Anti-Semitism and kids
Rabbi Yitzi Ross, Yid Parenting
Rabbi Ross. With all the anti-Semitic incidents occurring all around us, our children ages 5,8 and 12 are becoming very apprehensive. My husband and I have noticed some odd changes in their personalities, and we are worried that they are going to start having panic attacks. At what point do we get them professional help, or is this normal? Should we tell them everything is fine, or should we let them understand that there are bad people out there. We’re both trying to stay calm about this. Please help us understand our kids. Thank you very much. Shayna and Max.
I recall answering a similar question a few years ago, but I certainly agree that we need to address some newer issues. This reply assumes that your child does not personally know any of the victims. In the event of a personal tragedy, Chas V’Shalom, you should speak to a licensed therapist immediately.
I know we believe that our children understand everything, but the fact is they don’t have the same grasp of these situations as us. In most cases, they don’t give this information a second thought, and only get nervous if their parents are nervous.
On the flip side, the graphic images and practically instant online access of current events certainly make things more challenging. Whether we like it or not, our kids are definitely being exposed to far more traumatic experiences and images than we ever were, and we do need to be careful. With the increase in anti-Semitic attacks, Jewish children all over the world are feeling the stress.
Additionally, even if you minimize your child’s access, he will most definitely hear about these things from a child whose parents are more open. We even have drills in most schools to be vigilant. There are active shooter drills, bomb drills, and kidnapping drills. Your child is instructed to hide in corners and stay low. This can also have an effect on your child’s mental health, and he can start developing anxiety as a result. After any event, for example the recent attack in Monsey, there is increased awareness everywhere. While this is a smart move, it’s still another point of stress for a child.
It seems from your e-mail that you are both somewhat stressed also. I can assure you that if you’re both worried, I’m sure therefore, your children are worried as well. It seems that you should both (parents) speak to a therapist who can properly guide both of you. After speaking to this therapist, he or she will advise you regarding you children.
In general, when discussing serious events with children, I suggest reading the tips below. Some may work better than others.
1) I always recommend the “tag team” method of talking. One parent speaks to the child while the other sits in the room, seemingly preoccupied. If the parent who’s talking needs help, the other one can take over. Having two adults talk to one child about something simultaneously makes it seem very serious.
2) Ignoring questions is not a good idea. They won’t forget, and it can literally come back to haunt them.
Tell the truth but omit any details that are not age appropriate. Using words like “death”, “kill”, “murder”, etc., is not advisable
3) Always reassure your children that they are safe and protected.
4) Children can be very different. Some might ask you for information or details, while others may not care. As a result, these conversations might be better off with one child at a time.
5) After a traumatic event, it can take a while for a child to return to normal. If you feel that your child is fixating on a negative event, don’t dismiss it. There are plenty of qualified mental health specialists that can help nip these issues in the bud. Waiting for the issue to resolve itself isn’t a good idea.
6) If your child doesn’t seem to have any negative reactions to a traumatic event, you don’t need to get nervous. There are some kids that are either too immature to care or are very easygoing.
7) If you notice any mood changes in your child and he/she is developing odd fears (school, bedtime, public places), contact a mental health professional.
8) If your child is constantly coming home with disturbing information, find out the source and contact the parents. It always worries me when a child is sharing scary information all the time, and his parents should be made aware.
9) One of the best ways to fight violence and hate, is love. These days, more than ever, you need to remind your kids constantly how much you love them. They might say, “I know you love me”, but it is always worth repeating.
10) I recently read that a Rebbe told his class “Hashem will always protect you!” While that’s a wonderful thought, it’s a dangerous thing to tell children. Yes, Hashem is always by our side, but if something traumatic does Chas V’Shalom happen, you’ll have some very confused children. A better comment would seem to be, “Hashem loves us, and it’s important that we always Daven for the safety of Klal Yisrael. When Moshiach comes, we won’t have to ever worry about these events.”
Hatzlacha and Good Shabbos!
Time to Track?
Rabbi Yitzi Ross, Yid Parenting
Hi Rabbi Ross. My wife and I are a bit confused because our son is being tracked in middle school. The Yeshiva puts boys in 6th grade into one of two classes, one of them stronger and one of them weaker. Until 6th grade, the classes are pretty much even. Our son was put in the weaker class even though we think he’s a strong learner, and the Yeshiva said there were specific reasons. We’re monitoring this situation, and it seems that they’re not learning as much and rather spend more time doing Chesed and other Mitzvos. Are we right for being aggravated? Do you have any advice? M.G. Brooklyn
Tracking children is a huge discussion, and it’s not only limited to Jewish children. Should stronger children be pushed harder? There are so many variables that it’s difficult to answer a question like this. Nevertheless, you asked for my opinion, so I’ll share it with you. Please keep in mind that there are MANY Yeshivos and Mechanchim that strongly disagree with me.
Before sharing my thoughts, I want to clarify one important point. This response will tackle the issue of tracking students based on their learning. I’m not discussing behavioral concerns in this article. Although the behavior of a student is typically factored into tracking decision, nevertheless we’re going to focus strictly on the level of learning.
For arguments sake, let’s pretend that there is a Yeshiva where the students are being tracked after 5th grade, and there are 3 classes per grade. Assuming each class has 24 students, you’ll have 3 types of children. There will be children at the top, children in the middle and children that aren’t as strong in learning. Let’s see how each group is functioning in 5th grade before they’re tracked.
The strongest students might be a bit bored. They know the learning very well and understand it after hearing it one time. Many Rebbeim and teachers are on top of this and give these kids advanced extra credit to keep them occupied. The middle children are working hard and accomplishing. They look up to the top kids, and really push themselves to succeed. Even the kids that can’t keep up with the class gain in many ways. They’re surrounded by well-behaved and mature kids in a structured environment.
