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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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Dear Rachel,

As parents to a handful of boys, I’d say we have our hands full. Seriously, I realize that boys will be boys and I know we should be grateful that they’re not a bunch of sissies. But what we hadn’t counted on was our eldest – the supposedly mature one – endlessly picking fights with his younger brothers.

Rachel, I’m not talking about squabbles over something tangible; I mean unprovoked physical altercations, blows that hurt and lead to wailing and shrieks of pain by our younger children who honestly don’t ask for it.

This has been going on for quite some time now, and as nerve-wracking as the noise and mayhem have been, up until last week we just chalked it up to sibling rivalry, figuring that it had to do with the attention that was diverted from our oldest with each new addition to the family.

We’ve reasoned with Yonie (not his real name), tried charts with a reward system for good behavior, and even instituted special dates with mommy or daddy (where one child gets to enjoy the exclusive attention of one of his parents on an outing) on a rotating basis. Every time we think we’ve made progress, it’s back to square one a day or two later.

Like I said, until last week — when our son pounced on someone else’s child, a kid almost half his age. This was something new and something we weren’t going to tolerate.

That night we sat him down, determined to get to the bottom of what was driving our bechor –who, believe it or not, is otherwise a shy and soft-spoken soul – to act out in such bizarre fashion.

After endless prodding and seemingly getting nowhere, a question asked by his father led to the shocking revelation that our son was being hounded relentlessly by a school bully — on the school bus, on a daily basis, for almost two years now!! Further prompting brought to light that Yonie (of slight build) had a fear of his tormentor who was “much bigger than me.”

It began to dawn on us that our 12-year old son has been acting out his own frustration and “getting even” by pummeling his weaker younger brothers, and inadvertently teaching them all how to be bullies! My husband was also very concerned about Yonie’s lack of resilience in not standing up to the bully.

Hopefully, we will be able to reverse the damage that has been eating away at our boys. We’ve already been to the school to speak to the principal and will follow up to make sure that appropriate action is taken.

In the meanwhile, my message to parents is not to chalk up their child’s odd or out-of-character behavior to “a passing phase” or “sibling rivalry.” Get to the bottom of it — the sooner the better.

P.S. I don’t refer to a public school in Anytown, USA; our children attend a cheder in a baalbatish yeshivish community.

Still Shaken…

Dear Shaken,

Children in schools the world over are being affected by the scourge of bullying — so much so that there’s been a mound of research done to try and evaluate the extent, the causes and effects on both aggressor and victim, and the best course of action to take to protect our vulnerable children.

Bullying comes in the form of repeated physical, verbal or psychological assault, usually directed at victims who are unable to defend themselves. Now, this doesn’t mean that parents should suddenly consider their children’s quarrels among themselves or with their peers as bullying. A fight or argument, especially between equals in physical size and strength, doesn’t constitute bullying.

So what makes a child vulnerable and susceptible to being picked on this way? A whole host of things, in fact, such as a lack of verbal skills that impedes self-expression; the craving of attention; physical clumsiness; shyness; low self-esteem or even the lack of ability to build friendships.

If you’re wondering why your son never spoke to you or complained about the bullying, studies have shown that most victims don’t tell their parents or teachers for fear that they will not be believed and/or they feel that nothing will be done about it. Victims are also prone to fearing retaliation, as well as embarrassment, at being unable to stand up for themselves.

Your husband, by the way, may not be doing his son any favor by encouraging him to take on the bully. Without adult intervention, this can chas v’sholom end up causing Yonie physical harm.

In contrast to those parents who choose to look away when their children get involved in altercations with others outside their home, you did the right thing by taking your son to task about his unacceptable behavior. In addition, his low self-confidence will be boosted by your show of support and caring.

Certainly, your story serves to teach parents everywhere that communication with their children is not optional but mandatory. Children should be encouraged to share their innermost feelings on a consistent basis. By showing them unfeigned interest in every aspect of their lives, you will be instilling in them an unshakeable trust in you, as well as the belief that you, their parents, are there for them unconditionally.

And in this way you will gain the upper hand in fending off the long-range effects of any mental and emotional torment children can be so susceptible to. As research reveals, symptoms victims of bullying may display many years down the line range from low self-esteem and aggression to anger-management issues and difficulty in trusting others.

How apropos that we find ourselves celebrating Lag B’Omer this week! One of its lessons, weaned from the tragedy that befell the 25,000 students of Rabi Akiva and that ceased on the 33rd day of the Omer, highlights the importance of respecting one another and the consequences of sinas chinam – baseless hatred.

Thank you for sharing and hatzlocha in raising your boys to be ehrliche, upstanding men who will do you proud.

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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