click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Don’t Pity the Child
Mom with a View

Don’t Pity the Child

Kids take their cues from parents. What message are you projecting?


In college I had a good friend named Val. Val and I swam together, played squash with each other, went to the theater, class parties and studied for our law school finals together. We even played baseball on the school team together. None of this would be in any way remarkable except for the fact that one of Val’s arms was missing the forearm and hand. It curved around the elbow and stopped. Yet Val threw herself into sports, studies and friendships with gusto.

She told me that she was once traveling and met a young boy born with a similar condition. Unlike her, the boy behaved like an invalid with very limited activities and interests. She believed that the big difference was in the parents’ attitudes. Her parents told her that she was special and could do anything. The young boy’s parents pitied him and had a very narrow view of his potential.

Whether or not we actually speak the words, our children take their cues from us.

Everyone has had the experience of watching a small child fall down. He looks around to see how his parents are reacting. If they look frightened and/or horrified, the child usually bursts into tears. If they look encouraging and act like it’s not a big deal, their child will frequently get up and keep playing. We set the tone.

This is crucial for any parent to recognize. And it applies to so many different scenarios.

While some sibling rivalry may be inevitable, I think it is definitely exacerbated by a parent’s expectations. If we communicate that we feel sorry for the older child and expect him to be jealous, he will – and in a big way. But if we treat the arrival of younger siblings as a matter of course (with some appropriate celebration!) and don’t make a big deal of their complicated emotions, they will respond in kind.

Likewise with frightening situations. If we really feel anxious or scared, we, as parents, need to access our inner actor. Our children need to feel safe and secure. We need to remain calm and unruffled and communicate confidence so that our children will feel that way as well. We need to be matter of fact and straightforward and not shrink from uncomfortable situations. They are counting on us to show them the way.

There is an old Yiddish expression, “Shver zu zein a Yid – it’s hard to be a Jew” which we can almost hear coming out of the voices of some of our forbears. Yet, as hard as it might have been, this was never the right message to communicate to our children. The message should be: it is a privilege and an opportunity. Even if we’re not feeling it, we need to lift our own attitudes up for our children’s sake.

And, as with Val, if illness or other challenges strike, we need to present an optimistic and practical outlook. Perhaps this attitude on our part is authentic. If so, terrific. If not, we are a “fake it till you make it” religion. Act “as if,” and we will impact our children positively and ourselves as well.

May 18, 2013

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 10

(9) Anonymous, November 26, 2015 11:37 PM

it happened to me too

Once I was in toys R us and there was a girl totally bound from head to toe in a wheelchair. I went over and said hello. Her mother started crying. I asked why. She told me NO ONE talks to her. Since then EVERY TIME I see someone in a wheelchair I go over and say hello. Talk to these people and children. They love it when people care. It makes them feel like PEOPLE. Don't ever show pity. show love.

(8) Shoshana - Jerusalem, October 9, 2014 10:45 PM


Thank you, Emuna.

One other point: Once I was walking with our seriously handicapped, wheelchair bound son when a neighbor passed by with her small child who asked, "Why is he like that?"
His mother answered,"That's the way H-shem made him". True enough but nevertheless I was very upset that my son heard heard her reply. So later that night I called her and asked if anything would be wrong with saying "That's the way he was born" instead of blaming it on H-shem, which is too hard,confusing and hurting for a handicapped child or even a regular child to hear.
She agreed with me and promised too be more careful in the
I'm writing this in the hope that people will become more aware of the problem.

(7) Anonymous, May 24, 2013 11:59 AM

To commenter #2. Yes, our school systems certainly do reward the academically and otherwise gifted children. I have a young adult son with Asperger's Syndrome and I can appreciate where you are coming from. However, we as parents need to bring out our children's strengths. Even though my son still struggles socially, he has become quite a mensch. There are MANY people in this world with high IQs who are the furthest thing away from being a mensch. I do not envy those people for one moment. Re: Performing in school productions. Anyone disabled or not, can freeze up on stage and forget what to do. The school productions are not bound for Broadway! If the children are having fun and learning how to work collaboratively, that should be all that matters.

(6) Yehudit, May 22, 2013 10:24 AM

Being a Jew

I am relating an anecdote regarding your advice to reach children being Jewish is a privelege: We were recently insulted by a person in a store for ignoring him (we didn't know he was talking to us). After he realized he was mistaken, he said to my husband: " I'm sorry I called you a Jew". To which my husband replied: "oh, don't be, it's an honor!" The man looked puzzled, and then smiled, waved, and wished us a good evening.

(5) Raphaelle Do Lern Hwei, May 22, 2013 6:01 AM

Help the Disabled to Help Themselves

I work in a daycare centre for the elderly as a nurse therapist. We have physiotherapists on staff but client appointments and reviews are only 1-2 days a week.
This article depicts a very workable treatment plan.
I found that to be effective in getting disabled clients to function at their best , the family members and househelp (if any) of each client have to each put in a bit of effort to encourage the client and help in the right way.
Not only we consider the danger of injury of an individual client and his awareness about what he/she can do, we get the family members to help in a way that no one gets tired and burnt out in the process.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment