount of
attention I give him. I think she wants to hurt him, and I don’t know how to get
her to stop and not do it again as soon as I turn around.

Mom’s wish, I now understood, was that Rachel Bina would relinquish her role as
baby of the family. My wish was to help mom understand that Rachel Bina would
be more likely to relinquish her role as baby of the family when she had a new role
to fill. The role of “not hurting her baby brother” was not enough.

I guess that’s why she frowns at me when she says she understands that I don’t
want her to hurt the baby. She understands that she did something I don’t like,
but she doesn’t know what I wish she would do instead. Now that I think about it,
she’s in a vicious circle. She doesn’t like the baby, she’s jealous of him, and then
I yell at her because of something she did to the baby, she sees it as the baby got
her in trouble so she likes him even less. How do I stop it?

When something is happening that we don’t like, we are rarely able to stop it for
very long. Most of the time when we stop ourselves or someone else from doing
something, it starts again unless we replace it with something else. Call it a habit,
a pattern, a vicious circle, call it whatever you like. If you just wish it would stop,
you are not wishing well.

This mom came to wish she could create a new role for Rachel Bina.

She made time to spend one on one with her, and she taught Rachel Bina how to
help her with the baby. It wasn’t always easy.

But it was worth the effort to think about what she and Rachel Bina really wanted,
and work towards 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 seminars for shuls and organizations. He can be
reached at 718-344-6575.
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Medication Review
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
December 20th, 2012

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column entitled, “Medication.” The gist of the column
was that I encourage parents to discuss both main effects and side effects with
children who are taking medication. I want the child to know how a medication
is supposed to help him, and to be alert to how it might be affecting him in other
ways he should report to a parent. Also, I want parents to hear from their child
what it means to him to be taking medication.

I heard some very interesting things from you in response to that column. This
week, I will share with you a response from a colleague, a response from a parent,
and a response from a child.

A good friend and esteemed colleague wrote:

I have also had the conversation with clients who resist medication, stating, often,
that "I want to deal with this all by myself". One strategy I use is to pose to the
client, "If you had a tree in your back yard, and you were told that you have to take
it down 'all by yourself', would that mean that you are permitted to use only your
teeth and fingernails? Is it cheating to use a saw or an axe?" Maybe doing it "all
by yourself" can mean being in charge of making the wisest possible choice to use
the best suited tool for the job.

I like her metaphor. I had written about medication as filling in a chisaron, making
up for something that we were lacking. She framed it as enabling us to do even
more, the way that a tool can give us leverage or strength to build upon our
capabilities. The way I thought about it, as filling in a chisaron, the response might
be, “but I don’t want to have to use a crutch. I want to be able to walk on my own.”
The way she presents it, would the response be, “I want to be able to tear the
tree down with my bare hands? “ Probably not. Unless you look around and see
a whole other lot of other people who are able to tear trees down with their bare
hands. You can look at it as missing something that other people aren’t missing
or you can look at it as needing a tool that other people seem not to need. Take
whichever metaphor makes more sense to you, and talk with your child about
medication if you and your child’s physician believe it is appropriate.

A parent’s response to my article was that he did speak with his son about his
son’s medication. He told me he had been reluctant to tell his child that the tablet
he was taking every morning was not really a vitamin, because he would have to
explain to his son that it was really a medication to help him stay focused in school.
But there was more.

I was concerned about how my son would react when I told him he was taking a
medicine because he had trouble focusing in school. I was even more concerned
that he’d be upset with me for misleading him up until now, not telling him
the truth about the pill he was taking. When I finally did tell him, I was really
impressed with his reaction. The first thing he said to me was, “It’s okay, dad. I
know you didn’t want me to feel bad like there was something wrong with me.”
Then he proceeded to tell me that he knew that since he had started taking this pill
he was able to pay attention and understand more of what was going on in school
and he was very happy about it. And then came the icing on that really nice cake;
he thanked me for figuring out something that could help him and making sure that
he got it.

An enlightening response from a colleague, a heartwarming response from a
parent. The response from a child was of a very different nature.

My parents took me to the doctor because they thought I was too sad sometimes
and too energetic other times and they were worried about me. The doctor told
my parents and me that medication would help me be a little less sad and a little
less excitable, and they encouraged me to take it. They were right. I’ve been
taking the medication for a few weeks now, and I certainly do feel different from
how I used to feel. But is this really me? If the real me gets sadder and more
excited than other people do, isn’t that who I am? The medication does make
me feel different, but it makes me feel different from me. Why do I have to take
medication to make me be somebody else instead of who I really am?

My answer was to ask her who she really is. I wasn’t looking at the clock, but it
seemed like a very long time before she looked up and answered me. She said,
“I’m not really sure. How can I ever know?”

At times like that I really value being a family therapist. I turned to her parents,
who were right there with her and me, and said, “What do you think of her? What
does she do well?”

Both her mother and her father said some very nice things about her.

I asked them, “What do you imagine is hard for her? How can you tell when she’s
concerned about something?”

They said that it’s apparently hard for her to take the medication that was
recommended for her and they don’t really understand her concern.

I don’t have a nice “everybody’s happy” ending for this article.

I last met with this family a few years ago. Their daughter had agreed to take
the medication because her parents thought it was important for her. She still
wondered if she liked herself better the way she was without 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 seminars for shuls and organizations. He can be
reached at 718-344-6575.
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The Carefree Days of Youth
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
December 28th, 2012

When I was in elementary school, we knew that somebody being faster than a
speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a
single bound was science fiction. What passed for science fact was even stranger:
you could survive an atomic bomb attack by standing in the school corridor, up
against a locker with your hands behind your head. That’s why we practiced doing
it in during air raid drills. It was surreal, and a little scary.

I was in junior high school when the Cuban missile crisis made the threat of nuclear
war frighteningly real. I remember having long talks with my parents, a’leihem
hashalom, during which they assured me that we would be okay. I was eleven
years old, and I believed them because they never lied to me.

I spent the summer of 1966 with my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Netanya. Less
than a year later, when I listened to the news of bombs landing in Israel, Hashem
yishmor, I was terrified for them. Baruch Hashem, none of them was hurt.

But we, and our children, have heard about people being hurt. We, and they,
remember the loss of a yeshiva child at the hands of adult from our own
community, the murder of a yeshiva teacher by her husband, and the tragedies
that have taken place in public schools. We and they feel deeply saddened by
what happened to them, and frightened by it.

What are you supposed to say to your child when he is scared? How do you make
sense out of something that is senseless, explain the inexplicable, and assure your
child that something that should never have happened will never happen again?

Those were the questions on the mind of a mother of an eight year old who called
me the day that her child’s school was shocked by the news that a teacher had
been murdered by her husband. Even though her child had never been in this
teacher’s class, her child knew this woman and was deeply shaken by what had
happened. Raizy said she had told her daughter that they would talk about it later,
and that Chani shouldn’t worry that anything bad could happen to anyone else in
her school.

But something very bad had happened, and I don’t know how to explain it to her.
What should I tell her? She has, unfortunately, heard about terrible things before,
but I’ve always been able to say to her that what happened there could never
happen here. This struck awfully close to home and I don’t know what to say to
her. How much should I tell her about what really happened and what they’re
saying might have been the reason?

I began by making it very clear that there’s no reason that could possibly make
sense out of or justify what had happened. Then, as is my wont, I asked her a
question.

Raizy, how have you explained this to yourself? How have you made sense out of
what happened and been able to go on with your life so far?

Raizy: It’s totally senseless, and at first I guess I didn’t go on with anything. I was
driving home from seeing one of the children I work with, and I was half listening
to the news on the radio when they said the name of my daughter’s school. Even
though nothing had happened at the school, Baruch Hashem, I was scared about
what would happen when my daughter found out I remember starting to cry but
deciding that I needed to get home and as soon as I got home I called my husband
and told him what had happened and he helped me calm down but when Chani
came home I didn’t know what to tell her, so I told her we’d talk with her later.

Me: And since you said that to her, what have you been doing?

Raizy: What do you mean what have I been doing? I haven’t been doing anything,
I called you to find out what to do.

Me: Yes, and I’m sorry that it took me over an hour to return your call. What have
you been doing in the meantime?

Raizy: I prepared supper and served it and we ate, very quietly.

