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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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Showing Results 1 - 40 (309 total)
5 Words
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
July 21st, 2019

I’ve read that when you are angry at your child you should take a deep breath and count to ten before you say anything.  Every time I’m about to tell my child what she did wrong, I stop, take a deep breath, and count to ten.  After I’ve done all that, I say the exact same thing in the same angry voice that I was going to say to begin with.  What’s the point of breathing and counting when I end up the same, R …
44 Antidotes Part 2
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
April 2nd, 2020

In my previous article, I alluded to a tefilah that gives us 44 antidotes to the machala afflicting the world today. That tefilah is called Al Chait.  The occasions on which it is said are Yom Kippur and your wedding day.  We say Al Chait on those days in order to ask Hashem to wipe our slate clean so that we can begin anew at these turning points in our lives. The word anew is defined as in a new or different and typically more positiv …
A Failed Syllogism
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
August 24th, 2020

The Gemara (Yevamos 79a) tells us that Yidden have three characteristics: we are rachamanim, merciful; baishanim; and gomlei chasadim, kind to others. The Mishna (Avos 2:5) tells us that a baishan cannot learn. This leads us to the following syllogism: Yidden are baishanim. Baishanim cannot learn. Therefore Yidden cannot learn. We seem to have a problem here.  Our syllogism has brought us to a false conclusion.  Obviously, BH, Yidden c …
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 …
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 …
A Hidden Source
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
February 26th, 2018

We assume that there is a mitzvah to raise children to become bnei and bnos Torah, a mitzvah of chinuch habanim.  Is there such a mitzvah, and if so, what is the source for it? It appears from the Rambam in Sefer haMitzvos that the Torah only requires us to teach Torah to our students.  The Rambam points out that the Sifri on the term “v’shinantum l’vanecha”  (Devorim 6:5) says this refers to students.  …
A Home for Bracha
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
October 21st, 2021

Omar Rabbi Shimon ben Halafta: lo matza haKadosh Baruch Hu kli machazik bracha l’Yisrael elah hashalom. Rabbi Shimon ben Halafta said: haKakodosh Baruch Hu found no vessel that could contain blessing for Israel other than shalom. (Uktzin 3:12) My colleague received this email: This coming week Selichos begins. My father used to wake me up when I was in 1st grade, and he'd take me at midnight to Shul. Therefore, I have been doing that with …
A Huge Responsibility
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
August 27th, 2014

When I was a rav in Baltimore I once began my drasha as follows: Hershel’s mother was having a very hard time getting him out of bed one morning. Hershel finally said to his mother, “give me three reasons why it’s so important that I get out of bed.”
She replied, “All right, Hershel, I’ll give you three reasons why it’s so important that you get out of bed. First of all, because you’re Jewish. …
A Model Parent
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

A Model Parent

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

I don't know how many happy endings you hear, but here's one. My son is blooming, he's a top bachur in his yeshiva.

I'm calling with tears of gratitude in my eyes.

He had been on a slippery slope.

There is no statute of limitations on gratitude. The last time I had spoken with Henoch was nearly 4 years ago. He called me back then because he was concerned about his son Mendy. Henoch and I worked together for about five months. When we ended our work together, he seemed more optimistic than when we had begun. He had become more confident in himself as a father as a result of learning some new skills.

The first time I had spoken with Henoch he sounded nothing short of distraught. He had found a letter his son, then an 11th grader in a well known "main stream" yeshiva, had written to a girl, saying she should call him at yeshiva, and say she's his sister. He told me that Mendy had always been a good student, had good friends, had a good relationship with both of his parents, that he's a "really good kid." And then Henoch asked me what he should do.

As a rav, my answer to that question is to follow the guidance of the Ha'ksav v'Hakabala on the mitzvah of giving admonishment. He writes that 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. As a therapist, I also asked dad what he thinks will happen when he does that. The reason I asked him that question, was that I was pretty sure that he was not going to do it. I wanted to help him figure out how he possibly could. This was the first of the new skills we worked on for dad.

My conversation with Henoch went something like this:

What do you imagine will happen when you sit down with Mendy, tell them you found the letter that he wrote to this girl, and ask him what's happening?

I can't do that! I can't tell him that I found the letter. He's going to want to know why I was snooping around in his room.

That sounds like a reasonable question. What are you going to tell him?

I don't know! What am I supposed to tell him?

I'm not sure I understand the problem here. When he asks you why you were snooping around in his room, I would assume you would simply tell him why you were snooping around in his room, no?

I can't tell him that!

You can't tell him what? Why were you snooping around his room?

Because I'm his father, I have to know what he's doing.

All right, so you were doing what you believe is appropriate, yet you're not willing to tell your son what you were doing even though you believe it was appropriate. I'm not sure I understand that.

