Developing a Child’s Self-Confidence and Esteem

Your letter of the 19th of Kislev, with enclosures, reached me just now.

Needless to say, to make an evaluation of a situation is very difficult, especially in a letter. However, this is not really necessary seeing that you have been in consultation with competent people, and you will no doubt continue to do so. Therefore, I can only make some general observations.

First of all, you surely know that nowadays such problems with children are very common, and in fact, probably in the overwhelming majority, although, of course not all problems are of the same degree, or in the same domain. I say this advisedly, for it seems from your writing that you are overly anxious, for which there is no real reason.

Usually, the final decision as to how to deal with children who have such problems lies with the administration of the school, after discussing the situation with the parents and being advised of the way the child is handled at home.

The reasons are understandable, since firstly, the administration are more objective than a parent can be. Secondly, they are also more experienced in such problems inasmuch as they deal with many children. And, after all, the parents can also express their opinion to help arrive at the best decision.

It is also well to bear in mind that a significant number of such problems are usually straightened out in the course of time through the contact that the child has with other children and with the teacher and parents, because a child especially responds to the environment and to the persons with whom the child is in constant contact.

What surprises me is that there is a factor in the situation which is rarely, if ever, used. This is to give a problem child a role of leadership with a group of younger children, through some school activity and the like. This usually goes a long way to encourage the child’s self-confidence, as well as making the child more sociable, etc.

I trust that this method could be used also in your situation — of course with the approval, and under the supervision, of the school administration.

The above will surely suffice for you and your husband to discuss the suggestions with the administration, to whom you may, of course, show this letter. I have strong confidence that the results in regard to each and all of your children will be gratifying...

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 5th of Teves, 5745)

Ridding Children of Unhealthy Traits and Habits

I received your letter, in which you ask my advice with regard to certain educational problems, especially how to influence the children to get rid of undesirable habits, etc.

Needless to say, these problems cannot be adequately discussed in a letter. However, experienced teachers and educators are usually their own best guides, for, as the saying goes, “None is wiser than the man of experience.”

Besides, it is difficult to give advice from the distance, especially as the psychology of children may vary in certain aspects from one country to another.

Nevertheless, I would like to make one general point which can be universally applied in educational problems, a point which is emphasized in the teachings of Chassidus. I refer to the effort to make the children aware that they possess a soul which is a part of G‑d, and that they are always in the presence of G‑d (as explained in Chapters 2 and 41 of the Tanya).

When this is done persistently, and on a level which is suitable to the age group and background of the children, the children come to realize that they possess a great and holy quality which is directly linked with G‑d, the Creator and Master of the world, and that it would therefore be quite unbecoming and unworthy of them to do anything which is not good.

At the same time they come to realize that they have the potential to overcome temptation or difficulty, and if they would only make a little effort on their part they would receive considerable assistance from On high to live up to the Torah and Mitzvos, which constitute the will and wisdom of G‑d.

As for the problem of some children having a habit to take things not belonging to them, this may fall into one of two categories:

a. The attitude mentioned in the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos “Mine is thine and thine is mine.” In this case the effort should be made to educate the child that just as it is necessary to be careful not to offend or shame another person, so it is necessary to be careful not to touch anything belonging to somebody else.

b. An unhealthy condition which should be treated medically by specialists who know how to handle such an aberration.

I would like to add one more point, which is also emphasized in the teachings of Chassidus, namely, to be careful that in admonishing children the teacher or parent should not evoke a sense of helplessness and despondency on the part of the child; in other words, the child should not get the impression that he is good-for-nothing and that all is lost, etc., and therefore he can continue to do as he wishes.

On the contrary, the child should always be encouraged in the feeling that he is capable of overcoming his difficulties and that it is only a matter of will and determination.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated In the Days of Chanukah, 5721)

When a Young Person Refuses to Go to the Doctor And/or Follow His Instructions

This is to acknowledge your letter of January 3rd; in accordance with your request, I will mention your son in prayer.

Regarding the problem of getting your son to seek the advice of a doctor:

It is quite often the case that teenagers respond less to the influence of their parents than to the influence of their friends.

I believe that you will be able to find many suitable friends who will be able to speak to him [and convince him to seek a doctor’s advice]. It would be better that your son not know that his friends were asked to convince him.

I wish to add that the unwillingness to seek the advice of a doctor or to follow his instructions is quite a common occurrence; and doctors generally know how to deal with such a situation.

One of the methods [to overcome the reluctance to take medication] is to prescribe a colorless and tasteless medicine that can be dissolved in milk and juice, so that [the young person] will not suspect [that he is taking a medication].

Since all blessings emanate from G‑d, it is good to remember the following — a matter that at times people are inattentive to:

All members of the Jewish family are considered one entity and one body; that which is beneficial to one part [of this body] is beneficial to the whole.