Me: What you did, Raizy, is you went on with your life to the best of your ability
even though you were very shaken by what had happened and very concerned
about what to say to your daughter. You showed her that life goes on even when
you’re scared and unsure. The next thing to do before you tell Chani anything, is
to ask her what happened. Don’t assume that she knows what you know; don’t
assume anything. When she tells you her understanding of what happened, and
tell her that you think what happened was terribly sad that you hope such a thing
will never happen again. Then ask her to tell you what she thinks about what
happened and what she wishes you could say or do to help her.

If she wishes for reassurance, give it to her. We trust Hashem to shield and protect
us and we doven and do teshuva to bring zchus for ourselves and others.

The Chofetz Chaim, when told of a flood in Mississippi that claimed many lives,
said, “If hashgacha pratis has caused us to hear of this disaster here in Radin then
we must do teshuvah.“ The Chofetz Chaim responded in a similar vein after hearing
that Mount Fuji had erupted in Japan, causing widespread destruction (Kol Kisvei
Chofetz Chaim, vol. 3, Michtavim 10, 12, 30, 40). May we, in his zchus and our
own, share b’soros tovos.

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.
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Run Silent, Run Deep
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
January 11th, 2013

Do you remember when your child was a baby?  You spent the first years of his life eagerly looking forward to his learning to walk and talk.  
How long did it take until you were telling him to sit down and be quiet?
For most children walking and talking, sooner or later, come naturally.  For most children, and adults, sitting quietly is harder to master.
Sitting quietly, silently waiting while nothing is being said requires mastery and conscious self-discipline.  It is difficult.  It is also invaluable.
Rav Wolbe, z’l, in Alei Shur, (Volume 2, page 35) explains it this way:
The expertise of a person in this world is to make himself as though he were mute.  The expertise is specifically not to be a chatterer.  This is what we must learn: from the time that a child learns how to speak, he chatters about whatever comes into his mind.  To be silent requires study, for silence is an important skill and only through his silence do we recognize a person as wise.
Rav Wolbe quotes the Rambam: the fence that protects wisdom is silence, therefore do not hasten to answer and do not speak too much.  (Daos, 2:5)  Rav Wolbe adds: It is fascinating how “ha’dibur ha’emesi” flows only from silence.
What is ha’dibur ha’emesi?  What does that expression mean?  Rav Wolbe didn’t write, divrei emes, “words of truth flow only from silence.”  I don’t think Rav Wolbe is referring to being truthful.  I think ha’dibur ha’emesi means “words that bring truth, words that bring accuracy, clarity, and understanding.”   Silence brings clarity and accuracy.  The converse may be discerned from the Mishna: kol ha’marbeh d’varim maivi chait, “those who speak too much cause chait.” (Avos 1:17)
The Medrash Koheles Rabbah (7:20) tells us that the word chait does not always mean “sin.”  Sometimes it means inaccuracy, failure.  With that in mind, we see that the Mishna in Avos is teaching us that saying too much can cause folly and failure.   The Rambam and Rav Wolbe teach us the converse: silence is the source of wisdom and success.
Submarines run silent and run deep.  
Parents need to slow down, stop running, in order to be silent.  When you do, your conversations and relationships with your children will go deeper.  Silence allows you to think, and your silence invites your child to slow down and think, to go deeper into the depths of her thoughts and feelings and desires.
“A word is worth a selah, silence is worth two.” Megilah 18a
The Aruch on that gemara records this teaching as follows: Rabbi Yoshia said, “The best medicine is silence.”  Rabbi Oshia said, “A word is worth a selah, silence is golden.” (literally: like a precious stone)
Why is silence so precious?  “The reason is because it is painful to remain silent, and l’fum tzaara, agra, the more the discomfort, the greater the reward.”  [Rav Avraham Abba Hertzel of Pressburg, Sifsei Chachamim on Megilah 18a]
In Ben Yehoyada, Rav Yosef Chaim (the Ben Ish Chai) writes that the word dibur alludes to the daled boros, the four chambers of our deepest thoughts: how we think about ourselves in the past; how we imagine ourselves in the future; how we think of others in our past; and how we imagine others in our future.  Our words express how we think about what we have done, and how we think about what others have done for us and to us.  Our words also convey what we wish for ourselves, and what we hope for, or fear, from others.  
Our silence allows us think more deeply, to more completely gather and organize our thoughts before we form our words.  Some call this silent time hisbodadus, contemplation, or meditation.  It happens when we give ourselves some time and find a place for silence.  It only happens for your child when you create that time and place for him.
Seventeen year old Michoel seemed quieter than usual, almost withdrawn.  His parents were concerned about him.  His mother asked him if something had happened, he said no.  His father asked him what was bothering him, he said nothing is, he’s fine.  But they were sure he wasn’t fine.  Michoel wasn’t disrespectful, he wasn’t angry, he wasn’t uncooperative.  But he wasn’t himself.  His father asked him if he’d be willing to meet with me.  Michoel said okay.  He came by himself.   Michoel sat down and looked towards me, then he looked at the floor.  I said hello; he said hello back to me.  I asked him what he wanted to talk with me about.  We sat quietly, silently, for a long time.  As we sat together in silence, I thought about a place in Washington State that I’d read about.  Here’s what I had read:
One Square Inch of Silence is the quietest place in the United States.  Located in the Hoh Rain Forest at Olympic National Park, it is 3.2 miles from the Visitor’s Center above Mt. Tom Creek Meadows on the Hoh River Trail. Hiking time from the parking lot at the Visitor’s Center to the site is approximately two hours along a gentle path lined by ancient trees and ferns.
I was thinking that Michoel had traveled to me, and I had the opportunity to give him as many square inches of silence as he needed to figure out what he wanted to say and gather the courage to say it.  It took him, literally, more than twenty minutes.  It was hard for me to be silent that long.  It turned out to be well worth it for Michoel, and for me.
Say as much as you need to say to your child, and say it as clearly and concisely as you can.  Then work even harder; be silent, let her think and gather the courage to tell you ha’dibur ha’emesi, what is deeply important and perhaps painful for her.  Give her the opportunity to go deeper into her thoughts, and choose how to share them with you.  You will make it more likely that she 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 seminars for shuls and organizations.  He can be reached at 718-344-6575.


