Some children become rebellious as they grow older due to certain life experiences, but others seem to exhibit rebellious or deviant behavior right from birth. Even when they are very young, one can already notice their negative behavior. One child goes into a temper tantrum if he doesn’t get what he wants, and another child is very mild mannered and rarely ever cries. One child grabs everything he sees and won’t give it up, and another gladly shares his toys with others. Children’s personalities and temperaments vary greatly. Some get angry or jealous very quickly while others are as easygoing and as gentle as Hillel, who could never be angered.
Psychologists tend to agree that most personality traits are hereditary, and can be traced back to someone in the family, often though it may skip a generation or two. Perhaps this was why King Chizkiyahu was afraid to marry. He feared that his son Menashe would take after his father Achoz who was a great rosho.
The Gemara says it has to do with the mazel under which a person is born. One who has the urge to seek blood should direct this trait to become a shochet or mohel. Obviously, a person must learn how to use his personality traits for the benefit of mankind and to serve Hashem. No one is forced to be good or evil. It’s how one’s traits are directed that makes him good or bad. It is man’s job to learn how to control and change his personality traits. The Rambam says that one must always strive to take the middle path.
Yet, every parent and teacher will tell you that this task is not easy and that certain children are very stubborn. Jews are called an “Am k’shei oref,” – a very stubborn nation. We could never have survived through such a harsh and difficult golus if not for our great stubbornness.
Behavior modification needs a very skilled teacher and is a great art. Getting a rebellious, stubborn, or defiant child to change his nature and use it for good is no simple matter; the wrong approach, can sometimes make matters worse. This is why hitting such a child can lead to disaster.
In the book “The Youngest Partisan,” Rabbi Romi Cohen tells the story of a horse that was so wild that anyone that would try to ride it would be thrown off its back. Rabbi Cohen needed the horse, and decided to try and train it. Each morning, he would feed the horse a little sugar cube and stroke it very gently. After a few weeks, he was able to mount the horse without being thrown to the ground. Anyone who has seen an animal trainer knows that there are ways to get even the most vicious and stubborn animal to do ones bidding.
There are some extremely talented teachers and rabbayim who have mastered these important skills and have been very successful in working with these difficult students. Parents, rabbayim, or teachers who have such children are well advised to seek the advice of professionals who are trained in the proper methods of dealing with such children. Failure to do so may just aggravate the problem and cause irreversible damage. The earlier they get help, the better. Please don’t call me, since I plead ignorance.