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Words As Weapons: Learning To Use Words Positively


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Getting a person’s hopes up unnecessarily. For example, asking a storeowner a price of an item when you have no intention of buying it.

Shaming a person by reminding him about a defect he can do nothing about.

Acting out of spite, as in sending someone on a wild-goose chase when you know they will not find what they are looking for.

Humiliating a person, such as reminding someone of his previous immoral behavior.

Frightening people by getting enraged at them.

Ona’as devarimis painful for people of all ages, but can be particularly devastating if an adult is interacting with a child and intentionally or unintentionally uses words to hurt that child. Children will often think that adults know better, therefore if an adult is telling them something that is hurtful it must be true. This will lead to an internalization of the comment that can cause irreparable damage.

Children with Other Children: School Bullies

Today, many schools have adopted a zero-tolerance policy for bullying. Yet, the problem still exists, prompting bullied children to miss school days because they fear going to school.

What types of children are singled out for bullying? Often, they are different in some way: the way they talk, their name, the way they look or their family structure. But, more often, the common denominator is that children who are bullied do not fight back. Bullies tend to seek out those who will not defend themselves. Remember, a bully is looking for power and most of the time is trying to show everyone how tough he or she is. What better way to do that than to find someone who won’t fight back?

How can we as parents or teachers combat bullying in the classroom? There is no curriculum for opposing bullying, however, there are ways to build a better school community:

* Make getting to know each other part of the school curriculum. This way, students will not be singled out because they are different or “weird.”

* Eliminate hierarchy. Don’t allow the same students to be the monitors or helpers every single day.

* If you see bullying, immediately say, “We don’t do that here.” Subsequently, report the problem to the principal.

As adults, we are responsible for creating safe environments for our children, in and out of school.

Solutions Outside of the Classroom

The first step towards combating verbal abuse or bullying is to develop sensitivity towards the feelings of others. To better understand others, we can ask them to share with us how they feel about our words and actions. We can treat each person as an individual, recognizing that what might hurt one person might not hurt another. Most importantly, we can decide never to intentionally hurt someone with our words, regardless of how frustrated or angry we might be at that moment. Social skills training can enable us to think before we speak, gain confidence in our own achievements, and acquire dignity when interacting with others.

Perhaps a mashal or parable can help us better understand this. There is a famous story about two men having a contest on the beach, each attempting to be taller than the other. While one man was digging a hole next to his opponent, the other was building a small hill to stand on. Perhaps the best way to combat ona’as devarim or verbal abuse is to emulate the second man: build your own hill. Instead of digging underneath others in order to put them down, build yourself up through acts of compassion, chesed, and charity.

An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net.

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net. Visit her on the web at rifkaschonfeldsos.com.


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