Posted by: gruvenreuven | May 19, 2009

Sefirat ha’omer – a time to Deal with Anger

shavuotFrom the second night of Passover until the day before the holiday of Shavuot, the Jewish people engage in an unique mitzvah called sefirat ha’omer (counting of the omer). The Torah commands us during this time each year to count seven complete weeks for a total of 49 days. At the end of the seven-week period we celebrate Shavuot, which means “weeks” and the giving of the Torah.

In addition to the mitzvah of counting the 49 days, The Jewish people work to refine their 49 middos (Personality Attributes) just as B’nei Yisroel needed to refine their attributes during these 49 days before they could receive the Torah. (Mattan Torah)

During this period of time I try to work on my attributes more then I normally do throughout the year. During these 49 days, I don’t know if I’m giving it a more concentrated effort, or I am just more aware of my emotions and how I react to situations because of sefirat ha’omer. Regardless, sometimes Hashem put us into situations that allows us to work on our self improvement.

This morning I read an excellent article on the website entitled “Dealing with Anger and Children” by Dr. Miriam Adahan. I was so impressed with this article that I posted a link to it on my Twitter Stream.

Now, looking back on today’s events, I think Hashem set me up with the solution before dealing me out the Challenge.

About midday I deiced to skip my Gemara & Halacha classes tonight in favor of spending time with the kids. Truth be told, the last night I attended a screening of the film “The Case for Israel” and tomorrow night (Hashem Willing) I will be attending a lecture given by Rabbi Yissocher Frand. With the beautiful weather today brought, I felt guilty spending 3 straight evenings away from my family. I decided to take my 10 & 3 year old sons out for a little playground father and son time.

We had an excellent time. Even managed to do a Geocache (without a GPS!!) in the local park. Towards the end of the evening we ended up playing catch with a basketball. Things were going great. My 3 year old’s dribbling skills were so impressive that I had wish I had brought my flip camera. We were playing bounce catches, and with my older son, practicing passes. Everything was going great until my 10 year old mis-caught the ball and stubbed his fingers in the process. Sure it was painful, and I’m sure there were some hurt feelings, but what what followed next was uncharacteristic of my son as he picked up the ball, looked at my 3 year old, and winged the ball at him.

Fortunately the ball “only” hit his shins. Baruch Hashem it didn’t hit him elsewhere. My initial reaction was to unleash a fury of Anger back at my son, But thinking of the article that was still fresh in my mind, I was able to control my anger. (Of course didn’t stop my 10 year old from being grounded for a week without computer & television.)

I do think my calmness helped the situation, both with my 3 year old in calming him down and my 10 year old in eventually doing Tshuvah. Going to bed tonight with tears, I could see he was overcome with grief over what he had done. Tucking him in I assured him, that it wasn’t his nature, and that Anger is a natural emotion but something we all need to work on. It might have been the worst Anger outbreak I have witnessed from him, but we all assured him that we all Love him (and he was still grounded). Even our 3year old gave him a kiss good night.

I thank Hashem it was only “feelings” that were hurt this evening, and hopefully a lesson learned. I also thank Hashem for giving me the opportunity to work on MY character.

I have re-printed the article by Dr. Miriam Adahan below. Dr. Miriam Adahan is a psychologist, therapist, prolific author and founder of EMETT (“Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah”) ­- a network of self-help groups dedicated to personal growth. Click here to visit her website.


Dealing with Anger and Children
Sunday, May 17, 2009
By Dr. Miriam Adahan

Lots of things can make children angry. From the time they are babies, they get “angry” if they are not held enough, if they are wet or hungry and if they don’t get enough stimulation or enough down-time. Then they start to grow and get angry because someone gets a bigger cookie or has a toy they want or are in a daycare situation they dislike or simply feeling helpless or rejected. Other than sleepless nights, dealing with angry kids is probably the most difficult thing about parenting. It’s exhausting, embarrassing and nerve wracking.

Some children are rarely angry. There really are docile and obedient types. If you didn’t get that type (the Heavenly secretary must run out of those types at some point) and you get the more defiant, willful types, you need an entire set of strategies to deal with their rage without losing your marbles or your character in the process. I’m only going to tell you what worked with my children—because I didn’t get the docile ones either.