He is not going to understand that it's appropriate and he's going to get very upset with me.

You're probably right. And, you're concerned about him. So what would you like to do here?

I'd like to tell him that I don't want him writing to letters to girls, and I don't want him talking to girls at all. But I can't tell him that without telling him that I found his letter, and I couldn't have found the letter if I hadn't been snooping around in his room. It's not like he left it on the dining room table. Rabbi Ackerman, just tell me, did I do the right thing or not?

So I sat back, took a deep breath, and taught Henoch a new skill. I told him that unless something is in the Shulchan Aruch, you don't always have a clear "right or wrong." A lot of things in life come in shades of gray. That doesn't mean they're unclear. It means there is clearly something good about it and clearly something not so good about it. Parents are often left with choices that are less than perfect, and the skill is to make what you think is the best available choice, rather than wishing there was some perfect alternative. This is the skill of accepting uncertainty and moving forward despite it.

The second skill I taught Henoch was how to explain to his son what it was like for him to tell his son the truth, knowing that his son might resent him for what he did. This is the skill of humility, to do the best you can and accept the fact that someone else might think you should have done better.

And the skill of being a "model parent?" I didn't teach that to Henoch. Every parent is a model. Children do learn by osmosis, almost exclusively.

B"H Mendy is now a top bachur in his yeshiva. I would like to think that he has earned that status by the quality of his learning, and by excelling in the middos of humility and gratitude he sees in his father.

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LHMC, is the Director of Parent Mentoring for Agudath Israel's Project YES. He has worked with hundreds of parents from around the world.

He also works with educators in 18 schools offering guidance on how to connect with children.

Rabbi Ackerman has a private practice specializing in family, couples, parenting, and pre-marital counseling, and can be reached at 718-344-6575.

A Parenting Cook Book
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
March 7th, 2016

Where can I find a recipe for nachas? No one has ever asked me that question using those particular words. Many parents have asked me what books I would recommend to them that would help them with their children. As is my wont, I usually respond to their question with a question of my own: what books have you found helpful so far? Well, I read [fill in the blank with any of the many parenting books that are available] and I thought it had some r …
A Parenting Mishna
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
April 11th, 2016

I recently received this request: “I would like to read your thoughts on asei lecha Rav and how you’ve seen this benefit those who take this Mishna seriously.” I appreciated this request partially because it gave me an opportunity to gather some thoughts on that Mishna and because it allowed me to learn that there are various ways to take the Mishna seriously depending upon how you interpret it. One interpretation of this Mishna …
A Raizel By Any Other Name
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
February 24th, 2020

I remember one thing about my first day in Hebrew School.  The Rabbi asked me for my Hebrew name.  I said I didn’t know.  He said, “it’s the name your parents call you when they speak Jewish.  My face lit up and I confidently answered, ”Shaina Panim.” The Rabbi was not as confident about that response.  He suggested that I ask my parents when I got home and let him know what they said.  …
A Shabbos Guest
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
May 3rd, 2015

Someone once said, “more than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” He meant to say that by keeping Shabbos, Jews have an anchor and a basic Jewish identity, no matter what they’re exposed to and involved with during the rest of the week. It would seem that Shabbos is the easiest day to be Jewish. Spending the day in the confines of our community, shul, and home we are shielded from the outside influenc …
A Shidduchim Concern
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC


I do not take sides in arguments between husbands and wives.  But when there was a shidduchim concern, I did.


I told my wife she had no business calling the menaheles to complain.  I remember, when I was in yeshiva, the menahel came into our classroom one day and said we should not be telling our parents things that the rebbe said or what he did to get boys to behave.  I remember his words, "What happens in yeshiva, stays in yeshiva!?€  We send our daughters to school and if the school wants us to know something they'll call us.  My wife has no business telling the menaheles what's acceptable and what isn't.


And I told my husband that our 8 year old daughter was sobbing uncontrollably over what the teacher said to her in front of the whole class, and when I called the menaheles she defended the teacher and said that if our Devoiry had behaved, the teacher wouldn't have called her a 2 year old in front of anybody.  I told the menaheles that Devoiry's twirling her pencil and dropping it 3 times is not okay, but it doesn't justify the teacher embarrassing her in front of the class.  I don't think the menaheles should condone something that is wrong, and when it hurts my child, it is my business.


I remember my first conversation with a teacher whom I will call Miss Horowitz.  She began by telling me she had noticed that during her 7th grade Chumash class, one of the girls appeared to be daydreaming.   Miss Horowitz said she wanted every girl to stay on track.  I asked her what she did to get this child back on track.


Miss Horowitz: I said, "Rivkie, are you paying attention??€


Me: And what happened then?


Miss Horowitz: She looked at me and then she quickly looked down into her Chumash.


