Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Parenting from the Torah, Week 2: Handling Sibling Rivalry

This Shabbos we'll tackle our second topic in "Parenting from the Torah": Handling Sibling Rivalry.

Here's a digest of the class:

One challenge is basic competition for resources, for which I suggest that parents make sure they actually are providing for their kids's needs, that they don't compare the children (lest that reinforce the impression that they are being judged, and could be rewarded for supremacy with a greater share of the resources), and that any special treatment be explained (as Maharsha seems to indicate that Yosef did, when he gave special gifts to Binyamin).

Another problem is insensitivity to siblings as real, thinking, feeling people, a phenomenon seen in the line cited from Kohelet in the table below. Parents can respond by highlighting the Torah's emphasis on כמוך, Love your neighbor as yourself.

A third issue is frustration with the sibling's behavior. Parents can manage their kids' expectations; Rav Reisman notes that Yirmiyahu stopped complaining about the treatment he received from the Jews, even as that treatment deteriorated, once he stopped expecting better from them.

While managing those expectations and talking about the other siblings, though, parents should be careful not to put down the other kids; Avot d'Rabbi Natan 12 notes that Aharon made peace between people by praising them to each other ("He loves you" "He wants to apologize to you"), not by denigrating them to each other ("He's just crazy" "He doesn't know how to cope").

A fourth issue is the frustration kids can feel with themselves, when they don't live up to their image of themselves. This can lead to ייאוש, hopelessness. Parents can discuss and validate these feelings, as per Mishlei's advice [source in table below] to talk about problems and worries. They can build their children's self-esteem, as Aharon did in greeting everyone warmly, and so inspiring them to follow a righteous path. And parents can be careful not to tear down their kids when they fail; in Pirkei Chinuch, Rav Aviner recommends directing kids in the respectful, constructive way we would criticize adults (as opposed to, "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, keep your feet off the couch!").

Fifth: Kids often get into such a cycle of fighting that they can't see any other way. Bedtime is always a fight, meals are always a fight, homework is always a fight, family car rides are always a fight, and so on. Parents might break the cycle by describing what success could be like. As the gemara relates, HaShem tried this with Yeravam ben Nevat, as depicted in Sanhedrin 102a, describing how he could walk together with Gd and King David in Gan Eden.

Sixth: Kids take out their tensions and frustrations on their siblings, and parents might mitigate this by teaching their kids to give themselves "time out" when they need it, explaining that no one expects them to be at their best all the time, and that they can learn when to withdraw. As Pirkei Avot observes, people in agitated states should not be interacting with other people.

The last point, at the bottom of the table below, is for parents to explain the importance of Generosity. As noted in the pesukim cited below, HaShem decides the world is worth continuing only when Noach demonstrates that he can give to others - first by feeding the animals, and ultimately by taking some of his food and 'giving it' to Gd as a korban. Children who understand this may be inspired to work on their own generosity.

Of course, certain approaches work better with children of specific ages. This is already a too-short class - I don't know how I'll fit all of this into 45 minutes - and so I'm trying to offer ideas for a range of ages.

The following table comes from the handout I hope to use with the class on Shabbos. The first column on the table describes the problem which leads to fighting, the second column offers an approach the parent can use toward the child, and the third offers a Torah source supporting that approach.



Torah Source

Competition for resources

Provide their needs

Don't compare

Explain special treatment

Prosperity and Justice are keys for Peace (Malbim to Michah 4:4)

Kayin vs. Reb Zushe

Maharsha on Yosef's gift to Binyamin (Maharsha Megilah 16)


How would you feel?

ומי יחוש חוץ ממני (Kohelet 2:25) v ואהבת לרעך כמוך (Vayyikra 19:18)

Frustration with the sibling's behavior

Manage expectations

Without putting the other down

Yirmiyahu's expectations

Aharon's derech of reconciliation (Avot d'Rabbi Natan 12)

Frustration with themselves


Build self-esteem

Don't tear them down

דאגה בלב איש ישחנה (Mishlei 12:25)

Aharon's derech of respect (Avot d'Rabbi Natan 12)

Rav Aviner on the feet

No vision of another way

Describe success

HaShem, Dovid and Yeravam (Sanhedrin 102a)


Know when you are vulnerable

אין מרצין לאדם בשעת כעסו (Avot 4:18)

The Generosity of Noach (Bereishit 8:20-21)

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