Whose Fault Is It?

Q: Bli ayin hara, we have a number of very active children at home who, as you can imagine, all have different needs. Try as we might to make it otherwise, those with the loudest voices are generally the ones who get heard. The children with the loudest voices are usually those involved in fighting — physical or verbal — so they need to be responded to first.

It seems that by the time we get around to taking care of everyone’s immediate gashmiusdig needs, it’s time to make the bus, do homework, go to sleep, etc. So, basically, certain children are not getting the attention they need to the point of being, to some degree, neglected.

While these children do manage to do well in school, have friends and seem pretty well adjusted, some of the things that we as parents are not properly taking care of are starting to interfere with their daily functioning.

Two of our children, a daughter and a son, are unorganized — whether that means forgetting to bring home their homework sheets or to hang up their coats. My son will without a doubt lose a glove after the first week he’s worn a new pair! So, very often, my husband and I will just hang up the coat ourselves, call a classmate’s mother to get the homework or buy a new pair of gloves rather than go through the hassle of giving mussar each night about the same issues — especially since we have more intense issues happening with our other children.

I often feel that I am doing these quieter children a disservice, but then I wonder: Why can’t their teachers do more to help them in the classroom? They could offer rewards to those students who bring in their homework sheets and who put their homework sheets in the folder before they leave at the end of the day. Making sure that children have both gloves is a small thing for the teacher, but an important thing for a parent! What are your thoughts on this?

A: The question you ask is one that is posed perennially by parents and school administrators alike. What is the message and chinuch that we want to give our children? Is a teacher who is involved with the many minute details of a child’s life showing care — or not allowing the child to properly learn adaptive daily living skills? The answer is not black and white. Teachers have definite opinions on what works, depending on their teaching styles and individual personality types.

Some teachers resent having to take on what they consider the parents’ responsibilities, while others frequently utilize positive reinforcement methods with things like homework and folder organization.

Certain children whose parents are clearly inconsistent in their parenting skills can benefit from a teacher’s showing consistency with his or her young students who need this role model, but this is clearly b’di’eved.

There are parents who are emotionally overwhelmed, going through crises, and cannot be expected to attend to every detail in life. In such times one must set priorities. However, from your letter I don’t get the sense that this is where you find yourself. By allowing the more vociferous children to take over at home, it’s almost as if you are allowing yourselves to be manipulated (sometimes seen as an emotional hijack) on a continual basis by the more demanding children.

As you do not mention the cause of the nightly sibling altercations, I am unable to respond to this part of the problem. However, a more constructive way to deal with this issue is to mentally rehearse scenarios of how you will focus on your quieter children, and to think of ways of circumventing the more demanding ones. Doing the job for your children (i.e. calling for homework) may be a response in certain circumstances, but is not to be relied on continually.

Ways to work on instilling adaptive living skills in our children will, iy”H, be discussed in an upcoming week.