This friend is one of those super-efficient super-competent types. Upon our arrival, she immediately showed my sons a toy she was sure they'd enjoy.
And they did.
Having never seen this particular toy before, they weren't sure how to use it. But they were pretty good at figuring out stuff & enjoyed figuring out stuff together, so I knew that would occupy them nicely & appreciated her thoughtfulness.
Then my friend noticed they were unfamiliar with the toy and immediately got down on the floor with them to show how it worked.
She did so with a lot of friendly confidence, enabling each boy to have a turn and see how to do it himself.
According to the "textbook" approach, everything she did was exactly right.
Except that one of my boys (the one most like me) found it overwhelming.
For him, her proximity was too close, her face leaning down to smile at him was too much in his face, and her approach of showing him how to do it then intently watching him do it himself, and even her enthusiastic right-in-his-face "Great! You did a great job with that — what a smart boy!" was all too overwhelming.
He got that turtle-trying-to-huddle-into-his-shell posture while looking at her with wide eyes that clearly said "This is such a nice friendly lady — why is she digging so hard into my kishkes?"
Wholeheartedly identifying with him, yet not wanting to hurt my friend (because she was going out of her way to be so considerate of them & it's not her fault she can't read minds), I gently maneuvered him up to sit with me on the sofa and he looked much relieved.
"What's wrong?" my friend chirped, genuinely surprised as she leaned way too close to his face again. "It's okay if you didn't get it the first time! You were doing really well! Do you want to try it again? Do you want me to do it with you? C'mon, don't feel bad — I'll do it with you!"
I put a gentle, yet protective arm around my son who was again looking at her like he couldn't believe that such a nice friendly lady was totally frying out all his sensory nodes, and nicely explained to her that he was genuinely happy observing.
That wasn't completely true, of course.
The truth is that he was genuinely happy figuring out the toy with his not-much-older brother and would've been perfectly happy doing that.
But now that the dynamic had changed, he felt much better sitting next to his mommy and observing the goings-on from the sofa.
Then she leaned a little too close (for his individual liking) and said, "You want to just watch? Are you sure? Well, that's okay! If you feel more comfortable just watching, then that's totally fine! But whenever you feel like coming down on the floor to play again, that's fine too!"
I found the whole thing amusing because she was being so helpful & accepting, but had no clue that for what they now call "a highly sensitive personality," her approach wasn't innately wrong or bad, but simply too overwhelming.
Like I said, I'm like this too, so I very much understood my son, but I also understood that my friend was totally innocent because highly sensitive children need telepathy in order to really meet their needs, and you simply can't win every single time.
My friend WAS being sensitive to his needs — just not in the way he truly needed.
So I made a mental note to speak with him later so that he'd feel normal & also understand more about people who can't read his mind so that he'll learn how to deal with such situations in the future.
What intrigued me, however, was the response of my other son: It was the exact opposite.
He LOVED her approach. He thrived on it.
He automatically moved close to her and got so close that he nearly melded with her.
He came alive and responded her remarks, asked her questions, and performed all the little maneuvers, thriving on all the attention and the positive response from her.
He was glowing.
When she needed to get up to attend to her own children, his body sagged in disappointment. He'd enjoyed the whole interplay with her so much.
When her husband came home from shul, it was hard to get my older son to leave and then he immediately wanted to know when he could come back again.
Attuning to a Different Psyche: Lesson Learned
For example, I knew that some kids love sports and some kids hate sports.
Some kids are bookworms and some kids can't even finish a comic book.
And so on and on and on.
But it simply hadn't occurred to me that what I always perceived as an "invasive" approach that made me (and my second son, apparently) feel intensely uncomfortable would not only be so desirable to my older son, but be exactly what he needs to make him come alive & thrive!
That's a VERY big difference in approach.
As we walked home that same Shabbat, I asked my older son how he liked my friend's interaction with him and why.
He was very enthusiastic about her and answered my questions as best he could. (He was very young, so I didn't expect much insight, but was happy with whatever I could get out of him because it was a learning experience for me too.)
At that point, I resolved to interact more with him in a way that felt unnatural to me because I saw that his innate nature really needed this type of highly involved interaction.
So I resolved to try harder to interact with him in a way that "gets into his kishkes" — which is what that feels like for me — because for him, it feels very caring & speaks to his deepest nature.
