Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Elul 5765 - September 15, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

The Peter Pan Syndrome
by A. Ross

He was the youngest in a family of eleven children, who all doted on him. In holiday time, when the big boys were home from yeshiva, they vied with each other over who could dress him, feed him, and bathe him. Six years went by, two siblings got married, and Yossi was still the family pet. They still dressed him and spoon-fed him.

Generally, by the age of two, children assert their independence. They want to do things 'self,' or 'lone' and will fight tooth and nail for independence, even when they cannot quite manage. So what happened to Yossi? Why is he allowing himself to be treated like a baby? Why is he acting so much younger than his age, preferring to play with children at least two years younger than himself? Why is he speaking in a whiny baby voice, difficult to understand? In truth, he was very articulate at eighteen months and never mispronounced a word. He only started speaking like this when he was three.

Peter Pan is a fictional story of a little boy who never wanted to grow up. What would cause a child in real life not to want to mature? A particularly sensitive child, who lacks self-confidence, may well be a candidate for wanting a perpetual childhood. He is protected by loving parents, supplied with all his needs and gives nothing in return. Why enter the harsh world of reality? Interestingly, many of these babyish children are particularly bright.

Most people can remember some time in their teens or even later, when they were under physical or mental stress, calling out to Mommy, whether she was available or not. It is a reflex, to some extent. Mature, thinking people naturally turn to the One who helps us all, at all times.

There is a great deal of difference between a child who has never grown up; and one who suddenly regresses through some event in his life. The birth of a new baby, a death in the family or even a happy event like the wedding of an older sister might trigger the regression. The child cannot cope with the stress and, in all likelihood, this is a phase, which will pass with careful handling. A large amount of love, attention and understanding will help him return to his normal self.

The child who has never been allowed to grow up has been conditioned to remain a baby. A boy of ten who was still sleeping in his parents' bedroom was an extreme example. Mother wanted her baby, but the siblings took the law into their own hands and moved the bed into their own room one evening when the parents were at a wedding.

Mothers who say tolerantly that he will not suck a pacifier when he gets married, and that he will relinquish his bottle when he is ten, have a point. However, when it gets to the stage that the first grade teacher reports that he is terribly childish for his age, when the child cries for anything he wants and still has tantrums like a two-year- old, when he is far too dependent on his mother, it is time to reverse the situation.

Frequently, it is not just the parents' fault that their child has remained a baby. He might have fewer coping strengths than other people, so that it is easier to depend on adults to cope for him. Whatever the reason, he must be taught, that it is worth his while to grow up. Children of eight have been brought to me, not yet dressing themselves. I have suggested that they surprise their mother in the morning by being dressed before she came in, and then reinforced the natural satisfaction by a small prize.

Ridicule is not a tool to be used, and siblings should be discouraged from taunting him by calling him a baby. Effusive praise will work wonders as he begins to drop his babyish ways. The words, "I am so pleased that you managed to control yourself, and didn't start crying as you used to" have helped prevent outbursts.

Every mother tries to protect her child and to cushion his way in life. There comes a time when she must realize that he has to learn to stand on his own two feet and that she cannot protect him forever. If she wants to be kind to him and let him grow up normally, she must do just that. Stop doing everything for him, stop pandering to his wishes, encourage him when he manages to do things and convince him that he can do more.

When the child always wants to be 'the baby' in games of mothers and fathers, it is not worth interfering. One mother who was concerned about this brought in some ice cream at the end of the afternoon and told the 'baby' that she was too small for ice cream, only the older children and the mommy and daddy could have some. Eventually she relented but suggested that the following time someone else could be 'baby.' She reported that the stratagem worked. If the child persists in talking in a silly baby voice, Mother could say, "I don't mind if you want to pretend to be a baby for a little while, but first tell me in a nice voice how we should play, because I don't really understand you when you talk like that."

Growing up is a natural process and not always pleasant. Nevertheless, it is our task to help our children mature into happy healthy adults. The mothers who so desperately want a baby will have to wait for their grandchildren, and not keep their own children babies longer than they need to be. Above all else, constant prayers for siyato diShmaya are worth more than all suggestions and advice when we are raising children.


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