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A Half Truth and a Lie
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
January 16th, 2013

How often do you believe what your children say to you? How often do you take what they say at face value? The pasuk says b’tzedek tishpot amisecha, and the Mishna tells us he’vai dan es kal ha-adam l’kaf zchus.   Clearly, we are supposed to judge everyone, including our children, favorably.  We should not suspect our children of lying or distorting or withholding information in order to trick us or manipulate us …
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A Half Truth and a Lie, Part 2
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
January 25th, 2013

Most children, most of the time, tell the truth about their thoughts and their feelings.  They have no intention of lying or hiding anything from us.  
Yet they sometimes give us incomplete information about what they are feeling.  It’s the same thing we do to them, and to each other.  We reveal only some of our feelings, we tell a half-truth rather than disclosing the feelings that put us at risk of becoming vulner …
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Home Schooling
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
January 30th, 2013

Do you home school your children?

Of course you do. Every parent does.

Some parents Home School their children. They teach their children at home
instead of sending them to school.

But in every home, every parent teaches their children much of what they learn.

You teach your children patience, generosity, integrity, tolerance, acceptance,
compassion, empathy, and all of the other wonderful middos you exhibit. You’re an
incredible middos machine, all day, every day.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? It is great. It’s what you hope to accomplish for yourself
as a person and for your child to learn from you. Like most great accomplishments,
it’s difficult to achieve and even harder to sustain.

How great an accomplishment are good Middos? Middos are the precursor and the
pre-requisite to education. We learn that from Yaakov Aveinu.

And he (Yaakov Aveinu) sent Yehuda ahead “l’horos l’fanav.” Braishis 46:28

L’horos l’fanav: to set up for him a house of study from which would come
instruction. (Rashi, ibid)

Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead to set up a yeshiva.

We need to think about this. He should have sent Yissachar who represents the
koach of Torah as it says: Of the children of Yissochor, men with understanding of
the times, to know what Yisroel should do… (Divrei HaYomim I 12:33)

Or [he should have sent] Levi for we find later that Yaakov Aveinu A”H set him
apart and appointed him to be the leader and placed him into the yeshiva to teach
the ways of Hashem, as the Rambam wrote (raish hilchos avodas kochavim).

