> Family > Parenting

Helping Children Cope With Difficulties

May 8, 2009 | by Rebbetzin Chana Heller

Failing a test, being unpopular, coping with divorce and worse. Children face many difficulties. What can we do to strengthen our children for life's challenges?

As children progress through toddler-hood they need us to be firm and set limits. This will help them build frustration tolerance.

An "anything goes" policy is harmful to children, who generally thrive in knowing there are rules to be followed and limits that must be adhered to. As difficult as it is for many of us, saying "no" to negative behaviors and building a well-structured environment with set nap times and bedtimes promotes a feeling a security and being cared for.

Learning the meaning of "not now, later" is a crucial step in a child's development of tolerance for pain.

It also promotes healthy frustration. Children learn at a young age that they cannot always have things their way. For example, a child who keeps kosher must wait a certain amount of time after eating meat before he eats milk. He has to control his desire to eat non-kosher candy in the checkout line at the supermarket. Discipline and self-control are therefore enhanced, making it easier to cope with frustration.

Learning the meaning of "in a few minutes", "later", or "not today" is another very crucial step in their development of tolerance for pain.


Let's face it. We all try, as much as we are financially able, to create a comfortable lifestyle for (ourselves and) our children. We try to satisfy their (and our) desires for toys, clothes and other material items. Setting reasonable limits in these areas and creating a distinction between what they "need" and what they "desire" is healthy for children.

Our Sages say, "Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of deprivation." (Pirkei Avos, "Ethics of the Fathers" 6:4) This is not a call to asceticism, but a plea for moderation. Children who grow up with every desire catered to tend to have an attitude of entitlement. They often feel, "Life owes me something." They don't know how to deal with the pain of not having what they want; they don't appreciate what they have; and they may not have a healthy level of frustration tolerance when things don't go their way.

Children who have everything don't know how to deal with the pain of not having what they want.

A specific example of not making life too comfortable would be sharing a bedroom. Many parents prefer to have separate bedrooms for each child. It certainly makes life more comfortable for the parents, who don't have to hear children bicker about who is a slob and whether the windows will be open or closed at night. Children, however, learn many important problem-solving skills by sharing a room with a sibling/s. Hopefully, they learn to share and to have sensitivity to each other's moods, neatness issues, not waking each other up needlessly, different tastes in music, etc.

In short, sharing a room with a sibling creates all sorts of potential "problems" which we really do not want to shield our children from. These "problems" are good for them and prepare them for getting along with others, for life in a college dormitory and ultimately for marriage.


When young children come to us with their problems, we often tend to feel their concerns are trivial and not worth much attention. We need to realize that, to children, their concerns are as important as our issues are to us.

Children who have been brushed off as youngsters won't seek their parents out later in life.

Parents who slough off children's problems when they are young are unwittingly setting the precedent for the future. Children who have been brushed off as youngsters learn that their parents are not the address to go to when they are in need. Parents then wonder why their children are not coming to them when they are teenagers.

Therefore when a small child is upset that somebody is making fun of him or he can't find his favorite blanket, we need to create an environment of empathy. We also must be non-judgmental and we must help the child find his own solution to the problem.

Here are some specific tips:

1. Empathize

When your child comes to you, try to feel his pain, concern, anger or frustration. The Sages say (Pirkei Avos, 6:6) that we should share our fellow's burden. Recognize how real and important his problem is to him. Help young children to recognize and name the emotion they are feeling. Acknowledge the pain without exaggerating the situation.

2. Be Non-Judgmental

If your child got yelled at in school and you ask him what he did to cause this, you immediately have judged him unfavorably. A simple "can you tell me what happened?" should start the conversation on a more positive note. Be willing to give your child the benefit of the doubt. This fulfills the commandment of "You shall judge your fellow man with righteousness" (Leviticus 19:15), which obligates us to give a person the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the teacher was up all night with her baby and was unusually low on patience that day. Listen without making any judgments about the child's behavior or character. Don't jump in immediately with advice, rebuke, or solutions. Listen quietly and thoughtfully and try to feel what your child is feeling. (Note that small children with small problems need more immediate resolution, including rebuke or punishment if necessary. Older children require more thoughtfulness.)

3. Allow Children To Find Their Own Solutions

Children are not always looking for us to help them find solutions to their problems. They just need to ventilate. We may be hindering their ability to solve their problems by jumping in with our solutions. Wait to see if they can come up with their own ideas first. Look to see if they are really soliciting your advice. Of course, if you think a child's solution is damaging to himself or others you have the responsibility to engage him in a discussion about it. You might ask, "Can we talk a little about what you are planning to do about this?" Or "You might want to think about a few things before you make your decision."

4. Offer A Frame Of Reference

Judaism teaches that all our problems or difficulties are opportunities for growth. The situations we are in are not coincidental. God knows what challenges we need in order to become stronger, more refined human beings.

God knows what challenges we need in order to become stronger, more refined human beings.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, in his classic work The Path of the Just, says, "Man is veritably placed in the midst of a raging battle. For all the affairs of the world, whether for the good or for the bad, are trials to a man..." Our forefather Abraham had 10 major tests, the most famous being the near sacrifice of his son Isaac. Furthermore, we are taught that tests are a sign of God's love and caring to help us reach our full potential and gain the maximum reward.

If parents have this attitude about their own problems and discuss them in this context (when appropriate) with their children, it will introduce children to a different way to handling life's challenges. For example, a parent might say "I think I know why God put me in this set of circumstances. It is such a test of my patience (or determination, self-restraint etc.) and I really need to grow in this." This will teach the child to also look for reasons why a certain problem has surfaced in their lives.

Looking for the opportunities for growth puts a very positive spin on problems and teaches children to be optimistic and proactive instead of wallowing in pain or self-pity.

Determining when is the right time to talk to your child about what she is going through -- and the larger question of "why" -- is very individual. Usually the moment of high emotion is not the right time. Later, when the child is calm she will be more receptive to a discussion of what there is to learn from the experience.


  • Help young children develop frustration and pain tolerance by setting limits and not being afraid to say "no."
  • Don't indulge your child in a life of comfort.
  • Create a relationship in which children will feel comfortable coming to you with their problems.
    1. Treat small children's trivial problems with appropriate seriousness.
    2. Empathize
    3. Be non judgmental
    4. Empower children to find their own solutions when ever possible.
    5. Offer a frame of reference for dealing with problems which encourages consciousness of the opportunities for growth.


Leave a Reply

🤯 ⇐ That's you after reading our weekly email.

Our weekly email is chock full of interesting and relevant insights into Jewish history, food, philosophy, current events, holidays and more.
Sign up now. Impress your friends with how much you know.
We will never share your email address and you can unsubscribe in a single click.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram