Getting to the Root of a Problem
Moshe Ben-Chaim


Someone recently told me that her son said to her, "I wish mommy would die", to which the mother responded, "well if you kill me, you will have to go to jail forever".

Although the mother had good intent to teach some morals to her 6 year old, she in fact effectuated the opposite, and instilled in him a tremendous fear. The child at present does not talk at all in school, although once when his father showed up, he began talking.

Why should this child be afraid to talk?

First, it is important that we understand that when a child has aggression and makes such statements, they are not to be understood as if an adult desired to kill. Killing in a child's mind is his only way of removing a person from the scene. He does not desire the actual death of his mother.

What the mother did was taught the child that when he has an emotion, for which he feels fully justified, he cannot express it for fear of being removed from his mother forever. This traumatic thought must have gone through the child's head when his mother said he'll go to jail. He was simply expressing his emotions, as all children of such a young age must do. They don't have a developed sense of morals or free will. What they feel will be expressed.

Our reaction to similar situations must not be as one who is offended by the child. Rather, we must respond with such care as not to damage any child with fears. As we are parents for the sake of raising psychologically healthy children, we should engage the child as follows to uncover what's bothering the child:

Child: I wish you would die Mommy.
Mother: You do? Why do you want me to die?
Child: Because you make me go to school.
Mother: You don't want to go to school?
Child: No.
Mother: Why not?
Child: I don't want to play with David.
Mother: You don't like David?
Child: No, I hate him, I want him to die.
Mother: Why?
Child: He keeps taking my toys.
Mother: So you don't want me to die, you want David to die?
Child: Yeah
Mother: What if he stopped taking your toys...would that be better?
Child: Yes.

Using this method of patiently probing the child, the real cause of his problem can be discovered, and then dealt with. In this manner, the child is enabled by the mother's questions to expose his real emotions which were only displaced onto his mother. The original fear tactic response of the mother creates a disturbed child, while this method deals with the root of the problem, and can even resolve it.

I talked with the mother and suggested that perhaps the reason her child does not speak, is that he now has a tremendous fear of saying something which he feels, which will result with his 'leaving mommy forever'. Imagine the tremendous weight he is carrying on his shoulders. The mother actually told me that he looks as though he is carrying some huge burden.

Why he was able to talk when his father came to school one day, is due to his father's verbally abusive nature. In his presence, the chid feels condoned by his father's behavior, as if to say, "if Daddy can be this way, so can I". The child feels protected enough by the father's presence to express himself without fear of abandonment, "Daddy won't abandon me if he yells at people too."

The mother can at this point try to resolve the problem by engaging her son in conversation, allowing him to express his true feelings openly. To do so however, she must try to recreate his feeling of security by telling him that "mommy won't ever die or leave you, and you won't ever go to jail". A child needs complete security from his parents. This is his entire sense of reality. Hopefully, this mother will see her error, and be able to correct it in her son.

Errors like this happen too often. It is important as a rule that the parent's goal is to follow the child's lead, allowing the child to express themselves so the parent may understand each of her children, and react wisely and according to each one's individual needs.

Be it a need for security or confidence, or any other emotion, a parent must determine what's bothering a child, and act objectively, never getting personally involved, feeling insulted or attacked.

We are dealing with children here.