Consequently, any and all additional efforts in increasing matters of goodness and holiness, Torah and mitzvos — particularly on the part of the parents — broaden the channels to receiving G‑d’s blessings for the entire family, and particularly to the individual who is in the most need of these blessings....

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 21 Teves, 5740)

Stuttering at an Early Age

…Stuttering at this [early] age is often the result of a sudden fright. When you ascertain what caused [his fright], it is much easier to rectify the situation, until the stutter will completely disappear. You should consult an expert in this field.

Surely I need not encourage you to enhance your study of Torah and performance of mitzvos, and that the more you do so the greater will be the improvement in all matters, particularly with regard to the above [problem of your son’s stuttering].

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XV, p. 313)

Sudden Stuttering Caused by Sudden Fright

In reply to your letter of the 6th of Tammuz, in which you write about your youngest daughter ... tichye, who suddenly began to stutter:

You surely have requested the advice of a medical expert who specializes in this field, although in general you need not be overly alarmed, for most likely her stuttering is the result of a sudden fright. When you ascertain what caused her fright and explain to your daughter that her fear is groundless, her stuttering will gradually disappear.

It may be advisable to have your daughter sleep in a different bedroom, and also to have your mezuzos checked to make sure they are kosher. May G‑d grant you success, so that you be able to convey to me the glad tidings that your daughter has fully recovered....

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VI, p. 189)

Assisting One’s Child Who Is Suffering From Mental Problems

1) Consult with the doctor with whom your daughter visits (or previously visited) of late. Although a doctor [who practices psychotherapy] will generally not divulge the condition of his patient to others, he will surely advise you as to how to deal with her. (From what I can gather from your letter, it would be worthwhile that you leave her to her own devices for a time.)

2) Understandably, it would be beneficial to find friends [of your daughter] who can influence her (without it being discernible that her parents asked them to intervene).

3) Enhancement of the parents’ actions — that they be in even closer conformation to the Shulchan Aruch, i.e., to G‑d’s desires — increases G‑d’s blessings to the children as well....

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXVI, p. 324)

Extracting a Child From His World of Fantasy1

…Since — as stated in the documentation (which is being returned under separate cover) — the child is interested in music and sings frequently, etc., you should try to use this to “reach” him, to attach him more firmly to his parents, sheyichyu, etc.

{This should be accomplished by having his parents sing in his presence, telling the child that they will continue singing if he fulfills a particular task, etc., or that they will obtain for him recordings of music that he favors, etc.}

Surely a child psychologist will be able to point out numerous methods as to how this can be accomplished.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXVI, p. 325)

Assisting a Young Person in Overcoming His Mental Problems

You write about the young man [and his mental problems]:

You should seek the advice of medical specialists who focus on this area, for to our great misfortune the events that transpired with this young man have become all too common during the past few years.

Consequently, the doctors in this field already know how to deal with it, what medications to give, and also how one should conduct him or herself with such individuals after they return home.

One of the most important things is that he should not have spare time [with nothing to do], but should be occupied with matters that do not require intense concentration. It would also be beneficial for him to do some physical labor, at least part time.

This individual should also have his bitachon in G‑d strengthened and should endeavor as much as possible to completely cease thinking about his past....

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXVI, p. 325)

Dealing with a hyperactive child

In reply to a query as to how to handle a very “lively” and aggressive young boy, one who also had another medical problem, the Rebbe replied:

With regard to his “liveliness”: Friends should be found for him who are as physically strong as he is. This will place at least some constraints upon him.

Regarding your second question about him: Ask the advice of a pediatric specialist, as this problem is not all that uncommon and it generally disappears with time, and appropriate medications speed the [healing] process.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 11 Nissan, 5711)


…As is well known, doctors advise [that the child enjoy] tranquility and peace of mind to the greatest possible extent; to get the child to be unmindful of this situation [and surely not to exaggerate its severity]; diminished amount of liquids before going to sleep, and so on.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXVI, p. 323)

Adolescents — Sensitivity to Their Needs

…I would like to point out something you are undoubtedly aware of, and that is your son’s age. He is in transition from youth to maturity, a time of life that entails considerable strain. During this sensitive period of adolescence, it is particularly important not to do anything that might aggravate the strain.

This is particularly true in a country such as this ... where even mature adults are prey to [forces of negative cultural and street] influence, and it requires much willpower not to succumb; how much more so where a teenager is concerned.

In light of the above, it is obviously the sacred duty of every near and dear one, and especially of parents, to do all things possible to promote the teenager’s peace of mind and thereby make his struggles easier, and certainly to avoid anything which might weaken his willpower to resist the influences of the street, etc.

A further point: In the realm of faith, religion and feeling, every individual is a world unto himself. This is not the case in the realm of reason, where one can argue and convince and change the other person’s mind. [In the former instances,] young people, especially, become attached to an ideal, particularly one that is expressed in actual behavior.