Here’s a case in point. A few years ago, one of the weakest students I’ve ever taught was on cloud nine during our Siyum on Mishnayos Brachos. “We finished it!” he was telling everyone. Did he understand the learning? Probably not. But he was a part of something amazing. All the students in the class are supposed to be involved at some level. Maybe they aren’t learning as much since it’s geared towards a stronger student, but, at least they’re in a mainstream class. The boys are cohesive and work together. They might not be gaining skills, but they feel like a part of something special.
Now, that last sentence was scary. How is it ok if they’re not gaining skills? In order to answer that, we need to try and understand the goal of Yeshiva. It seems to me that there are three primary goals. I am not listing them in any particular order.
Develop confidence and feel accomplished.
Which of those three is the most important?
It’s a difficult question to answer. The reason we send our kids to a Yeshiva, is to learn Torah. Even if the kids are not gaining skills, there’s a Mitzvah to learn Torah. I personally believe that even if the child doesn’t look like he’s gaining when learning Torah, it’s seeping in. Now, if the student in question is so weak that he’s not learning anything, obviously he either needs to be pulled out for one on one, or possibly switch to a Yeshiva more geared to his level.
Gaining skills? That’s so important. Without skills, it’s so difficult for kids to grow. The famous line is “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” If we give our precious children skills, they will have the ability to learn on their own as they grow older. There’s no denying skills are crucial. The question that needs answering is, if a student isn’t gaining skills, should he be removed from the class? If he’s just sitting and listening, and not getting great grades, is that enough? Are we helping or hurting a child like this?
That brings us to the last goal, which is helping kids develop confidence and feel accomplished. Personally, I think this is the most important of the three. I have seen the excitement with kids that aren’t amongst the stronger ones. I have watched them learn things that I never thought they would. Most importantly, I have observed these “weaker” students look up to, and yes, even respect the stronger students. They become their role models.
Then they get tracked. Now, this happens in many Yeshivos. There is a top class, and a medium class, and a weaker class. The smarter Yeshivos have an advanced class, and the other classes are equal, which ensures that there are no “weak” classes. Here’s where the problems begin in my opinion.
I’ve always felt that every class has similar personalities. There are the top students that strive to succeed. There are the super sensitive ones, the immature ones, and the weak ones and a few others. Sometimes you’ll have a fun mix of a strong and sensitive student, and other times you’ll have a weak and immature student. In the past 23 years, I’ve always had a random mixture. Some classes are stronger, and some are more mature. No matter what, each class in unique and diverse, yet somewhat predictable.
Once these students are tracked, you have a strong class with 24 “Top” kids. I don’t think this works. Indubitably, some of them are going to sink. These students that are sinking would’ve been top kids in a typical class, but when they’re surrounded with other top students, they begin to sink. To be fair, I haven’t done any official studies on this, but I have met with many students that were put in this situation from many different schools. Their parents always bring them to me and say “I don’t know why he’s having issues! He’s always been a top kid!”
The lower tracks have more serious problems. Even if they have a dynamite Rebbe or teacher, it’s very hard to convince a class that they’re a wonderful group, when they’re already, at the very least, in second place. Now, the Rebbe has a class of kids that aren’t as strong in learning. What’s the easy solution? Make the year fun!
*Warning* I’m generalizing.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The Rebbe, (who’s an amazing Rebbe), has to convince these kids that they’re awesome. The funny thing is, they ARE awesome. The issue is, in order to make the kids happier, they spend time in class doing exciting things. Playing games. Watching Jewish videos. Hearing stories. How much time is spent learning? Wasn’t the reason we tracked them so that the weaker students have a chance to shine? If the point is to give them a stronger foundation, we might be failing miserably.
Therefore, if some of the advanced kids aren’t doing as well as they should, and the medium and weaker students aren’t gaining skills, why are we doing this?
Here are a few thoughts.
A) Many people would respond that the strong students should learn on a higher level. That’s true. However, there’s no reason that they can’t have an accelerated session once a day. It doesn’t have to be a class. Any boys that have for example an average higher than 95%, can join.
B) To those that think that I’m generalizing, well I am. However, I speak to many children and parents, and I think I’ve encapsulated what they tell me. Are there exceptions? I’m sure there are. I still think it’s not worth it.
C) Yes, your son is in a lower track and his Rebbe is amazing. I’m not Chas V’Shalom insulting any Rebbeim. It’s the opposite. I think this Rebbe will do accomplish more with a diverse class. Let all the kids feel like they are the best. I used to teach a 7th grade lower track for many years. Rabbi Herzberg zt’l told me on day one, “If you learn with them, they will respond”. I learned and they responded.
D) One last thought. I understand that this isn’t a topic that can be debated on an online blog (or in a newspaper for that matter). It’s been discussed by many people, and I’m sure that it will be debated for many more years.
To answer your original question, yes, you should be aggravated. I agree that you’re sending him to succeed in his learning. You should insist that your son be put in the advanced Shiur and arrange for someone to help him catch up to the class.
Have a good Shabbos,
Time to shout?
Rabbi Yitzi Ross, Yid Parenting
Yelling is certainly popular. It also seems to work well, otherwise, as you pointed out so eloquently, parents wouldn’t keep doing it. Here are the questions we need to ask.
- Why do parents yell?
- How does yelling affect our children?
The same holds true when people are in a noisy situation. The loudest voice is the one that’s heard. In a classroom setting, a good Rebbe or teacher will talk quietly and as a result the class will quiet down to hear what’s being spoken. When dealing with children in an uncontrolled environment, even in your own home, the loudest voice prevails.