Some Handy Info regarding the Type Eight Personality
For those unfamiliar with the Enneagram, Type Eights are the most stereotypically masculine type (including female Eights). And I mean that in a positive way. They're very independent, capable, savvy, decisive, assertive types who are not particularly fearful or insecure. They like to get things moving in life, whether in work or play.
You find these types a lot in the police, fire brigade, combat units, rescue units, competitive sports, leadership or managerial positions, and so on. A lot of businessmen & women are also Eights.
While talking about how to best raise an Eight child is a entire post in itself, let's just say that for them, consistency IS love. They don't differentiate between consistency & love...which means that a parent must be consistent at all times.
This means sticking to the rules & standards of the home.
It means being involved with them and always aware of where they are and what they're doing. (Admittedly, easier said than done.)
It also means being emotionally consistent (i.e., you the parent aren't ever too angry or too perky or too this or too that — as far as emotional expression goes, you are even-keeled). And yes, it's a massive challenge for those of us with very emotional natures.
You can learn more about this personality type here: Type Eight — The Enneagram Institute.
There is No-One-Size-Fits-All in Chinuch. There isn't Even 3-Sizes-Fit-All in Chinuch.
And therefore, it cannot be effective.
Having said that, yes, of course, chinuch teachers acknowledge that there are different types of personalities. The course I attended back then also did (kind of), and even offered (superficial) tips for dealing with this or that personality.
The problem is it still lacked a lot of insight and depth necessary to relate to EACH child properly.
And the course only entertained one or two personality types outside the "norm" (which doesn't really exist either).
And when the general methods either did NOT work on my child — or even worse, when they backfired and MADE LIFE WORSE, there was no chinuch book or consultant who helped me.
In fact, speaking privately with the chinuch teacher (when I could get a hold of the teacher) not only did not help, but made things worse — including make me feel worse about myself.
Ultimately, reading Miriam Adahan's book on the Enneagram (Awareness: The Key to Acceptance, Forgiveness, and Growth) and then intense study of the Enneagram via Riso & Hudson's Enneagram books helped me identify & understand my son's psyche.
That, combined with listening to adult Eights describe their experiences as children, plus my own observations of what worked with them and what did not, enabled the formulation of a personalized method for dealing with the Eight personality.
But by then, he was eleven and it was almost too late.
He'd been raised mostly wrong for his nature.
Now please don't misunderstand.
I really love him and he loves me too.
I really like how he has turned out, but I also see where I failed him.
I feel bad where I didn't parent him according to HIS needs — according to his particular and valuable psyche.
Type Eight is a great personality. These people are valuable assets to the world.
But it takes both savvy & resolve to raise them right.
I'm also resentful (yes — even after all these years!) of the "experts" who gave me such harmful advice AND made me feel bad about myself as a person & a mother in the process.
Intellectually, I know I shouldn't be resentful. After all, they meant well and anyway, it was all from Hashem for my own good.
In a nutshell, it's much easier to do teshuvah for your own wrong thinking & wrong actions.
At the same time, it is significantly more challenging to do teshuvah over ANOTHER PERSON'S wrong thinking & wrong actions (which is what following bad advice actually is).
Why It's So Important to be Nice & Supportive toward New Mothers of Young Children
So that combination makes them very vulnerable.
And their youth & inexperience & idealistic desperation to do anything for their children makes it easy to convince them to do the wrong thing (for their situation).
And their youth & inexperience & impressionability also makes it easy to make them feel bad about themselves.
And from personal observation & experience, I promise you that a mother CANNOT parent well if she feels bad about HERSELF.
It doesn't matter what personality she has or how good her middot are.
I've seen this again and again and again: As long as the mother feels bad about HERSELF, she will not be able to parent her children properly.
Too much emotional energy gets sucked into just keeping her head above water while she's lugging these negative feelings around.
I understand the good intentions behind the not-so-good methods of a lot of chinuch people.
Also, whether we're teachers or parents, we're bound to make mistakes and miss important cues no matter how hard we try and how good our intentions are.
That's all normal. Only Hashem is perfect.
But I still do not understand making mothers feel bad about themselves or making them feel like there's something wrong with them for things like...feeling overwhelmed about very normal aspects mothering.
And stuff like that.
Some Gems from an Authentic Torah Source You Can Trust: The Pele Yoetz
I wanted to see for myself if all the stuff people kept spouting (while claiming derivation from "authentic Torah sources!") was true.
After all, it sure wasn't working for me.
