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Help! I've got kids...

My Daughter is Selfish

February 22, 2009

Dear Bracha,

I hate to even write this, but I am noticing some traits of selfishness in my daughter. She always was such a sweet and giving person, but as she gets older, she seems to have a feeling of entitlement. For the first time I'm seeing her compare how much she's being asked to help out and how much or how little attention or time she's getting from me versus her siblings. How can I teach her to be more giving and forgiving and happy for others in what they get without constantly thinking about her own entitlements?


It is so wonderful that you have been able to raise your daughter as such a giving person. From the "tilt" of your question I will make my usual assumptions, which I hope are close to reality.

It seems to me that you are talking about a child who is entering or in her teen years and has younger siblings. If such is the case, then your daughter's reactions are very normal. As children get older, they become more aware of things and make more judgments based on the information available to them. This is a good thing, in general, and is a sign of maturation. What a parent needs to focus on at this point is teaching context.

Let me explain: In the overall picture your daughter is seeing, there probably is justification for her conclusion that she is asked to help out more than others and is not getting as much attention as some of her siblings. From her point of view she is correct. However she has not been able to understand context or has ignored the mitigating circumstances that have led to this situation.

The fact that younger children need more help with things such as homework, bathing or bedtime may be getting lost in your daughter's new awareness. The fact that younger siblings cannot help out as much as an older more skilled child may also be overlooked.

Sit down with your daughter during a quiet moment and reach an understanding that will make her feel special. Part of that will be explaining to your daughter the how and why of her role in the family. There is no accident in anything, especially the order of birth. G‑d is very aware of who will be the younger child and who will be the older. This means that older children are meant to help raise and be mentors for their younger siblings for very special reasons. It also means that an older child will have more privileges than a younger child.

Let her know how much you appreciate her and have come to rely on her as a responsible and caring person. Let her feel your pride in her accomplishments and see if you can do more things together even if they are technically work, these are opportunities to bond.

Now, once you've explained this to your daughter, you too have an important point to consider: It is a fact that generally younger children are not asked to perform chores or take on responsibilities at the early rate that their older siblings were. There is a natural tendency to teach the firstborn to do things early; a situation that slows down with each additional child so that the youngest siblings often seem catered to and not included in the family chore system until very late, usually far too late. This will of course result in some resentment from older siblings, but it also hurts the younger siblings in that it delays their development in the areas of responsibility and maturity.

So you have to ask yourself—is your daughter right? And if so, how bad is the discrepancy in terms of responsibilities and attention? Weighing the factors as mentioned above: what are her siblings really capable of at their age and what are their real needs.

Another thought: All children want their parents' attention and this can be very difficult to deal with, especially in an active household with a lot of young children. Many children work some way of getting and holding a parent's attention, some of which are not pleasant, putting a parent in the position of necessity, in that he or she must deal with a situation immediately… With the result that the child who is good, considerate and more mature ends up being ignored. In terms of attention this means that the more problems you have or the more trouble you cause the more attention (reward) you get; and the nicer you are the less attention (punished) you get. Is that really what we want to teach our children?

Take a step back and look through your daughter's eyes for a day. Then decide if her objections have some validity. Next you will have to decide what you are going to do about it. All children need some attention and your daughter is clearly indicating that she feels she does not get enough.

Wishing you and your family all the best!

Mother Burn Out II

February 15, 2009

Dear Tzippora,

I read your response to the woman with mother burn-out, and I realize that I am probably also suffering from burn-out, but a much worse case than her. And though your suggestions were probably good for her, none of them apply to me. For instance, you recommended taking a course. But I can't think of anything I would like to do. Instead I lie in bed all day, and only manage to drag myself out of bed and get dressed before the kids come home from school. Sometimes, I don't even manage getting dressed. You also recommended going away for a small vacation with a friend, family member, or spouse. But going anywhere or doing anything seems like way too much of a hassle. I just want to be left alone. By everybody! I feel very guilty about being so unmotivated and reclusive, but I can't seem to change it. I tell myself that I am such a bad mother, but it just makes me more depressed. Please help,

Really Really Really Burnt-Out

Dear Really Burnt-Out,

Unfortunately, your situation sounds more serious than a simple case of burn-out. It sounds like clinical depression. Depression is an illness, characterized by feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, sadness, and futility. Although post-partum depression has been getting a lot of attention these days, the fact is there are other forms of depression which are just as serious and debilitating. Depression can strike at any time, including during pregnancy itself, after a miscarriage, or after another form of life trauma. Sometimes it is not possible to identify a trigger at all.

If left untreated, depression does not go away on its own. People do not simply snap out of being depressed. Conditions such as dsythemia can linger quietly for years, making family life and life in general feel unmanageable and overly burdensome.

For the sake of your children and yourself, it is important to seek professional help. Get a referral for a therapist from your family doctor, or ob-gyn, and make an appointment right away. The sooner you begin treatment, the sooner you will begin feeling better. If you need to take medication, then do so. Medication can help you feel better faster, and why suffer unnecessarily?

However do not just get a prescription from your doctor and skip the therapy. Medication alone without therapy is not sufficient to help you make the changes you need to reclaim your life. Don't worry about the money right now. Tell yourself that a functioning mother is a gift to your children, a gift that is worth much more than dolls, bikes, or even sleep-away camp.

You did not choose to be depressed, and you cannot choose to be un-depressed. However, you can choose to take action. G‑d does not want you to suffer. Taking care of your health, including your emotional and psychological health is a mitzvah, and our Sages teach that we should treat this mitzvah with the utmost seriousness.

Teasing and Name Calling

February 8, 2009

Q. My daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes. She takes her insulin injections and pricks her fingers to test her blood sugar after meals and handles it surprisingly well. However, at school she suffers from her classmates who poke fun at her all the time, calling her "diabetes girl" or other forms of teasing and name calling. How can I help her?

A. It is extremely painful for any child – a child struggling with a health issue in particular – to be called names. Our sages say that ona'at devarim (verbally causing someone pain) is more severe than ona'at mammon (injuring another financially). That's because a person feels more distressed when his feelings are hurt and, unlike money that can be returned, hurt feelings cannot be undone.

Not all children have developed the ability to accept and respect other people's differences; they have not yet learned to understand each person's uniqueness. Children may be teased about anything ranging from their size, weight, eyeglasses, or challenges they cope with such as diabetes, ADHD, dyslexia, etc. Mild teasing can be handled by ignoring it or walking away or having a prepared response, such as, "Yeah, whatever," or "So?" or "That's teasing. Stop it." Teasing that is hurtful, unkind, intentional and constant is called bullying and must be stopped.

How Parents Can Help:

Listen to your child in a supportive and respectful way. Just allowing your child to talk about these issues can be very helpful. Keep the conversation neutral, overreacting can result in a child overreacting, asking too many questions or giving advice can cause the child to withhold from telling you his problems again.

Validate. Sometimes kids feel like that their being teased is their own fault, that if they were different they wouldn't be hurt in this way. Discuss the situation with your child. Make it clear to her that the fact that she is dealing with the challenges of diabetes is not her fault and that she didn't do anything wrong by having this condition. No one has a right to call her names and to hurt her in any way!

Explain to her that children tease for different reasons. Sometimes it's the teaser's own need to feel empowered. These are children who view life as a seesaw and they imagine that if they can put other kids down, they will lift themselves up. Clarify that this kind of thinking is a sad distortion of reality, as the Sages taught, "Who is respected? He who respects his fellow man."

Involve the school faculty to determine a course of action to put a total stop to this kind of behavior. Consider the fact that your child may be feeling worried that if the aggressor discovers that she told on her, the situation will worsen. Remind her that this is a fear, reassure her that you will be there for her, but explain to her that it's important for her to be brave in order to bring about a change.

Encourage you child. Express your belief in her ability to handle the situation while conveying the message that you are there for her and will intervene when necessary. Steer her towards forming a supportive circle of friends.

Strategies to empower your child:

We cannot control what other people do or say, but we can control our own actions and reactions. Teaching your child constructive techniques to respond to teasing or bullying will empower her to deal with other adversities that she may encounter in life.

Teach your child the VIP method.

The VIP method for VIP kids:

  • V: Visualize the insults bouncing off you like a ball. Or, use the "raincoat technique": Picture yourself wearing an emotional raincoat. When the teasing, name calling and insults start raining down, visualize the bad words sliding off the raincoat's slippery exterior without permitting comments to be absorbed inside.
  • I: I-Messages can help you express your feelings without inviting more teasing (as would tears or angry reactions). Communicate how you feel, what has caused you to feel this way, and how you would like it otherwise by saying calmly and without fear, "I feel upset when you call me names. I would like you to stop."
  • P: Play it Cool. Stay calm and in control. Present a relaxed and confident appearance via facial expression and body posture.

As parents, we can't always protect our children from hurtful comments, but we do play an important role in helping our children deal with them. The VIP method takes the fun out of the bully's attempts to get to you. When bullies fail to get a response from the victim, they quickly lose interest.

Living with diabetes may be challenging but that doesn't take away from your daughter's special value.

Strangers Under One Roof

Opening Up the Lines of Communication with Teens

February 1, 2009

Dear Bracha,

I have a few teenage children and I wonder how I can open up the lines of communication with them. I like to give them their own space, but I still want to be more involved in their lives without them feeling like I'm interfering or mixing into their business. Some days, I almost feel like we are all strangers living under one roof, with little sharing or communication of what is really going on in our lives.


You ask a very important question, the answer to which is different for each family as a fingerprint. There are two primary times of the day that are easiest for communication; they are before and during supper. The next best opportunity would be during a shared family project, but these are usually twice a year things that are more of a boost than a regular event, so let's discuss supper.

First: the before supper time. With teenagers I suggest that you make a routine that one of your teenagers help you prepare supper each night. Discuss this with them first, I'm sure you can explain this in a way that will appeal to them or at least appeal to their sense of fair play. During the time that you have your supper helper, this will be your one on one time together. Whether it is fixing a special meal that your teen suggested he/she would like to make or you just get to talking or making jokes together. Take it easy, this is more of a fun time together, with cooking as the creative focus that lets you "hang loose" and just enjoy each other's company.

During supper is the next time to communicate. Family suppers are a must. Sometimes there are basketball practices or Dad has to work late; things of this nature, they should be the exceptions not the rule. Families eating supper together may be old fashioned in some respects, but it works, and as I always say, if it works, it works!

Supper time has its own rules:

1. Everyone must come when supper is called, so you can all eat together.

2. Everyone must stay at the table until supper is over.

3. Everyone must help clean up the kitchen before they leave.

You can help by not dragging out supper time, yet don't feel obligated to rush your meal. The family should clean up the kitchen together as a regular routine to avoid anyone having to clean up the mess of others as well it promotes team work. The parents or at least one parent should stay in the kitchen and be involved as part of the team. Some families sing while cleaning. I suggest asking your teens what is good kitchen cleaning music and letting it blast away while you all swing to the music and get that kitchen sparkling. Nothing should be left over for Mom to do, dishes, counter, floor, the works!

The key to all this is to gain cooperation from your teens. Part of that is explaining these new routines to them beforehand and allowing for feedback. I think if you are serious about this, they too will be. Explain to them that everyone has their jobs in a family. Most often Dad and Mom both work outside the home and the children go to school. Even if Mom is a "stay at home Mom" there are very few I know of who are really at home most of the day. They are running around on family business that benefits everyone and that is their work. So in the evening everyone should be pitching in their fair share, having one person do it all, such as Mom making and cleaning up from supper is very unfair unless others are physically incapable of helping.

By concentrating your efforts on this time of the day, you will end up with a nice mix of one on one family time that really helps your family connect.

Wishing you and your family all the best!

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