So, yes. Parents yell. Nonetheless, I would like to make a distinction between a few different types of yelling.
- When parents use a stern or strict “outside” voice to show how serious they are about something.
- When parents yell because they’re upset, and they feel they aren’t being taken seriously.
- When parents just lose it. Unfortunately, in some cases this is accompanied by smacking or some form of physical contact. In most cases, the parent is yelling and is completely out of control.
The second type of yelling isn’t so helpful. It might help you release some stress, but it does more harm than good. Your kids know you’re angry, and you’re basically telling them “When a person gets angry, it’s ok to yell at others.” Sure, they’ll probably listen to you. You might even get the respect you are looking for. It’s just that there is a high price to pay.
To be fair, kids are resilient. If you get really upset and yell at them occasionally, they’ll get over it. You can even apologize for your behavior. “When I yelled at you before I was very upset about a few things. I shouldn’t have screamed at you. I’m really sorry.” It can be a great learning experience.
The last type of yelling is inexcusable. Losing control is never OK, and the negative character traits your children will pick up can last for a very long time. How would you feel if your boss went crazy on you because he was upset about something else? Even if the yelling is justified, it’s completely wrong. Think for a second how it would feel if you were being screamed at by an adult, and possibly with others watching. It’s humiliating and so hurtful.
They are children. Whatever they did, losing control is not an option. What will the result be if this happens? For starters, you might start noticing seriously negative behaviors in your children. They might only respond when you yell at them. They might begin to yell back at you. They might even start disregarding what you say. It only goes downhill from there.
The result can very well be having children that are completely estranged. They can’t or won’t have a relationship with their parents that constantly yelled and screamed at them. Their self-esteem will be in the dumps, and they have a much higher chance of slipping a lot further.
What can you do? First of all, when you’re upset at your kids, it’s ok to act stern. Lowering your voice works most of the time, but if you feel the situation calls for a raised voice, by all means, use an outside voice. Screaming isn’t ok.
If you’re that upset that you feel you might lose control, take a timeout. There’s no shame in taking a timeout, and you can actually turn it into a wonderful teaching moment. “I’m so upset right now that I am not going to speak because I don’t like to talk when I’m upset!” This will teach your children that even when they’re really upset, they still must act like Bnai Torah.
There is one last thing that I would like to mention. Many parents have written in, telling me that they frequently lose control. If you feel as a parent you are losing control more than once a month, you might benefit from therapy. There are some amazing techniques that you can learn to help calm yourself, and it’s a very worthy investment.
Have a calm and wonderful Shabbos,
Rebbi Coming Late
Rabbi Yitzi Ross, Yid Parenting
I really try to keep this blog focused on parenting, but you are bringing up a few topics that are worth discussing. I’ll try to answer your questions as best as possible, but I’m sure that the Rebbeim that read this blog aren’t going to be very happy with me.
Question one – Should a Rebbe arrive early? As with every other job, there are pros and cons to being a Rebbe in a Yeshiva. The pay isn’t that great, and you definitely need to bring the work home with you. On the flip side, most Rebbeim finish in the early afternoon which allows for a second job, and, most importantly, teaching Torah is the most rewarding feeling.
When a typical job begins, an employee needs to be there on time. A Rebbe however, should be in his classroom a minimum of 15 minutes before Yeshiva begins. I say minimum, since I know of many Rebbeim that arrive a half hour early. It gives you time to get settled, organize your class if needed, and keep the early arrivals calm. When the kids trickle in early, you have the opportunity to shmooze with them and see how they’re doing.
There are Rebbeim that travel from Brooklyn to the 5 Towns, and they arrive on time. There are even a few Rebbeim that travel from Lakewood every day, and somehow, they manage to be early. It’s baffling to me that certain Rebbeim show up at the last second. Not only is it hard for the administration, it’s really not good for the class. I’ve heard all types of reasons. “I have to bring kids to the babysitter” or” I only get the car 10 minutes before Yeshiva begins”. It’s just wrong. The children need to have a Rebbe or Morah in the class when they walk in.
I also had that issue when I had younger kids and my wife worked. Somehow, we figured out a solution. You might think it’s ok, but I can assure you that the Yeshivos keep very good track regarding which Rebbeim arrive early and which ones arrive at the last second. The kids need a Rebbe (or Morah) to be there as they arrive. Some Yeshivos do have the kids meet in a common area which is a great idea. Nonetheless, it’s still so important for a Rebbe or Morah to arrive at least 15 minutes early.
Question two – Should you get involved in a school issue if your son doesn’t want you to, or perhaps contact them anonymously? That’s a difficult question. Typically, if your child asks you not to say anything, you shouldn’t say anything. Trust is a two-way street, and if you want your child to trust you, you need to keep your promises. The fact is, if your son is speaking to you about his day it’s a good thing. Violating his trust might cause him to stop sharing information with you.
There are understandably times that you need to make some crucial decisions. If your child is being bullied or there are other serious issues, you would need to call the school immediately. In this case, I wouldn’t call the Rebbe and ask him to verify, rather I would contact the principal directly and let him know what’s going on. You can preface your call with “This is what my son told me; I’m leaving this in your capable hands”.
The obvious question is, do you ask your son’s permission before calling, or at the very least tell him? It really depends on the child. If you think he’ll comprehend that you need to take additional steps to protect him (or other children), I would go for it. If you don’t think he’ll understand, just make sure that the school handles it correctly and discreetly. The proper way to deal with bullying incidents is beyond the scope of this article, but most Yeshivos do have training in place to guide the Rebbeim.