So why did he specifically send Yehuda?

Because we find in Yehuda the foundation of middos tovos as seen from the episode
with Tamar when he acknowledged the truth and said “tzadkah mi-meni” even
though this was a great shame for him, as the midrashim teach. To establish a
bais Talmud is only possible by way of middos tovos. They are the preparation and
condition for our holy Torah. Without middos, Torah cannot be acquired. This is

why Yaakov Aveinu sent Yehudah. (Mevaser Tov on Midos and Mitzvos Bain Adam
l’Chaveiro, maamar sheini page 58)

You can choose to Home School your children in Torah subjects, secular subjects,
both, or neither.

Home school



You do home school them in middos. It’s your choice which middos you model.
The middos you model the most consistently are the middos your children will
learn. Middos tovos are the preparation and precursor, the pre-requisite condition
for the Torah you hope they will learn.

Very nice thought, but you don’t know the terrible things my child says to me. I’m
supposed to let him get away with it?

Definitely not. That would be irresponsible. You are responsible to teach your
child what you expect of him and discipline him effectively when he does something
wrong.

You’re also responsible for how you go about it. You know the expression, “two
wrongs don’t make a right.” Saying something nasty or yelling angrily at a child
because he wronged you is a second wrong, and it doesn’t make it all right. Expect
more from your child, and expect better from yourself.

“Treat all people with equal respect and sensitivity. React calmly even to someone
who has just insulted you maliciously, and remain calm even when an irritating
nuisance pesters you incessantly.

“All people includes even those whom one usually takes for granted – one’s
parents, spouse, and children. Be as calm and courteous to your immediate family
as you are to your superior or most important client.

“Never lose your temper – even when you are exhausted, drained, disappointed,
aggravated, shocked, confused, terrified. Even when the whole world seems to
be crashing down on your head – keep calm. React slowly and deliberately – and
speak gently.” (Rav Avrohom Chaim Feuer on Iggeres HaRamban/A Letter for the
Ages, Artscroll Mesorah edition, pg 27-28, italics in original)

The middah that enables us to remain calm and speak gently is savlanus.

What is savlanus? It is not patience. It is tolerance. It means putting up with
someone or something unpleasant, inappropriate, or unfair. Rav Woble, z’tl,
addresses this at length in Alui Shur, II, shaar sheni , chapter 7, a chapter entitled
“Anger or Savlanus.” Rav Wolbe quotes the Orchos Chaim of the Rosh, “Keep
away from frivolity and anger,” and adds, “everyone who becomes angry knows
this of himself: when he is angry, his heart is not with him; it is as if he changes

into another person, a stranger, not himself.”

Rav Wolbe explains that you cannot express a measured response when you’re
angry. The basis for responding appropriately, effectively disciplining your child, is
savlanus. He spends the rest of the chapter, nine sections, on how to achieve and
maintain savlanus.

For most of us, savlanus can be difficult. You don’t just decide to be sovail instead
of getting angry.

In the first of these vaadim, Rav Wolbe spells out the methodology for acquiring
savlanus.

“We shall set aside about 15 minutes per day during which we will work at be sovail
everything we see and hear, even if we disagree with or are bothered by it. We
will not lose our menuchas hanefesh at all. If a situation arises to which we need
or are obligated to respond, we’ll respond with carefully measured words with no
emotional stress. We will work on this when we are spending time with friends,
learning or over a meal.” Rav Wolbe suggests practicing this way for a few weeks
before trying to build your savlanus at different times of the day with different
friends in various settings.

A few weeks!? Yes. Rav Wolbe in vaad shlishi spells out the importance of
cultivating savlanus with ourselves, having realistic expectations for ourselves. The
Vilna Gaon (on Mishlei 19:3) writes, “Each person has to proceed according to his
level and not jump.” Rav Wolbe adds, “Savlanus is not only for b’di-avad [after
the fact], not just to prevent despair after we have fallen short. Savlanus requires
us to exercise forethought, a calm consideration of what to realistically expect of
ourselves.”

And what to expect of your child. In vaad revi’i Rav Wolbe writes:

“So much savlanus is necessary in chinuch habanim! Only with boundless savlanus
can you come to insightful responses and guidance built on understanding the child
and his nature, to fulfill, chanoch l’naar al pi darko.

“Work on savlanus towards your family. Set a fixed time to strengthen savlanus.
It should particularly be a time of frequent frustration, such as in the morning when
the children need to get to school or at bedtime… and Erev Shabbos.”

Your home is a school. Remember that the s’vivah, the ambience and
temperament you create in your home, teaches your children middos and enables
them to learn everything else.

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.
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NOT Been There, Done That
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
February 7th, 2013

Here is an example of a solution that some parents tell their children:

The boys teased you? Ignore them.

If the problem is “teasing,” they assume that the solution is to ignore it.

I’m not assuming it, I know it. When I was a kid and I got teased, I was told to
ignore it, so I did, and after awhile they stopped teasing me.

The first Mishna in Avos teaches hevu m’sunim ba’din, be deliberate in judgment.
If I didn’t know better, I would say to myself, “I am not a dayan so this doesn’t
apply to me,” and skip to the next Mishna.

But I do know better. I know that the Mishna speaks to everyone. It addresses the
universal truth that ever since Adam and Chava ate from the aitz ha-daas tov v’rah
we judge everything. We interpret and evaluate every sight, every sound, every
tactile, olfactory, and gustatory experience.

The very first Mishna in Avos urges us to be m’sunim ba’din, to make our
evaluations and judgments more slowly, to deliberate before deciding. As parents,
we help our children when we show them how to deliberate and think things
through.

Think what through? Do you think it’s enough to consider the possible solutions,
the p’sak? The Mishna doesn’t say hevu m’sunim b’psak. That would mean, think
before answering, think before deciding what to do.

The Mishna is telling us more than that. M’sunim ba’din means to slow down
long enough to understand the situation, the problem, or the question, before
attempting to address it, before thinking about solutions at all.

Here’s an apt description of this distinction: “… make sense of the situation. Often
this sense making entails not so much problem solving as problem finding.” (Shop
Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford, page 35, italics in original)

Take the time to think about what’s really bothering you, what’s the problem,
before you try to decide how to solve it.

When something is bothering your child and you want to help him, you have an
additional concern. You need to beware of the “been there, done that” fallacy.

It’s a fallacy because no matter what’s bothering your child, you haven’t been there
and done that.

Another Mishna in Avos says ‘al ta’din es chavercha ad sh’tagea l’mkomo. The
word es sometimes means “with.” Taken that way, this Mishna teaches us not to
join with someone in addressing their concern until we understand their place, their
situation as they perceive it. No matter how well we know their objective situation,
we cannot know their subjective situation until we listen to their story.

When you listen, bear in mind another Mishna in Avos, al t’hi dan yechidi. The Ben
Ish Chai teaches that this means to avoid making assumptions and running with
them. We interpret everything we hear or see. That is our dan yechidi, our first
impression. When your child is telling you the story of what happened to him, be
careful not to jump to conclusions.

If he’s telling me the story of what happened to him, how could it be that I don’t
know what he means, that I could jump to some incorrect conclusion?

Here’s how. Let’s say your child told you that some boys in his class teased him.
The assumption you could make is that the boys said something to your son that
made him feel bad, and had they not teased him, he wouldn’t feel bad. That
assumption may be incorrect. If you were to run with that assumption, you might
lecture your son like this:

“Some children make themselves feel important by saying unkind things to other
children. They don’t really mean what they’re saying; they’re just trying to get
under your skin. They think it’s funny to make somebody feel bad, and they think
they‘re smart cause they figured out how to make you upset. If you just ignore
them they’ll see that it doesn’t work and they’ll stop.”

What’s wrong with telling him that? It worked for me when I got teased as a kid.

I asked this dad what he remembered being teased about.

The boys used to tease me because I brought a lunch box to school instead of a
brown bag. My father said to ignore them, so I did, and they stopped talking about
it.

And what are your son’s classmates teasing him about?

I don’t know. He just said that kids in his class tease him, so I told him to ignore
them because that worked for me.

