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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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Your Call Did Not Go Through, Please Hang Up and Try Your Call Again
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
February 13th, 2014

We’ve already had this conversation with my son. I have spoken with him about it so many times and he still does the same thing! Parents say that to me about all sorts of topics: getting started on homework instead of procrastinating, getting into bed on time, getting off the phone when asked to, cleaning up his room, not fighting with his sister; the list of issues being addressed is endless. The way some parents address them doesn’t …
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You Shouldn't Get So Angry
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

 

This series of articles began with four statements.

 

I can’t let him see me cry.

 

You made mommy sad.

 

You shouldn’t get so angry.

 

You don’t hate your brother.

 

One of these four statements may actually be dangerous for your child.  The other three are simply inaccurate.  Over the past two weeks, we’ve discussed the inaccuracy of the first two.

 

This week we’ll see what is inaccurate about the third one, and what to say instead.

 

Let’s begin by exploring the contrast between anger and three other emotions as addressed in Pirkei Avos.

 

Rabbi Eleazar ha-Kappar used to say: Jealousy, lust and [the desire for] honor put a man out of the world. [4:28]

 

What about anger?  Why isn’t anger in that list?  And what does Pirkei Avos teach us about anger?

 

Rabbi Eliezer used to say: do not be easy to anger. [2:10]

 

There are four types of temperaments.  One who is easily angered and easily appeased: his shortcoming overrides his virtue.  One whom it is difficult to anger and difficult to appease: his virtue overrides his shortcoming.  One whom it is difficult to anger and is easily appease is a chassid.  One who is easily angered and is difficult to appease is wicked. [5:14]

 

The Torah is acquired with 48 ways. These are: ... slowness to anger. [6:6]

 

There is no Mishna that prescribes moderation in jealousy, lust or the desire for honor.  We are not taught to be slow to become jealous, and no virtue is accorded to one whose lust is seldom aroused.  Conversely, there is no Mishna that warns us against anger in the categorical terms reserved for the other three.

 

The reason for this is that there is nothing categorically wrong with the feeling of anger.   We may go very wrong in how we express our anger, but there’s nothing wrong with feeling angry sometimes.

 

The feeling we describe as anger is an internal message that something is not the way we would like it to be.   It may be something that someone said or did, and it may be something we are angry about at ourselves.   Like most emotions, anger is a catalyst for action.   In other words, anger is an emotional reaction to something we have experienced and it drives us to do something in response.

 

Rochel loves to play morah.  She sets up four chairs next to each other and puts a doll onto each of the chairs.   Then she very gently explains things to them that she had learned in her first grade classroom earlier that day.   It’s really quite adorable to watch, until her three-year-old brother walks into the room.  Mendy likes nothing better than to tip each of the chairs until the doll falls onto the floor.  For some reason he finds that absolutely hilarious.   Not surprisingly, Rochel does not share in the glee.  I can understand her being unhappy about it; what I don’t understand is why she gets so angry about it.  It’s bad enough when she screams at him at the top of her lungs.   Very often pushes him until he falls down.   When I ask her why did you push him and knock him down, she says, “Because he pushed the chairs and knocked my dolls down so I knocked him down.”   So then I say to her, “would you like it if I knocked you down onto the floor now because you knocked your brother down onto the floor?” and she’s says no.   More recently, she’s tried to explain to me why it’s not the same thing.  She tells me the she had a reason to knock him down because he knocked her dolls down for no reason but I don’t have a reason to knock her down because she did have a reason for knocking him down, and all of this seems to make perfect sense to her.   I keep telling her that none of this would happen if she would just stop getting so very angry at her brother for knocking her dolls off of the chairs onto the floor.  I even said to her, “did any of your dolls ever get broken, did any of their clothing ever get torn, why you make such a big deal out of it, why must you get so angry, you shouldn’t get so angry!”

 

Whoa, as you are telling that over to me you sound a bit angry yourself.  How do you sound when you say that to Rochel?

 

I probably sound pretty angry because I’ve been through this with her so many times and I can’t seem to get anywhere.

 

I see.  And if I were to say to you, “you shouldn’t get so angry!” how do you imagine that would be helpful for you?

 

You’re right, it wouldn’t be helpful to me at all.  So how do I get her to stop getting so angry?

 

I don’t know that you need to get her to stop getting so angry.  I would rather you help her figure out what to say and what to do when she is that angry instead of what she’s been doing up until now.   Even though none of her dolls has been broken or torn, her pretend play has been interrupted and I can imagine that that’s very annoying for her, especially since it sounds like it happens pretty often.  Are you suggesting that Rochel have no reaction to Mendy’s disruptive behavior, that she should calmly accept his intrusions?

 

No.  I see what you mean.  It’s not that she should not get so angry, it’s that I want her to do something different to respond when she is angry at him instead of what she’s been doing up until now.

 

My conversation with his mom was now about how to help Rochel figure out how to respond to her brother’s annoying behavior in a way that mom considers acceptable, rather than accepting annoying behavior with equanimity.  

 

When you say to Rochel, “I understand that you become angry when Mendy knocks your dolls onto the floor, and I don’t want you to push him.  What could you do instead of pushing him,” what do you think Rochel will say to you?

 

She’ll probably say “I don’t know what else to do.”  Then what?

 

Then say to her, “Please think about it, and be’ezras Hashem we’ll talk about it some more tomorrow.”  Slow down.  Give her a chance to think.  And make sure you sit down with her the next day to continue your conversation.

 

Over the course of our conversation, mom mentioned the fourth of the statements we’re discussing in this series of articles, “You don’t hate your brother.”  

 

That’s a hard one, and it can be dangerous if mishandled.   G-d willing next week, we’ll see how.

 

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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You Made Mommy Sad
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

 

Last week’s article began with four statements.

 

I can’t let him see me cry.

 

You made mommy sad.

 

You shouldn’t get so angry.

 

You don’t hate your brother.

 

One of these four statements may actually be dangerous for your child.  The other three are simply inaccurate.  Last week we discussed the inaccuracy of the first one.

 

This week we’ll see what is inaccurate about the second one, and what to say instead.

 

First, a brief digression.

 

Hillel taught us d’alach sni l’chavrach lo saavid, if you don’t like something done to you, don’t do it to someone else.  (Shabbos 31a)

 

Here’s what a mom said about her 3 year old daughter:

If I tell her not to do something, or that she needs to do something she doesn't want to do, she says "You make me sad, mama."
It really annoys me when she says that.

 

Some children may find it similarly annoying.  Many children feel guilty, not annoyed, when told that they have made their mother sad.  Whether it induces anger or guilt in your child, it clearly isn’t something you want done to you, so don’t do it to your child.

 

Now, back to the issue of inaccuracy.  It may be true that something that your child said or did resulted in your feeling sad.   I hope it is not true that your child made you sad, that his very being is unpleasant for you.  I’m sure you wouldn’t have meant it that way but that’s how you come across when you say “you made me sad.”

 

Parents express anger towards their children more often than they express sadness.  That’s because parents more readily express anger than sadness.  It’s also because anger is frequent.

 

R. Ila'i said: By three things may a person's character be determined: b’koeso, b’keeso, u’bkaaso.  By his wine cup, by his wallet, and by his anger.  Eruvin (65b)

Rashi explains that k’oeso means what he is like when he has been drinking (should we have more shidduch dates on Purim?), keeso refers to his integrity in business dealings, and kaaso means not to be insistent on more things than is appropriate (sh’aino kapdan yosair mi’daiy).  One musar haskale for parents is not to insist on too much; it results in anger.

 

The Ben Ish Chai pointed out something else.  He wrote that the sequence is listed in order of less frequent to more frequent.  “On any given day you cannot tell what a person is like when he’s been drinking because on most days people don’t drink all that much.   You can tell what a person is like in his business dealings on any given day, but only in the daytime and not at night and not on Shabbos or Yom Tov.  But anger you can observe day or night and even on Shabbos or Yom Tov.”  (Ben Yehoyada)

 

Given that you may frequently get angry at your children it is important that you express anger appropriately.  “You made me angry” is not appropriate.

 

Dr. Haim Ginott explained:

For parents, anger is a costly emotion: to be worth its price it should not be employed without profit… Anger should so come out that it brings some relief to the parent, some insight to the child, and no harmful side effects to either of them…

Except for one safeguard, we are entitled to express what we feel.  We can express our angry feelings provided we do not attack the child's personality or character.

 

When you say “you made me angry” you are attacking a child’s personality or character.   You’re telling him something about him, not what he did.

 

When you say instead, “I am angry that you did that,” you are expressing your emotion about what happened.  That moves the focus to behavioral alternatives, and more naturally leads to a discussion of what you would rather he do next time.

 

Dr. Ginott didn’t suggest that you never express anger.  He suggested that you express it clearly and sometimes quite strongly.

 

He gave the following example:

When I call you for dinner and you don't come, I get angry.  I get very angry. I say to myself, 'I cooked a good meal and I want some appreciation, not frustra­tion!'

 

Dr. Ginott explained:

This approach allows parents to give vent to their anger without causing damage.  On the contrary, it may even illustrate an important lesson in how to express anger safely. The child may learn that his own anger is not catastrophic, that it can be discharged without destroying anyone. This lesson will require more than just expression of anger by parents. It will require that parents point out to their children acceptable channels of emotional expression and demonstrate to them safe and respectable ways of liquidating anger.

[From: Ginott, Haim; Between Parent and Child: New Solutions to Old Problems; Macmillan, 1965; pages 50-52.]

 

I hope it is not true that your child makes you sad, that her very being is unpleasant for you.

 

I feel terrible saying it out loud, but my husband knows it’s true.  He has much more patience and compassion for our youngest daughter than I do.  I can feel myself tensing up when her school bus pulls up to bring her home.  I’ll send her to school when she’s not feeling well in a way that I would let my other children stay home; I just can’t have her around all day.

Yes, Rabbi Ackerman, my wife has told me that before.  Is it normal for a mother to say she can’t stand having her child around?

 

I didn’t answer his question.   I’m not sure if the thoughts and feelings his wife expressed are common enough to be considered normal.  I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be happy about his wife feeling that way even if it were common.  And I was positive that her saying it out loud to her husband and me, while beginning to cry, was a sign that she wanted to learn what to do to heal her relationship with her youngest child.   B”H, over many weeks, she did.

 

I won’t go into how we did the work we did.  I will tell you that I never said to her, “You shouldn’t get so angry.”

 

More on that, G-d willing, next week.

 

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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You Don't Hate Your Brother
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

 

This is the last of a series of articles that began with four statements.

 

I can’t let him see me cry.

 

You made mommy sad.

 

You shouldn’t get so angry.

 

You don’t hate your brother.

 

As we’ve seen in the past articles, the first three statements are inaccurate.  

 

The fourth one may be dangerous for your child.

 

Noted parent educator and author Elizabeth Crary wrote: Children who recognize and trust their feelings are more able to resist uncomfortable touch.  You can model talking about your feelings.  Avoid labeling feelings as good or bad – feelings are neither good nor bad.  Avoid discounting feelings – “You don’t hate your brother,” or “You shouldn’t feel mad about a little thing like that.” 

[Pick Up Your Socks...and Other Skills Growing Children Need; Parenting Press, Inc. 1990; page 106 (Teaching Personal Safety Summary Sheet)]

 

I have had parents tell me that they know how important it is to validate their child’s feelings.   Here’s an example:

 

My son Menachem told me that his brother Yoni took Menachem’s camera without his permission and left it at the playground and now it’s lost.  Menachem said, ‘he always takes my things no matter how many times I tell him not to, and you can make him buy me a new one, but I’ll never get back the pictures that I took while we were on vacation.  I hate him!”  I validated Menache’s feelings, I said, “you sound really angry, but I’m sure you don’t really hate your brother, now do you?”

 

This particular mom’s version of validating her son’s feelings was to inform him that she is aware of what he is feeling and that what he’s feeling is not appropriate.  Unfortunately, many parents seem to understand validating in the same way that this mother did.   Telling your child that you know how he feels and he has no right to feel that way is not validating his feelings.   What you’re actually doing is expressing your displeasure and discomfort with the feelings your child just expressed.  Your child is now supposed to stop feeling what he just told you he was feeling so that you won’t feel displeasure and discomfort.   What you described as validating was actually discounting your child’s feelings and expecting him to validate yours.

 

I explained to this mom that it would be more helpful for her to think about recognizing and respecting her son’s feelings as genuine without correcting or judging them.  She was not sure she liked this idea.

So I’m supposed to agree that Menachem should hate his brother for what happened?

 

No, accepting your child's feelings doesn't mean you agree with his feelings.   It means that you are interested in and respectful of how he feels.  When the Torah teaches us “lo tisneh es acheecha b’lvavecha” the targum Yonasan ben Uziel translates it to mean that we shouldn’t sound happy with someone while feeling hatred toward them.  Rabi Yitzchak miKorvil, the SMaK, is more explicit.  He wrote, “don’t hate him in your heart while showing him a pleasant countenance; make clear to him your hatred.”   [MiMayanos haNetzach, Vayikra, page 78]

 

I thought you’re only supposed to hate someone who did an aveira and repeated it after you give him tochacha?

 

Yes, and you said that Menachem has repeatedly asked Yoni not to take his things without his permission.   What would you prefer?  Would you like Menachem to hide his feelings from you?   I think it’s much healthier for him to express himself to you.   If you continue to tell him that his feelings are unacceptable, it may be that he’ll stop feeling that way.   I think it’s far more likely that the next time he feels that way he will make sure not to tell you.   Are you sure that’s what you would prefer?

 

So I’m supposed to feel okay with him hating his brother?

 

No.  I don’t expect you to be okay with his hating his brother.  What I would wish you would realize is that his telling you that he hates his brother may imply that he is not okay with it either and he’s turning to you to let him speak it out so he can get past it.  Let him express his anger, his frustration, his resentment, rather than being ashamed of feeling that way sometimes, which is what you do to him when you tell him that he mustn’t hate his brother.  Help him learn to cope with his feelings and express them appropriately.

 

Rivkie was having trouble coping with her feelings.   She expressed herself by telling her son Menachem that he had to stop hating his brother because she couldn’t stand how it made her feel.   Rivkie was so caught up in how terrible it was for her to hear that Menachem hated his brother that she missed the message within his words, the message that he felt bad about hating his brother.   She wasn’t able to help Menachem, and ending up making him feel worse about himself so she could feel better about herself.

 

The danger in this entire scenario is that Menachem might learn to tolerate mistreatment rather than trusting his instincts and emotions.   He might decide that telling his mother that he is angry with someone for touching him inappropriately will upset her; he isn’t allowed to hate someone for causing him harm.   Rather than telling his father or another trusted adult, he might internalize the message that it is bad to hate anyone, and you have to accept what you receive, even when it makes you uncomfortable.

 

Telling Menachem not to hate his brother for losing his camera could lead him to accept inappropriate touch?  Are those in any way comparable?   Perhaps for you, an adult, the violation of your property and the violation of your personal space are two very different things.  For a 10 year old, they might not be.

 

Teach your child to listen to the messages his emotions provide to him, to share them with you, and to express himself in ways that respect himself and others.

 

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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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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Wounded and Worthless
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

I am your daughter, sister, niece, cousin, friend...

I am a teenager studying in a [mainstream] High School in [city name].

I am writing this article in the first person for I feel so deeply about this issue. Watching & hearing friends, relatives, & peers struggling with some or all these feelings I felt compelled to write about it.

Have you ever walked down the street and seen a teenage boy or girl from a family that you may know dressed in an inappropriate manner? Perhaps acting in a non-frum way? Have you talked about a friend's child that went "off'?

Have you any inkling of how they ended up here?

I will try to explain.

Imagine the seventh or eighth grader who is normally unobtrusive & on the quiet side finally works up the courage to raise her hand in Navi class and asks "But if we have Bechira, how does Hashem decide everything on Rosh Hashanah?"

The teacher explodes in a fury of words telling the girl how such questions were Apikorsis and anyone asking such a question was an Apikores. The once pale student becomes redder than a crayon. She lowers her eyes and tries to ignore the snickers of her classmates wishing she were back home alone in her room.

But, her embarrassment soon turns to anger and then ferociousness at the teacher who dared to shame her in front of her class.

Not possible you say? Unfortunately, such situations are not uncommon, and the victims of these scenarios are my friends and peers. More often than not, they end up feeling wounded and worthless and these feelings frequently lead to behavioral problems.

This courageous and eloquent young woman gave me permission to share her article as I wish. I chose to omit the information about her school and her city, not only to protect her identity, but also because what she describes has happened in many schools and many cities. G-d willing, over the next few months I hope to discuss additional excerpts in which she gives poignant examples of how children and teenagers come to feel wounded and worthless. For now, let's ponder how a young woman's piercing challenge was addressed many, many years ago.

Our matriarch Rivka A'H could not understand why the pregnancy she and Yitzchak Aveinu A"H had dovened for so fervently was so painful. We might imagine that given the extraordinarily high spiritual plane on which she lived, she would have said to herself, "this is the will of G-d; I must accept it without question." But that's not what happened. Rivka did have a question. And she didn't chide herself for having a question and shamefully keep her question to herself. She trusted that if she went to a teacher, she might get an answer to her question and she surely wouldn't be harshly criticized for daring to ask.

There are many good reasons to not answer a child's question. Perhaps there isn't enough time to answer the question adequately, and to answer it incompletely might leave the child even more confused. It may be that the answer would lead to a discussion that would break the flow of the teacher's presentation. It could be that the child's question is vague. I would think that in these situations a parent, or a teacher, would say to the child that they don't have time right now to address the question adequately, or that they don't want to address that topic right now, or that they would like the child to make the question more precise. I think they would express that to the child calmly and gently.

So there must be some other reason for not answering a child's question. A reason that can trigger an explosive fury of words rendering a child embarrassed, anger and shamed. A reason that justifies leaving a child feeling wounded and worthless.

What reason, what opinion, feeling, or thought could justify causing a once pale student to become redder than a crayon. Many of us know the expression malbin pnei chaveiro, which literally translated means to cause someone's face to turn white. When someone is feeling shame, we usually see them turn red, not white. The explanation is that you notice the whiteness before and after the redness during their intense shame. Many of us know the severity of the prohibition of malbin pnei chaveiro. But what about the term chaveiro? Does this limit the prohibition to peers or superiors? What is the scope of the prohibition, to whom does it apply?

I have heard the opinion that shaming a child can be an appropriate technique of chinuch.

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

We all want our children to think carefully before they speak, and have yishuv hadaas.

So we're back to modeling. We always are.

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC, has been working with parents for over 30 years. He can be reached at 718-344-6575. Men's and women's groups now available. Call for details.


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Worth It
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Worth It

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Have you ever been to a psychotherapist?

I don't hear that question very often when standing around at a kiddush or sitting around at a sholom zachor. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever heard that question in a social setting.

Here's a conversation I don't think I've ever heard:

You know, I'd been having a lot of discomfort with my daughter. It was really painful for a while so I decided to see a therapist about it and she really helped us.

That's so interesting. About a year ago I was having a lot of pain with my son, and after only eight sessions with a therapist, we're feeling a whole lot better. And my sister-in-law told me, she had the same kind of thing a few months ago, and she and her husband worked with a therapist for a few months, and she says they're still doing much better.

"Well of course," I hear you saying to yourself, "nobody talks about that kind of thing." You're right.

And we'll come back to this. But first, let's look at another hypothetical conversation.

You know, I'd been having a lot of discomfort with my left knee. It was really painful for a while so I decided see a therapist about it and she really helped me.

That's so interesting. About a year ago I was having a lot of pain in my right knee, and after only eight sessions with a therapist, I'm feeling a whole lot better. And my sister-in-law told me, she had the same kind of thing a couple of years ago, and worked with a therapist for a few months, and she says she's still doing much better.

Have you heard that conversation? I know I have.

"Yes, but that's different," I hear you saying to yourself, "you can talk about that kind of thing." You're right, again. But something's very wrong.

It's wrong for a child, and a parent, to suffer because they're ashamed and afraid to tell anyone that they're hurting. What are they ashamed of? That it's their fault? That they'll be blamed for not doing better than they did, and not knowing how to fix it? Are they afraid that it will be hard for them to learn how to do things differently?

And are you sure there is no room for shame and fear when your knee hurts? Here's one more conversation to think about:

Orthopedist: "It's a good thing you came when you did, Eli. You're only 41 and you have the knees of an 80-year-old. What have you been doing?"

Eli: "I know I should've been stretching before I played basketball all those years, and then I started putting on weight, so I got a treadmill. I read some articles that I should walk fast rather than jogging cause the jogging could hurt my knees, but I get my miles done faster if I jog, so I jog. What can you do for me, doc?"

Orthopedist: "To replace both knees is a five-hour surgery. You can expect to spend about two weeks having inpatient rehab, and then probably a few months outpatient. You're going to have some pain for a while, but in the long run you're going to be a lot more comfortable"

Eli: "Yeah, I guess it's worth it."

It sounds like Eli is ashamed that he didn't take better care of his knees, and he's probably afraid of the surgery and the lengthy rehabilitation. Yet he decided that it's worth it to overcome his shame in order to tell someone that he is hurting. Even though the surgery and recuperation are daunting, he's managing to conquer his fear because it's worth it. And six months later, standing around at the kiddush, he'll tell anybody who's listening about what he went through and how it was worth it. He's not telling it over so people will know how brave he was to overcome his shame and his fear. He is telling it so that other people will hear how it was worth it, and maybe they'll be encouraged to get that kind of help, too.

Eli, despite his embarrassment over not doing better than he did in taking care of his knees, and despite his fear of what it would take to heal them, sought help, and then told others of his experience so they can learn from it and be encouraged. Because it was worth it.

It, his knee, was worth it, because it was hurting and he wanted it to heal, and he didn't know how to heal it so he reached out for help. And then he told others so they'd be encouraged by his experience.

When a child and a parent are hurting, hurting each other and hurting inside, there may be a lot of shame, and the healing process might be lengthy and painful.

They're worth it.

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.


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With Whom Does Your Son Spend His Day?
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC
February 27th, 2021

As a parent, you chose your child’s Yeshiva carefully.  You met with the hanhala and with his rebbeim.  I would like to introduce the men and women of the office, food service, and custodial staff at the Yeshiva and tell you a little bit about them.  Their names are quite familiar to your son. Ella E. Itmar offers more accurate information. Chava Ameena sounds good but her ideas never pan out. Tanner Kama is quick, always fir …
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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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"Why?" - NOT Part 4
Author: Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

"Why?" - NOT Part 4

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC

Dad, I didn't mean to knock over the Kiddush cup, and I really feel bad that mom started to cry. I just get so angry at Shloime when he makes fun of mitzvos. I know I shouldn't have pushed him but I can't stand it when he does that. I told him to stop but he just ignored me. I hate that!

This conversation is taking place in a sunny corner of the dining room on Shabbos afternoon. The other children are out playing with friends, and mom is taking a nap. While calmly sipping on their lemonade, Danny and his dad are working together to move from frustration to success, and from disappointment to nachas, respectively. Danny has been frustrated with Shloime and dad has been disappointed in Danny. Let's listen to more of their conversation.

So it really bothers you, Danny, when Shloime sings Shalom Aleichem in that silly voice. It's like he is making fun of the mitzvah. You really wish he would sing it in a more respectful way.

At this point, dad waited to hear what Danny had to say. Dad did not tell Danny that singing Shalom Aleichem isn't really a mitzvah, and he didn't explain to Danny that since Shloime is very young we have to be more tolerant of him. Dad didn't tell Danny anything, he just made it clear to that him that he was listening carefully to what Danny was saying. Then dad sat quietly, patiently waiting while Danny thought about what he wanted to say next. Thirty seconds feels like a very long time when you're sitting silently, respectfully allowing someone to gather their thoughts. When Danny finally spoke, dad knew it had been worth the wait.

I guess I shouldn't get that upset with him, he's a little kid. I understand that we're singing Shalom Aleichem to greet the Shabbos malachim, but for him it's just another song. You know what dad; I'm going to cut him a lot more slack. I'm really going to try to focus on what Shalom Aleichem means to me, and then I won't even notice how he's singing it. And dad…this was a really good conversation, thanks for helping me figure this out!

Dad really did help Danny figure it out. Dad gave Danny two vital tools with which to work on his problem: time and confidence. Dad provided Danny some quiet, relaxed time with no interruptions and no distractions, enhanced by dad's patient, soothing presence. Then, dad listened, acknowledged what he heard, and waited quietly while Danny pondered his dilemma. Dad was silent. Danny heard him loud and clear, and his confidence grew as he realized that his father trusted him to analyze his problem and identify solutions rather than needing to be told what to do.

The mishna in Avos says, al t'hi dan yechidi, usually translated as, "don't judge a case by yourself." The ben Ish Chai writes that this also means when you see or hear something, don't assume that your first interpretation is the only possible one. Think about what else it could mean, what else could be happening. If you aren't able to judge someone else's behavior in a favorable light, don't assume there isn't one. Ask them, "what did you mean by that," in a curious tone of voice, rather than, "why did you do that," spoken critically.

Dad invited Danny to think about Shloime's behavior, and Danny was able, on his own, with dad's support, to think about Shloime's behavior in a more favorable way.

It was a typical Friday night seudah, yet better in a way. Baila asked her father to sing Shalom Aleichem slowly so she could keep up. Devoiry whined that it's going to be boring, he should sing it fast. Shloime started to sing it in a silly voice. Danny didn't tell him to stop. He smiled at his little brother, knowing that someday he too would understand how special it is to welcome the Shabbos melachim to their home.

I have never identified Danny's age. That's because I have found that young children, adolescents, and teenagers, given the opportunity, come up with wonderful ideas and solutions. One mom told me she was stunned when she presented her 3 year old daughter with a dilemma, and her child came up with an idea that worked really well. Give your child a chance. He'll appreciate your confidence in him, and you'll enjoy the nachas.

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC, 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.


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