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October 2, 2014 / 8 Tishri, 5775
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When A Bully Becomes A Tzaddik


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Note to readers: In the spirit of Chanukah, here’s a letter representing a personal miracle.

Dear Dr. Yael:

After reading your columns about bullying, I wanted to share with you a wonderful story about how our son went from being a bully to becoming a tzaddik.

At age two our son was a cute, chubby little kid who was sometimes teased by other children. So even at two, he would bully the teasers in order to get what he wanted, and would do anything to get his way. Instead of the adults in his life understanding that he was having a challenging time due to the teasing about his weight, and was therefore responding by bullying those who bothered him, the teachers would hit him, thinking that this would teach him how it feels to be hit and thus prevent him from hitting others. But being hit or punished by his teachers made him even angrier, as he lost respect for the adults and thought that he had the right to do whatever he wanted.

As he grew older he respected his rebbeim less. For example, if the rebbe would take away his watch he would scream at the rebbe in front of the entire class. “That is not yours, and you have no right to take it away.” As a result the situation spiraled downward. He was punished more often, became disconnected from authority, and stopped caring about other people’s feelings. This led him to become a bully. He knew how to learn, making him an excellent talmid. To some extent, this secured his self-esteem. Additionally, as loving parents, we built his confidence. So he had self-respect – but did not respect his peers. For example, when he was about nine, a number of boys were playing in the yeshiva’s backyard. When the ball they were playing with landed on the roof, he grabbed somebody else’s shoe and threw it on the roof. When the mashgiach asked him why he did that, he answered, “What is the difference between a ball and a shoe?” In other words, if you are not angry about the ball going on the roof, why are you angry about the shoe? However, he had done this to hurt the boy, because he had been left out of the game.

At the time, our son did not really comprehend the difference between a ball and a shoe. He claimed that his action was not meant to hurt the other boy, but rather to have fun and get extra attention. We choose to take him for anger management therapy. The biggest positive result of this therapy was that he learned the importance of respecting authority, and who is in charge in life.

Once he understood the importance of respecting authority, he began to listen more appropriately to his rebbeim, teachers and the menahel. He realized that ultimately, they are seeking to help him succeed in life. And as he began to succeed in his learning and in his respect for authority, he channeled his feelings toward helping others. He began trying to aid his chavrusahs in their learning, in the long run gaining their respect the proper way. In due course, as he became more caring and helpful to others, he totally stopped bullying and became a caring person and a true middos-driven tzaddik.

His new and improved behavior shocked the menahel and rebbeim in the yeshiva and this dramatic change, garnered him the respect of his peers and of the yeshiva’s authority figures. His peers come to him for help, and in addition to augmenting his self-confidence it leads him to be the tzaddik he is.

Despite how things had been, we had continuously worked on building his self-esteem, because we believed in him. This was the magic tool in changing our son from a bully to a tzaddik. Our goal in sharing this story with your readers is to help the parents of children who use bully tactics when they feel badly about themselves. We believe that by seeking proper help and offering our constant understanding and support to our son, we helped him develop the tools to change from being a bully to becoming a caring and giving human being.

We are so proud to be his parents, as he continues to grow in his learning and practice of middos as a teenager. We believe that with proper help and positive reinforcement one can turn around their children’s lives. We hope our story helps other parents who face these kinds of challenges with their children.

Happy, Loving Parents

Dear Happy, Loving Parents:

Thank you for sharing your story with my readers. You inspire others to rise to the challenges of raising children who are sometimes difficult. It is the consistent love and constant reassurance that you gave your son that enabled him to change from being a bully to becoming a tzaddik. You continued to believe in his ability to change, and you sought proper help in dealing with his anger issues. And you also continued to love him unconditionally. By constantly building his self-esteem, he was allowed to dramatically change his middos.

If other parents learn from your challenge and get early help for their child when they experience a problem, and they nurture their children with love and positive reinforcement, we will have less children going off the derech, less problems with our children, and even less divorce in our community. In essence, the skyrocketing divorce rate is a reflection of parenting that does not breed self-esteem. Too often, people who end up in a poor marriage or in a divorce report that they grew up with poor parenting. Sometimes it is only one of the partners that had a traumatic or dysfunctional childhood, and even if they marry a person from an emotionally healthy home, the healthy partner at times cannot bear the pain of living with a dysfunctional mate.

Not only did you save your son, but you hopefully also protected him so that he can engage in a healthy marriage in the future and raise beautiful, confident children of his own. Thank you again for your wonderful letter. Hatzlachah!

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