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My Son, the Bully

Elisheva Appel

Bullying should never be tolerated, we hear again and again. But what do you do when the bully is your child?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

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Like all Yiddishe mamas, they also worry about their children’s futures. Would they continue bullying as adults? Who would marry them? And, perhaps more awful to contemplate, what would happen to the poor unsuspecting souls who did?

W hen the man started screaming in her face, Chaya knew it must have something to do with her son Ari’s behavior. Apparently, this time he had beaten up two innocent neighborhood girls who were just trying to enjoy Shabbos afternoon in the playground. “How dare you let a child like that go to the park himself? You have to lock him up!” raged the father.

After doing her best to mollify the irate parent, Chaya asked Ari for his side of the story. Yes, he had beaten up the girls — after they spent the afternoon on the slide, refusing to let anyone through, and teasing him mercilessly.

It’s always wrong to beat people up, Chaya agrees, and many bullying victims are innocent bystanders — but the issue of childhood aggression is not simply a black-and-white, good guy/bad guy dynamic, she believes. In every instance of bullying behavior, there are two children who need the adults in their lives to help and support them.

What is Bullying?

Not every instance of aggression justifies the term “bullying.” Boys will be boys, and two boys who repeatedly lace into each other on the schoolyard might just be letting off steam in a less-than-ideal manner.

“Bullying” is an overused term, according to Mrs. Esther Kuessous, junior high school principal of Bnos Bais Yaakov in Far Rockaway, New York. “Bully is a label that describes someone’s innate character, and I don’t think anyone is innately a bad person,” she explains. “Acting in an unkind or selfish manner is just plain bad middos. A child may have to work on bein adam l’chaveiro and ahavas Yisrael, she may need to develop sensitivity and empathy — but that doesn’t make her a bully. We’re very quick to label, but it’s a strong word.”

Technically, bullying has a very specific definition: repeated, unwanted aggressive behavior that involves an imbalance of power, says noted social skills expert Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld of Strategies for Optimum Success. The bully’s power may be real or perceived, and it may stem from size, physical strength, popularity, or any other dimension in which the aggressor outstrips the victim.

“If a child sees healthy behavior, she will learn. She’ll see that in the beginning, bullies get their way, but as they get older, it won’t get them friends. Eventually, she will learn the right way to gain friends”

The problem is pervasive — studies estimate that 30 percent of children will find themselves involved in a bullying situation, either as the victim or perpetrator.

Being bullied is tremendously damaging, but there is another human side to the equation, one that is often overlooked: being the bully or the parent of the bully hurts, too.

The Root of Bullying

As a rule, kids resort to bullying behaviors out of pain. Generally, there is a void of some kind that the child attempts to fill by bullying, for lack of better alternatives.

There is no “typical” bully profile, asserts Mrs. Schonfeld, and the notion that most bullying is caused by abuse or violence in the home is a myth that should be discarded.

Some children are born with personalities that predispose them to aggression. A child who is naturally inflexible or intense, like Miri’s son Dovi, will have a harder time containing his emotions and expressing them constructively. By his first birthday, Dovi already showed signs of an extreme, belligerent personality. Tall and strong for his age, he was taking on five-year-olds by the time he was three.

“It doesn’t seem like it was the result of anything that happened,” says Miri. “It was so obviously his core personality.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 573)

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