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Dear Dr. Batya,
I have a problem that I am hoping you can help us with. We made aliya from North America last year with our three young children.
I frequently find they are being exposed to rude, obnoxious children with no discipline and very poor manners. These children break in line, fight, scream and are rude. I feel the children are in a no win situation. If I tell them to fight back, I am encouraging similar behavior in my children. If I tell them to do nothing, they are being taken advantage of. In many ways, this has been the hardest part of our aliya. Please help us out. Thanks.
Concerned New Olah
Dear Concerned New Olah,
Your problem is indeed a very difficult one and one that most of us have attempted to deal with one way or another since landing in Israel. We want our children to fully integrate with their Israeli friends and become "Israeli," yet some of the behaviors they are exposed to are foreign to what we knew and loved from the old country. In Canada, for example, we had a complete "hands off" policy in the schools and disrespectful behavior toward other children or adults was simply not tolerated. Sadly this is very much missing from most of the schools here, and disruptive behavior seems not only to be tolerated, but very often the norm. Children are often aggressive and boundaries seem blurred. Teachers get little support from the parents themselves and at times their own administration. That said, our teachers spend more of the day with our children than many parents. They are key players and sadly, they receive little respect. I for one would happily have my children refer to their teachers starting with Mr. or Mrs., and not by their first names as seems to be the norm. I would like to see the schools enforce a discipline issue long before the child reaches army age, and I don't believe that yelling has a role in a classroom The problem with the children, however, can't be entirely blamed on the schools as children for the most part emulate what they learn at home. If parents break in line, ignore rules and regulations such as when driving and parking, act aggressively, scream and shout and neither set nor follow limits, in all likelihood their children will do much the same. That said, there are things that we as parents can do to help support our children. Here are a few ideas.
1) Let your children know what your family rules are. These may be different from those of other children. That is fine and children can learn to appreciate these differences. In your children, you have expectations that you want them to uphold and these are the behaviors that you will both encourage and reward. For example, you may expect your child to be polite, respectful, wait his turn in line, use kind language etc.
2) Talk to your children's teachers so that you get a sense of what is going on socially in the classroom. How well is your child accepted and liked by the other children? Does he fit in? Is he tolerant of other children? Ask the school how you can get involved to improve the situation. Be aware that you may be the only one who sees a problem.
3) Insist, if your child is in a situation in which he is uncomfortable, that he has some options. He can ignore the behavior of other children, walk away, or he can find an adult whom he can talk to and who can be supportive. Role play some of these choices so that he understands just what is expected of him. Teach a child the difference between being assertive and being aggressive. The first is acceptable but the second is not.
4) Let children know that there are cultural differences among families. Your way or their way may both be acceptable. You have lots of wonderful things to offer and so do they. You can teach children to appreciate differences between themselves and others while still helping them to maintain good values, be respectful and be heard in a positive way. Many "Israeli" children and their parents have a wonderful enthusiasm for life and for living life to the fullest that those of us who were not born here would do very well to learn from. Many too become quite passionate about a subject and may raise their voice in the process. Children need to understand that not all conversation in a loud voice or emotionally driven is yelling or a sign of anger. Help your children find the positives in others. They are there in everyone and your ability to see them will have an impact on how they too see others. The same familiarity that perhaps makes us uncomfortable at times is also what can give us the feeling of being "at home." The rules may be different but the game is the same.
5) Be a good role model for your children. When you are frustrated because someone has jumped in front of you in line or cuts you off without signaling while driving, recognize that the way you react will influence how your children deal with a similar situation in the future. Also recognize that while this may seem to happen frequently, it really is less often than you think. Help your children notice all the acts of kindness around them. I have often seen teenagers helping the elderly, or out getting donations for various causes; and while in general we are a nation that is stressed, people take time to play with a baby and enjoy a cup of coffee.
6) Seek professional help if you feel that your child or your family is having difficulty in the aliyah process. A psychologist can help you put things into perspective and give you or your children some specific techniques for coping well. Aliyah is a major adjustment and for many, the first year is the hardest. It does take time and a lot of patience. At some point, many of us have asked what we have done in having made the move here. Children settle in more quickly than their parents and quickly learn to appreciate all of the wonderful things the country has to offer. If you the parent are able to see the benefits of living here, enjoy the freedom that children have and see just how much they are flourishing, soon, you also will feel very much an Israeli, albeit with a North American accent. We olim have much to offer our new country. Remember, never let your children give up on being decent, caring and kind individuals and remind them that their contribution to Israeli society will help fulfill the dream that brought most of us here.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ra'anana. This column offers general psychological advice and is not intended to replace treatment by a mental health professional.