This parent decided that the rule for teasing is ignore. He’s heard this case before.
He doesn’t need to deliberate, he’s got the solution.

But his solution didn’t solve anything for his son.

I suggested that he invite his child to describe and think through the problem, and
then, if he wants to, explore solutions.

If he wants to? Why would he tell me a problem if he doesn’t want me to tell him
the solution?

Because he wants you to help him to understand the problem. He wants you
to help him think, not think for him. Often, when a child thinks about what’s
bothering him, he can decide how to solve it, or how to leave it alone and live with
it for awhile.

I sat down with my son, just the two of us, after the Friday night seudah. I asked
him if the boys had stopped teasing him. He mumbled something like, “yeah,
somewhat.” I asked him what they were teasing him about. He said it was about
his weight. He said that even when they don’t tease him, it bothers him that he is
overweight.

This dad assumed that his m’kom of being teased, his subjective situation, matched
his son’s. When he let go of this assumption and asked more questions he learned
that the m’komos were not at all similar. Dad was okay with having a lunch box
instead of a brown bag, and his classmates tired of making comments about it. His
son wasn’t okay with his weight, whether his classmates commented on it or not.

Subsequently, this dad told me something very interesting.

He said that when he had given his son a solution, when he had told him to ignore
the boys who teased him, his son had said, “okay, dad,” and he looked unhappy.
When, two weeks later, he listened to his son’s story and then asked his son what
he wished he could do, he son had said, “I’m not sure, but I’m going to think about
it,” and there was a small, hopeful smile on his face.

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.
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Rabbi Yochanan Said
Author: Rabbi Ackerman
February 21st, 2013

Rabbi Yochanan said: Providing sustenance is more difficult than geulah, for of geulah it is written, “the angel who has redeemed me” whereas of sustenance it is written, “The L-rd who has sustained me.” (Pesachim 118a)
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Mandatory Moods
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman
February 27th, 2013

Cheer up! Stop being so negative. It isn’t that bad. Don’t mope. Or as the songs suggest: Grey skies are gonna clear up. Put on a happy face. Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, and smile, smile, smile. Okay, now that you’re in a good mood, let’s do some parenting. What? You’re not in a good mood? But I told you to be, and I even brought proof from corny old songs that it’s a good idea to smile and be happy!
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Pesach Preparations with Children 5773
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
March 7th, 2013

Parents spend a lot of time preparing their home for Pesach. I hope you will also spend time preparing your children for Pesach. How do you pique your child’s interest in a discussion about Pesach?
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"Why?" - NOT Part 2
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman
March 24th, 2013

Last week I told you a story. It took place on a Friday night, and was repeated on many Friday nights. Here’s the part where dad got involved: Shloime started to sing Shalom Aleichem in a silly voice and Danny told him to stop, but he didn’t, so Danny pushed him and he fell back into the table, knocking over the Kiddush cup that had just been filled with wine. Dad said, “Danny, how many times have I told you not to do that? Why did you do it again?”
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May I Have Your Attention, Please
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
April 11th, 2013

Chaim and Shaindy had a very specific request. They wanted to know how to increase their son’s attention span. They were quite perplexed. They told me that their four-year-old son Mendy has never watched television or played an electronic game. They assumed that since their child had never been exposed to those fast paced, highly stimulating activities, he would be able to stay focused when his mother read to him. They couldn’t understand why his mind would wander after his mother had read only four paragraphs of a story he seemed, at first, to enjoy.
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What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
April 17th, 2013

When I grow up I want to be a fireman. (Tommy, an eight year old inner city child) That was the newspaper’s “Quote of the Day” and it didn’t make any sense to me. What was so significant about this child’s statement? I probably read it three more times until I realized I had been reading it incorrectly. He hadn’t said, “When I grow up I want to be a fireman.” He had said, “If I grow up I want to be a fireman.”
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Sharing
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
May 5th, 2013

What is so hard about sharing? Nothing, if sharing means having something, deciding to let someone else have it for awhile, and then getting it back intact. For young children, sometimes for teenagers, and sometimes for adults, that’s not the way sharing works, and then it’s hard.
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The First Oxymoron
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
May 9th, 2013