It can be extremely difficult to get such a person to change his feelings and conduct, and any effort to change his true nature, when applied to a young person during this sensitive period of adolescence, has serious implications.

(From a letter of the Rebbe in the year 5726)

Teenage Years and Feelings of Being Alone

…In reference to your stating that you have always been a loner and do not feel close to anybody, from which you seem to conclude that once again [in your present situation] you may have to make up your mind all by yourself:

As you realize — and this is also obvious from your letter —being a loner is not healthy, and this obviously has added to your confusion, as you mention in your letter.

If one does not feel a particular closeness to one’s family, it is at least necessary to find social contact with people of one’s own age and background, more or less, since such people must have gone through life and experienced the same general situations, allowing, of course, for individual exceptions.

…In conclusion, I would again like to volunteer an observation, though this time in a different vein, that you should not be so downhearted, since it is not unusual for young people of your age to feel a sense of confusion, or even frustration.

One needs only to feel for those who refuse to accept a helping hand from near and dear ones, including parents. I do not mean to say that one must readily submit to parental dictatorship, but neither does this mean that one should always reject parental advice and help in the hope that eventually things will straighten out themselves.

Of course, living in a nurturing, well-ordered, and disciplined atmosphere, willing to accept certain matters on authority without questioning everything from A to Z until one has been personally able to delve into all these matters — which is impossible — would go a long way toward improving the situation.

(From a letter of the Rebbe)

Dealing With Issues that Confront an Adolescent Male


I am in receipt of your letter of May 13, in which you discuss the problem of m. You are quite right that it is a matter to be handled delicately but, surprisingly you do not mention that it is not to be treated by the same approach in all cases.

A further point to bear in mind is this. If, as you suggest, it should be explained to the person that it is “natural,” or as some suggest that it should even be encouraged, then eventually all restraint will be removed, and the boy will indulge in it freely, with spiritual and physical consequences well known to you.

And judging by the majority of cases, such an approach would encourage overindulgence even from the “medical” point of view.

There is yet another consideration. When the person is told of the seriousness of the matter, there is at least the redeeming feature of having told him the truth.

Therefore, even if it may have a temporary undesired effect, one is at least certain in not having misled him, while when he is told that it is “natural” and he need not take it to heart, etc., it is not the truth, and he will sooner or later discover that he has been deceived or lulled, and the excuse that it was intended for his benefit may or may not satisfy him.

All this is without reference to the first and essential aspect of the situation, namely, the point of view of the Torah and Shulchan Aruch, which is most stringent about it, as the Rosh Yeshiva has no doubt explained to you.

From my knowledge of such cases, the majority of boys, and a majority by far, overcome this problem when they know its seriousness and are guided accordingly. This is why they do not come to the doctor’s attention, while where restraint is removed it often becomes a medical problem,

I believe I mentioned in a previous letter that, knowing your family and background, I hope that in addition to the healing that you bring to your patients in their physical need you also help the spiritually, for in Jewish life the physical and spiritual are very intimately bound up together.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 20th of Iyar, 5722)

Reorienting Our Assessment of Adolescent Male Issues

A follow up to the previous letter:


Thank you for your letter of Aug. 19th, which has just reached me, and in which you refer to the delicate matter which has been the subject of our recent correspondence.

With all due respect, I must disagree with your statement that there is a radical difference of attitude between the Jewish and medical-psychological points of view on this matter, in that the latter believe that there is no physical or psychological ill-effects.

I doubt very much whether physicians and psychologists do in fact generally hold this view. As far as i know most medical authorities do not share this view. Indeed, it is impossible that there should not be physical, and even more so psychological consequences, for every normal person is bound to experience “uneasiness”, guilt doing something which is notnatural.

What is even more painfully surprising, in my opinion, is the fact that physicians and psychologists who are concerned with finding a way to help the adolescents in this problem, are approaching this problem from the wrong end.

They should be the first to advocate early marriage, especially as there is already a marked tendency in this direction in the present day, except that, unfortunately, economic considerations prevent it from becoming more widespread.

Therefore, one would expect the medical profession to use its influence with local and state authorities to offer economic assistance to would-be early marriage candidates on the same principle that economic help is given to the aged.

To be sure, early marriage would not entirely solve the problem, since the age of puberty begins earlier, yet to prevent even a few years of this problem would be a very great achievement in the mental health of many people.

Therefore, instead of advocating an attitude as you describe, the M.D. and psychologists would be better advised to get to the rootof the problem along the lines suggested above.

Needless to say, no single doctor can bring about a reorientation of view in the profession, and certainly the above observations are not intended as a personal reflection on you.

However, I venture to suggest that the reason why doctors have not come out in favor of early marriage with appropriate “fanfare” is the reluctance to advocate an “old-fashioned” idea! Yet, as already mentioned, there is an unmistakable tendency in this direction, and it is no longer considered so old-fashioned after all.