And it so closely resembled the pop psych I'd read as a teenager, plus psychology and sociology classes I'd taken in college. It surprised to me to constantly encounter those secular Western methods and ideas in the frum world being touted as authentic Torah hashkafah.
And when I started reading Chazal, I discovered that their methods & claims simply were not true after all. (They weren't lying per se, but getting caught up in what they believed were good ideas and then finagled Torah sources to fit their philosophies.)
You can read another example of that type of thing here: Seeking Advice. Please scroll down to the section titled: The Explosion of Learning Secular Psychology Amongst Torah Jews.
And just to be clear: I don't think it's automatically bad to use studies and the observations of psychologists.
I use them myself sometimes.
For example, if someone observed a pattern in 1000 similar situations, then that person's observations probably contain some helpful information.
But people shouldn't receive the impression it's from authentic Torah thought or an authentic Torah tradition. It's actually from a 20-year study or Dr. Spock or The Dance of Anger or I'm Okay—You're Okay, John Bradshaw or 5 Love Languages, or an article by a frum psychologist in a frum magazine...and NOT from King Shlomo's Mishlei or Rav Dessler or a Jewish grandmother's actual massoret (chain of tradition).
(The truth is, sometimes I think that they themselves did not realize what their actual source was. These things can get mixed together in one's mind. So again, it's good intentions with not such a good result.)
The truth is that I'm more resentful of making mother feel really bad & despairing than I am of the actual bad advice because the advice was given in good faith, but as for the accompanying attitude...?
At one point, I discovered the Pele Yoetz by Rav Eliezer Papo and when he spoke about child-rearing, he spoke about raising a child according to the individuality of EACH child.
In fact, that WAS his general advice!
Here it is in the chapter Ahavat Habanim v'habanot/Love of the Sons & the Daughters:
...hakol l'fi mah sheh hu haben...
...everything according to whatever is the child...
Haklal hu: l'fi daato u'middotav shel ben, ha'av tzarich l'hitnaheg imo b'ofen sheh lo yecheta.
The rule is — according to the mind and character of a child: The father needs to behave with him in a way that he [the child] won't sin.
And goal is to prevent the child from sinning.
AND you need to do it according to EACH child's INDIVIDUAL daat & middot.
When Rav Papo declares something to be "the rule," it should really make us stand up and take notice.
So there we go.
Throughout the book, Rav Papo says that raising a child to prevent him or her from sinning requires fluidity:
Sometimes you need to speak to a child and sometimes you need to remain silent.
Sometimes you need to show a child that you noticed what he or she did, and other times, it's best to pretend you are deaf, blind, and mute.
Sometimes you need to be strict with your child, but sometimes you should nullify your will before the child's will.
That's what he says.
It depends all on what's best for THAT INDIVIDUAL CHILD, according that child's INDIVIDUAL AGE, and his or her INDIVIDUAL MIND, and his or her INDIVIDUAL PERSONALITY QUALITIES.
That's what he says in the book. Literally:
- "shanav (his years, i.e. his age)"
- "middotav (his qualities, his personality traits")
- "daato (his mind)"
He repeats these principles throughout the book.
When I was learning chinuch, the chinuch teachers would SAY they were doing the above, but then not really do it.
For example, a chinuch teacher might make a rule about 5-year-olds.
On one hand, that's good.
They're taking his age (shanav) into account.
On the other hand, not all 5-year-olds are the same.
Different 5-year-olds have different daat & middot.
So you can't generally say "Do this-and-such" with 5-year-old without taking into account "daato" and "middotav."
This is also true for obstinate children, rebellious children, hyper children, emotional children, and so on.
Not all obstinate children are obstinate for the same reason — ditto with rebellious or hyper or emotional children. (Or any other type.)
Shanav, middotav, daato.
Obstinate children, rebellious children, etc. are not clones of each other. Believe me.
Also, boys & girls are different. I'm not talking about easier or harder.
Meaning, what works for your female chinuch teacher in her class of first-grade girls or ninth-grade girls or what works for her mostly girl family and her sons interspersed among sisters (as opposed to having other boys near his age) will most likely NOT work for your boy-only family when you have 4 of them under the age of 7 and the oldest is a Type Eight.
Rav Papo also emphasized that a parent's love of his or her children MUST emanate from a love of Hashem.
Do they ever discuss loving Hashem in a chinuch class or a chinuch book?
Not that I ever heard. Your experience may be different. (To be fair, I mostly do not read much modern chinuch, except for regularly reading Rav Avigdor Miller and also Rav Shimon Gruen's newsletter, both of which I benefit from a lot, and other material I come across...IF I consciously decide it might be helpful. In the interest of full disclosure, I also receive Dr. John Rosemond's monthly newsletter, but that is more for the purposes of entertainment and/or gratification, plus to keep tabs on what's going on in the Western world of parenting.)
It could easily be that the chinuch people did not even know that love of children should emanate from love of Hashem.
It could be an honest mistake because if they never read Pele Yoetz, then how would they know?
Or it could be that they both knew & mentioned this in their classes & books, but simply felt it more practical to focus on practical methods rather than the ideology.
Maybe chinuch people are emphasizing ahavat Hashem now as it relates to chinuch. I do not know. They weren't when I had young children, not in books and not in lectures.
But anyway, that's the basis for parental love — and the Pele Yoetz is an "authentic Torah source" you can count on.
Here is more about that from Ahavat Habanim V'habanot/Love of the Sons & the Daughters:
V'gam ahavah zo tzarich sheh tahei nimshechet m'ahavat haMakom...ki zeh kol pri habanim v'habanot sheh yiyu osim ratzon Koneihem...Lachen, zeh yiyeh kol magamato b'ahavat banav l'kayem mitzvat Boro la'asot nachat ruach l'Yotzro.
And also, this love needs to emanate from the love of God...because that is the entire fruit of sons and daughters, that they'll perform the will of their Creator...
Therefore, this should be one's entire focus in his love for his sons and daughters: to fulfill the mitzvah of one's Creator — to grant nachas ruach [spiritual gratification] to one's Creator.
Rav Papo isn't mincing words here.
If your entire focus & goal of loving your children should be for them to produce nachat ruach for Hashem, then don't you think that should be discussed regularly in chinuch classes or books?
Meaning, maybe we should regularly praise our children by saying things like, "Good girl for doing netilat yadayim — you just made Hashem VERY happy!"
Most people say "good girl" (or "good boy"). But according to the Pele Yoetz, we need emphasize Hashem's Happiness with the action. (Actually, a lot of parents do emphasize Hashem's Happiness, by the way. That's great. But it apparently needs to be a major focus of chinuch classes. Maybe it is now. But it wasn't when I was in that phase.)
The other major emphasis of the Pele Yoetz is: parental tefillah.
He even wrote special prayers for parents to say over their children.
From the chapter Chinuch/Educating the Youth:
V'al hakol lishpoch nafsho lifnei Hashem sheh lo yiyu chatotav monim hatov mimeno, v'sheh yiyeh kol zaro zera kodesh kadoshim, zera anashim.
And over everything — to pour out one's soul before Hashem that one's sins won't prevent the good from coming to him and that all his seed [offspring] should be seed of the holy of holies, the seed of people.
And also, in the interest of full disclosure, as mentioned above, I still read what modern chinuch experts say. I'm just much more discerning now & really limit it.
Whatever non-Chazal material I look at is read with the above principles in mind.
For example, if I see that an expert discusses an issue with which I'm struggling, I examine what they say about it and then act according to my own perception of their advice and my situation.
Meaning, sometimes I'll follow their advice to the letter; other times, I'll utilize their advice but make adjustments to fit my child & my situation.
And according to the Pele Yoetz, that's exactly what I'm supposed to be doing.
To see the Pele Yoetz with your own eyes, please go to:
Find the chapter you wish to see.
Press on the arrow to hear a class by Rabbi Eli Mansour about that chapter or click on the 3 dots to the right of the chapter and choose whether you wish to read the chapter in the original Hebrew or in the English translation.
The above translations of the Pele Yoetz are my own, and therefore, any errors are also mine.
Lately, I've been moving away from the Enneagram to learn the system frequently mentioned by Chazal, that of the 4 Elements (and also because, based on their last book, the non-Jewish proponents of the Enneagram seem to be drifting toward Eastern mysticism). But I'm grateful that Hashem sent me the Enneagram when I needed it & this post mostly refers to that time.
Not everything in the chinuch classes & books was either ineffective or harmful. Some of it was genuinely helpful. But the helpful stuff (like how to potty-train) I either could've gotten from my Yerushalmi neighbors or figured out with a few minutes of focused thought and conversation with Hashem (like the importance of even a few minutes of one-on-one time with each child on a more-or-less daily basis).