What do these two phrases have in common? Original copy. Open secret. Each of these phrases is an oxymoron, a combination of words that have completely opposite meanings. If something is a copy, it can’t also be the original. If some piece of information is openly known, it isn’t a secret.
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Yes But
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
May 23rd, 2013

What three letter word causes more pain, disappointment, and resentment than perhaps any other in the English language? But. How painful is it when a young man’s parents hear the word but from a shadchan:
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Motivation Revisited
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
May 30th, 2013

What happens to your pulse rate when your phone rings and the caller I.D. shows that it’s your child’s rebbe or morah calling? I hope you anticipate a conversation that will highlight your child’s successes before discussing, if necessary, any areas in which improvement is desired.
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Texting During Chazoras Hashatz
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
June 6th, 2013

Rabi Preda had a student for whom he taught over a lesson 400 times until his student understood it. What was the rest of the class doing all that time? It’s hard to imagine that the other children were sitting there listening to the same thing told over 400 times without getting fidgety, or talking among themselves. Maybe they
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When Parenting is Grand
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
June 13th, 2013

A Jewish-American humorist once said that the reason that grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they share a common enemy. He was referring to the parents.
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Telephone Tyranny
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
June 22nd, 2013

I’m going to ask you a question. Don’t think about it, just say the very first thing that comes into your mind. “Who is the most important person in your life?” Next, imagine that this “most important person” is telling you something or asking you something, or just enjoying spending some time with you.
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Dreading Bedtime
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
July 3rd, 2013

Many years ago I was asked to give a presentation that would address concerns about bedtime for children. I wasn’t sure what title to give this presentation. I thought perhaps, “Helping Your Child Prepare for Bed,” or “Making Bedtime Easier for Your Children and for You.” The menahales who had requested this presentation said that those titles were nice but didn’t really capture the mentality of the parents she thought would most benefit from my lecture. I asked her what she meant by “the mentality of the parents” and she said
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Be Particular
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
July 10th, 2013

Tell me about your children. What are they like? The only answer to that question that I would consider truly accurate is: They’re younger than me. Any further response that describes “your children” is going to be general and imprecise. I like parents to be particular. We tend to look for ways to include a bunch of thoughts and ideas at one time, to generalize. I don’t think that’s a uniquely American trait, but a visitor to our shores noticed it here back in 1835. He wrote: Men of democratic centuries like general ideas
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Back to School Time
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
August 24th, 2013

Sometimes, people look at the same thing and have dramatically different reactions. The example that comes to mind is a mother and a child walking into a store and seeing a sign that says, “Back to School Sale.” The mother has a faint smile and a look of relief, but the child is frowning. If you’re standing close enough to them, you might hear the mother softly say, “finally.” And you might hear the child whisper, “already?” It’s easy to understand why parents look forward to the beginning of the school year. You send your child to school to learn and to spend time with friends. You hope your child will grow intellectually and socially so that school is a stimulating and satisfying place to look forward to.
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One
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
August 30th, 2013

In September of 1971, the shul I grew up in welcomed a new Rav. It was to be the first of Rabbi Irving Rosner’s, A”H, many wonderful years with Congregation Sons of Israel, Yonkers. The day I met Rabbi Rosner, he taught me something I think about every year at this time. I’ve taught some version of this idea many times, in many ways, and it’s time to acknowledge him as the source of the core concept. I’ve come to better understand what he meant, now that the alternative has been identified.
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Forgiveness
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
September 4th, 2013

Revenge is such an ugly word. How could it be that David haMelech, in his last words of instruction to his son and successor Shlomo haMelech, commands him to take revenge? (Melachim I, 2:3-6) The gemara (Kiddushin 32a) says that a father and a teacher are allowed to forego their honor but a king is not. Why does this difference apply only for a king? The Malbim explains that David haMelech, in sentence 3, exhorted his son to follow the laws of the Torah. But in
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Don't Say Thank You
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
September 12th, 2013

Don’t say thank you unless you mean it.
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How Did You Get to Be Who You Are?
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
October 10th, 2013

I’m Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, 2nd Lieutenant, United States Army Reserve, retired.
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Untied Doubt
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
October 10th, 2013

Ain simcha k’hataras hasafaikos. There is no joy like the untying of doubts.
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