You asked about contacting the Yeshiva anonymously. I was taught years ago, that anonymous correspondence isn’t worth the paper it’s sent on. (This was obviously when people mailed things.) I receive a few anonymous emails every month, and once I realize it’s anonymous, I delete it immediately. I don’t even read it. Sending an anonymous e-mail to your school will accomplish nothing. Actually, they might find out it was you (it’s very hard to remain anonymous) which can backfire.
The last point you mentioned, was punishing the class for one or two children. I am not very fond of punishing in general, I’m more of a fan of consequences. In any case, it doesn’t seem very fair to punish an entire class because of the actions of a few boys. If a large amount of kids are misbehaving, that’s a separate story. One or two boys should not be causing an entire class to suffer.
One Rebbe told me that when he punishes the class because of one boy, they all “glare” at the offender. His (warped) logic was, since he’ll make the class upset, everything will magically work itself out. There are many issues with this. First of all, the ones making trouble are already suffering from low self-esteem. Making the class upset at them won’t help them at all. Second of all, if a Rebbe needs the rest of the class to help him with class management, perhaps it’s time he found alternative employment.
To answer your question, you should sit your son down and have a serious talk with him. Find out if he’s exaggerating, or if things are indeed out of control. (Resist the urge to ask, “Does anyone else think the classroom is crazy in the morning?” on the class chat). If he’s not exaggerating, tell him that you need to call the Yeshiva and find out what’s going on, but you won’t mention his name, and you’ll make sure it doesn’t get back to him.
Hatzlacha and have a good Shabbos.
Rabbi Yitzi Ross, Yid Parenting
My 8.5-year-old son has recently become disinterested in davening and bentching. When I try to let him know (without pressuring) that “it’s time to bentch now,” or “let’s take 10 minutes to daven before we have the Shabbos meal,” he responds that he doesn’t want to or isn’t in the mood. I tried starting to give out “bentching treats” to the children after bentching, but now this child uses it as a condition that he will only bentch if I give him a good treat, and this just doesn’t feel like good chinuch. How can I bring excitement and enthusiasm to these areas that seem like a burden to my son? Thank you, Private
I love the way you ended off your email. Excitement and enthusiasm are key elements in Chinuch, and not just for Bentching. Doing Mitzvos should never feel like a burden.
Additionally, the issue you brought up regarding rewarding positive behaviors, is a real one. Many parents and mechanchim make this common mistake, and the result is always the same. When you reward children for doing something correctly, they will require a similar or greater reward for each occurrence.
Here’s a simple example. A counselor in a sleep-away camp has a camper who refuses to eat the camp food. There are a few solutions available including ensuring that this child doesn’t bring snacks to the lunchroom, helping him decide which foods to try, or even enlisting the help of a senior staff member. If this counselor decided to reward the camper for eating, the camper will NEVER eat without being rewarded. Although a small reward seems like a quick fix, ultimately, it’s a step in the wrong direction.
In any case, your email mentioned two separate issues, namely Davening and Bentching. I would rather discuss Bentching since that’s what you seem to be focusing on as well. Here are some Bentching tips that might help you out. As always, some of these might be more useful than others.
Instead of saying, “We need to Bentch now” or, “Did you Bentch yet?”, you could say, “Let’s Bentch to thank Hashem.”
It’s important to keep in mind that, even as children mature, it’s better not to ask them whether they have bentched. They might view this as a challenge or test. Instead, try handing them a bencher and saying, “Here’s a bencher.”
If you have family meal (EG Shabbos) and you have a specific child that didn’t Bentch well, bring it up at the next meal. You can say “Before you wash for bread, I need you to remember that you need to Bentch afterwards. Last night, you didn’t Bentch so well, and I would rather you not wash for Hamotzie unless you’re sure you’ll be able to Bentch.
It’s important that the parents use a Bentcher when they Bentch. If your kids see you looking inside, they’ll likely do that same.
Although there isn’t a specific amount of time Bentching should take, it’s a good idea to Bentch somewhat loudly so your kids get an idea how much time to spend saying the words.
It’s never a bad idea to enlist the help of his Rebbe. A good Rebbe can motivate the whole class to make Brachos like Bnai Torah.
Bentching is very connected to Hakoras Hatov. After a meal, you can announce “After we thank Mommy for the yummy meal, let’s thank Hashem!”
Bentching is a Bracha Achrona. There are many other Brachos that should be focused on as well. Al Hamichya, Borei Nefashos and even an Asher Yatzar. Being consistent is a great way to parent, and you should focus on all of these.
Whereas rewarding children for expected behaviors is a bad idea, it’s always a great idea to compliment them for a job well done. If your child does an exceptionally good job reading the words inside the Bentcher, giving him a shout-out is a fantastic idea.
Lastly, there are some fabulous books written that discuss the rewards for Bentching slowly and inside a Bentcher. I would suggest picking a few of these up and leaving them around for your kids to read.
Wishing you and your family much Hatzlacha,
Have a good Shabbos,
Rabbi Yitzi Ross, Yid Parenting
Hi Rabbi Ross, I hope all is well. I have a quick question and would love to hear your thoughts. In Yiddishkeit it is a very lofty level for someone to be able to be mevater, whether between husband and wife or between two friends etc. This is also, of course something which we would love to teach our children as well. My question is, if your child has a situation where he or she should be mevater- how do we know when to get your child to try to mevater or when your child should be taught to stand up for themselves. What is the geder between kids being mevater and between building our children’s self-esteem? Thanks! Ariel Sonnenblick
I first heard the term “Being Mevater” about twenty years ago. Rav Binyamin Kamenetzky zt”l told me I should have a theme for every year. When I asked him what the theme should be, he told me that the boys should learn to be Mevater. I didn’t understand it fully then, so I asked Rabbi Herzberg zt”l who told me that it should always be my yearly theme. I’ll quote. “You can’t explain mevater, you have to live it.”