Me:  What do you think that was like for Rivkie?


I said that very softly.  Miss Horowitz began, very softly, to cry.


Miss Horowitz: I didn't mean to hurt her; I certainly never meant to embarrass her.

But now I realize that that's what I did.  I feel terrible that I did that to her.


Me:  I see that, and I admire you for caring so deeply about a child's feelings.


Miss Horowitz and I worked together for awhile.  She learned discreet ways of helping a child who was daydreaming to get back on track.  The girls in her class came to admire and respect her as deeply as she cared for them.  And by the end of the school year, Miss Horowitz had become a kallah, B?€H.


A shidduch.  Marriage.  Children.   In the merit of learning how to guide children without embarrassing them.   


Here are the words of the Menoras haMaor:

A person who is able to prevent himself from the sin of shaming another, Hashem will save them from all distress, and from them will come worthy children.  This was the case with Tamar [Yehuda's daughter in-law].  Because she was willing to be burned rather than cause shame to Yehuda, she merited that kings and prophets would descend from her.  (Ner 2, klal 5, section 2; quoted in Mesivta edition of Avos 3:11, yalkut biurim, page 74)


The Rambam wrote:

It is forbidden to cause someone shame, especially in front of others.  Even though one is not given malkos for shaming someone, and he is exempt from paying [for the damage], it is a very serious sin. Our sages have said that one who shames another in public has no place in Olam Haba.  Therefore, one must be careful not to cause public shame to anyone, young or old. (Mishna Torah Hilchos Daos 6:8; Chovail u'Mazik 3:7)


Be careful not to.  It is not enough to say afterwards, "I didn't mean to.?€


Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt'zl, according to his family, worked on making sure he was able to prevent himself from reacting harshly to a child.  They tell the following story:

I once went into [Rav Shlomo Zalman's] room before he gave shiur in the Yeshiva.  I saw him sitting and studying the sefer Shaarei Teshuva.  He explained, "Sometimes the students say something silly, and I'm afraid that I might react to them in a way that would hurt them.  That's why I need to study musar.?€

Rav Shlomo Zalman's talmidim recall:

Even when he was "kashe k'barzel" the issue was never the child himself.  In his words of correction, there was never a trace of personal [debasement] or belittling.

(Kuntres Nisivos Shlomo, page 71)


Rav Pam, zt'zl wrote the following (my translation of Atara LaMelech, pg. 90):

There is no more permission for parents or teachers [to cause a child to feel shame] than for anyone else, unless it is for the purpose of chinuch or musar for the good of the child.  But it is far more common that the damage caused by this is greater than the benefit. [emphasis mine]

Rav Pam added that because of the magnitude of the issue, careful deliberation and tranquility must precede a parent or teacher's words to a child.


What does the magnitude of the issue of shaming a child have to do with shidduchim?   Here are the words of Rav Shteinman, Shlita, as recorded by his talmidim: (Mizekainim Etbonan, page 39)

We are anguished by the difficulties so many have in shidduchim.  Many young women serve as teachers.  A teacher of young children finds it extremely difficult not to sometimes err in hurting or insulting a student.  [The laws of conduct] bain adam l'chaveiro are very stringent.  Who knows if this isn't the reason that she hasn't found her zivug?€¦ Hashem yishmarenu. 


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.

A Story About Rav Aryeh Levin zt"l
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
February 20th, 2014

The following article by Rav Mordechai Kamenetzky, Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva of South Shore, is reprinted by permission. I received this article from my son, Yehuda Boruch, who is currently a Rebbe in Epstein Hebrew Academy, a Jewish Day School in St. Louis.  It was written by Glennon Menton.  Though I am not proficient in her other writings, the message of this piece, particular of the teacher she referenced, moved me.   It is r …
A Terrible Wish
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
March 13th, 2014

The following story appeared in the Jewish Observer many years ago. It is still timely. One day a Menahel took notice of a young boy's uncharacteristic mood. Normally possessed of a bright disposition, a period of days went by during which he seemed morose. He called the boy into his office and asked him if anything was bothering him. The boy began to cry and explained that he was carrying a heavy burden in his, heart. He said, "I know that I'm a …
Address Correction Requested
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
January 17th, 2016

What do you do when you’re ambivalent? Some people, when faced with conflicting thoughts and opposing intentions choose to do nothing. That’s unfortunate, because nothing gets addressed. Some choose to address one but not the other of their concerns. The best choice would be to address both, disparate though they are. Sorry if that was unclear. I think an example will help. Your child comes to you at 11:30 at night and says "I made my …
Affirmed in 1978
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC


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.


