Fresh Start
4 min readJan 30, 2023

Fresh Start Alumni Webinar with Dr. Stuart Ablon Ph.D. and Rabbi YY Jacobson

Compiled by Rabbi Yanky Goldstein M.Ed.

Children do well when they can. When a child exhibits a challenging behavior, he is usually lacking skill, not will, to do better. Oftentimes, children aren’t lazy or uncooperative; they may be, in fact, trying harder than we think. The adult, too, is doing the best he can to address the situation effectively, with the skills he has.
We need to hold space and have compassion for these truths so that we can address the concerning behaviors without compromising our relationships or long-term goals.

Challenging behaviors defined

First, we need to dispel some common myths and adages that get in the way of our approaching challenging behaviors with compassion and calm: Laziness, Evil Inclination, “where there is a will there is a way,” and “the way we were raised worked; stop letting kids get away with everything. We
all had a tough upbringing, and we did well.”

Laziness defined

A struggle to harness intrinsic motivation which is usually a result of psychological needs not being met. These include: lacking mastery to accomplish the expectation, lacking autonomy, lacking connectedness or relatedness to people or purpose. Addressing laziness
compassionately and therefore effectively would call for filling in the gaps of these critical skills; not imposing punishments or yielding power to “create” a will to perform better.

Evil inclination defined

impulses we act upon when the muscle of impulse control is lacking. Usually this is rooted in developmental delays or trauma; not in a desire to do evil. Again, to address this compassionately, one would work on addressing the delays or trauma, not by shaming or
condemning the individual.

The good news is that in both areas we have tremendous opportunity for influence and growth, since it is not a matter of fighting or creating a will in the child. It is simply a matter of teaching them skills to do better.
The research (and experience with thousands of children) has shown that “where there is a skill there is a way,” and that working on teaching skills was far more effective in addressing challenging behaviors than leveraging power and manipulation to exact better behavior out of children. The
fallout of the latter was added dysregulation, hurt relationships and bitter conflict.

Lastly, it is simply a lie that we all did well with the “old school” methods. Many of us didn’t. And the jury is still out on those who “did well,” as traumas can sometimes lay dormant for years — or generations — before showing up as dysregulation and pain. (As an aside, the down-talking from
one generation onto the next has been going on for hundreds of years. It isn’t something new.)

Most importantly, the approach we are exploring in this class is not about being permissive, passive, or letting children get away with poor behavior. It is about working hard on being compassionate and mindful about how and when we step in.

Addressing challenging behaviors

Challenging behaviors are predictable, and we can usually determine the triggers and conditions that set them off. Be proactive. Create a list of the behaviors, explore the triggers, and choose one challenging behavior at a time to address with clarity and calm, as outlined below. Note: the worst
time to address an issue is in the moment.

There are three options available to us when we are faced with a situation that needs to be addressed:
On the far right: Impose our will so that our needs are met. This option puts the adult’s needs above all else. This usually increases conflict, hurts the relationship, and ignores the potentially negative impact this imposition may have on the child’s development of self, as well as his
development in this area of his life.
On the far left: Drop the expectations entirely — at least for now. Allow the challenge to continue, if even just for a little longer, while maintaining calm, and preserving the relationship.
In the center: Collaboration. Be empathic. Remember: “they are doing the best they can.” Try to understand. You don’t need to agree with or love their perspective, needs, or wants but you need to understand them fully and deeply. Once you understand their perspective, you can share your
perspective and concerns. Then, invite to collaborate on finding solutions. Let them go first.

Effective solutions should address everyone’s concerns, be mutually satisfactory, realistic, and durable. In most situations, there will be multiple opportunities to have conversations about the challenge. Having compassionate, collaborative conversations about the challenges will continue to build the relationship and provide many opportunities to learn and build skills in a safe space.

Some pointers

“Children will do well when they can. If they aren’t it isn’t because they don’t want to; it’s because they don’t know how to.”

Get curious.

Approach the struggling child (and yourself!) with an attitude of “what must have happened to you?” vs. “what’s wrong with you?”

Give yourself empathy for your own shortcomings and frustration.

We usually revert to seeking power and control when we feel threatened, which happens when our brain responds with fear to a perceived danger. Understand the brain function and take steps to explore our own reactions and find ways to regulate them. This will help us reduce our need to
assert power and control, without losing authority.

Remember: leveraging control over a traumatized (skills lacking) child, triggers more trauma and dysregulation. The last thing a dysregulated child needs is a dysregulated adult.

In a nutshell
Mantra: We will do well when we can.
Don’t impose your will.
Be curious.
Invite collaboration; solve problems together.

Fresh Start

Helping members of the Jewish community understand their past, to create a better future. All content is written by FSRC Alumni/Staff.