So, every week (even now) when I send my class newsletter home, it has a picture of a little person exclaiming “I was mevater!” However, the term mevater has become an overused term that became loosely translated as “giving in” which is not the real meaning. The word is hard to translate, but it really means to relinquish what is yours.
Here’s the difference. Imagine that you have two children playing a game and they’re taking turns. This is called sharing. As you’re watching them, one of them tries to continue playing even though his turn is up. You turn to him and say, “It’s not your turn, be mevater.” However, that’s incorrect. It’s not his turn, and he’s not giving up something that is rightfully his. If the other child were to say, “That’s ok, he can play a little longer, that is being mevater.”
I can explain another difference by sharing a story that happened to me a few weeks ago. My wife sent me to the Gourmet Glatt in Cedarhurst on (gasp) Thursday night. It goes without saying, that it was quite busy in the store, but thankfully I was only picking up a few items. I headed over to the “15 items or less line” and began patiently waiting. Suddenly, a lady came running up carrying a few boxes of eggs and asked one of the women in the front if she could go in front of her. The lady magnanimously replied, “I’ll gladly be mevater!”
It was a beautifully inspiring scene except for one small detail. This lady couldn’t be mevater since she was inconveniencing all the people behind her. No one said a word, but the stares of the others in line could’ve cut steel. Had she said, “Take my place, I’ll go to the back of the line”, well, that would’ve been being mevater.
Now that we have a better understanding of the word, let’s try to figure out the answer to your question. You are wondering when a child should stand up for himself as opposed to being mevater. We want our children to have confidence and be willing to stand up for what’s correct. If your child is constantly giving in, you’re worried that he won’t gain the confidence required to mature.
There are children that are raised like this, and whenever there is any conflict, they quickly give in. I agree that it’s not healthy. I had a boy in my class years ago that took the front seat on the first day. When another boy asked for that seat, he said “Sure”. A few minutes later, another boy asked for his new seat, and he gave that up as well. A few minutes later he was sitting in the back. I walked over to him and asked where he really wanted to sit and he told me “Near the front so I can focus better, but it’s fine.” I moved him back to the front and shifted everyone back a seat.
I called his mother after Yeshiva, and she said “He really does need the front, and I drove him early so he can pick a good seat. If a different boy wants the seat, I guess he can sit further back.” I told her that if he will learn better in a specific seat, he shouldn’t give it up so easily. Teaching our children to stand up for themselves, when appropriate, is very important.
The fact is, standing up for oneself and being mevater aren’t mutually exclusive. Let’s give some examples. It’s Friday night and the meal is about to start. Your oldest son always sits next to you and is about to sit down when his younger brother says, “I want to sit here tonight!” As you’re mentally preparing yourself for a meal of bickering and sulking, your bechor turns and says to his brother, “It’s ok, you can sit in my seat tonight.”
This is the true meaning of mevater. He made it clear that it was his seat and that he was willing to relinquish the seat. It was also understood that this was a one-time offer. Most importantly, he did this of his own initiative and with a smile.
Another example would be during breakfast time. One of your kids is about to pour the last of the fruity pebbles into his bowl, when a younger sibling cries “I wanted some!” The older child stops for a second, and says to his younger sibling, “Here, I’ll pour it for you.” Again, he is relinquishing the right to the cereal, and doing it with a great attitude. He’s going all out “Belev Shaleim” which is a key part to being mevater.
In both cases, your child is taking control of the situation and still being mevater. Here are some helpful hints that will help understand how to teach our children to be mevater while still giving them the confidence that they need to stand up for themselves.
• If your children are ever arguing, instead of choosing a side or getting involved, ask them to pause for a second. Explain both sides of the argument out loud. Then call over the more mature one and quietly tell him that this is a chance to prove his maturity by being mevater even though he feels he is correct.
• Being mevater means with a smile. Saying “Fine! Keep the dumb book!” isn’t being mevater.
• Asking “Who wants to be mevater” when kids are arguing is ok occasionally. If you say it every day, it really cheapens the word.
• I find it very helpful to explain to your child why you’re proud of her. “You were supposed to get a turn, and you gave it up for your sister. That’s very kind and generous of you! Great job being mevater!”
• I don’t think the word mevater should ever be said by the person that’s being mevater. For example, if your daughter says, “I’ll be mevater” you can tell her “That was very nice of you. Next time try being mevater without even saying so.”
• No one should ever be mevater at another person’s expense.
Wishing you continued Yiddishe Nachas from your children,
Have a good Shabbos,
Younger Kids Davening
Rabbi Yitzi Ross, Yid Parenting
Rabbi Ross. You mentioned that the responsibility of a mother is to work on Davening with their kids at home. What should I be doing with them, and how do I combine all the ages? Rachel Ehrenberg
I truly enjoyed last week’s column, especially since my father says the same thing. “Why has Davening become longer if it’s harder for us to focus?” One part that stood out was regarding the mother being in charge of Davening at home with the kids. Is there anything in particular I should be doing? Yael G.
Hi, thank you always for your interesting and thought-provoking articles! I was wondering exactly what you meant by the tone for davening is set by the mother. I would love a longer explanation on this if possible. Thank you, Shira Kramer
These are three of the many e-mails I’ve received after last week’s article. All of these people are asking fair questions. I did mention in passing that “The one person who really teaches the kids to Daven is their mother.” I strongly believe that if the mother is on top of the Davening at home, the kids will learn how to Daven, and the transition to Shul will be much easier. Therefore, I will share my thoughts on how this could work. Obviously, all children are different, but hopefully you can use the advice below as a guide.