What is the most impressive sports accomplishment?  How would you decide which trophy is the hardest to win?  Would you base your judgment on the number of teams in the league, the number of games played during the season, the challenge of a team that is a dynasty or an exceptional superstar player?  All of those criteria are subjective, and therefore subject to disagreement.  What objective criterion could there be?


In most sports, there is a champion every year.  Every year, someone wins the Davis Cup, the Stanley Cup, the Superbowl, and the World Series.  How would you determine which of those is the most impressive achievement?  I would not attempt to.


The most difficult title to win, perhaps, is the one that no one wins, year after year.  Not since Affirmed in 1978 has the Triple Crown of Racing been awarded.   A victory so seldom achieved is an impressive achievement.  And I think there's a musar haskal for each of us, particularly as parents.


Rabbi Shimon taught: There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of kehuna, and the crown of malchus. (Avos 4:13) There is a triple crown for each of us to aspire to.


How can each of us aspire to all three crowns?  How many of us are descendants of Dovid Hamelech?  How many of us are kohanim?   And if we can only aspire to the crown of Torah, what is the lesson for us in knowing that there are 2 other crowns?


According to Rabi Yitzchak Izaak Chaver, each of the three of the crowns bears significance for every one of us.  The crown of kahuna alludes to service, the positive mitzvos.  The crown of malchus alludes to self-restraint, the negative mitzvos.  The crown of Torah alludes to knowledge, to learn for the sake of Torah. (Ohr Torah, cited by Misivta Avos, kaftor v'ferach page 62)


The Ben Ish Chai sees in these three crowns the antidotes to the three threats to our wellbeing cited in Avos 4:21: Rabi Eliezer hakapar says: jealousy, desire, and [the pursuit of] honor remove a person from the world. 

The Ben Ish Chai explains:

These three crowns nullify the three harmful attributes, jealousy, desire, and honor.  The crown of Torah, of which it is said, "jealousy of scholarship increases wisdom" nullifies inappropriate jealousy.  The crown of malchus which requires self-restraint against material desires, as it says, "he shall not take many wives and he shall not acquire many horses" nullifies inappropriate desire. The crown of kehuna, about which is written "honor" as it says, "and you shall make holy vestments for Aharon your brother for honor and glory" nullifies inappropriate pursuit of honor.  (Chasdai Avos, 4:13)  Clearly, these dangers and their antidotes apply to every Jew, king or commoner, Kohen, Levi, and Yisrael.


How do these concerns apply to your children?  What are the positive mitzvos, the negative mitzvos, and the Torah in which your child seeks the crowns of achievement?


There are three areas of achievement for a child: social, behavioral, and academic.  You want your child to have friends, to cooperate with teachers, and to master the lessons that she is taught.   You want your pre-schooler to play nicely with other children, to sit in the circle when the moreh says it is circle time, and to learn shapes, colors, numbers, and the aleph-bais.  Learning appropriate social skills incorporates positive mitzvahs such as v'ahavta l'reiacha kamocha and b'tzedek tishpote amisecha.   Cooperation with teachers includes the negative mitzvo of al tasur.  Torah encompasses all of the above as well as the study of Torah itself.


You want your child to achieve the crown of kahuna, to form friendships by expressing kindness, patience, and generosity, thus earning honor rather than pursuing it.  You want your child to attain the crown of malchus, to learn self-restraint, to reign in impulsive behaviors and desires.  You hope your child will acquire the crown of Torah, that he will be jealous of the knowledge and joy of Torah he sees in others, and strive to gain it for himself.


You want your child to win the triple crown.  Sometimes, I hope, he will.  When he falls short in one or two areas, be concerned; don't be discouraged.


How do you express concern?  How do you help your child when she is struggling in one of these areas?


First, slow down.  Think about what it is that you would like to express to her.  Are you concerned that she seems to be failing socially and struggling with loneliness?  Does she spend "too much time" by herself?  Are you sure it is a struggle for her, that she wishes she could spend more time with friends; or is it that you wish she would spend more time with friends?   Some children are more gregarious than others; some enjoy solitude that looks to you like loneliness.  Tell her what you see, tell her that you are concerned, and ask her what it is like for her.


Miri, you spend a lot of time on Shabbos afternoon reading.  I'm concerned that you seem lonely.

Ta, I am so busy with my friends all week, and I love them and enjoy them, but on Shabbos I really like having quiet time to myself.


Are you concerned that you son flaunts rules and doesn't care that he gets in trouble?  Slow down.  Tell him that you want him to comply more consistently with the rebbe's expectations and ask him what would help him to do better.


Dror, I don't want your rebbe to call me again to tell me that you were talking during class.  What happens that you can't sit quietly?

Mom, I lose the place and when I ask the boy near me where rebbe is up to, I get in trouble.

I would like you to explain this to your rebbe during recess, and ask your rebbe what you should do when you need to find out the place because you lost it.


