Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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9 Tammuz 5760 - July 12, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Dangerous Child - How to React to a Child Who Habitually Endangers His Life
by R. Chadshai

My nine-year-old son drives us insane. This time he has really gone over the top, in both senses of the word. They call him the class acrobat and he puts himself into the most hazardous situations. For example, he can climb up to the third floor from the outside of a building and then swing nonchalantly from the window frame by one hand, while the onlookers hold their breath in apprehension. Or he will sit calmly on an open windowsill at a friend's house, or lie down on top of the rail of a high balcony.

Each day he plans some new piece of mischief. We have tried to appeal to his good sense, to no avail. He doesn't seem to understand the danger of his exploits. His friends are used to him and even applaud his antics. We pray daily for his survival and that he shouldn't have to learn his lesson the hard way, G-d forbid. Any suggestions?

Mother of Avrumi


Although everybody hopes that children outgrow these antics, as they do most types of unaccepted conduct, in this case, it is impossible to wait. 1) Because of the danger inherent in his exploits, lest he do it once too often, chas vesholom. 2) This tendency to endanger one's life is inclined to continue and perhaps, accelerate. The children who on principle refuse to wear cycling helmets, and show off to their peers by riding along roads with heavy traffic, turn into irresponsible adults who never fasten their seat belts while driving. They become drivers who ignore speed limits and think that a fast car is a sign of virility. These signs of arrogance and recklessness madden the rest of the population, and certainly members of the family.

Let us try to nip this problem in the bud. These people believe, either consciously or subconsciously, that "It won't happen to me." They know full well the danger of what they are doing, but don't relate it to themselves. Or they imagine (on what premise?) that they are immune to injury.

Sometimes there is a problem of an unrealistic assessment of the dangers involved. Explorers say they take a calculated risk when they set out and every adventure which ends happily without any injury proves their faulty argument to be correct!

There are some professionals who claim that the tendency to endanger one's life is only a sign of apprehension. To the outside world, the adventurer presents himself as the local brave man, or the class athlete and daredevil, but deep inside him lurks a hidden feeling of fear, which has to express itself in the opposite way. A truly brave person who is without fear does not have to prove himself to others!

To come to the point: speak to your child and explain to him that many people who received injuries thought that `it wouldn't happen to them.' Describe a possible scenario to him, that as he is lying on some high railing, although he feels quite safe, if he were startled by a sudden explosion or a sonic boom which shook the whole district, he might lose his balance. Likewise, one remonstrates with these reckless drivers that even if they feel they are in full control of the speeding car, they can never tell what other crazy fellow he will bump into!

It is also important to explain to his friends that their applause only encourages him. They should not call him the class athlete, or tell him how wonderful he is, nor even WATCH him with bated breath. All this only encourages him to more daring exploits. When the boy sees that nobody watches him any more and that no one is impressed by his antics or even interested in his tricks, he will soon stop. The show cannot continue without an audience.

Incidentally, you must be careful about your explanations and reactions. There are some children who enjoy arousing a display of anger coupled with fear in their loved ones. They delight in driving people crazy! Thus, it is essential to keep cool while sympathising, or showing your general anxiety for his welfare. But don't let him see signs of anger, helplessness or consternation.

If you are consistent in your actions (and make sure that his classmates also disdain them), the child will seek other ways to gain attention, positive ones. However, if these incidents sitll keep recurring, then you may have a more deep-seated problem and will have to seek professional advice.


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