We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Perform an action that saves a friend, neighbor or relative from a loss.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #27
לא תעמד - DO NOT STAND BY - LO SA’AMODE
PART 1 – Saving a Fellow Jew’s Life or Property – Part 3
Self-survival is one of the strongest instincts, surpassed only by the parental love for a child. It is, therefore, most surprising that people often neglect themselves and their children whom they dearly love. Such neglect runs counter to human instincts and can be only the doings of the yetzer hara, which achieves its destructive goal by deluding people.
Learning disabilities, behavioral disorders and mental health conditions can severely impact a child or adult’s life if not attended to. Parents, husbands and wives often either do not know what to look for, or see indications but assume it’s “not so bad” or that “it will go away.” This may be because they don’t know what to do or because they truly don’t understand the scope of the matter and find the whole thing confusing and inconvenient. The cost of treatment may also play a role, as does stigma.
It is important that parents resist the deluding tactics of the yetzer hara. They should be alert to their children’s behavior, and if something appears to be “just not right”, they should consult a competent mental health, behavioral or educational specialist. It is often not necessary to immediately take a child to a therapist. The parents should seek advice from a therapist first. They may be told, “Leave it alone. It’s just a passing fad,” or they may be advised that they should have some guidance as to how to manage the child’s behavior. If the child should be seen, it will be recommended.
We love our children. When they are infants, we take them to the doctor for immunizations because we wish to protect their health and keep them from harm. The same interest should apply to protecting them from other disorders. When we see any indications of a problem, we may not look the other way but must be proactive.
A person has many types of needs and many avenues by which he can be hurt. Like the more obvious physical dangers, mental health, educational, behavioral and developmental issues, if ignored, bring their own dangers. We should not stand by.
(Excerpts from and based on the chapter “Unwise Neglect” from The Enemy Within by Rabbi Abraham Twerski)
Story: (based on a true story)
I was not looking forward to this. Nobody wants to tell a parent that their child needs to be held back. Aharon was an awesome kid, but his bubbly personality and spirited drive had been fading through the last few months as his classmates soared ahead of him in reading and social skills. He was a small child, and I often saw him sitting in the block corner slowly building and demolishing towers. If it was just the reading, the parents could get him a summer tutor. They had offered to already, when I tentatively brought the subject up months before. But there was just something about this wonderful child that screamed, “Just a little more time and he’ll be all ready.” Based on my past experience, I felt he was not ready for first grade yet. I had seen it many times in my fifteen years of teaching-he needed more time.
The Farbers walked in and I could tell they were ready for battle. I didn’t blame them. They knew what this was about, and I knew they didn’t want it. Not because of a worry about stigma or pride, but because they really wanted the best for their child and believed that moving on was what was best.
“So,” I opened up, leaning forward. “Aharon continues to be a joy. But he has unfortunately not progressed to the same point as his classmates, and because of that, he is losing his joy.”
Mrs. Farber’s face fell and then steeled. “But he’s so bright! If we leave him behind, he’ll be bored. That’s not good for a child either, is it?”
“No,” I agreed, “it’s not. And he is bright. But he needs more work on his reading and a few other skills, including his social skills. When we have equivalent deficits in older grades, we might bring in resource and therapists, but thankfully, at this age, we can often simply repeat the year and the child is right where they need to be. I’ve seen it many times.”
But not with their child, of course. It’s hard to internalize and accept that your kid isn’t where the books say he should be. Some parents are very free about this-“OK, let her play one more year!”, one of my students’ parents had said with a smile. But to so many people, all they hear is, “Not good enough. We didn’t do a good enough job.” Which often leads to, “But we DID do our job, so they must be wrong.” It’s hard to internalize that with kids, things just happen, and we have to respond appropriately.
I know, because I’ve been there. My oldest son started lagging in his energy and drive in school about halfway through fifth grade. The eventual diagnosis? Difficulty with gemara. The rebbe broke it to my husband gently, and soon Daniel was in a supportive parallel gemara class run by the resource rebbe that the school had set up just for kids like my son.
And the whole time he was there, part of me thought, “Isn’t my kid at the top of everything else in his class? What’s wrong? Why can’t he get this?” And I’m a teacher; I knew it wasn’t a big deal. So I knew what the Farbers might be thinking.
“Look,” I continued. “If you push this child ahead, he will always feel behind. It can affect his academic and social progress later on, as well as his self-esteem. He might even need to be left back later on, when it’s harder on him.” I saw Mrs. Farber’s face, and quickly continued. “Not that this is easy, on anyone, but it is best for Aharon in the long run. We all want to see him smiling as he goes through his day.”
The meeting did not end with an agreement. The Farbers believed their son needed to be challenged and would rise to the challenge. The administration and I were so convinced of what Aharon needed that we were contemplating not accepting him into the first grade.
And then, a week later, I heard that the Farbers were bringing in an educational consultant I know to observe Aharon, and I was thrilled. I have no need to be the bad guy-I was only trying to help, and if the consultant said, “You can push him on with these accommodations,” we’d work it out. If she confirmed what I had to say, which was more likely, then the parents would probably listen. I was thrilled that the parents were open enough to look into an outside viewpoint.
The consultant recommended retention, the Farbers listened, and Aharon began the next year in the classroom next to mine. His teacher heavily focused on social skills with him, which was easier to do in a pre-school setting than an elementary one. And, without extra help, along with his class, he learned to read.
I ran into Mrs. Farber just before winter break. Aharon was doing great, and on pace or just ahead of his class, which suited him well. I wanted to compliment her on her choice, but it would sound too much like, “I told you so.” So I remained silent. It was Mrs. Farber who spoke. “We know that you had Aharon’s best interests at heart,” she said. “We even knew it then. We were angry, and confused, but we still knew that.” She stopped to laugh. “We just thought you were wrong. But we appreciate your sticking to your convictions; it convinced us to bring in the expert. We don’t know how Aharon would be doing in first grade, but we know he’s doing well now. And that is because you couldn’t bear to see Aharon fail.”
Discussion Question Options:
What types of potential threats to a child’s well-being are most likely to be ignored or left untreated? To an adult’s well-being?
What prevents us from seeking and getting help for these issues?
How can we overcome misgivings and societal pressures to make sure we don’t stand by and let negative things happen to others or to persist?
Stretch of the Week:
Address a mental health, developmental, social or learning need with a concrete action.