Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

17 Elul 5765 - September 21, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Don't Interfere
by A. Ross, M.Ed

As soon as one of our 'chicks' are upset about anything at all, our maternal instincts prompt us to rise and wage war on their behalf. The age of the child is immaterial: if my fourteen-year-old girl is weeping copious tears and refuses to eat because Shuli has been teasing her for weeks and all the other girls are making fun of her as well, I have to put things right immediately, if not sooner!

However, there are few occasions when a parent should get involved in children's arguments, quarrels or even physical fights. The exceptions are if your child is being abused or bullied, whether verbally or physically. But even then, it is worth trying other avenues first, before accosting the guilty child. Self confidence and self reliance are two of the best gifts we can provide for our children, which will stand them in good stead all their lives. If we fight their battles for them, it undermines their self confidence.

Most parents have to deal with children's quarrels repeatedly. When the girl claimed that she had been teased for weeks, my first thought was to ring the mother. After further consideration, I decided to contact the teacher, although it was in the evening, when my daughter had finally gone to sleep. The teacher was most surprised that she had not noticed the deplorable state of affairs, and assured me that she would investigate. The next day my daughter came home in the best of spirits, with no sign of the previous day's outburst. "What sort of a day did you have?" "'Wonderful." "Did the teacher speak to you at all?" "Yes, she asked me if Shuli was teasing me." "What did you say?" "I told her that we were good friends." She turned to get a snack from the fridge and I felt like a fool!

A mother stormed down to a group of girls who were playing jump rope outside. She started screaming at the dumbfounded children that they were a bunch of mean kids and why did they always make her girl turn the rope and only let her skip at the very end. She should have discussed the matter with her child and taught her how to interact with the other children. By trying to smooth the way for the child, the mother rendered her a disservice.

When parents take up their children's squabbles, it can cause major family feuds. The children have long since made up and become friends, while the parents have ended up by not speaking to each other. A child who gets accustomed to saying, "I'll tell my Mommy on you," will be lost when s/he gets to seminary or yeshiva and there is nobody to whom s/he can tell tales. Besides, their fellow students will laugh at them.

A child was off school for several weeks and not a single boy phoned to ask how he was. The mother took the teacher to task for not teaching his class better middos and after that the teacher came in once or twice, accompanied by one or two boys. He also sent several groups of boys to visit in turn. The sick boy was overjoyed. Nevertheless, it would have been wiser for the mother to encourage her son as soon as he began to get bored, to call some of the boys, explaining that he was ill and was feeling lonely and bored, and that he would appreciate some company. In this way he would learn how to improve his social skills and how to cope on his own, without someone making life easier for him. Children have to learn how to take the initiative in fostering friendships. (We are not discussing the teacher's role in this little story!)

Some parents do not interfere when the quarrel is between children, but when the child comes home dissatisfied with the teacher, they throw all caution (and manners) to the wind. Why did my child only get 'very good' on his report card, instead of 'excellent,' as his friend did. Why did she not get a main part in the school play. Please move his seat; he does not like the boy next to whom he sits.

A teacher from Bnei Brak reported that one Friday afternoon as they were leaving the house to go to her parents over Shabbos with their five little children, the phone rang. A woman began to harangue her over the phone and she said gently, "Could we discuss this after Shabbos, as I am in rather a hurry just now." "You are in a hurry? My daughter is crying her eyes out and all you think about is your own convenience!"

Unfortunately, these conversations do take place, and there is little excuse for parents to behave in this way. Moreover, some parents go straight to the principal, without hearing what the teacher has to say about the episode in question. One principal listened to the father of a twelve- year-old boy, who complained that his son did not like the rebbi at all. The principal answered, "Do you really think that your boy is going to get on with everybody with whom he comes into contact, when he is older? Our job is not only to teach the children gemora, we also have to teach them coping skills, and how to sort themselves out."

If there is no communication between the child and the teacher, there are cases when parents must intervene, but the child does not need to know. For example, if a child of limited ability is not achieving any good results, a wise parent might ask the teacher (respectfully!) before reports are sent out, to boost the one or two good points and to inflate the poor marks. Some teachers do this of their own accord without having to be told. The report card of a girl with Downs syndrome reads as if she were at the top of the class. Communication and intervention are not synonymous. There should always be communication between parents and teachers.

It is often impossible not to interfere when one brother seems bent on choking the other or in other "affectionate" interchanges between siblings. The children usually manage to settle things between them, but it makes the mother feel better! However, outside the home, parents, particularly mothers, have to ask themselves, "What will happen if I do not mix in? What will my child do when s/he is a little older? Will this little spot of trouble blow over?"

Empathizing with the child will frequently calm the situation and then you will find out that it was all a storm in a teacup. You might discover that the weeks or months which the child describes, are just a matter of hours or a day or two. As always, there are exceptions, particularly if your child is being bullied. A parent cannot stand by and watch his child feel frightened or miserable for any length of time. However, as with visits to the doctor, there is no need to panic as soon as a child has a fever: wait a few days and see if things will settle down. Help the child find a way to sort it out alone, without help, if at all possible.


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