1) Train yourself to think, or to say out loud, “Thank You for this opportunity to work on my character.” It sounds crazy, but this phrase gives you access to your spiritual powers—and that’s what you need when you’re dealing with their powerful drives. When children are angry, it really is an opportunity to work on your character! If you want your children to calm down, you must model patience, self-discipline and humility. Think: “G‑d caused my child to be angry/act wild, etc., at this particular moment in time for my own growth.” Knowing that this is a divine experience, even though it looks like it came straight from hell, is what connects you to your soul; that’s true power. Many times, just saying these words shocks the children into silence and gives you some breathing space to think rationally instead of giving in to your more primitive impulses. (You know what they are; they include strangling, hitting, screaming like a banshee, etc.)

2) Say, “It is natural to be angry.” That’s right. Human beings – ourselves included – need to acknowledge our feelings. It doesn’t mean that we can act on them, or that we shouldn’t work on ourselves to overcome or eradicate them, to actually program ourselves to react differently, but the first step in managing them is to know that they currently exist. It’s kind of like “agreeing” to the fact that gravity exists. Whether you like it or not, right now it’s there. Not acknowledging it won’t get you anywhere. We do not have direct control over our instinctual feelings; but we can always control our thoughts and actions; and that is where we must do most of our spiritual work. Forget the feelings and focus on how you are functioning.

Unless you are Hillel the Elder, you will probably experience feelings of anger at times, especially when you feel betrayed, ignored, scorned or bored: when someone cuts us off when we’re in line, puts us on hold for 45 minutes, doesn’t offer to help when we’re overwhelmed or does shoddy work.

3) Say the words, “Solutions! G‑d will help us find a solution.” You can even do the “solution dance,” in which you hold the child’s hand (if he’s not about to kick you) and sing, “so-lu-tion, so-lu-tion, we just need a so-lu-tion.” If the child starts to laugh, all the better.

4) Tell the child what you do to calm yourself down when you feel angry. When you are waiting behind the garbage truck or waiting for someone who is late, you say, “I’m practicing patience.” When you can’t get through to the doctor, you say, “Here’s a chance to practice making G‑d’s will my will.” When you are criticized by a relative, you say, “Even if someone does not like me, I know that G‑d loves me more than I can imagine.” If something breaks or gets dirty, you say, “Thank G‑d, it’s a triviality.” When someone nags you, you say assertively, without hostility, “I know it is frustrating and disappointing, but practicing self-discipline is what builds self-respect.”

5) Tell them what yes to do, instead of telling them what not to do. They need to know that acting on their anger and hurting others is not okay. Tell them, “Say with words what you want.” Or, “You can let off steam by jumping on the trampoline or polishing the silver.” Or, “Draw me a picture of how you feel and another picture of the solution.” Or, “Write him a letter.” Or, say, “write a letter to G‑d about what you are feeling.” When they have finished the letter, hand them a magic marker and say, “now imagine what G‑d might say to you to help you handle this loss.”

6) Don’t give in to their demands if they are bullying you or an important principle is involved. State the rules: “I love you too much to buy junk food.” “We don’t use those words. Say what you want in a respectful voice.” “We agreed to a half hour on the Game Boy.” If they don’t calm down, calm yourself by thinking, “This is temporary. It will end.” Hang in there. How you react to their anger is going to be a lifelong lesson for them in how to cope with their own frustrations.

7) Praise them for handling their anger in a positive manner. Something like, “Good for you for not hitting your brother when he took your stuff.” “I appreciate very much that you didn’t get hostile when I said that it’s too late to go out.” “I appreciate your hanging up your clothes even though you were in a hurry to go out.” “You were really patient while I was on the phone.” “I’m glad you shared your snack with your sister. I like the way you’re able to think of others.” “Thank you for waiting your turn.” “Thank you for helping me even though it was hard.”

Remember, if you hit, they learn to hit. If you scream, they learn to scream. If you give in, they learn that you cannot be trusted to protect them. Being a good parent means that you will sometimes have to set limits that cause children to hate, reject and scorn you. How humbling! Each time we practice self-control, we grow spiritually. And that is why G‑d gives us so many opportunities to do so.

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