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Parents, Worried About The Future
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Moshiach: Beyond Politics

Parents, Worried About The Future
By Rabbi Yeshaya Weber

One of the central issues in chinuch is how to reach the nefesh of a child, to find what interests him and speaks to his heart, and to know how to combine his interests with his studies.

In the previous article we discussed a topic over which parents lose much sleep, i.e., the school system we are compelled to use, and its limitations. Our point was that parents must realize that the responsibility for developing their child’s personality is a joint effort between them and the school. Each one in his way can and must support the child and encourage him, in accordance with his talents and his approach to learning.

The complexity of the topic obliged us to deal with general principles. This article will address individual questions.

Question: Our son is bright and worldly, and has a lot of general knowledge. He reads books that interest him, he’s terrific socially, and his behavior at home is definitely satisfactory. By all criteria, he’s a normal boy. For this reason we find it hard to understand why he lacks the motivation to learn and why he couldn’t care less about his grades. How can we develop his motivation and desire to learn?

Answer: Jews answer questions with a question, so I will allow myself to ask you something which may sound perplexing. According to your description, your son is perfectly normal. He’s great with his friends, he’s intelligent and knows how to acquire the information he needs and which interests him, in his own way. Even his behavior at home is fine. So what is it that bothers you, as parents, about your son?

I don’t disagree that you have the responsibility to see to the state of his health, his spiritual state, his education, and his behavior. However, from what you say it sounds like everything is fine. It’s true that in class he doesn’t like learning, but this does not present any problem in the important areas we mentioned. So what really bothers you?

Of course, this question is theoretical. Naturally, as parents, you are worried about the future, and in that you are justified. Parents are supposed to look ahead to the future and do all they can for their children’s future success. If the child is completely removed from the material taught in class, he will find it hard to be accepted in a good yeshiva and will have to settle for a second-rate institution. Even if the yeshiva is okay, one can assume that due to the gap in his knowledge, he won’t fit in with the serious learners. Then what will his reputation be? Since his name won’t be mentioned among those of the good bachurim, what will happen with shidduchim?

All these questions are justified, with some of them from the perspective of what’s good for the child, while others have to do with the parents’ standing. Of course, the parents are interested in how to handle the situation now. How can they get their child to take an interest in the school’s curriculum?

I remember a similar situation in which a child was fascinated by technology. I referred him to someone learning in kollel who was involved in research, integrating halacha and technology. His task was to overcome complicated problems which conflicted with various technological developments, and to find solutions within a halachic framework.

The match between the two was successful. The boy’s tremendous interest in technology spurred him on to closely study sifrei halacha, because he was interested in finding halachic solutions to the technological issues that interested him. Mitoch she’lo lishma, ba lishma (from doing it not for the sake of Heaven, he came to doing it for the sake of Heaven), and after a while there was a significant change in this boy’s Torah life.

That’s one example of developing opportunities for a child, presenting him with a challenging and satisfying learning situation. There are countless examples like this. The main thing is to successfully get in touch with a child’s nefesh, find what interests him, what speaks to his heart, and to know how to combine his field of interest with his studies. There’s no need for parents or teachers to feel guilty. The process needs to be done calmly and appropriately with yishuv ha’daas (calmness of mind) and a proper evaluation of the situation.

Question: The appropriate school system for our child is academically geared for average to less than average students. We know it’s hard for him, for he has to invest tremendous effort in order not to buckle under the tremendous academic load. He returns home from school grouchy and tense, which leads to problems with his siblings. We asked for his teachers’ understanding and support by lessening some of the pressure on him. They said they cannot change the curriculum and the requirements. What should we do?

Answer: The child is having difficulty complying with the school’s requirements. It’s clear that he has potential and a reasonable learning ability, but it’s hard for him to deal with demands beyond his capabilities.

Here’s an important rule: Repeated failures must be avoided at all costs, not only because they undermine a person’s self-confidence and lead to despair in areas where he isn’t strong, but because they also suppress his strengths and paralyze the abilities he does have.

A child is especially prone to extremes. In his view, either he’s worth something or he isn’t worth anything, and there’s no in-between.

My impression from the question is that this isn’t a case of no abilities at all, but a lack of confidence which is leading to a deficiency in motivation or ability or both to deal with the situation, following despair, which comes as a result of excessive demands that are beyond his ability to handle.

The parents’ role in such a case is, first of all, to listen to the child’s complaints and allow him to divest himself of his burden. This frees him of a large portion of guilt.

Secondly, you have to understand that it isn’t obligatory for you to come up with an immediate solution to the problem. On the contrary, any instant solution will only add fuel to the fire and lead to additional pressure on the child, which in turn will lead to additional guilt.

As parents, you must immediately come to his aid, not by talk but by action. You have to give the child tasks he can succeed in. Even if the child feels that at home he’s all right and able to handle daily demands, you should still work on raising his self-esteem by means of tasks he can succeed in happily fulfilling. You must convey a message to him that he is talented, strong, and capable. This is important in order to create a balance, especially after the child finds himself frequently failing in the school setting.

Action is most important, because talk merely strengthens and supports. Talk doesn’t give a child confidence; it merely calms him momentarily. In the end the reward can be offset by the loss, because it can frustrate the child, who sees himself and what his parents say about him as contradictory. This frustration can even lead to unhealthy conclusions, where he thinks that his parents gave up on him and that their sweet-talk is only to pacify him. This line of thinking can only yield terrible results.

After a child has acquired a basic sense of self-worth, you can organize small academic assignments he can succeed at. For example, if he’s strong in memorization, you can have him memorize material. If his strength is in organization and taking the initiative, you can have him use these talents in an academic setting.

When a child can prove to those around him, and especially to himself, that he has abilities in areas connected to his studies, he will able to develop pathways to his own heart and will know how to deal with additional, more complicated tasks. Then he will be based on a firm foundation that provides him with the stability and the skills needed to succeed.



It’s true that in class he doesn’t like learning, but this does not present any problem in the important areas we mentioned. So what really bothers you?


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