| Family Reflections |

Succah Lessons

Succos is the perfect time to teach our children to tolerate discomfort


Succos provides a rich menu of parenting opportunities. All we have to do is look beyond the decorating, meal planning, cooking and baking, table setting, guest list management, singing, serving, eating, clearing and other succah-related activities to see what’s so clearly in front of us: the children.

Ashi: Mommy, there are bees in the succah. Can I eat in the house?

Mom: Okay.

There’s a lot going on right now. Mom is very busy managing the meal. There’s certainly no time to work on this child’s phobias — so yes, go eat in the house. But then there’s also this from the bee-phobic’s nine-year-old brother.

Nine-year-old: Mommy, I don’t want to go outside. It’s too squishy in the succah. Can I just eat in the house?

Mom: No, honey. Everyone’s going to eat outside.

Nine-year-old: But what about Ashi? You just told him he doesn’t have to eat outside!

Mom: I know, but you know how he is about bees.

Nine-year-old: I also hate bees! Why does he get to stay inside? If I have to go outside, I’m going to push Simcha’s chair away to make more room!

Mom: Listen, I haven’t got time for this. Everyone’s waiting for us in the succah. Just go in there right now!

Nine-year-old: (runs in the other direction; Mom gives up).

And, as if this isn’t enough, six-year-old Esti isn’t a happy camper after Kiddush. As everyone comes in to wash, Esti starts to whine:

Esti: I don’t want to eat in the succah! It’s cold outside, and I saw a spider! I want to stay inside with Ashi and Avrumi!

Oy vey.


Tolerating Discomfort

The beauty, holiness, and rarefied atmosphere of the succah isn’t appreciated by all children and teens. What can parents do to help kids see past the material and truly relish the spiritual? What can they do to help their children overcome their need for things to be “just so”? In other words, what can they do to convey the very lessons that our special outdoor shelter is meant to provide?

The first step is for parents to lose their fear of their children’s displeasure. Children who are required to eat in the succah with the family aren’t being abused; they’re being educated. Parents need to understand that “forcing” children to do what they don’t want to do isn’t an act of aggression. It’s an act of chinuch.

Of course, guidance must be provided the right way. Starting with acknowledging the child’s feelings is crucial. “I know you find it uncomfortable/cold/hot in the succah, sweetheart.” Said in a loving, compassionate and caring voice, the words help forge connection and receptivity.

“The succah is sometimes uncomfortable for the body, but it’s your neshamah that wants to be there so badly. It reminds us of eating the mahn in Mitzrayim! Your neshamah is begging you, ‘Ashi, Ashi, please take me into the succah!’ Come, sweetheart, let’s do your neshamah a very big favor and take him into the succah now.”


Finding Strength

Of course, Ashi may not be in the mood for inspirational guidance. It doesn’t matter, because the second thing that parents have to do is teach children to tolerate discomfort. This gives kids the ability to overcome all sorts of challenges in life. It makes them strong, self-confident, and resilient.

Pushing children a little beyond their comfort zone isn’t an act of cruelty or torture — it’s an act of education. It teaches them they can do more than they believed themselves to be capable of. It offers them optimism and courage in the face of adversity. It prepares them for life.

Again, it’s all in the delivery. “I don’t care how you feel. Just get yourself in the succah right now or else!” isn’t recommended. Rather, “I know you don’t want to be out there with the bees. You can just stay for a short time so that you can fulfill the mitzvah of eating in the succah. I know it’s hard and scary, so sit near me, and I’ll help you.

“I don’t think you’ll get stung, because we’ll put some food out for the bees at the other end of the succah, but if a bee does sting you, then we’ll take care of it right away, and you’ll recover quickly.”

You can’t promise your child that there will never be pain. What you can offer is that you’ll support him through it, and he’ll be okay. Your faith in him lends him faith in himself. And that is education.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 813)

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