Category: ‘In The News’

Our family has witnessed protests in New York City where the crowd chanted, “Globalize the intifada.” My kids are scared. How can I explain what is happening without causing too much fear, especially since we parents are also scared?

It sounds like mom and dad are very, very anxious, which makes it hard for them to create a sense of safety for their children because they themselves do not feel safe. The rapid growth and expression of anti-Semitism in America is very scary for many people. Not that it is surprising, but more that it’s been so vocal and so blatant, especially in the wake of what we as Jews have experienced as one of the worst attacks on Jews since the Holocaust.

This is a piece of the cognitive confusion where we’re thinking “This doesn’t make sense to me. Why am I being attacked if I was the one who was attacked? People should be supporting me. Why are people hating me?” Our brain tries to make sense of this, and in that space of not being able to make sense of it, our brain starts getting worried that something wrong must be happening since we can’t make sense of this. 

As parents, it’s important to figure out how to deal with your own fear so that you can create a sense of safety for your children. From a very technical perspective, more likely than not, at least in the near future, even though there are protests and there are a lot of very loud, scary voices, there is a low risk of physical danger associated with these protests.

The first thing to do is to say to yourselves and to your children, “I know this seems really scary. It’s very loud, it’s very hateful, and it’s very hurtful, but we’re not actually in danger.” It’s important to be able to say that to yourselves so that you can say it to your children. If you are struggling to believe that and you are unable to shake these persistent worries and fears, it’s important to reach out for help.

How do you know when you can manage on your own or when you should speak to a therapist? You need to determine how much your fear is impacting your functioning – such as you’re not sleeping, you’re not eating, you’re having trouble paying attention to what’s going on with your kids, you’re becoming more irritable, you’re short-tempered because of it, it’s consuming your thoughts, or anything else along that spectrum. Those are all signs that you should be speaking to somebody.

This doesn’t mean you have a diagnosis. It means you’re struggling with something that you’re very fearful and worried about, something that you’re having an anxiety response to and it’s starting to have negative ramifications for your life. Why is it important for you to speak to somebody? Because you can’t create a safe environment for your children, which is what they need if you yourselves are so worried. That’s number one.

Now, how do you create a safe environment for your children? Children need to feel love. They need to feel that things are going to be okay, and they need to feel that their parents are going to take care of them. To provide that sort of safe space and support for your children, you need to talk to them. This is a little bit of a lost art. Unfortunately, a lot of parents these days don’t really take the time to sit down with their kids and talk to them.

If I could just push Judaism for a second, we as Jews are given the gift of Shabbos. Every week we have an opportunity to at least have two, if not three, meals with our children where we all sit without phones, and without distractions, and we can actually talk to them. It’s a gift that Hashem has given our community. Take advantage of it; talk to your children. Don’t assume you know what is  going on inside their heads; whatever you assume is probably not exactly on point. Certainly, try not to project your feelings onto them. That’s only going to make you more worried because they may or may not reflect back to you what you’re feeling.

Talk to them. And listen deeply. Ask them how they’re feeling. Delve into the specifics of what is going on with them, understand what they are seeing and how they are interpreting that all.  Inquire about what their peers are saying to them. For parents, this is the most important intervention you can make. Not only does this provide insight into what’s actually going on inside your children’s heads and inside their lives, but your children will know they can talk to you and come to you if they do start feeling worried.

With that knowledge, you can help them. If your children start to show you that they’re experiencing functional impairment in their own lives because of the worry—they’re not sleeping, they’re having nightmares, they’re having trouble at school, they’re becoming more socially isolated, etc.—take them to talk to somebody.

Often, it’s just a few sessions, and it’ll give your children a feeling of agency because they will then be able to speak about it and they’ll learn tools to help manage how they’re feeling. All in all, if you can get yourself to have real conversations with your children and then respond to what your children are saying, you will not only help them in this moment with this extremely difficult situation, you will also give them the strength, resilience, and support to have very functional lives as adults.

Bella Schanzer, MD, is a board-certified general adult psychiatrist with over two decades of experience providing evidence-based, holistic care to individuals grappling with mental health challenges.

What are the roles of school leaders, teachers, and parents in the child’s education?

A school community is composed of three parts: the students, the parents, and the staff (teachers and administrators). In a dysfunctional school community, no one trusts each other. This means the parents don’t believe the teachers are capable, the teachers don’t trust that the parents or students are capable, and the school leaders do not believe the teachers or parents are capable. Everybody has a lack of capacity in a dysfunctional school community. 

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How can I detect bullying in my classroom?

To detect bullying in the classroom, teachers must be keen observers of their students’ interactions. They must pay attention to the social climate and social fabric. This means noticing who works with whom and who never has a partner.

It means looking for those subtle signs of eye rolling every time somebody answers a question. Teachers must look at who brought invitations to school and who did they give them to. They need to notice who plays with whom during recess. 

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How Do We Define Success in the Classroom?

Children and adults define success in school differently. For a child, success is measured by whether they have friends, whether they are doing well academically, and how they are perceived by their peers. The class clown will feel success every time he cracks a joke in a class and the entire room bursts into laughter. Of course, the teacher won’t think that was a successful lesson, but the child will feel success. 

To ensure both children and parents are using the same definition of success, parents need to be explicit when describing success for their children. When parents sit down with their children, they need to review the expectations they have and be clear about the ways they will measure success. Clear expectations about good behavior and academic achievement should be explained. If parents do not provide these explicit expectations, they should not expect the children to know how success is defined. It is also important to have conversations with the children throughout the year to measure success based on those expectations.

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Why is my child being bullied?

Experts do not exactly understand why some students are targeted as victims and others are not. When we look at research, physical characteristics are not clear indicators. Unusually tall or short children, children with braces or glasses, and children with freckles or weight problems are often teased, but this does not mean they will become a serious and persistent victim of bullying. However, studies show that the best indicator for whether or not a child will be targeted is usually how they react to teasing. 

Bullying is about power. If a bully teases a child because he or she is much shorter than the other children, but that child shrugs it off and doesn’t seem bothered, then that child is not a likely victim. A child who is teased and runs out of the room crying has shown the bully that he or she has power over the child. 

Adults blessed with children who are very sensitive, kind hearted souls know it is virtually impossible to tell such a child, “Don’t react, don’t cry, don’t be upset.” This is at odds with the child’s biological reality. Shy and anxious children are shy and anxious. They can eventually outgrow it and get past it, but it is in their genes. Not reacting is very difficult for them. 

Additionally, it is sometimes easier for children and even adults to tolerate girls being reactive rather than boys. A girl being sensitive and a crier is more accepted while a boy who is sensitive and cries easily does not go over well with his peers. What can we do to help our children and our students who are victims? 

First and foremost, we must validate them. They need to hear us say that whatever is being done to them it is not justified, and they need to believe us when we say this. They need to know we believe no one has the right to make other people feel devalued or unimportant. Whatever has happened, whether it was their snack that was stolen yet again or something they did and people made fun of them, nothing justifies the bullying behavior. Most importantly, they need to know it isn’t their fault. 

After validation, we now have to say to the victim, “How do we help situations like this in the future?” Sometimes, the best option is careful planning. We can encourage them not take out their really yummy snack and have everybody bother them about sharing it. We can show them how to keep their homework in a place where someone cannot grab it. It is important that the children understand these safeguards are not because it’s their fault that the bullies act as they do, but because the only thing a person can change is what he or she does. We must teach our children that they can only control their actions and are not responsible for the actions of others. 

Related to reactions, sometimes, we have to teach our children to be really good actors and actresses. We have to help them understand that, like actors, how we feel on the inside doesn’t always match what we show on the outside. If a child is Abe Lincoln in the President’s Day play, he or she has to stand tall, stiff, and straight with the stovepipe hat on, even though inside he or she might be shaking and nervous. This is the same thing we have to teach our victim children to do when they get tormented and feel as though they are going to react. Children need to know it is okay to have those feelings inside, but they should try to think about their favorite superhero or movie character so they can act stronger or braver than they feel just for a minute until they can get themselves to a safe place. 

Some victims benefit from attending social skills groups and learning social skills such as how to have conversations, how to break into a conversation, how to go beyond some of their reactivity and shyness, and how to deal with conflict in social situations. All of that can help. 

While there are many strategies we can teach our children who are being bullied, we should never do any of that without first validating that we understand how painful this is for victims and emphasizing that it’s not their fault. Bullies make victims feel insignificant and make them believe something is wrong with them. The best defense is to help these children believe in themselves and see that the fault lies with the bully and not them.

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(Article is based on an interview with Dr. Rona Novick for Operation Survival’s Prevention101series)

My child is hanging around a bad crowd – what can I do?

All parents worry about the influence other children have on their own children. And all parents want to protect their children from negative influences. But when parents tell their child not to be friends with another child, it usually has the exact opposite effect. Pointing out that another child is a bad influence creates resentment and anger. So what should an adult do when a child has started hanging out with individuals who are having a negative influence? 

First, we must consider what creates bonds between people. In general, it is our commonalities that bind us together. When we have something in common with somebody, we think, “Oh, I like that person. She gets me. We have the same interests.” If a child gravitates toward friends who are interested in smoking, hanging out on the streets late at night, or other negative or risky behaviors, that means the child feels accepted by those people and may have some common interests or, in many cases, some common pain. 

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What Causes Depression? Can It Be Prevented?

There are many different types of depression, and the causes for depression are varied and extensive. Depression could be the result of chemical imbalances in a person’s brain. Medication can help with these imbalances to reduce the symptoms, or sometimes, to relieve them completely.  Even when the depression is situational, the depression does not always show up at the time the causative event occurs. This makes determining the reason for depression difficult. 

For example, a five-year-old child loses her mother. We know such a loss can have a profound effect on a child’s psychological development, but the effect on the child, and the potential resultant depression, might not show up for many years. In this situation, it might be difficult to determine the cause of the depression when it appears, but once the history is known, the cause is fairly straightforward. 

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How Can I Help Someone Who’s Being Bullied?

When discussing bullying it is important to raise the issue of bystanders. Bystanders are present in at least eighty percent of bullying episodes. This percentage increases when we consider that people take pictures and record incidents on their phones and then share them through text messages and social media. Thus about ninety-nine percent of all bullying happens with an audience, typically an audience of peers. 

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How Do I Deal With Difficult Parents?

At some point in a school year, a teacher will encounter a difficult parent. A difficult parent is someone who doesn’t believe or trust the teacher and blames the school for any problem their child is having. These parents believe their child is perfect even though the child might be failing academically or having real challenges with behavior. 

How can teachers approach parents like this? Shimon Waronker, EdD, experienced a situation in which a team of teachers was having difficulty communicating with a particular parent whose child was troubled, both academically and behaviorally, and the parent maintained that the situation was all the teachers’ faults. The parent truly believed the teachers were ganging up on her blameless child.

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Should the schools be talking to our children about drugs

There has always been a debate about whether we should expose children who are clueless about drugs and substance abuse to information about these sensitive topics. There are powerful arguments for both sides of this issue but in a school setting, where children are not segregated according to their levels of innocence, it may be necessary to expose the more innocent students to this information in order to inform and protect those who are engaging in risky behaviors. Dena Gorkin, CPP,  believes it is better to inform innocent children than to leave the exposed kids unprotected.

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