HOW DO DEAL WITH A BITTER CHILD

 

Dr. Miriam Adahan, July, 2009–07–12

 

            In my previous article, I wrote about a "new" psychiatric diagnosis called Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder, to describe people who can't stop complaining, criticizing and grumbling about the "raw deal" they got or how,  "Everyone has more – more love, success, attention and possessions."  They always feeling deprived and disadvantaged, raging at those who fail to satisfy their demands and blaming others for their misery.  While some embittered people experienced abandonment, neglect and abuse in childhood, others were loved and even pampered.  And while many of them have suffered tragic losses, such as serious illnesses, abuse or the death of loved ones, others enjoy good health and have loving spouses and successful children.  In other words, this "cancer of the spirit" hits both the rich and the poor, the sick and the healthy, those who seem to have everything and those who seem to have nothing. 

            Thankfully, there is a great deal we can do to help ourselves and our children overcome what is called an "ayin ra'ah," or evil eye.  This is an illness which must be curbed early; otherwise it devours everyone, including the victim.  You might see it early in life, in situations such as:

*  Six-year-old Shira grumbles constantly about how rejected she feels.  Each time she goes out to play, her mother knows that, at some point, she will run into the house screaming angrily about how mean the other girls are toward her. She also says that her teacher is mean and doesn't choose her when she raises her hand.

*  Five-year-old Miri is insanely jealous over the fact that she has frizzy hair, while her older sister has long straight hair.  At times, she says she'd rather die than be so ugly and thinks everyone is looking at her and comparing her to her perfect sister.

*  Eight-year-old Moshe ruins every family vacation by grumbling about everything - the food is awful, the ride is boring, his siblings irritate him and other kids have a lot more fun on their vacations.  He grumbles about the fact that other children get loads of sugary sweets, while "mean mommy" gives him healthy fruit rolls and raisins, won't buy fancy name-brand clothing.

* Eleven-year old Yitzy hasn't stopped sniping at his parents for not being able to afford a fancy Bar Mitzva party like many of his friends and anyway, his family is defective because there are no grandparents who live near by. 

These children respond to disappointments, frustrations or irritations with more than normal rage and blame.  And since life is full of all three, they are constantly playing UPROAR (a "game" described by psychiatrist Eric Berne in his book Games People Play).   They are inconsolable when upset and sometimes take out their murderous rage on younger siblings or attacking the parents physically.

If you see such signs of bitterness in your children, you must invest time in developing their Emotional Intelligence, which means helping them understand their own and others' feelings and teaching them to cope with deprivation in a mature way.  Do the following to develop an ayin tova and fight the ayin hara:

1.  VALIDATE THEIR FEELINGS.  You don't have to spend hours feeling sorry for them, but you can briefly say, "I see how disappointed you are.  It's hard not to get what you want."  If helpful, let him measure his pain level on a ruler.

2.  SHOW GRATITUDE:  Throughout the day, look up frequently and say, "Thank you, Hashem, for _______"  This can be anything from having electricity and running water to hearing good news about a simcha or a recovery from an illness. 

3.  HAVE A GRATITUDE SHABBOS:  Buy a roll of raffle tickets.  Tell the kids, "Every time someone mentions something for which they are grateful, I'll put a ticket in the box on the table.  When we get to 300 (or 1000!), I'll order pizza." 

4.  SHOW FAITH:  Frequently say out loud, "I'm upset, but Hashem, I'm making YOUR will MY will."  This shows your children that you are using losses and irritations to develop faith.  So the next time the child returns from the swimming pool minus a towel or bathing suit, or something breaks or you are stuck in traffic, say out loud, "Hashem is giving me another opportunity to accept His will."  And if you are facing a more serious loss, like an illness, the loss of a job or the death of a loved one, say, "I'm really struggling to make Hashem's will my will.  My acceptance level may be only 2%, but every percent counts."

5.  HAVE AN ACCEPTANCE SHABBOS:  Tell the children that you'll put a raffle ticket in the bowl each time they say the words, "I accept Hashem's will with love."  This can be about any disappointment, including the fact that they don't like their height or nose, are disappointed about not getting the food or the trip they wanted, or any loss or irritation.  Order pizza when they reach 500 points!

6.  TELL THEM: "HASHEM GIVES ME EVERYTHING I NEED.  IT MIGHT NOT BE WHAT I WANT, BUT IT'S WHAT I NEED – IN RUCHNIUS."  Let your children know that you, too, have many desires that you have not fulfilled, such as a bigger apartment or better paying job.

7.  REFUSE TO COMPARE:  In a modest way, talk about your own limitations to remind your children that no one is perfect and that everyone deserves respect nevertheless.  Some people are good at cooking, cleaning or doing math while others are not good at these subjects, but might be great at art work or organizing social events.  Make sure that children know that everyone is given the precise character traits and life events for their particular task in this world.

8.  FIND A TALENT AND NURTURE IT:  Find what your child is good at and nurture it, whether it is music, dance, singing, learning or business.  Each child needs to feel special and important in his own way.  And everyone can do chesed, which is the best spirit lifter of all! 

I have made up a KIDS KIT which contains COPING CARDS for adults and children and also has a ruler on which the child can measure the level of his pain and disappointment.  I kept a set of cards on a poster board on the wall of every room in my home when my children were little and told them to choose a card when they were in pain.  I kept another set in a fancy jewelry box.  Whenever a child had a serious problem, I'd say, "Here are the jewels which Hashem gave us to cope with our pain."  Then we would go through them one by one.  Over the years, these cards will teach you and your children to use life's losses to become better, not bitter. 

The KIDS KIT or cards can be ordered from my website (www.miriamadahan.com) or from Perl Abromowitz, 718-437-6358.

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