Discipline -
Not Just for Trouble Makers

Discipline has become a dirty word. It's what we as a society dole out to poorly-behaved children, misguided politicians and criminals. And "disciplinary action", ranging from verbal reprimands to imprisonment, is the realm of principals and law enforcement officials. But true discipline does not have to involve punishment.

The word "discipline" stems from the Latin disciplina - teaching and learning - the same root as the word "disciple." Discipline, then, is teaching - ones self or others. And contrary to popular opinion, discipline is a good thing. It is a way of life. In fact, we cannot thrive as individuals or as a society without discipline. And we cannot raise our children without it.

If you aren't convinced of the value of discipline, you might want to take a walk down the street, to see the effects of its archenemy. It's called "freedom." Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of movement - the unbridled freedom to be and do and have everything the heart desires. The people in the street are bound by very few laws and restrictions. But how free are they?

If a person on a diet passes a restaurant, smells food and walks inside to wolf down a Super Burger and fries, she is enslaved to her physical cravings. If a reporter gets the scoop on a great story that may harm people, and has it published for his moment in the limelight, he is enslaved to his ego.

Any person who lives an unrestricted life is enslaved to his desires. He has no will power; he can't tell himself 'no.' He is driven by what he wants - not by the great person he truly wants to become. He is, in essence, no different than an animal that eats, sleeps and kills by instinct. By contrast, discipline lets a person overcome desire, for a greater good. A disciplined person is truly free.

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos tells us - Ein lecha ben chorin ela me she'osek b'Torah - only a person who lives according to the Torah is free. The Torah appears to be very constricting. There are laws governing every aspect of our lives. What we eat, wear and do; even how we tie our shoelaces. But it is the ultimate source of discipline - because it teaches us to become masters over our desires. It is so liberating to have an authoritative guide that teaches us the what's, whens, where's, and how's of life.

Our "free" society has filtered down to our families - sometimes on the advice of so-called experts. One prominent Brooklyn physician tells his patient's parents that their children need "only love." And autonomy and self-expression are the new by-words in child rearing. Now I am not saying that autonomy and self-expression are bad - and I definitely believe that we must give our children mega doses of love. But discipline is crucial.

Discipline = Structure

Several years ago, The Jewish Observer featured an article guiding parents through the pitfalls of Chol Hamo'ed. The article told the story of a family that planned the "perfect" outing to an amusement park. The parents were totally dedicated to giving their children a grand time - but by day's end, everyone was miserable. The children had wanted to go on more rides, get more prizes, and stay longer - and the parents had been cajoled into spending much more time and money than they meant to. Everyone was hungry and tired. The car ride home was a veritable shouting match, with fights, screaming, and tears. The parents wondered where they had gone wrong.

The day could have been saved with the building blocks of family discipline - goal setting, planning, structure, and parental authority. The goal of the trip may have been set as "strengthening the family by spending fun, quality time together". Unless the family's goal is to try out every ride in the park, there is no problem with setting limits on time and money spent, because the family can spend fun, quality time together on even a few rides.

At a family meeting before the trip, the parents could have created a plan for the trip, by outlining the day's schedule, and letting their children know what was expected. They could have said, for instance, that everyone would go on three rides, get $5 spending money, eat lunch at 12:00, and be at the gate, ready to go home, at 4:30.

The plan would have lent structure to their day. Such structure fits the goal - and eliminates whining, before it even begins, because everyone knows exactly what to expect. If trouble does arise, and children ask to stay longer, parents can exercise their parental authority, without guilt. The final decision about anything is theirs and theirs alone.

Proponents of "freedom" might argue that this is too rigid; that spontaneity is more natural and fun. But experience has shown that children thrive on structure.

"When I was growing up, evenings were free-for-all in our house," says Leah, a young mother of three. "We often served ourselves cereal and sandwiches for supper. We also did homework at random, played in the street until everyone else on the block went inside, and went to sleep when our eyelids shut."

"Our next door neighbor's family schedule could have been set in stone. Supper at 5:30, then homework, baths, and bed - no questions asked. We used to make fun of them - but deep inside my heart, I was jealous. I was tired of coming to school without homework, and I was tired of being tired. I wanted someone to make me go to bed."

In reality, structure is not confining; it is liberating. It is also a panacea for many childhood troubles.

The chronic latecomer needs structure in the evening - a planned nightly routine that starts when she gets home from school, and carries over to the morning. The distractible child needs structured studying - maybe a dedicated homework spot, in a quiet part of the house. The child who fights may need structure in his room - perhaps he would get along better with others, if his treasures are given a special space, safely out of reach of curious siblings. And the overweight child needs structured meals - he will learn healthy eating and gain food security, when he knows exactly when meals and snacks will be served.

Discipline and structure are Jewish concepts. Discipline is the ability to overcome desire - and desire is the Yetzer Hara. We even define strength as self-discipline - as the Mishna says, Eizehu gibor, hakovesh es yitzro - who is the strong one? He who masters his evil inclination.

Many a heavyweight boxer has trouble controlling his basest instincts - and if you pit him against a frail ninety year old who fights exhaustion, and gets out of bed to go to shul, the old man wins, hands down.

In his book "Power Living - Mastering the Art of Self Discipline", author Michael Janke writes -

"The ability to control our emotions, actions, words, and thoughts has always been one of man's most difficult tasks." He adds that our generation is raised on instant gratification - and that "it is more difficult to exert self-control over our lives today than at any other time in human history". Difficult, perhaps - but crucial to ourselves, our children, and all of society.



Dealing With The Explosive Child

"Tatty, this isn't the way we usually go home."

"I know Mendy. I just thought we'd go a different way this time."

"But Ta, this isn't the right way!"

"It's okay Mendy. This way might even be faster."

"WE CAN'T GO THIS WAY! IT'S NOT THE SAME! I DON'T KNOW THIS WAY!"

"Mendy, it's okay to go a different way once in a while."

KABOOM!

Kaboom! That's what we experience when there is an explosion. And that's exactly what we feel like when we are dealing with an "explosive" child. For those of you who don't understand what I'm talking about, consider yourselves blessed. But those who know exactly what it means for a child to "explode" for no apparent reason understand what a tremendous challenge this is. It's like living inside a simmering volcano. As one frustrated mother put it, "We are in a perpetual state of crisis."

First of all, how do we define "explosive" children? After all, most children will throw a temper tantrum or "act out" once in a while. Hasn't everyone experienced the irrational youngster screaming for no reason in shul or at the supermarket? Chances are that you, as the adult, were cringing with embarrassment. You couldn't wait to get home.

Now consider the "explosive" child who acts this way on a consistent basis. Explosive children are easily frustrated, demanding and inflexible. When things don't go their way, they react with violence and rage. Their siblings are afraid of them. Their parents are terrified of setting off the next outburst. They have an impossible time holding on to friends. And, like Mendy, they can erupt in tantrums, kicking, screaming, sudden outbursts, verbal and physical aggression, in response to relatively benign situations.

It makes a parent feel both helpless and angry at the same time - helpless at the thought of having no control whatsoever over the situation and angry that their child insists on behaving irrationally and well beyond acceptable modes of behavior.

So, what's a parent to do? First of all, we must understand that this is nobody's fault. And just as you're not in control of what's going on, neither is your child. Children are explosive because of a variety of reasons having to do with their brain chemistry, their inability to absorb levels of frustration and their inability to react in a certain manner. Living with an explosive child is not a pleasant situation, to be sure. But if we try to understand what makes this happen, we can begin to work on minimizing the eruptions and helping the child behave more like a normal kid.

Dr. Ross W. Greene PhD wrote the classic parenting guide to dealing with explosive children. He offers a new approach to understanding and parenting easily frustrated and chronically inflexible children like Mendy. His work is important for parents of explosive children who want to help their child. But it's also filled with good ideas for parents of any child who is sometimes stubborn, unyielding and prone to frustration.

Dr. Greene understands the pain of parents who are actually fearful that an explosion will erupt at any moment. "Mental health professionals," he says, "have bestowed myriad diagnoses on these children. However, a simple label doesn't begin to explain the upheaval, turmoil and trauma that these outbursts cause."

Imagine that you were planning a pleasant outing with your family. You were going to have a picnic in the park, but when you woke up that morning it was raining and you just couldn't go. Your children would be disappointed, to be sure, but they would probably eventually adapt to the situation and agree on a different activity.

The explosive child can't do that. He lacks the skills needed to process the information and handle the disappointment. Instead, he breaks into a tantrum and begins to scream. It's not making him happy. He just doesn't know what else to do.

Of course, most of us would become frustrated ourselves when dealing with this behavior. We start reasoning with the child, but that doesn't work. Then we raise our voice, we set down rules, we threaten and sometimes we even engage in a shouting match with the child. All of these methods are self-destructive. They simply don't work.

Dr. Greene suggests a refreshingly different approach. He lays down two important rules. One -- think clearly. Two -- stay calm. Sounds easy, right? But when you're caught in the middle of an explosion that's out of control, especially when you're in public, it's not easy at all. In fact, it's one of the hardest things that we, as parents, can do.

Now here's what we shouldn't do. One -- never turn the explosive situation into a power struggle.

Consider the story of Mendy and his father. It could have gone something like this:

"Tatty, this isn't the way we usually go home."

"I know, Mendy. I just thought we'd go a different way this time."

"But Ta, this isn't the right way!"

"It's okay Mendy. This way might even be faster."

"We can't go this way! It's not the same! I don't know this way!"

"Mendy, I'm the driver, and what I say goes. This is the way we're going home and I don't want to hear any more about it!"

Kaboom!

"Mendy, I command you to stop this right now! I'm counting to three and if you don't stop screaming, you will be severely punished! 1... 2... 3...! Mendy, stop it right now!!"

Clearly, this method of controlling Mendy's behavior is going nowhere fast. If anything, it's just escalating the tension and making an impossible situation even worse.

Now let's consider the other option that many parents use. And that's no-no number two -- never give in to all of the explosive child's unreasonable expectations. Back to Mendy --

"We can't go this way Ta! It's not the right way!"

"Okay, Mendy, calm down. See? I'm making a U-turn right now and getting us back on the other road. We'll go the regular way, just like you want to."

Giving in to Mendy might relieve the tension for a short while. It may even avoid a really ugly temper tantrum. But it won't solve a thing. It's only a matter of time until some other situation comes up, one which may be impossible to give in to, and you'll be back at square one in no time.

So what's the proper way to deal with this type of behavior? First we have to understand what's causing it. If we can recognize that Mendy can't respond properly to the cognitive demands being made, we can try to "walk him through" the situation and help him formulate a better response. It's like his brain is "locked" and he can't think things through logically. So we're going to have to unlock his brain and do the thinking for him.

Here's what I mean. Let's say Sureleh wants an ice cream, but there aren't any left in the freezer. The scenario might go something like this:

"I want my ice cream NOW! I want to have it! I have to have it!"

"Okay, Sureleh. You want your ice cream. I understand that. Why? What's up?"

"I'm very hungry!!"

"I see. You're hungry and you want ice cream. But you can't have any because the freezer is empty. And that's making you angry. I think I know what we can do. Maybe we can call the store and see if they're open late tonight. Or maybe we can eat a different snack instead of ice cream. Do you have any other ideas, Sureleh?"

"Oh, I don't know. Just call the store already before it's too late."

Notice how Sureleh's mother empathized with her daughter and "walked her through" the thinking process. She validated Sureleh's disappointment by verbalizing it. Then she offered alternatives to eating the ice cream. This technique works well for kids like Sureleh because they don't have the emotional maturity to come up with these alternatives themselves. Yet, when a parent offers the solutions, it calms them down considerably to the point where the explosion is very often completely avoided.

Sureleh's mother's solution might sound simplistic, but it isn't. It also may sound easy to adapt, but believe me when I tell you that it is not. Once the explosion is well under way, these children are already out of control and kicking and screaming. Parents feel a little silly repeating the child's request and offering solutions like some kind of a robot while this emotional outburst is going on. It doesn't matter. If we persevere by putting in the effort and continuing to follow this plan, in the end chances are good that the explosions will decrease dramatically. The goal is for him or her to eventually be able to process the solutions s/he needs to handle difficult situations all by himself.

I've seen explosive children benefit greatly from this type of intervention and I'm a tremendous advocate of Dr. Greene's approach. Using this technique can bring wonderful results. What's really nice about it is that it's not uniquely effective with explosive children. I've seen successful results when it's utilized with any child who decides to throw a tantrum or become generally irrational and uncooperative. I welcome any parent who wants help in using this technique to contact me. I'd be happy to explain it in detail.

Living with an explosive child is frightening, frustrating and overwhelming. But when we stop and think that the child is pretty unhappy, and probably plenty scared, about what's happening to him, we see things differently. If we understand the issues involved and deal with them correctly in a consistent manner, half the battle is won. Now back to our friend Mendy --

"Ta, we can't go this way! It's not the same! I don't know this way!"

"Okay Mendy. You want to go the other way. I understand that. You don't know how to go this way and I can see that it's making you angry. I think I know what we can do. We can continue to go this way, because it's faster, and you can see how it gets us home on the GPS system. Or you can call Uncle Moish on the cell phone and ask him if he knows how to get home this way. That way you won't be so angry. Do you want me to set up the GPS for you now? Or do you have any other ideas?"

"Oh never mind. Let's just get home already!"



Winning The Blame Game;
Losing The War: Teaching Responsibility to Our Children

Schools have long been grading students on responsibility. But in recent years, teachers report that marks in responsibility have been plummeting. This is an alarming phenomenon - but it is not a coincidence. Responsibility is becoming a rare virtue.

We live in a world where politicians, executives and professionals fail to act responsibly or take responsibility for their actions. Parents, teachers and students often follow suit. Instead of behaving with responsibility, people often are reckless and shift the blame for their mistakes onto others.

A senior politician who "forgot" to report income blames his Turbo Tax software. Homeowners who bought homes with risky mortgages blame the banks for taking them away. CEOs seeking bailouts for their companies travel in exorbitant private jets. Slowly, the very fabric of society withers into a total mess, as the culture of irresponsibility infiltrates our homes and lives.

According to expert mechanchim, this plague of irresponsibility lies at the crux of many chinuch problems. Children and adults are becoming less accountable and less responsible. They are blaming everyone but themselves.

"My child isn't doing well because he doesn't have a good rebbe."

"I didn't behave because another girl made me be chutzpadik."

"I'm late because the bus came early."

Maybe your child doesn't have a good rebbe, but that doesn't preclude his halachic obligation to learn Torah. Maybe the girl sitting next to your daughter is disruptive, but that doesn't grant your daughter a license to misbehave. Maybe the bus came thirty seconds early, but you could have been at the stop sooner.

This culture of irresponsibility is extremely damaging, both on an individual level, and to society at large.

At the last Agudah Convention, Harav Mattisyahu Solomon shlita addressed the painful issue of "When Children Stray." He said that the phenomenon of children rebelling is a reflection of Klal Yisroel's rebellion. When the Ribbono shel Olam cried out in anguish, at the beginning of our galus, "Banim gadalti veromamti - I grew and raised children and they betrayed me," Klal Yisroel should have felt that pain, and responded immediately, "Tatte, we are sorry and we want to return and be loyal to You."

Unfortunately, Klal Yisroel did not hear the message. Hashem decided that the only way to bring them back is to let them personally feel the pain that kavayochal He is going through.

This refusal to apologize is blatantly irresponsible. A responsible person not only behaves correctly, but also admits errors, accepts blame and does whatever he can to repair the damage.

As Yidden, the ability to take responsibility lies at the heart of our existence. In Parshas Mikeitz, Yaakov Avinu refused to allow Binyamin to travel to Mitzrayim with his brothers. Although the family's food supply was dwindling, and the Egyptian viceroy had made Binyamin's presence a condition for purchasing more food, Yaakov feared for Binyamin's life. Until Yehuda arose. "Anochi e'ervenu" - I will guarantee him, he said. I will take responsibility." And so, the history of Klal Yisroel unfolded.

This was not the first time Yehuda accepted responsibility. When Tamar presented the staff, cloak and ring of her unborn child's father, Yehuda said, "Tzadkah memeni" - she is expecting my child. He did this at great personal sacrifice. Yet it is of this union that Malchus Beis Dovid was born, and it is this sense of responsibility that characterized it. Dovid behaved similarly after the episode with Batsheva.

In contrast, when Shmuel Hanavi asked Shaul why he had not killed the animals of Amalek, as Hashem had commanded, he said, "chamal ha'am" - the nation had mercy on the animals, so that they could sacrifice them to Hashem." He blamed his mistake on the people. This was a two-fold lapse of achrayus. First, Shaul acted irresponsibly by not eradicating Amalek in its entirety, as he had been commanded. Second, he refused to accept responsibility for his mistake, and instead blamed the people. This twofold mistake brought untold suffering upon the Jewish people and cost Shaul his kingdom.

What Is Responsibility?

In regard to chinuch, there are two main aspects of responsibility. The first is the ability to fulfill responsibilities. A person who fulfills responsibilities is answerable to himself, to others and to the Ribbono Shel Olam. His behavior is disciplined, and he follows rules and regulations. He understands that as a member of a family, class and society, there are things he must and must not do.

A responsible person won't come late to Shacharis, because he believes that it would be wrong to a) himself, because he will miss out on part of the tefillah; b) other mispallelim whom he will disrupt with his entrance; and c) the Ribbono Shel Olam, because his tefillah will be rushed and he may miss out on several Ameins, Amein yehei shemei rabbahs and other chiyuvim.

The second aspect of responsibility is acknowledging the effects of an action or decision and accepting its consequences. A child who does poorly on a test should be able to assess his behavior and come to responsible conclusions. He should tell himself, "I should have studied harder", "I need to learn how to take better notes" or "I'm going to listen better in class" as opposed to blaming the teacher, the test or the class.

Teaching Responsibility - Role Modeling, Duties And Consequences

There are many ways parents can inculcate responsibility in their children. The first is to be good role models. A child who lives in a disciplined, structured home will grow up to be disciplined and structured - essential middos for responsible living. A child whose parents exhibit a responsibility to others will likely grow up with that same trait. This is required of us. The Torah teaches us, kol Yisroel areivim zeh lazeh. Parents who pursue chessed, are involved in their children's schools and contribute to tzedakah, model to their children that we do not live for ourselves alone. This attitude is a hallmark of responsibility.

Another way to teach responsibility is to assign age-appropriate chores. Here, parents must tread a fine line between overburdening children and challenging them. If all choices and decisions are made by adults, and children have no responsibilities, they will be dependent and incompetent. If we expect too much of them, they will feel overburdened and again, incompetent, because they won't be able to fulfill expectations. So parents need to carefully consider the duties they give to their children. Parents should also create rules and enforce them.

Children must be taught not only to act responsibly, but also to accept responsibility for their actions. Parents can teach this by allowing children to experience the natural consequences of their behavior. Children should not get "bailouts" from their parents.

A chronic latecomer should not be given late notes. She should be made to experience the consequences of her lateness. Several doses of detention may be just what she needs to propel her out of bed in the morning.

Why Are People Irresponsible?

People behave irresponsibly because shifting blame is so easy and convenient. It is much easier to blame a person or situation than to acknowledge wrongdoing and change behaviors and habits. It is much easier for a parent to gripe about the rebbe than to learn with his child or hire a tutor. Sadly, in our easy-way-out society, the easy way usually wins.

This "easy way out" lifestyle stems largely from the plenty our community enjoyed in the past decades. Luxury homes, expensive vacations, designer clothing and $85 Kipling briefcases for children have become the norm. Ours is the "es kumt zich mir" generation, the era of instant gratification. "I deserve to get these curtains or buy this dress or take this break." Even now, with so many amongst us struggling for parnassah, the trend continues. All this luxury comes with a very big price tag.