If your child sometimes struggles academically, ask her what she thinks might help her, and with whom she wishes she could work to do better.  Slow down, and give her a day or two to think about it.


And most important of all:


Notice when your child is succeeding socially, behaviorally, and academically.  Tell them they're doing something incredible, they're winning a triple crown.


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.
An Enigmatic Response
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
November 8th, 2015

Did you ever wonder what kind of shailos rabbonim hear nowadays? In my 22 years in rabbonus, no one ever brought me a chicken to learn if it was kosher or not. Our parents just looked at the plumba clipped onto the wing of the fresh chicken at the butcher shop. By my generation, we were checking the plastic outer label of the frozen chicken in the supermarket. So what was I asked to paskin? There’s one topic that stands out in my memory, an …
An Ounce of Dad
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
March 11th, 2021

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi would recite these verses [Tehilim 90] until he fell asleep. How could he do that?  Didn’t Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi [himself] say: One is forbidden to heal himself with words of Torah?  Prevention from harm is different.   (Shavuos 15b) It is permitted to use words of Torah, including Tanach, to prevent harm even though it is not permitted for healing.  During a visit to Boston in 1733, Benjam …
Analyze Whom?
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
April 16th, 2018

Kids are not the ones who necessarily need to sit down with a therapist.  When parents gain the tools to manage stress and their own emotions in a healthy way, they’re better prepared to be there for their children.  Kids react to their environment.  When the adults are able to put children’s needs before their own, that’s when we see children behaving differently. They feel nurtured. (Lisa Marie Bobby, PhD. Cited …
Anatomy of a Tantrum
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirel what would you prefer to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, relationships, and parenting. He works with parents and educators, and conducts parenting groups for men and women. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Anatomy of a Tantrum, Revisited
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
September 8th, 2021

This article, in its original form, was written in November of 2011. I spoke with the protagonist,  “Mirel,” last week.  Baruch Hashem, her daughter is now 13 and having the tantrums typical in form and to be expected of an adolescent.  Mirel is coping well and her daughter is the beneficiary. Here’s what I wrote, ten years and what seems a lifetime ago: I did not have a tantrum yesterday but if I were younger I j …
44 Antidotes, Part 1
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
March 26th, 2020

Three women are on line at Glatt Savings.  Woman X observes the cashier carefully placing her groceries into bags based on weight, refrigeration, and fragility.  She smiles at the cashier and says thank you.  The cashier smiles back. Woman Y observes the cashier carefully placing her groceries into bags based on weight, refrigeration, and fragility.  She says to herself, “that’s what she’s getting paid for,&r …
Are You A Beeper or a Blower?
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
February 9th, 2020

Some years ago, a couple came to meet with me.  They sat down and introduced themselves.  I asked them what they would like to talk about.  The husband smiled and said, “I am a baal kaas [an angry person].”  His wife nodded. I asked, “What makes you think so?” He gave me an example.  He said that when he is behind a car at a red light, when the light turns green he blows his horn loud and long if t …
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 …
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.
Be Attracted to Opposites
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
October 26th, 2021

Ben Bag Bag says: hafoch bah v’hafoch bah, dcholah bah (Avos 5:22) Hafoch in it and hafoch in it.  What is it?  The Torah. What does hafoch mean? Rav said to Rav Kahana, hafoch with an animal carcass, do not hafoch with words.  (Pesachim 113a) This means a person should involve himself (hafoch) with a carcass rather than involving himself with words because the latter leads to inappropriate speech... (Maharsha ibid) Accordin …
Be One of the Batlanim, Hope Your Sons Will Be Too
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
December 23rd, 2019

I once spoke to a group of parents at a girls’ school in the city.  I gave the menaheles a few topics from which to choose.  She chose “Dreading Bedtime.” I think that another topic could have “Dreading Reveille: Marshalling Your Young Troops Every Morning.” This is such a common topic that it has its own song, "Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," written by Irving Berlin back in 1918!  This issu …
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
Beat the Clock
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
November 22nd, 2020

B’tzedek tishpot amisecho, judge others with tzedek. (Vayikra 19:15)  How do you judge someone with tzedek? Rabbeinu Yonah explains this as follows: Behold, when you hear someone who says a certain thing or performs a particular action wherein you can judge his words or actions in either a negative or positive manner, if the one who has performed this act is known to be a yirei Elokim, a righteous person, then you are obligated to judg …
Becoming Your Parents
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
April 29th, 2021

A person should say, Masai yagiu ma’asai lima’asei avosai Avraham, Yitzchak, v’Yaakov? When will my deeds reach those of my forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov? (Tanna Dvei Eliyahu Rabba chapter 25) According to Chazal, we should aspire to be like our ancestors. This is a realistic expectation. Each and every one can be like Avraham our father and like the other holy fathers, and there is no generation in which there is no …
Bedtime Thoughts
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
November 7th, 2021

Mar b’rai d’Ravina ki havah mesayeim tzelosei amar hachi: Yih'yu l'ratzon imrei fi v’hegyon libi l’fanecha… Mar, the son of Ravina, when he concluded his tefilah, said the following: May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You...(Tehilim 19:15 cited in Brachos 17a) What do we mean when we say this pasuk at the end of our tefila? If, when we were davening, the words of our mouths matc …
Beyond Finicky
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
June 3rd, 2021

It may be that the Hebrew word m’funuk and the English word finicky are cognate.  Even if they share an origin, they have parted company in meaning. Rashi defines the term istenis as m’funuk.  (Sotah 11a) Finicky people are picky and often unsatisfied.  They complain more than they suffer. An istenis suffers. Rabbi Yannai says: All the days of the poor are terrible (Mishlei 15:15); this refers to one who is an istenis.& …
Bilingual Selfish
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

You don't want your child to be selfish. You want him to be concerned about other people. You want him to share his toys and take turns during games. You want him to help others when asked and sometimes offer his time and energy on behalf of others on his own, unsolicited. You teach him the importance of cooperation and how wonderful it is to go beyond cooperation to selflessness, to "be m'vatair," let someone else have it, let someone else win.

How wonderful is it to go beyond cooperation? How often is it appropriate for your child to let someone else win, when for your child it means he has to lose? When cooperation leads to compromise everyone accepts a new version of victory; everyone wins and no one loses. Neither party gets what they originally wanted. Both parties choose to accept something for each of them rather selfishly insisting on all for one and nothing for the other. But neither of them chooses to be selfless.

Is it really cooperation when one person gives in to the other? Yes or no? Or do we use the word cooperation when we really mean compliance or submission? Yes or no? These are yes or no questions that prevent us from finding the most accurate answer. Here's a better version of the question:

When is compliance or submission a form of cooperation? Answer: when someone chooses to be selfless.

As a parent, you teach your child about cooperation, compliance, selfishness, and selflessness. I deliberately included selfishness in that list in order to show you the contrast with selflessness. If it is sometimes appropriate for your child to be selfless, when is it appropriate for her to be selfish? If it is never appropriate for your child to be selfish, what is the alternative to selflessness?

To answer those questions, I would like to offer a bilingual play on the word "selfish." I offer you the concept of a Self Ish, a person who is conscious of three concerns: his responsibilities to himself, to Hashem, and to others. The Tiferes Yisrael (Avos 1:2) describes these three as the tachlis briyas ha'adam, the purpose for which we were created.

A Self Ish is never selfish out of malice or neglect. He sometimes chooses himself over someone else when compromise is unreachable. When he acts selflessly, it is not because he has lost his sense of self. He sometimes accepts the desires and demands of others, even at his own expense, because he has chosen to, not because he thinks he has no choice.

Think about the alternative. When you teach your child that she has no choice, and she believes you, she will submit and comply. If she's content with doing what she's told to do, she'll be fine as long as the people who are telling her what to do are acting in her best interest. What happens when she's told to do something that is not in her best interest? How will she even know what's not in her best interest if she's never been introduced to the idea that her best interest, her self, matters?

And when she complies because she been taught that she has to, and she's not content, how will she express her resentment, at whom, and for how long?

Here's how Mordechai expressed his.

Every time it gets close to Yom Tov, our kids ask us if we can just stay home because I'm always so grumpy when we go to my in-laws.

It sounds like a reasonable question, Mordechai. What's the answer?

I tell them that their mother will be very disappointed if we don't go to her parents, and that her parents expect us to come, so I don't have any choice in the matter. I don't like it, but we go anyway.

So you're not happy about going there. And once you get there you're grumpy; for how long?

Well, the kids describe it as grumpy. It's really that I don't want to be there so I guess I'm unhappy about it until we finally get to leave. How long? From erev Yom Kippur until after Simchas Torah. Long enough, don't you think?

What does your wife think, Mordechai? What does she think of perhaps spending only part of the time with your in-laws and part of the time somewhere else?

I've never asked her that. I don't think she wants to divide the time.

Are you sure that she wouldn't be willing to divide the time so you would be more comfortable with the situation? From what you're describing to me, your children might be happier with the situation too if you were less uncomfortable. They already told you that they'd rather stay home the whole time!

Mordechai is resentful and miserable, and everyone else's Yom Tov suffers along with him. All of this is the result of Mordechai's selflessness. He is giving to others despite himself, not from himself. He didn't give selflessly. He rendered himself selfless by discounting his own preferences and then blamed others for it. The resentment followed.