To keep things simple, let’s assume there are three ages that we’re dealing with. There are toddlers ranging in ages from two-years-old up to five-years-old. The next group would start there and go up to approximately seven-years-old. The oldest group continues up to around eleven-years-old. Kids that are older than this ideally should be going to Shul. For arguments sake, we’re going to assume the children in the situations below are boys. I am not sure how this works with the girls as they get older (and still Davening at home). I need to think about this and speak to some Mechanchim in girl’s Yeshivos.
Here are my thoughts beginning with the youngest age group.
2-4 Even at the age of one, children understand and internalize everything their parents do. The first thing you (we’re talking about the mother) should do every morning, is say Modeh Ani and wash them Neggel Vasser. Make the Bracha together with him. Comments like “Now we’re ready to start our day” are also helpful, since they should connect washing hands to beginning the day. It’s worth mentioning that the attitude we display when performing Mitzvos is a huge indicator as to our emotions. Stumbling over to the sink in pre-coffee mode won’t be as effective as walking over with a big smile.
The next step with this age, is to Daven. Let your little guys play near you while you Daven. If they disturb you, don’t say “Not now – I’m Davening”. We want to associate Davening with happiness. Make sure to look inside a siddur when you’re Davening and try to stay in one area. This prepares them for eventually going to a shul. Let them sit on your lap as you read the words. If you can, sing with them parts of Davening.
Your goal is to make them realize that Davening to Hashem is a part of the day that you enjoy, something that makes you happy. Children at this age mimic everything, and they are surprisingly adept at reading body language. It wouldn’t shock me, if after a few weeks of this, your toddler begins to imitate your motions.
5-7. At this age, children should understand the importance of Davening. They are probably singing parts of Davening in school, and can say Modeh Ani, Shema, and a handful of other parts of Davening. Many kids this age even have a special Siddur from their school, but if not, you can find many wonderful children’s Siddurim in your local Seforim store.
It is helpful to find out what they Daven in school, and even better if you can speak to the Rebbe or Morah to determine what they think should be said at home. Once the older kids or your husband go to Shul, you can start Davening with him. (We’re assuming of course that he already washed Neggel Vasser when he woke up).
You can give him a spot to Daven in the same room you’re Davening. Set up a Siddur for him and begin Davening yourself. Encourage him to sing any parts that he knows out loud – tell him it makes Hashem so happy. You want to stay away from offering prizes of any sort for Davening, a compliment from you is more than enough.
It’s so important to keep in mind that every child is different. There are some five-year-old boys that will Daven for 15 minutes beautifully, and there are seven-year-old boys that will stop after three minutes. Don’t make the mistake of comparing your son to your neighbor’s grandson who “Davens the entire Shacharis by heart with all the Meforshim at the age of three!” A lot of children find it more challenging to Daven, and it’s not necessarily a reflection of your parenting.
Once you see your son is “finished”, ask him to close his Siddur, give it a kiss, and put it back on the shelf. If he Davened nicely, let him know. Give him a kiss and tell him “I’m so proud of you! Hashem loves when you talk to him! “You should finish Davening yourself at that time while he’s playing (or more likely making a mess somewhere). Afterwards, call him over and say the following. “You’re Davening so well, that I’m going to speak to Abba and see if you can start going to Shul a little bit. Really Shul is for big boys, but you’re really proving that you’re so big.” (More on going to Shul with your husband later).
If his Davening wasn’t that good, don’t make a big deal out of it. If you see him playing around or spacing out, don’t shake your head or make any negative comments. Simply say, “It looks like you’re done Davening. As you get older, you’ll begin to Daven much nicer. Thank you for taking time to talk to Hashem.” Then remind him to put the siddur away and give it a kiss. I wouldn’t worry too much about a seven-year-old that’s not Davening. If he does better next week, even if it’s only a drop better, make a big deal out of it. Send a Mitzvah note to his Rebbe. Tell your husband at the Shabbos table.
8-10. At this age, they really should be already going to Shul for at least part of the Davening, but we’ll discuss that at the end. Initially, the idea is similar to the 5-7 age group. Set up a spot for him to Daven and Daven yourself in the same room. There will probably be less singing, but he should know a lot more Tefilos.
You don’t want to focus on his Davening. Even if he’s looking out of the siddur the entire time, don’t make any comments. Focus on your Davening. Look inside your Siddur. Concentrate. He’s still a kid. If you see that he’s not even trying to Daven anymore, ask him to Daven Shema (or any main Tefila that he didn’t Daven yet) inside and then tell him he’s done. If he tells you “I already said Shema” make eye contact with him and say “OK. Thank you for Davening to Hashem. Ideally, a boy of your age would Daven a little more, but I understand it’s not always easy.” Have him put his Siddur back and give it a kiss. Keep in mind, if he’s focused on something else (E.G. legos, or a book) it might be smarter to let him play before he Davens so he can get it out of his system.
The next week you should repeat the same approach. However, before he begins Davening tell him “Last week you Davened for 9 minutes. Let’s try to Daven to Hashem for an extra few minutes.” This is more important for boys that are ten or eleven years old. Again, don’t offer any rewards or prizes, rather let him Daven on his own. Obviously, you want to increase the time spent Davening week by week until you feel he’s ready to go to Shul.
If no matter what you do, he’s resistant to Davening, I still wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. Make sure that you keep davening, and every once in a while, tell him, “When you get older, you will IY”H appreciate the beauty and importance of Davening”. One other point for this age group, is not giving him a job during the time he should be Davening. For example, if he’s not Davening during the assigned time, don’t tell him to watch his younger brother since he’s not Davening. You don’t want him justifying his lack of Davening because he’s helping out. Once his allotted time is complete, you can have him help.
The last two concepts I would like to mention, are acclimating to Shul and dealing with multiple ages.
When your son is ready to start Davening in Shul, you must ensure you have an escape plan. If Davening begins at 9:00, it would be great if he stayed until the Torah comes out so he can give it a kiss. Send along some Jewish books, and maybe a lollipop or something. As a side note, I’m sure the Shul would rather you not send crummy foods or open drinks.
Make sure that your husband is helping him with the parts you’ve been doing at home whatever the age. When he’s done Davening and is becoming fidgety, have your husband (or an older sibling) bring him back home. I know this isn’t ideal, but if you let him run around in Shul , he’ll never appreciate the holiness of the shul. It’ll just be another playground for him.
When he comes back home, make a huge deal every week. “Wow! You Davened in Shul! How was it? Were you super quiet?” Going to Shul is a reward of its own. You’ll be surprised at how quickly he’ll be able to stay for the entire Davening. If it doesn’t work out well the first time, wait a few weeks before trying again.
As many of you are aware, I’m not a fan of youth groups. I’m not going to get into the particulars, but I strongly believe that it’s the parent’s responsibility to teach their children how to Daven. Although there are always some exceptions, it seems to me that many groups on Shabbos are just glorified babysitting. I know that many of you disagree with me, and if you have already sent me your rebuttal the last time I wrote this, you don’t need to resend it. Unless it makes you feel better, in which case, send it over.
The last discussion is dealing with multiple ages simultaneously. Working with multiple children changes the whole dynamics. It’s not possible to give a concrete solution since there are so many variables. If there are siblings that are of similar ages, you can setup a mini-Shul, and let them take turns being chazzan. Make sure to constantly compliment the children Davening well.
If it’s not practical to have them all daven together, I would focus on the older ones first and let the younger ones play in a different room. If you’re unable to Daven at all because of the other kids, you need to determine if the older kids are capable of Davening without your help. If yes, let them Daven, and make a big deal about how proud of them you are. If they still need your assistance, Daven with them when your husband comes home from Shul.
If your husband offers to Daven with them when he gets home, I wouldn’t take him up on the offer. First of all, it’ll be a chance for you to daven also (while letting your husband “bond” with the little guys.) Additionally, I really think that women are better suited to giving over a love for Davening.
I would like to end off with four questions that we can all think about.
What should you do if your son’s friends are running around the Shul and he wants to join them?
How about if your husband isn’t a great Davener, or Chas V’shalom talks during Davening. Should you still send your boys?
What should a parent do if a younger child is Davening better than the older child. Should the younger child be allowed to go to Shul if the older boy is still at home?
And lastly, is it smart to tell a child that is a weak Davener that a sick person needs his Tefilos?
I would love to hear your thoughts – you can comment below although I tend to stop the comments pretty quickly. E-mailing me is always a great way to get in touch.
Have a great Shabbos!
Rabbi Yitzi Ross, Yid Parenting
I began writing these parenting columns/answers many years ago. I quickly learned that no matter the topic, people will always disagree. I had a mother email me recently after I mentioned that it’s healthy to tell children “no” sometimes. She wrote “These days, telling a child no is tantamount to child abuse. Kids need to be smothered with love and affection and your concepts of parenting are archaic!” I mention this because my short response to the question below will likely cost me many subscribers. I’m ok with that.
The person asking the question below is a Talmid from 21 years ago. I replied to him that night but waited until this week to post. Although I’m turning off public commenting, feel free to reply to this email with any thoughts.
Hi Rebbe, I hope all is well. I’m not sure if you know this, but I’ve been going to Uman with friends for the past few years. This year my wife said she really wants me home with her and the kids (Redacted is four and redacted is two). I tried explaining to her that going gives me a spiritual boost that lasts me the entire year, but she’s not listening. We agreed to let you make the final decision. Thank you! Redacted.
Many Yiddin travel to Uman for Rosh Hashana. Actually, according to Wikipedia, in 2018 over 30,000 Yidden made the trip. One friend of mine told me that the reason he goes, is because Rebbe Nachman promised to help his Tefilos go up to Hashem even if he did a lot of Aveiros. It’s unfair of me to really give an in-depth response to your question since I haven’t personally made the trip. Nonetheless I am a huge fan of being inspired by others, and Davening at a Kever is so special. Below are a few points that I would like to share.
Certain types of Chassidus have a very unique method of dealing with family. These Chassidim leave their families for extended periods of time to spend time with their Rebbes or Daven at Kevorim during the year. Many of these Chassidim also Daven slowly and carefully and are very Makpid in many areas of Yiddishkeit. It seems a bit odd to me that people pick and choose which parts of Chassidus they want to embrace. If you really love the warmth of Chassidus, you could start going to the Mikvah every morning. If that’s not an option, maybe start coming to Davening on time every day. In other words, there are other ways to connect to Hashem if going to Uman won’t work out.
I don’t think it’s ok to leave your wife and children unless they are 100% on board with it. I know of many families having the same discussion that you and your wife are having. It seems incredibly selfish to leave your family so you can have a “spiritual awakening”. Spending a Yom Tov with family is so incredible! At houses all over the world, kids are excitedly dipping apples in honey while singing about it, they’re trying new fruits, children going to Shul with their father to hear the Shofar, and so much more. In your house your wife will be quietly wondering why she is alone with the kids. It just doesn’t seem right to me.
I’m utterly baffled by those who leave Eretz Yisrael to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. Are you kidding me? You’re leaving the holiest land to go to a Kever in Uman? I’m not sure how this works, but I would ask your Rav before making a decision of that magnitude.
There are also some reports of Yidden drinking and doing other activities that should make one wonder if this is the correct venue for Bnai Torah. One very good friend of mine was very clear that he only goes for the social aspect. Whereas I’m sure you are going to build on your Yiddishkeit, nevertheless the Torah warns us against putting ourselves in positions that can cause us to sin. You need to be very careful.
There is also an issue regarding the massive Chillul Hashem that takes place. I personally spoke to a flight attendant who told me that the general behavior on the flights she works on is horrible. “Many of these people are rude, obnoxious, and leave a huge mess behind!” I know she is generalizing, but I can’t help but wonder if the holy Rav Nachman would really be ok with this. If you’re making the trek, please make sure that you and those around you are making a Kiddush Hashem.
The last thing I would point out, is the cost involved. I have a funny feeling that if instead of spending the money on the trip you bought your wife some jewelry, it would enhance Yom Tov for BOTH of you. One person that goes every year mentioned to me that he’s going through a very hard time financially. Some local organizations are helping out as he tries to supplement his income with side jobs. Do these organizations know that he spends money flying to Uman every year? Would they still help him out?
In case I wasn’t clear enough, I agree with your wife. Stay home. Buy your wife something nice for Yom Tov and bring Rav Nachman into your home. You can still be excited about davening, and who knows? Maybe you’ll inspire others! Have a wonderful Shabbos.
Rabbi Yitzi Ross, Yid Parenting
Rabbi Ross, When putting my kids to bed, I’ve been following your advice and letting them read as opposed to playing electronic devices. Instead of going to the library, my son gets his reading material from his school’s library. My son goes to REDACTED, and they have a pretty decent library. In any case, I looked at the book my son was reading, and noticed that it was called “Big Nate”. I glanced at a page and was floored. The content was just disgusting, and the pictures not much better. My husband thinks that I’m being overly sensitive, but I think that this is horrible. Here are my questions. Is it ok for an eight-year-old boy to be reading this? How can schools allow this in their libraries? Am I being overly sensitive? NAME REDACTED
Thank you for your email. I understand that many of you don’t mind using your names, but frequently there are other people or places that need to give permission. The Yeshiva that you mentioned would not necessarily be OK with having their name mentioned. Furthermore, your son might not be ok with being mentioned since apparently, I have a lot of children reading this column.
Each of the questions you asked really deserves its own response. Let’s go through them one at a time.
Is it OK for an eight-year-old boy to be reading inappropriate reading material? Of course not. The real question is, what’s called inappropriate reading material? The answer is really not something that can be quantified in an e-mail. If you live a completely shielded lifestyle, I’m sure that many of the most basic books can be off limits. If you live in a very modern area and your children have easy access to television and/or internet, reading material is the least of your problems. It’s the people in between that have a tough call. The below response is for this middle group.
I grew up reading Calvin and Hobbes. My kids read it as well. Although a few of the strips might be considered inappropriate either due to the content or the words, by and large it was a somewhat accurate portrayal of the psyche of an eight-year-old. I remember reading it in the paper when I was young, and now my kids & I laugh together when we read some of them.
A Rebbe once told me that it’s completely inappropriate. I asked him what his kids read, and he told me that he had no clue, but it wasn’t Calvin and Hobbes. Personally, I’d rather have my children reading Calvin & Hobbes as opposed to not knowing what they’re reading. I won’t tell you the end of the story, but I can assure you that if he did it all over again, he might have chosen the silliness of Calvin & Hobbes over the material his son chose.
These days, kids are reading a lot of material that’s questionable. There are certain parents that think Harry Potter became dark and morbid as the series ended, while others think it’s wonderful. The key word here, is parents. Parents need to know what their kids are reading, and possibly even read it themselves. I know that you’re not in the mood of reading 475 pages of a book called Fablehaven, but at the very least glance through it. You can also find reviews online by like-minded people which can help guide you. Once you know what it’s about, you can make a final determination. Don’t forget to factor in your children’s friends. If they’re all reading a book, it’s probably not so smart to forbid your child from reading it. He’ll probably read it anyway, either in school or possibly at a friend’s house.
If the book really bothers you, I would suggest being open with your child. You can say, “I read the book you’re reading and I enjoyed it. However, there were parts during which the armadillo was using language that we don’t approve of. I’m ok with you reading it, as long as you understand that it’s not the way a Ben Torah speaks.”
You mentioned Big Nate in your E-mail. I read part of a Big Nate along with another absolutely mind-numbing series called Captain Underpants. While the crude humor was specifically aimed at juvenile boys, they seem to enjoy it. I saw a few weird chapters and questionable pictures, but let’s be real. If your child has access to this book, he’s going to read it anyway. You can tell him that you’re not OK with the book in your house. If he takes it out of the Yeshiva Library, he can read it in school during recess. I’m assuming of course, that your reading material is 100% appropriate. If you think it’s ok for you to read adult novels but your kids can’t read Big Nate, you’re in for some fun parenting in a few years.
Next question. How can schools allow this? It’s pretty simple. Schools bring in books that get kids reading. Some kids will gladly read a biography on Derek Jeter, and others might enjoy a history book. Most kids want the silly immature books. If there is a specific book that you feel is horribly inappropriate, simply send your school an e-mail and let them decide themselves.
Many years ago, someone created a comprehensive list for the schools describing which books are appropriate, but it’s really not so simple. There is a lot more work that goes into running a school library then people appreciate. All the librarians want, is for your son to practice reading. (They also want your son to return his book when he’s done, but that’s a separate issue).
Are you being overly sensitive? I don’t think so. It’s always scary to watch your children doing things that seem wrong. Nonetheless, sometimes parents need to take a step back and say “What was I doing when I was eight-years-old? Was it that much better?” Somehow you survived just fine. Being worried is a large part of parenting. Letting your kids grow is another large part. Again, if something seems really off in a book they’re reading, by all means tell them they can’t read it. However, remember to choose these battles wisely.
Have a Great Shabbos!