In Shiras Haazinu the pasuk says, "vayishman yeshurun vayiv'at" - Yeshurun grew fat and kicked [in rebellion]. Their rebellion was a direct result of the abundance that caused them to "grow fat." Instead of thanking Hashem for His plenty, they attributed their blessings to talent and hard work. They said "kochi v'otzem yadi asa li es hachayil hazeh" - my power and the strength of my hand accomplished this great feat.

There is a certain sense of entitlement and power that comes from living on "easy street." Children, who have every wish and whim fulfilled, may have a hard time telling themselves "no." Incidentally, this phenomenon is not correlated to income level. The availability of cheap snacks and toys, bargain stores, and inexpensive clothing has created a society of low-income spendthrifts. Low-income children are just as easily spoiled as their wealthy counterparts.

Whatever their income level, parents must insist on withholding pleasures and giving children responsibilities, otherwise there is a very real danger they won't develop the ability to do so - even when the pleasures they seek go against rules or societal norms, or could be harmful to themselves or to others. Such children also find it hard to acclimate to the demands of adulthood.

Parents who overly shield and protect their children do so in the name of love. But they are doing their children a great disservice.

When one girl felt pressured in high school, her father called the principal to complain. The menahelexplained that it was important for students to learn to cope with stress and pressure, because school is a training ground for life, and life is full of tension. The father answered -

"My daughter will not have any stress or pressure in her life. I will protect her."

One can only marvel at the "kochi v'otzem yadi" mindset that brings a father to make such a statement. And one can only hope that his daughter is able to overcome her bewilderment when life hands her a challenge that is beyond her father's protective reach.

Responsibility vs. Happiness

Not so long ago, all children had chores. It was a given that everyone who lived in a home had to help maintain it. Today, many parents believe that giving children responsibilities means robbing them of the joys of childhood. This attitude is also a reflection of society - where pursuit of happiness is a goal in life, and paradoxically, unhappiness and depression abound.

This unhappiness is largely the result of the lack of responsibility in our generation. Marketers would have us believe that we can purchase joy in a chocolate bar. But nothing could be more fleeting. Did anyone ever rejoice because he had really good chocolate two days ago? On the contrary, responsibility equals satisfaction, and satisfaction equals happiness. People are happiest when they are productive and responsible. Parents who wish to shield their children from responsibility because they want to grant them freedom and happiness, are withholding the keys to the very happiness they want to bestow.

Interestingly, every Jewish simcha is a celebration of responsibility. At a bris, we celebrate the entrance of a Jewish male into the Covenant of Avraham - a pact that brings with it the responsibilities of being a Jew. At a bar or bas mitzvah, we celebrate the entrance of a child into the responsibilities of adulthood. And at a wedding, we celebrate marriage - a union that again brings myriad responsibilities.

As a veteran teacher, I am in a unique position to track societal trends. Thirty years ago, when I would tell parents that their child had a problem, they would become attentive and apologetic. They would ask for advice, and work to improve the situation. Today, parents can't accept criticism about their children. Complaints are met with disbelief or blame. "Yanky can't be misbehaving. It must be a problem in the class."

"Menachem is not keeping up? He's so bright. The material is way too hard for this grade level."

"Of course he didn't do his homework. You give them so much work, it's impossible."

So Yanky and Menachem and all the other sweet innocent little boys are never given the help or direction they need for proper chinuch and growth. Is it any wonder, then, that so many people in our generation are buckling under the responsibilities of adulthood?

It is time for us all to take responsibility for the way we live, spend money, and parent our children. Perhaps the current economic meltdown is meant to cure us of the societal ills that led to Vayishman Yeshurun vayiv'at - and perhaps our response to it will bring us to an era of achrayus, with the rebuilding of Malchus Bais Dovid.



Why Is My Child Having
Trouble In School?

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

One of the fundamental differences between childhood and adulthood is this: as adults we can choose a field of endeavor that highlights our strengths and caters to our interests. We can reject career or job prospects that will expose our shortcomings.

Children are not given choices and thus cannot shield themselves from failure; we expect them to be competent, if not expert, in a whole array of school basics.

Our children must be good writers, astute mathematicians and must perform well in language arts. We expect them to be good at problem solving, memorization, critical thinking and or-ganization.

