Are Your Hands Full? Meet Dr. Sora Yaroslawitz, DSc OTR/L
By Yitty Denciger
Parenting is definitely very rewarding, yet it can also be very difficult. We don’t always know what to do, which can leave us feeling confused and out of control. I recently heard about Sora Yaroslawitz and I knew I had to get my hands on her new book, Are Your Hands Full. After reading it, I felt so liberated. Meeting with her was even better than reading the book, and I wanted to share that experience with you.
Hi, and thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with us. You have an inspiring story of how you got into the field of working with kids. Will you share it with our readers?
The story started when I was a young mother of 23, and I contracted shigella at the end of the pregnancy with my second child. I was rushed into delivery and my daughter was born with viral pneumonia, as a result of asphyxiating the toxic fluids from the shigella. We were told she wasn’t going to make it. I remember how our spirits fluctuated dramatically along with her fevers. After a few weeks, she started to breathe on her own, her condition stabilized and we were allowed to take her home. But it wasn’t long before we realized that she wasn’t developing properly.
After many agonizing months of doctors’ visits, our daughter was diagnosed as completely deaf, partially blind, autistic and having extremely low muscle tone. At that time, the doctors believed that she would not develop into a functioning adult, and therefore urged us to place her in a home. During the years when our daughter was an infant, society was not as accepting of special children, as it is today. Yet, I could not abandon the thought that it was my obligation to attempt to raise this baby.
And so began the journey to raise my daughter. One of the most significant messengers that Hashem sent to help me was a speech therapist named Adele Markwitz. She alerted me to the fact that as long as I did not develop expectations of my daughter and follow through by educating her, she would probably not perform. She proved to me that my daughter could, in fact, learn and develop by instructing me how to teach one skill at at a time. Today, due to a huge amount of siyatta dishmaya, many surgeries, thousands of hours of therapy, and a tremendous amount of hard work, our daughter is married and has three beautiful children.
As the years passed, Adele introduced me to the value of tantrums, the significance of consistency in parenting, the importance of child obedience, and other concepts that are integral to behavior management. The program that I developed and published is based on her approach and caters to the typically developing child who is growing up in the frum world.
Wow, that is amazing! Why did you decide to write this book?
My original education was in accounting. I had no intention of becoming an occupational therapist, but as I raised my daughter, I discovered the importance of occupational therapy. I was also frustrated by the fact that I could not find a single occupational therapist who dealt with behavioral issues, as well. So I went back to school and became just that.
After I graduated and opened my practice, I began teaching classes for mothers on the topic of behavior management of normally developing children. Then I was asked to do a series of lectures over telephone conferences, which were later converted into MP3 CD’s. When enough people requested reading material, I decided that it was time to write. Are Your Hands Full, Volume I is a compilation of the behavior management classes for normally developing children ages 0-10. I am currently in the midst of writing Volume II, which is for normally developing adolescents ages 10-18.
One challenge many people can relate to is that every child has different needs and behaviors. I read your book and it seems that you have one approach for all different types of childhood behaviors. How does that work?
All children who develop normally follow a developmental schedule that affects behavior. For example, two year old children who are developing typically are usually prone to oppositional behaviors and tantrums. The techniques described in my program follow that schedule, so most children who develop normally will respond to my techniques in a predictable fashion. The book clearly describes children’s expected reactions to the techniques and alerts parents to behavioral deviations that might need further professional help.
Your methods of disciplining are very systematic and thought-out. Many parents cannot think rationally at the time of an event and will respond impulsively, rather than executing the planned disciplinary actions. What advice do you have?
The staggered schedule of strategies is mapped out very clearly, for precisely this reason; so that parents should not have to think much when difficult parenting moments occur. The strategies are grouped into phases, and follow the schedule of how a typical child learns. It is understandable that both parents and children cannot be expected to learn entire programs all at once. If you follow the “recipe” and appropriate schedule, you will prevent impulsive reactions that are damaging to children.
Additionally, I devote an entire chapter in the book to anger management. The book is also replete with validation, illustrations, vignettes, and clear instructions, which takes a lot of ambiguity out of the complicated occupation known as parenting.
Every parent dreads tantrums. In your book you explain that tantrums are necessary for child-development and parents should welcome them. Do you mind elaborating?
If a child has a tantrum that means he has an opinion. If you’ve raised a child with special needs, like I did, you learn to appreciate a child’s ability to think for himself. This developmental milestone in autonomy is cause to celebrate.
In this program, you’ll need to appreciate children’s noise. After raising a child who is deaf, I learned to celebrate child noise. I always tell parents that if they want a clean and quiet profession, they should enter the field of computers. Parenting is a noisy and busy, profession. And you chose it — you applied for the job! If you’re worried about your own comfort, then you’re going to sacrifice on the quality of the chinuch that your child receives. Although I devote a complete chapter to ensuring that parents take care of themselves, they must never lose sight of the development of their children as top priority.
There’s nothing better for a child than to tantrum during their first two to three years of life and learn that life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. In this way, when children get into the school system they are able to cope with authority and the unpredictable aspects of the classroom and school yard. A child who enters the school system and is still unable to accept authority will have difficulty coping in the educational system and ultimately with life’s challenges.
Some people are afraid that if you’re too strict with disciplining your kids they’ll rebel. What is the fine line between disciplining yet, at the same time, not pushing them over the edge?
This program does not encourage parents to be strict or negative. Instead, I teach you to be consistent. If you are consistent with your child — that means when you say no it means no — your child will develop trust in you. There is no need to say no all the time, and there is no need for anger or negativity while this lesson is being taught. You simply must calmly stand behind your word.
Parenting is made up of positive moments and negative moments. During positive moments we heap on your love, warmth, storytelling and game playing. I find that parents don’t spend enough quality time with their children, because they are so exhausted from all the negativity, that when their child has a calm moment, they simply run the other way so they can catch their breath.
Negative moments are when a parent and child disagree. The strategies outlined in the book walk a parent through those moments in a calm, non negative way. Believe it or not, after a few weeks of this approach, you will find no need for negativity, consequences, punishment, or anger.
Your child will not rebel if you cultivate a solid relationship with him. The trick is to give no attention to negative moments and tons of attention during positive moments. The strategies in the book teach parents exactly how to master this skill.
If you had to summarize the book in a single message, what would it be?
The goal of the book is to introduce parents to a program that teaches them to fulfill the two main parenting goals, which are: