Friday, June 6, 2008

Acheiving a Harmonious Shabbos Table Part 2 - Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern



Part 2

by Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern

Reprinted from the booklet with permission by the author.


It is very common for two or more children to quarrel or chepper each other at the Shabbos table. In some families, there is one child who always seems to be the Shabbos table nudnik, annoying whomever is sitting next to him. Although there are no simple solutions to this problem, having a better understanding of the child can help alleviate the situation.

Sometimes a child may be suffering from a lack of attention and then seeks it at the Shabbos table. Children may reason that stale bread is better than no bread, i.e., it is better to receive some type of attention—even as a troublemaker—than no attention at all. The solution for this problem is for parents to find ways to give the proper attention he requires. Parents should also strive to give the child attention at the Shabbos table by having him lead some zemiros, saying a D’var Torah and helping serve food. (This and other strategies are discussed at length in my tape, “Attention and Affection—Your Child’s Most Precious Needs.”)

Jealousy can be another cause of the quarreling, and is very common among siblings. Parents should never sit two rivaling siblings together. (The Shabbos table is not the time to discipline children.) If two children start quarreling, they should not be allowed to disrupt the table; rather parents should send them away until they settle the problem themselves. Do not start an investigation or a “court case” on who started first or whose fault it was, as you will never get to the bottom of it. For example, one child will say that his sibling hit or kicked him, took away some of his food or called him a name, while the other will retort that it was a retaliation for what he did to him yesterday. This useless bickering can go on and on.

Another possible cause of restlessness can come from too much pressure during a week in which the child has a very rigid schedule. As soon as he comes home from school, he could be busy with homework and household help and have very little play time, which is vital for children. As a result, he may consider the Shabbos table as his first (or only) opportunity to relax and as an outlet for his tensions. Requiring him to sit orderly for an extended amount of time may be asking the impossible. On the contrary, his time at the table should be minimal.

Sometimes, even a five- or six-year-old may not be ready to sit at the Shabbos table. Just as teenagers “settle down” at different ages, each child has his own timetable for growing up. A child may be restless simply because he has not yet grown out of the toddler stage. Patience is of utmost importance, and parents should never compare one child’s development to another.
Whatever the problem may be, parents can help by making the Shabbos table more interesting, with nice zemiros and interesting Divrei Torah. Children will naturally become restless if: 1) if the parents are constantly preoccupied with disciplining their children, 2) the Divrei Torah or zemiros are not suited or boring to them, or 3) if they pay too much attention to the Shabbos guests. (These last two points will be discussed later.)

Another idea is for parents to involve their child’s rebbe or teacher by creating a class project aimed specifically at improving behavior at the Shabbos table. The teacher could explain the significance of the Shabbos meal and reward those children who return on Sunday with a satisfactory note from their parents.

Finally, the words of Rav Avraham Pam may offer parents some consolation. At a chinuch convention, someone asked Rav Pam the following questions: “What about common childhood problems such as sibling rivalry, possessiveness and jealousy, which are ususally considered natural and normal? Are they, in fact, natural and normal, or are they just early signs of poor midos? What is the source of these problems, and how should parents handle them?”

Rav Pam replied, “Sibling rivalry, possessiveness and jealousy are indeed very normal. Intelligent parents will realize this and not expect their children to be completely righteous (tzadikim gemurim) or perfectly in control of their emotions (baalei midos). They will do their utmost to avoid situations that would create conflict or rivalry among the children. They may have their favorite child, but they will be careful not to show it. When children get out of hand, a parent should remember that children are children. Don’t overreact, especially do not label them ‘bad, mean, liar, stupid,’ etc. I once heard a mother say to her son, a three-year-old, ‘You are a bad boy!’ The child cried hysterically. Name-calling of any kind, under any circumstances, often leaves scars and causes psychological problems. Given time and a good education, they will be like good wine that improves with age, and they will give the parents a great deal of nachas.”

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of flikr)

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