Children In Downward Spirals: Crossing the Narrow Bridge

by Fraidy Katz

One of my children was going through a rough patch in school. Cutting class, not doing homework, acting with chutzpah towards their teacher and a whole lot more. We came to the understanding that we needed to try a different approach with our child who seemed to be heading into a downward spiral. The advice we were given was to focus on strengthening our relationship which practically meant embracing our child with unconditional love. We would need to shower them with attention and affection, still accepting our child even when we disagreed with their choices. 

People want to run to constructive criticism but first you must lay a new foundation based on love and acceptance. When you focus on the positive and connect to the goodness in the other person, you will find that there is much less of a need to criticize. This is because when you accept who they are, and compliment them for actions which do reflect their ideal self image, the attention you draw to them helps them connect themselves to their pure neshomo which is their true essence.

When we put this advice to practice, both my husband and I were amazed at how quickly our child’s behavior transformed.  Although at home things were quickly improving, we soon found out that at school, things had not changed much. We had a meeting with our child’s teachers, and although they accepted to go along with our new found approach, they were skeptical and only agreed because we were so passionate about it. When they also changed their approach, they began to see the same changes we saw at home.

Even though things have dramatically improved, I am concerned about what will be in the future. Although our parenting is making all the difference in the child’s sense of security and well-being, they are still far away from where they need to be and still not conforming to all the rules. Because we are not focusing on their faults and are not forcing them to behave properly, we are left with only being able to state our expectations and our trust in them to do the right thing. Ultimately it is their choice to make the correct decision. This is where fear can throw us off balance. Fear tells us that this child will never grow up to be a responsible adult if they are allowed to “get away” with their bad choices.

The fear of the future does not allow us to parent properly in the now. Rebbe Nachman therefore teaches that “Know, too! a person must cross a very, very narrow bridge. The main rule is: Do not be frightened at all!” (Likutey Moharan #48) When you are walking on a narrow bridge, if you look to the left or to the right, you would see the crashing waves and the jagged rocks below. You will then become petrified and paralyzed, unable to move forward. The secret to traversing through life is to only look straight ahead. Do not look to the side and become frozen with fears of things not before you right now.

Whenever we find that a child’s behavior is still lacking, we can turn to Hashem and daven that He fill the voids that we are powerless to change anyhow. 

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