Ask Dr. Genstil : Parenting Q&A

Since 1983, Dr. Sara Genstil, Ph.D., has been practicing psychology using the Intersubjective Systems Theory. She uses this treatment modality for individuals with various conditions, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, post-trauma and for family issues and parenting skills. Dr. Genstil is available to see individuals, couples and families. In addition, she treats bereaved families through the Ministry of Defense and terror victims through National Insurance (Bituach Leumi). She also works with organizations on how to strengthen ties with employees. Dr. Genstil is a member of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology (IAPSP).

After completion of her Ph.D., Dr. Genstil did a post-doctorate with Robert Stolorow, Ph.D., the global leading authority in Intersubjective Systems Theory. Over the years, Dr. Stolorow became her supervisor and mentor. She has practiced for many years, both in the US and in Israel.

My third grader is B”H very smart. When the teacher explains a new pasuk in Chumash, he understands it right away. The problem is that the teacher needs to go over and over what was learned in order for the whole class to understand. At that point in time, my son is bored and starts disrupting the class by talking with his neighbors. I understand this is a problem that teachers often face as every classroom has so many different kinds of learners. But when we suggested to the teacher perhaps giving our son something extra to do in the meantime, he didn’t like the idea. My son is still complaining that he is bored and the disruption is still going on. What can we do?

This is an example of a question that is not for a psychologist. Your son doesn’t necessarily have a problem. He’s very smart and needs more stimulation. The educational system must respond to each child’s individual needs. If there are slow learners, there are special classes for them. What does the school offer for gifted children? Your son needs more stimulation, deeper thinking and he’s not receiving it. He can’t be blamed for interrupting the class because he’s bored. I recommend that you speak to the principal or mifakeach to see what can be done for your son.

My four-year-old son has been successfully toilet trained for over a year. For about the last three months, he has been having trouble staying dry, both during the day and at night. Although he is not having full-blown accidents, he is constantly wet. We went to the doctor to rule out any physical problem. What else can it be and how can we help him?

First of all, it’s important to know that, developmentally, children go through phases. They move a few steps forward, then one step back. It’s not constantly going upward. If your child is regressing, it’s part of his development and that’s normal. As he’s only four years old, there is no reason to be alarmed by his regression. Your function as parents is to be with your child while he’s regressing. Be responsive to him when he’s going forward, but also be responsive to him when he’s going backwards. Be with your child, wherever he is developmentally. Good parenting is not to say, “Hey, you’re a big boy! You shouldn’t do that.” If the parent becomes tense and starts to doubt, saying, “What’s going on? What’s the problem?” he/she will begin to radiate tension and this will relay a message to the child that there’s something wrong. But there is nothing wrong. This response creates a situation where the child says to himself, “Hey, my parent is not accepting me,” and good parenting means to accept your child—not only in good times, but in every aspect, in every developmental experience. Be with your child wherever he is. That is good parenting. When he’s ready, he’ll snap out it.

Now, that’s in a normal situation. However, it could be that he’s been traumatized by something. Very often, for example, when a new baby is born, it is a very difficult emotional experience for the older child. “Oh! I’m not the baby anymore. Somebody took my place.” Children feel subconsciously that if they behave like the baby, they will get their place back. So very often they regress and that’s normal. Parents should simply comfort their child who is regressing, as this may be a result of external reasons. Perhaps one of the parents went away for an extended period of time or something else happened that is traumatic for the child. The natural response is to regress, to go to an earlier state. When under stress, people of all ages do regress.

So whether it is for external or internal reasons, be with your child. Comfort him and even give him extra love. Tell him, “I’m here. I love you just the way you are, as always.” The key point is for the parents to be serene, quiet and peaceful. Act towards your child the same way you would when he is doing wonderful things.

My 17-year-old daughter started hanging out with some neighbors that are not exactly our type. My daughter has always been a simple “eidel” girl and I am worried that these girls can influence her negatively. One of them is making a birthday party at a restaurant out of town and she really wants to go. I don’t want to let her go, but I am afraid that if I tell her too many “nos” she will stop asking for permission.

This is a big question for you as a parent. However, there is some information that you should know when making that decision.

Your daughter is a teenager and this is often the most difficult stage in the life cycle. A 17 year old has the maturity to think abstractly. She sees the world from a different perspective. Therefore, the question of identity comes up. “Who am I?” “What do I want in my life?” “What about my parents?” The teenager needs to establish his/her own identity as distinct from the parents. Your daughter knows she has you, her parents, as models, yet she’s thinking, “There’s a whole world around me. There are my friends, teachers, etc.” In her search for her own identity and independence, she is seeking additional models.But teenagers want to look for others, primarily peers, with whom to identify. It’s one of the most difficult stages in the life cycle. Her peers have a great deal of power because they are possible role models, as distinct from her parents. There’s a lot of confusion about what’s right and wrong. They’re all trying to define themselves and find their own identities. As a result of that, teenagers are not that stable. For a teenager, it’s normal to have all these ups and downs, trying different things (sometimes extreme things!) They want to taste everything. They are trying to see where they fit in in this world.

As noted above, peer pressure at this age is very powerful because friends have a lot of influence. Your daughter may be afraid that she will lose her friends if she doesn’t go to the party. She’s probably thinking that everyone will be there and, if she’s not there, she’ll be an outsider, creating even more pressure for her. It’s not easy to say no or yes. It’s a huge responsibility. However, at this stage, you as her parent should be there for your daughter. Reinforce a strong support system at home for her. Be open with her. Invite your teenager to build basic trust between you. If she see lots of negativity from you, she may not come back to you for support. Be her safety net. One idea that could be helpful is to invite family and friends who have teenage kids her age for parties, get-togethers, Shabbatot, etc. If she has teenage cousins, perhaps you could send her there for Shabbat if this is an option. That way, she can have the experience of being a teenager but in a more positive peer setting.

In addition, it’s necessary for parents to reinforce appropriate limits. Many teenagers will rebel against these limits, but that doesn’t mean that the parent shouldn’t enforce them. Don’t fight with her; she needs someone to hold her and give her emotional support. If you let her go out somewhere, you can say, “I let you go, but these are the conditions.” Or, for example, if she wants to go shopping, tell her, “That’s fine, but you can spend up to a certain limit.” Set boundaries, but coat them with a lot of love and affection. With teenagers, you must make sure to give all the explanations and reasoning behind your rules because, in many ways, they have the sophisticated thinking of an adult. Connect with her cognitively. Set boundaries until she sees the point.

Again, for parents, this is the most difficult stage in child-rearing, because they have to constantly find the balance between setting limits and being available emotionally, hopefully leading to a trusting relationship.

As to your question whether or not to allow her to go to the party, if you feel that you can trust her to set her own limits while at the party, then perhaps you and she could establish a set of limits which she would obligate herself to keep (i.e., hours, kashrut of the restaurant, smoking, drinking, etc.). If you are uncertain of her ability to keep within those limits at the party or anywhere else she may go with peers of whom you do not approve, then perhaps it is best to say no, with an explanation, but without backing down. You are not her friend and she does not have to like every decision you make for her. However, it is your responsibility to help her make good decisions and, in the absence of good judgment on her part, it falls on you to do so.

When teenagers rebel and the parents no longer feel in control, which is very common, often it is advisable to seek professional help, both for parenting skills and support and therapy for the adolescent.


If you would like to send in questions to Dr. Genstil, please send an email to and perhaps your question will be featured in the next issue of Bizness Magazine.


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