My nine-year-old son drives us insane. This time he has
really gone over the top, in both senses of the word. They
call him the class acrobat and he puts himself into the most
hazardous situations. For example, he can climb up to the
third floor from the outside of a building and then swing
nonchalantly from the window frame by one hand, while the
onlookers hold their breath in apprehension. Or he will sit
calmly on an open windowsill at a friend's house, or lie down
on top of the rail of a high balcony.
Each day he plans some new piece of mischief. We have tried
to appeal to his good sense, to no avail. He doesn't seem to
understand the danger of his exploits. His friends are used
to him and even applaud his antics. We pray daily for his
survival and that he shouldn't have to learn his lesson the
hard way, G-d forbid. Any suggestions?
Mother of Avrumi
STOP THE SHOW!
Although everybody hopes that children outgrow these antics,
as they do most types of unaccepted conduct, in this case, it
is impossible to wait. 1) Because of the danger inherent in
his exploits, lest he do it once too often, chas
vesholom. 2) This tendency to endanger one's life is
inclined to continue and perhaps, accelerate. The children
who on principle refuse to wear cycling helmets, and show off
to their peers by riding along roads with heavy traffic, turn
into irresponsible adults who never fasten their seat belts
while driving. They become drivers who ignore speed limits
and think that a fast car is a sign of virility. These signs
of arrogance and recklessness madden the rest of the
population, and certainly members of the family.
Let us try to nip this problem in the bud. These people
believe, either consciously or subconsciously, that "It won't
happen to me." They know full well the danger of what they
are doing, but don't relate it to themselves. Or they imagine
(on what premise?) that they are immune to injury.
Sometimes there is a problem of an unrealistic assessment of
the dangers involved. Explorers say they take a calculated
risk when they set out and every adventure which ends happily
without any injury proves their faulty argument to be
There are some professionals who claim that the tendency to
endanger one's life is only a sign of apprehension. To the
outside world, the adventurer presents himself as the local
brave man, or the class athlete and daredevil, but deep
inside him lurks a hidden feeling of fear, which has to
express itself in the opposite way. A truly brave person who
is without fear does not have to prove himself to others!
To come to the point: speak to your child and explain to him
that many people who received injuries thought that `it
wouldn't happen to them.' Describe a possible scenario to
him, that as he is lying on some high railing, although he
feels quite safe, if he were startled by a sudden explosion
or a sonic boom which shook the whole district, he might lose
his balance. Likewise, one remonstrates with these reckless
drivers that even if they feel they are in full control of
the speeding car, they can never tell what other crazy fellow
he will bump into!
It is also important to explain to his friends that their
applause only encourages him. They should not call him the
class athlete, or tell him how wonderful he is, nor even
WATCH him with bated breath. All this only encourages him to
more daring exploits. When the boy sees that nobody watches
him any more and that no one is impressed by his antics or
even interested in his tricks, he will soon stop. The show
cannot continue without an audience.
Incidentally, you must be careful about your explanations and
reactions. There are some children who enjoy arousing a
display of anger coupled with fear in their loved ones. They
delight in driving people crazy! Thus, it is essential to
keep cool while sympathising, or showing your general anxiety
for his welfare. But don't let him see signs of anger,
helplessness or consternation.
If you are consistent in your actions (and make sure that his
classmates also disdain them), the child will seek other ways
to gain attention, positive ones. However, if these incidents
sitll keep recurring, then you may have a more deep-seated
problem and will have to seek professional advice.