Dear Rabbi Ross. I’m sure you’ve received many emails about children that are being bullied. I have the opposite problem. My 6th grader is the class bully. He picks on boys, intimidates the other boys into hanging out with him, and creates an atmosphere of fear in the classroom. I defended him for years, until a mother called me up crying, and I finally recognized that my perfect son was not perfect after all. However, he’s still a Yid, and my son, and I love him so much. I tried speaking to him, but he tells me it’s not true and these kids are making it up. I know he’s lying to me. Please help. Bruchie – Flatbush
Bruchie, you are correct. I received many emails about kids being bullied, but this one is a first for me. You seem to have hit the nail on the head in the way you described bullying. Many people still think it’s a physical issue. However, bullying is very often psychological, and can have seriously negative effects on children.
There are many different types of bullies in Jewish schools. Although physical contact is usually no longer tolerated in our society, bullies still exist, and will continue to, until we address the problem. Over the years, I’ve bullying down into 3 main categories.
First of all, you need to contact the school. Speak to his Rebbeim and teachers, both current and from previous years. Explain that you need to make sure your son is not picking on other kids, and you need their help. Find out who his targets are, and which kids he likes to hang out with the most. This will give you a better idea of what you’re dealing with.
I would not ask the school to deal with the situation. Unfortunately, Yeshivos have a very bad track record when it comes to dealing with bullying. I’ve heard cases of schools calling both the bully and the target in together for a meeting (horrible idea), or rewarding the bully if he stops (yes, I’m serious). Even the school psychologist might not be prepared for confronting bullying unless he/she is properly trained.
Second of all, you need to speak to a psychologist. In most cases, bullying is a learned behavior and can therefore be unlearned. You wouldn’t send a sick child to a poorly rated doctor, so be just as vigilant when finding a psychologist or social worker.
Your goal should be to instill in your child a sense of right and wrong so he can better understand that he’s hurting others. Personalities don’t change overnight, and you can’t expect immediate improvements either. You can make it clear that there will be serious consequences if he intimidates others in any way.
A great way to develop Middos that can really help your son, is to is to impress upon him the concern for others. You can make comments like, “That security guard must be hot, maybe we should offer him a cold drink.” Or, “The secretary in your school works really hard, let’s get her a coffee.” You might also try, “Maybe bring an extra snack today in case someone forgot theirs.” In this way, he can begin to understand the feelings of others.
I made a small list of do’s and don’ts regarding bullying. Please feel free to add your thoughts by commenting on our blog (link below).
If your child is being bullied.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.