To return to the method of treatment, I see no reference in your letter to the point I made, which is “also” essential: As between the two methods, namely, to make light of it or to consider it reprehensible, the latter corresponds to the truth and natural order, while the other is at variance with same.

If the justification for the former is on the basis of selecting the lesser of two evils, then the truth should not be suppressed, at least. Thus, a certain disease may be and is treated by inducing malaria, on the principle of counteracting a greater evil by a lesser evil, but in that case no one will claim that malaria is no disease. Besides, this method is applied only where there is no other way.

As we are about to enter the month of Elul, when we will be saying twice daily “G‑d is my light and my salvation” (Psalm 27), may G‑d enlighten each and every one of us to utilize our capacities to the full in helping ourselves and others in every possible way…

If you will discuss the above with colleagues, I will be very interested to know their arguments.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 28th of Menachem Av, 5722)

Dealing With an Out-of-Control Young Person

In reply to your letter with the attached pidyon nefesh — which will be read at a propitious time at the holy resting place of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of blessed memory — in which you write that you are at a total loss as to how you should act with regard to your child:

There is the known, astute advice of our Sages, of blessed memory, that there are three with whom one should conduct himself with a “right hand that draws close — a child....”2

In your current situation, you should seek the advice of a mental health doctor, since oftentimes — and possibly most times — the conduct that you describe in your letter is a result of mental strain and the like. Quite often a doctor can be quite successful in alleviating the matter.

In any event, in light of what you described to me, [it seems that] banishing your son from the house can lead to an even further deterioration of the situation and not be beneficial at all, as can readily be understood.

May G‑d will it that you soon be able to convey glad tidings to me with regard to the above.

It is self-evident and patently obvious that the more you and your family increase your observance of Torah and mitzvos, the more this will increase G‑d’s blessings in general and the fulfillment of your specific requests in particular.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XV, p. 224)

Mental Problems of a Child

I received your letter in which you write about the [mental] problem of your daughter, Rivkah.

Judging by your description of her condition, it is somewhat surprising to me that she sees the doctor only once a month. However, I assume that you are in closer contact with him.

As for the question of making the trip to New York with your daughter to see me, I do not think it is advisable at this time, for it is impossible to foresee what effect this round trip might have on your daughter.

However, what I do consider advisable — and it is possible to arrange this without too much difficulty — is that your daughter have a change of environment for a couple of weeks. This would have a beneficial effect on her, inasmuch as she would not be in contact with the people in whose presence she feels so sensitive, etc.

Needless to say, every additional effort on the part of all the members of the family in matters of Torah and mitzvos would bring additional blessings to the whole family and particularly to your daughter, who is most in need of them.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 12 Adar, 5718)

Developing a Healthy Personality — Early Childhood Education

True education is not merely the transmission of facts and imparting information.

The fundamental role of education, and one of its earliest and most important goals, is to mold a healthy, productive individual and to safeguard a person against his own potential negative tendencies and offensive traits. This is especially true of early childhood education.

On his own, a person is not objective in evaluating his own characteristics. A person’s inclination and his own innate, materialistic nature and self-love will often “bribe” an individual into a distorted view of his negative traits.

Proper education is therefore required to help an individual cultivate and carefully focus his or her introspective inquiry.

The earliest narrative related in Scripture tells the story of the “Tree of Knowledge,” which was “desirable to the eyes” and, therefore, was also assumed to be “good to eat” (Bereishis 3:6).

As a result of the overpowering temptation, G‑d’s warning was disregarded and death came to mankind. In other words, tempting pleasures can often “blind” one’s better judgment.

Solomon, the wisest of men, taught us:

“He who spares the rod hates his son: but he who loves him, chastises him early.” (Mishlei 13:23)

This means that effective education and childhood training must incorporate a strong approach to form the positive personality of the individual, and to rid the child of “unsavory” dispositions.

Laxity in this area would represent hatred for our children, and experience has shown that those children who were not properly and strictly brought up, but were raised with a liberal, “free” upbringing, came back to their parents later with serious complaints.

Eventually they blame their “rod-sparing” parents and teachers for their personal behavior and their unmodified, negative inclinations and traits.

In our era we know this a posteriori, i.e., deducted from our own experience.

This fundamental role of education is not only pertinent in modifying the acquired characteristics and habits that a child picks up by “nurture,” but also in relation to the inborn predispositions which come to the child by his “nature.”

Here, too, the child must be educated, and his natural conduct must be modified with a strong and positive involvement on the part of the parents and of the educator.

For if they “spare the rod,” waiting for the child to mature on his own and independently learn to overcome his inclinations, in the interim the child will cause harm to himself and sometimes also to his surroundings. The firm education “rod” is the best favor for the child.

(Purim, 5746)