The Problem-Solving Process

Recap: In last week’s column, a reader asked for advice regarding her seven-year-old son who habitually leaves his snack home but has no compunctions about “schnorring” from his classmates, and her 14-year-old who habitually oversleeps and arrives in yeshivah late for Shacharis, thereby incurring monetary fines which his parents end up paying. Mrs. Frank responded that such children usually fall into one of three categories: 1) a child with low self-esteem, 2) a non-conventional child, 3) a daydreamer. Today we will discuss ways to motivate such children.

 To the dismay of many a parent and teacher, not every child automatically learns the natural consequences of his actions. The individual character flaws inherent in most human beings propel them to make certain mistakes over and over again. This propensity is even stronger in children who are not strongly moved by external motivators, such as authority figures.

How do parents approach such a child? They need to go out of their way to avoid negative and castigating comments such as “Don’t you feel like a loser when you…” or “You really make your father and me feel very embarrassed when…” Such statements are counterproductive.

Problem-solving techniques need to be introduced in a nonjudgmental format with statements like “I’m somewhat confused about what’s going on here. Maybe you can help me understand. On the one hand…” or, “I’m a little curious. Maybe you can better explain to me what’s happening.”

Parents need to explore their child’s understanding of the situation and not superimpose their own views. In this way, a parent shows sensitivity to the child’s perspective and confronts the problem in a more thought-out manner. The lack of patience exhibited thus far has not helped improve the child’s behavior, so another approach needs to be attempted.

You can present other ways to view the problem. For example, your teenager may never have considered his rebbi’s responses and feelings about his perpetual lateness to minyan. He may never have imagined that the teacher would take his tardiness to heart and feel that his classroom rules were being disregarded, thereby affecting the whole class’s attitude toward davening.

As part of the problem-solving process, possible solutions are suggested by the parent and child until a mutual solution is achieved. Life consists of trial and error, and if one solution is not effective, parent and child renegotiate and discuss other possible ideas — such as your younger son taking only a non-perishable snack to school and putting it in his knapsack the night before, after his homework is put in.

If there is little motivation to change, strong behavior modification techniques should be worked on.

In relation to a teenager attending minyan, the greatness of the power of a minyan should be emphasized. Hashem never rejects the tefillos of a tzibbur, even if there are chot’im (sinners) in the minyan (Mishnah Berurah 28). Even if one’s kavanah is imperfect, a person’s tefillos will be heard when one is part of a minyan (Taanis 9a). No interceding malachim are needed to raise the tefillos to Hashem; tefillos offered by a minyan are accepted immediately (Shulchan Aruch Harav, 101.5).

The idea that his actions do make a difference on a spiritual level may make your son’s journey out of bed in the morning that much easier!