In addition, they must follow instructions well, process data accurately, take good notes, produce exemplary work in both Hebrew and English studies − and do it all fast!

Is it any wonder that so many children do not measure up to the heavy burden expectations placed on their young shoul-ders?

Consider the case of Yael*, an 11-year-old girl who is find-ing school increasingly difficult. She seems to easily lose the thread of class discussions and is often confused when new mate-rial is explained in class. Instead of repeatedly asking for help, she tunes out and makes little effort at even trying to under-stand.

Yael reads well but very slowly. She requires instructions to be repeated in order to carry them out. She would rather take home schoolwork to do at home where her mother explains and reviews the lessons. "My mother knows how to explain it slowly so that I understand," she says.

Although children experience failure in any one of the broad array of subjects, a most frequent − if often undiagnosed − source of trouble that affects performance in almost every single academic area, is the one Yael manifests: slow data-processing.

Achievement in school depends greatly upon being able to keep pace with the rapid presentation of information. During elementary grades, new facts and procedures are usually pre-sented slowly and with lots of repetition.

Gradually, the pace accelerates. The quick processing of entirely new material is demanded with greater frequency dur-ing a child's school years than during the career years of an adult!

Speed is vital for scholastic success. Students must be able to respond swiftly to rapid-fire quiz questions. They must think quickly on their feet during class discussions. They are pressured to grasp numbers, charts, pictures and other forms of nonverbal material with speed, as well.

There are many children who, like Yael, have difficulty processing material fast enough while they listen, read, or ob-serve. Students like Yael may find themselves trying to digest the teacher's first statement, while the teacher has gone on to a sec-ond or third idea - which they have missed or heard only partially.

With a fragmented understanding of the subject matter, these students continuously find themselves at a disadvantage. As they struggle to keep up, they may experience frustration, mental fatigue and feelings of being overwhelmed. Apathy and loss of focus sometimes follow.

"Very often, slow-processing children become discouraged and anxious in school," says Dr. Mel Levine, noted education spe-cialist and author of Educational Care. He offers some practical suggestions − adapted below − when assisting these children at home and in school.

At Home:
* A lot more time than usual for homework, but stagger the material, giving frequent breaks.

* Place strong emphasis on review of the material, locating the point where comprehension was derailed and repairing the "holes" in knowledge and understanding.

* In day-to-day living, parents can help children with slow processing by repeating directions and explanations. Fam-ily conversations may need to be deliberately slowed to en-sure the participation of these children.

* Parents should work on giving the child scanning, skim-ming and reviewing techniques while reading. It also helps a great deal to approach new material in small "chunk-size" capacities rather than as complete units.

* Giving a child a time limit for reading a chapter, finishing a page of math or studying a diagram can help her im-prove her rate of processing. (Using an oven timer or alarm clock provides the child with the incentive of trying to "beat the clock.")



At School:
* Teachers should watch for disorientation in children who are slow processors. Because note taking and copying may be especially difficult for these students, teachers can pro-vide them with handout materials, which can be studied at a comfortable pace.

* Give either more time or fewer questions on tests to chil-dren who process slowly. Allow them to take standardized tests without being timed.

* When a slower pace of instruction will not bore the other students, a teacher should make a conscious effort to slow the rate at which he or she presents new material.

* When an important lesson or review session is being given, the slow-processing child could benefit by using a tape re-corder in class. This will allow him or her a second oppor-tunity to process the information at a suitable rate.

* To avoid embarrassing students with slow data processing, teachers can refrain from calling on them to rapidly re-spond to complex questions.



"Tailoring" the teaching style as well as the curriculum to accommodate the slow-processing child is standard fare in many classrooms, and many of the above suggestions may fall under the category of "common sense."

Yet, all too often, we find classrooms being managed by teachers who are insensitive to the anxiety, and at times, panic, that children like Yael experience, when they become so lost they cannot eventually articulate what it is they do not understand.

Tuning in to these children, anticipating their disorienta-tion and acting compassionately to reduce confusion, will bring parents and teachers closer toward attaining one of our para-mount goals in education: that no child is left behind.

© Rifka Schonfeld, Director SOS, copyright 2010.