Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

30 Nissan 5764 - April 21, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

A Chip on His Shoulders
by A. Ross, M.Ed.

They seem to be born that way, always looking over their shoulders and comparing their lot with others. They are unhappy people, constantly thinking they are being discriminated against or treated less well than everyone else. If they are like this as children, it is unlikely that they will outgrow this trait unless the parents can jolly them out of the main gripes which they have. Adults may have to resort to professional help if this thinking becomes an obsession.

One can pick out these children who feel they aren't as good as their siblings, and who always feel they are being treated inequitably. They demand constant attention, yet however much they receive, it is not enough. If two children in the family need a new pair of shoes, some mothers will buy this child a pair at the same time, even though his still fit, for the sake of avoiding complaints that Mother loves the others more than him. This will not work, as he will still find something to complain about. Either that the shoes are not as nice or that the others were more expensive or...or...

The percentage of girls who carry this chip around with them is much higher than that of boys. They are the ones who grow up and still feel that things are not fair, that they are not appreciated enough and not admired at all.

This is basically the root of the trouble. Their self-esteem is low. Thus all the pandering to their wishes cannot help them. Their self-esteem has to be enhanced. A young woman was complaining that all her brothers and sisters-in-law were invited to the parents' house far more often than she and her husband were. It was no use explaining that there had been various reasons for this, or that it was not at all true; this woman had decided, as she had done throughout her formative years, that she was not as beloved as her siblings. Eventually, she had to go for therapy.

A therapist told me that naturally, adults are more difficult to treat than children. Adults have had years to convince themselves of the veracity of their feelings. Children can occasionally be helped within a few sessions but most parents are reluctant to refer the child to a therapist. After all, that is just the way he is; he is quite `normal.' They accept him/her with his miserable nature; This is how he is and we'll just have to put up with him. Which reinforces his opinions; They are just putting up with me. They do not really love me.

People who are consumed with self-pity feel that sympathy from others draws attention, and attention is what they crave. It is not known why these particular people are that way and the old question arises: is it nature or nurture? If nine children out of a family of ten are happy, outgoing people and only one feels that life is unfair, this seems to be a pointer towards nature. On the other hand, if one looks carefully, one can always find some reason why this poor child feels bad (nurture). Perhaps Mother was hospitalized for an extended period when he was six months old, and later tried to make up for her `neglect' with overindulgence to the child. Or maybe this was a `sandwich' child, born after three boisterous brothers and a year before twin sisters.

Yet there are families where there is no such thing at all as comparisons and feelings of discrimination. A child who needs a new garment will get it. Pieces of cake are not measured to make sure they are identical. Even when they are measured, the child with a chip on his shoulder will argue that the others had more cream, or his fell, or he got his piece last. Some psychologists argue that these children are the ones who cry incessantly almost from birth, and that parents lose patience with them. It is a moot point whether the child would have grown up with a less complaining nature if he had been picked up the second he whimpered and never been allowed to cry at all.

A child comes home from school announcing, "EVERYBODY has got a new type of felt pen." If a mother feels secure in the knowledge that there is no obligation on her to provide these luxuries, she knows that nothing is going to happen to the child if she doesn't have exactly what `everybody' has, and she has nothing to worry about. If, on the other hand, she feels guilty about the poor child suffering because she isn't getting the pens she desires, she is in for trouble. Children are astute and know how to manipulate their parents when they see a chink in their armor. As always, personal example is essential. If the child sees that Mother always has to get what the neighbors have, he will follow this pattern.

Parents should make things very clear to their children that there is no such thing as `compelled to.' Nothing obliges us to buy you things. All the bounty we receive from Hashem is because He wishes to be kind to us. In a small way, that is how it is with children.

Parents want to give their children things but children must not take it for granted. Thus, if parents do not compare what they give to whom, the children will also not attach as much importance to it. Indeed, the very act of trying to make them all exactly equal often brings about these feelings of being worth less than another sibling. Every time you try to recompense the child with some gift, he will have further proof that you are trying to rectify all the times you have treated him unfairly. No words or reasoning will help in this situation.

The child or adult who always feels that he is underprivileged will continue to feel that way in spite of everything the parents say and do. So what can be done to help this unhappy mortal? First of all, do not give in to his complaints. Do not buy her a new dress or a new pair of shoes if she doesn't need it, just because someone else in the family gets a new garment. Do not buy peace and quiet at any price!

Secondly, try to give the child the attention s/he so craves, in a positive way, instead of singling out his sad face. Lay on praise as often as you can for anything which he has done which deserves commendation. Whether it was getting a younger child dressed in the morning, or putting her satchel away as soon as she comes home, don't forget to remark on it. "I somehow never have to remind you to put your things away. It's wonderful to have such a neat nature.."

Things which we often take for granted in other children should be singled out in this child and mentioned repeatedly. Give her a particular responsibility which she likes doing, telling her it is because you know she is reliable.

If, in spite of all the positive reinforcement, there is absolutely no improvement and the child still bursts into tears because you love everybody else except him, make a joke about it, in the same way as when you have a child who makes a terrible fuss over a slightly grazed knee, you exclaim, "Let's call an ambulance immediately." It lightens the situation.

Bring in three boxes of tissues, or anything else, and tell him he is in charge of them for the time being. If he complains that his slice of cake had less chocolate filling, place a whole family-sized cake in front of him and invite him to eat it. Make a joke of it. He may be offended at first, but it does help after a while. Do not laugh at the child, laugh with him as you exaggerate your responses to his complaints.

As always, pray for help in raising your children.


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