Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Kislev 5764 - December 10, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

It's Worth a Try
by Batya Jacobs

I wonder if there is any family with teenagers which doesn't have a "get up in the morning" problem with at least one of them some of the time. Then there's the bed-wetters brigade that have representatives in even the most well-put-together families. Those families who have mercifully escaped both those pitfalls may just have a Right Royal Temper on their hands instead, or perhaps a fussy eater, a school refuser, a scratcher, a biter. Whew, the list is endless!

What all these behaviors have in common is that they generally cause tension and unpleasantness, to put it delicately, between the parents and the child.

Well, if one of your progeny's behavior is somewhat on the list or its continuation, then I have a suggestion for you. My suggestion starts with a statement. "Nobody is a problem; the problem is the problem and the person is the person." That means that my Chaim Boruch is not a bed-wetter but that "Bed-wetter," that well-known rogue, is sometimes getting Chaim Boruch to wake up in a wet bed.

"Come on, don't play semantics with me!" you roar at me.

No, this isn't semantics, it's a genuinely different way of dealing with PROBLEMS. The idea is this: you take aside, in a neutral if not friendly moment, your little `trial' and say something like, "You and I seem to have a problem." The problem is the behavior. Try to let your child/teenager give a name to the problem, e/g. "Morning Dozyness," "Comfy Bed Paralysis," "Tricksy-Wee," "Red Hot Anger." Kids are brilliant at finding names.

Once you have the name, or even before, you can admit what "Comfy Bed Paralysis" does to you. "It ruins my morning. I really don't like getting cross, morning after morning. Just think, if I didn't have to deal wth CBP every morning, then perhaps I'd have the time to make porridge or French toast for breakfast. Have you any idea how to fight CBP?"

Do you see what you have already done? You no longer have a lazy / infuriating / selfish / what am I going to do with you, infidel. Now I know that none of us `parenting group' generation would dream of calling our children names! But here, you and s/he are on the same side, trying to control that well-known teenage illness called Comfy Bed Paralysis. Just that act of pulling the yetzer hora outside and naming it bursts the anger/resentment bubble.

I've had such conversations and it really does put you and the child/teenager on the same side and even if the problem isn't solved, the adversary status never returns.

Once you have it `outside,' you can explore the problem together. What it wants of its victim; how it tricks him into doing unwanted behaviors; when it's there and more importantly, when it's not; is the problem good or is it bad, and why do they think that. Does this sound rather like therapy? Well, it is, actually, but your questions don't have to sound like this list. Basically, you are just trying to get the problem as outside and as visible as possible.

While you are having a good chin-wag about your common enemy, you will undoubtedly notice that there are occasions when he doesn't raise his ugly head and even if he tries, he doesn't win. For instance, just listen to this irate Mom of a sleepy teenager:

"You mean on a day of a tiyul you manage to squash down that devilish CBP and you get up on time? How on earth do you do that?" Not -- "If you can get up for a tiyul, why can't you get up for minyan?"

Do you realize what that first sentence does? It makes your teenager into a hero. He can hold his head up high and say, "I beat the CBP."

This is the second secret of this method. You look at the successes and try to increase their frequency rather than starting at the failures. Can you see what a difference that makes?

You have a child with a raucous temper. You pull Temper out and see how it makes Shalom throw things, and scream, and... and... You find that Temper gets a hold "When somebody plays with my things and when..." Yet one time somebody played with his things and Temper didn't get him. That's your signal.

"What? How did you do that? Was there some special power you used?" You may get an answer like, "Well, it was a little baby and I know that I must never hurt little babies, so I just swallowed my Temper." Or perhaps, "I was so happy that day that I smiled Temper away." You're likely to get more answers if you show how special and important it is to you that he overcame Temper.

Children have the most marvelous imaginations and you can certainly fire them by suggesting ways of battling with Temper. Anything from davening to shutting it in a box will do. Just remember that this is not a Mussar lesson. Freezing it in the freezer or carrying an anti-temper charm are also fine battle strategies. Don't try to point their noses to davening if that doesn't really talk to them. Your Shalom has changed from a child with temper tantrums to Brave Warrior who sometimes even wins the battle with Temper. You and he have joined the same army and you are on the same side.

With children, this method is great fun. You get a chance to reenter that wondrous world where anything is possible. With older ones, it takes rather more tact. So that's it.

TAKE THE PROBLEM OUT OF THE CHILD and join with him against it.

Find the times when PROBLEM loses and from there, find more and more ways to put PROBLEM in its place.

NARRATIVE THERAPY, the mother of these ways of looking at problems, helps people with problems and those people also leave therapy with their head held high, having built up a plot of the way that they would prefer to live that represents their values, hopes, dreams and commitments better than their current way.

Their current way is never belittled; it is just another plot, another way of living their life but they have decided to follow a more preferable plot. Just like with our children and teenagers, their problems are taken outside and put under the microsocope and they, too, are amazed by the realization that they have dealt with similar problems successfully before.

But that's therapy and this is just a little chat or two and perhaps a war dance and a rocket launch to send the problem sky high.

Go on, have a try. Put a smile on your face, a child in your heart. Catapult all that frustration out of the window and


Batya Jacobs, Narrative therapist, Maor Aynayim. 053- 570002


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