Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Kislev 5764 - December 10, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

by A. Ross, M.Ed.

Some children seem to be born with an aggressive streak in them, others are softer, more gentle and less assertive. Experts vie with each other to explain this trait and suggest that either a child has been treated aggressively or maybe, he has seen a great deal of friction and conflict at home. Mostly, however, there is no known cause at all; the child is born with this personality.

In non-Jewish circles, bullying is a very common phenomenon in the classroom, beginning at a very early age. Unfortunately, it occurs, though to a lesser degree, in our schools, too. Particularly amongst boys, there are normally some conflicts and tensions of different kinds. There are also slightly aggressive interactions, partly for fun, as a form of self-assertion and also for testing out strength relations amongst the boys.

If there is a potential bully (or several) amongst a group, this will influence the boys' activities. The interaction will be rough, more vehement, and probably more violent. The irascible temperament of the bully, his marked tendency to assert himself and to dominate and subdue other boys, will make themselves strongly felt. Even minor adversities and frustrations lead to intense reactions which often assume an aggressive form, because of his inclination to use violent means in conflicts. Due to the physical strength of the bully, his attacks are unpleasant and painful to others.

If there is a potential victim in the class, anxious, fearful of being assertive, and often weaker as well, he will soon be discovered by the bully. He is the one who does not retaliate when attacked, who becomes afraid and perhaps cries, and is unwilling or perhaps unable to ward off attacks even by fairly harmless antagonists. He is often rather alone and isolated and does not take part in rough games with other boys. An ideal target. Anxiousness, defenselessness and crying give the bully a marked feeling of superiority and supremacy.

The bully usually wants others to join him, and soon induces his closest friends to participate in tormenting the other child and even to do his work for him. There is always something in the looks, clothing or manners of the victim which can be attacked and it is equally pleasant for the bully to see others doing his work of harassment for him or to do it himself. Come to that, there is something in most of us which can be used as a target for baiting by bullies, but fortunately, we teach and learn good character traits from an early age.

What can parents of the victim do? A child comes home in tears from nursery school or kindergarten. In a home where shemiras haloshon is stressed repeatedly, he will say, "A boy took my lunch away and hit me," without mentioning any name. Now Mother is in a quandary. She can ask whether there are any others in the class who also suffer, and the child might inform her that there is, indeed, another boy, or perhaps two others, who suffer daily, too.

Frequently, the mother will have a pretty good idea as to who the perpetrator is, but it is difficult to ask the child because of the issur of loshon hora. At this age, it is essential that teachers are informed, and that they put a stop to this kind of behavior. They may be unaware of the situation, for as they are only human, their eyes cannot be everywhere. Moreover, they do not encourage talebearing and constant wailing and complaining about others.

Older brothers who are often fiercely protective of their siblings and who notice that a teacher does not treat the situation seriously, might threaten the bully vociferously with retribution if the behavior is not discontinued immediately. This usually has the desired effect with very young children.

As the victim becomes older, the parents might discover that their child is excluded from the peer group and is being bullied. They will naturally increase their efforts to benefit their child, but an overprotective attitude will increase the child's isolation. Informing the staff or principal of the situation is often counter-productive and may result in even more harassment.

The boy needs an ally or two in the class, but because socially excluded children are often not very adept or skilled in their efforts at social contact, parents must give detailed suggestions as how to initiate the contact. The child needs a lot of support and encouragement, because due to earlier failures, he will give up at the slightest hint of adversity.

Adults at the school are often not aware of the state of affairs, as they are not in the vicinity when the bullying occurs. In the same way as when the child was younger, if the victim informs on his tormentors, he is told to stop telling tales. Some of his peers with better middos are afraid of befriending and protecting the victim. They are afraid of incurring contempt and disapproval and fearful of becoming victims themselves and a target of harassment, so the child becomes more and more isolated.

Parents are subjected to strong pressures from their son not to contact the school, for fear of reprisals. He says he is "afraid of getting his tormentors into trouble" or that he has been threatened with more bullying if he dares to tell. It is best if parents can secure the child's consent but at the same time, it is so obvious that bullied children are petrified of the consequences that parents might think they are doing the right thing for their boy in complying with his wishes and entreaties not to interfere.

What can parents of a bully do? Theories abound, but in practice, they can do very little. Discussion and open talking is the first step. Unfortunately, it is known that the families of the bully and the victim are not always on the best of terms. It is often appropriate for the teacher or headmaster to arrange a meeting with the parents of both children, and to include the children in this meeting. Not all bullies are `bad' boys. If they are made aware of how hurtful their behavior is, and of the law not to do unto others what you would not like done to yourself, some of them may desist. On the other hand, some might increase their obnoxious behavior outside school premises. It is a fact that most bullying takes place on the way to and from school. Once a teacher has intervened in the bully/victim situation, he will have a special duty to protect the victim.

Teachers can do a good deal in the classroom. They can `brainstorm' amongst the boys, writing ideas on the board. The first most obvious one: "We do not allow bullying in the classroom." "We will not associate with bullies." Teacher can type out a list of rules and get each boy in the class to sign them.

Grouping the class can be helpful, but it is not advisable to put the bully and the victim in the same group. Nor a bully and his follower, a passive bully. In the grouping, the victim might make friends and acquire allies in the class. Teacher can take a couple of boys to be in `his' group, so that in this way he can single out the bullies for special attention. However, the teacher must observe the groups closely to see how each boy gets on in the individual groups.

Having written these few lines, I realize that the problem is not solved in the least. It is highly desirable that parents contact the school if they know or suspect that the child is having problems. As a last resort, a victim should be moved to another school, away from his tormentor (although there is no guarantee that he will not encounter the identical problem at the new school).

A bully must suffer sanctions and punishment of some kind, although never corporal punishment. This will be counter- productive.

May we all have the sagacity to deal with children's problems correctly, both as parents and as teachers.


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