Mordechai can become a Self Ish. He can come to understand the difference between deciding to give even when it hurts versus letting people take because he's afraid to disappoint them. He can learn to choose when to be selfless, to give in to others at his own expense. Over time, I truly believe he will cultivate a far more comfortable relationship with himself, his wife, his children, and his in-laws.

How comfortable are you with teaching your child to be a Self Ish, to weigh her wants and feelings when measuring her response to requests from others? Do you think what I told Mordechai only applies to adults?

When I said it to him, he told me he understands and agrees with what I suggested. He added that it is very hard for him to imagine doing it. Because he learned as a child that you give others what they want. Now he feels guilty at the very idea of asserting himself if it means someone else won't be happy, or even less happy than they are when he says yes to everything they want.

That didn't surprise me. Hillel taught us that we need to think about ourselves as well as thinking about others, and then he said, "If not now, when?" The Rambam explains that if you don't acquire these traits when you are young, it will be very difficult to change and adopt them when you are older. He finds an allusion to this in the words of Mishlei, chanoch l'naar al pi darko, implying that the derech, the traits, for better or worse, that you instill in your child will stay with him and be difficult for him to change. Mordechai is finding it difficult. And he is changing.

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, relationships, and parenting. He works with parents and educators, and conducts parenting groups for men and women. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.

Brotherly Love
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Some common expressions are remarkably misleading. For example, “she eats like a bird.” Really? Most birds consume half their weight in food every day. I hope she doesn’t! Then there’s “I slept like a baby.” You tossed and turned and woke up crying every 2 hours, and it took you an hour to fall asleep again each time? Let’s look at one more: “Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love” * That’ …
But out of it! Part 1
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

But out of it! Part 1

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

In the al chait list of the viduy, one of the sins we mention is vulgar speech. I'm sure you rarely, if ever, use any of the proverbial four letter words in any situation, and certainly never in the presence of your children. My concern today is with a three letter word that no one considers a curse word, yet I hope you will rarely, if ever, say it to your child.

Why my concern with this word particularly today? Because children have just returned to school and this word wreaks havoc with children during the school year in ways that parents usually don't realize and certainly don't intend. So much so, that I would be tempted to consider this word, in many contexts, to be a curse word.

According to the dictionary, the verb form of the word curse means, "to wish or invoke evil, calamity, injury, or destruction upon." As I mentioned, parents never wish to invoke any of these things on their children, chas v'sholom. Yet I'm sure you'll agree with me that to reduce a child's self-esteem is an injury and a calamity. And that's exactly what happened to Chana more than once during the past school year.

I am never good enough for my mother, Rabbi Ackerman. You heard what my mother just said.

Chana, I never said you're not good enough. What I said was, it is good that you got an 86 on your midterm, but if you'd study more, you could get 90s.

That's what my mother always says to me. A few weeks ago, I got a 97 on a math test. She looked at my test paper, and said, "This is good Chana, but look at this mistake. If you had been more careful you could've gotten 100." No matter what I do, it's always, "yes but you could have…"

Obviously, mom never intended any harm to Chana's self-esteem. Nonetheless, when Chana says that she thinks she is never good enough for her mother, it sounds to me like there has been some harm to Chana's self-esteem.

What went wrong here, what did mom say that Chana took as such a demoralizing criticism? Mom said a three letter word that I consider toxic, and those of you who learn Gemara will understand exactly what I mean.

It's a three letter word in the Gemara also: aleph, lamed, aleph. We've seen what happens when the Gemara tries to make a point or support an argument and then says elah. Many lines of text and sometimes an entire page are nullified when that three letter word is invoked. "It was a good try, but it wasn't good enough. We're going to have to take a different approach, start all over again, because our prior attempt failed." That's the intended implication of the word elah in the gemara. It's the unintended message you convey to your child when you use the word 'but.'

It's the message of failure that Chana inferred every time her mother used the word. It's how Chana came to believe that she is never good enough for her mother, how her self-esteem was damaged. You build your child's self-esteem every time you notice and acknowledge her success, and you tear it down when you turn success into failure with that vicious little word 'but.'

But Rabbi Ackerman, I think she could do better than the 86 she got on her midterm and I think if she had been more careful she would have gotten 100 on her math test; why can't I tell her that?

Note to those of you who know me: yes I did take a deep breath having just heard 'but' and 'why' in the same sentence!

I would encourage you to express your expectations to Chana, and I'd like to help you figure out how to do that in a way that doesn't negate Chana's accomplishments up until now. Unless, you don't consider her 86 and her 97 to be worthwhile at all? What do you think of them, Mrs. Blitkin?

I think she did okay, but she could've done better.

Mrs. Blitkin, how do you think it will sound to Chana when you say, "I see you got an 86 on your midterm. I think that's good, Chana, what do you think of it?" What do you think Chana will say to you?

First of all I think Chana will assume that I'm perfectly happy with her getting an 86 when I'm really not because I think she could've done better.

So you would rather Chana think that you're totally unhappy with her 86 rather than thinking that you're perfectly happy with it.

No, I would rather Chana think that I would like her to work harder so she could do better.

That's fine, Mrs. Blitkin, and it's why I want you to ask her what she thinks of the grade she got.

G-d willing, in our next article we'll look at the rest of this conversation with Mrs. Blitkin and Chana. In the meantime, if you see any commentary on the words Elah (but), and Alah (curse) being similar or related, please let me know at [email protected].

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC, created The Nachas Notebook , and has been working with parents for over 30 years. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.

But out of it! Part 2
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

I am never good enough for my mother, Rabbi Ackerman. You heard what my mother just said.

Chana, I never said you're not good enough. What I said was, it is good that you got an 86 on your midterm, but if you'd study more, you could get 90s.

That's what my mother always says to me. A few weeks ago, I got a 97 on a math test. She looked at my test paper, and said, "This is good Chana, but look at this mistake. If you had been more careful you could've gotten 100." No matter what I do, it's always, "yes but you could have…"

Look at the power of that one little three letter word, "but." It took away the success of a 97 and turned it into a failure for not getting 100, and although that's not what mom intended, it is what Chana heard.

It's Chana's fault for not understanding what mom meant. It's mom's fault for not expressing herself in a way that Chana would know what she meant.

Here we arrive at the precipice of the blame game. There is no value in assigning blame. This does not mean that when something goes wrong you should ignore it or pretend it's okay. When something goes wrong there are some very specific steps to take if you're hoping to see it go right next time. Affixing blame is not one of them. Assigning responsibility is.

Here's the difference between affixing blame and assigning responsibility: when you affix blame you usually reduce a child's self-esteem, when you assign responsibility you often build it.

Here's how Chana's mother affixed blame, (notice how subtle this can be):

but look at this mistake. If you had been more careful you could've gotten 100.

Please join me on a journey into Chana's mind to see how she processed her mother's words: I did something wrong I was careless and I lost three points because I was careless and it's my fault that I didn't get 100 when I could have and I should have and it just proves again that I'm not as smart as my mother wishes I were and no matter how careful I try to be I always manage to get something wrong

Remember, all of this is happening inside of Chana's mind, it is not what her mother said and it's not what her mother intended AND that doesn't change the fact that it's how Chana heard it and how it has reduced her self-esteem. Incredibly, this all started when she brought home a 97!

How did mom go from celebrating the 97 to blaming her for the carelessness that cost her those three points? By using the word "but."

But Rabbi Ackerman, I think she could do better than the 86 she got on her midterm and I think if she had been more careful she would have gotten 100 on her math test; why can't I tell her that?

Mrs. Blitkin, how do you think it will sound to Chana when you say, "I see you got a 97 on your math test. I think that's good, Chana, what do you think of it?" What do you think Chana will say to you?

Mrs. Blitkin (turning to Chana): I do think you did really well to get a 97 on your math test, Chana. What do you think about it?

Chana: I thought it was really good. I just wish I could get 100, sometimes.

Mrs. Blitkin: Yes, I also wish sometimes you would get 100. I think you could. What would you need to do differently, Chana?

Right there. Did you see it? Mom just shifted from affixing blame to assigning responsibility. Let's go back into Chana's mind and see how she processed mom's words this time: I did something really well, and mom thinks so too! Wow, if I could do that well maybe I could do even better. And my mom thinks I could, too! I'm going to think about this, and see if I can figure out a way to get that 100 next time.

When children perceive that kind of message from you, you can almost see their self-esteem growing before your eyes.

But what of Ben Azzai's dictum al ti maflig l'chol davar? If we translate this as "don't discount any word," how can I justify my exhortation to expunge the word "but" from your vocabulary? But if we don't expunge it, isn't it always harmful?

As usual, "always" is not accurate. Here's an example of the use of the powerful word "but" in a way that is heartening.

U'mosar ha'adam min habahaima ayin, ki hakol havel; aval anachnu … BUT!

The words of this tefila, echoing Koheles, remind us that despite all that is vain, we can be a source of nachas to Hashem, and merit much nachas from our children.

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC, created The Nachas Notebook , and has been working with parents for over 30 years. He can be reached at 718-344-6575.

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

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC


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

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

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

Malka, what exactly did you say to him?

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

And then what happened, Malka?

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

What did you do then, Malka?

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Thanks to your compassion, he probably will.


Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, relationships, and parenting.  He works with parents and educators, and conducts parenting groups for men and women.  He can be reached at 718-344-6575.
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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