Dear Dr. Yael:
Like the seven-year-old daughter of A Heartbroken Mother, last week’s letter writer, my somewhat socially awkward nine-year-old son is also being bullied.
While some of your recommendations on how to deal with this problem may help my son, keep in mind that boys are more physical and less verbal than girls. Therefore, I don’t know if it’s most productive for my son to answer the bullies with a verbal retort.
How can I get my son to protect himself and no longer be a target?
Another Heartbroken Mom
Dear Heartbroken Mom:
Boys need to be handled differently than girls.
Encourage your son to form healthy and feasible friendships with other boys. Take him and one of his friends on a fun outing or plan a fun activity at home. Once your son establishes some friendships, he will more easily stand up to the bullies. This will also help your son feel more accepted in school, making for a happier student. You may also consider getting your son professional help in order to help him improve his social skills. He will be taught to act more appropriately in social settings and to better handle sticky situations.
Find something your son excels at or has an interest in and help him foster that strength. Help him develop his natural talents, raising his confidence level and his ability to better fit in. The honing of his skills will help him be more accepted by his peers and make him feel that he is “good at something.”
Perhaps it would be constructive to enroll your son in a karate or martial arts class so as to make him stronger and better equipped to handle himself. This will also imbue him with discipline and with the very important skill of being assertive (as opposed to aggressive). Furthermore, martial arts can also help your son learn to be more coordinated, fueling his emotional strength. Before signing him up, make sure to conduct research in your quest to find positive, encouraging and caring instructors. This is key for your son, as he needs as much positive attention and feedback as possible.
Additionally, it is imperative to continue to build your son’s confidence at home. Don’t question his feelings or make him feel bad about how he handles situations at school. Instead, validate him and use positive reinforcement to help him learn better ways to deal with difficult situations. Rather than asking him why he didn’t answer the boy who was mean to him, say something like: “Wow, that must have been very painful for you.” Then urge your son to say to the bully, “I feel sorry for you because you seem to feel the need to be mean to others in order to make friends.”
Be sure to use your best judgment on when it is best to execute these techniques; your son may not always want your advice and instead may want you to just listen to his feelings.
Finally, make every effort to get your son’s rebbe and/or teacher involved. They are integral in helping to stop the bullying. If you require any more assistance in handling this situation, please speak to a professional. Remember that bullying is a very serious problem. Hatzlachah!
Dear Dr. Yael:
Baruch Hashem, my husband and I are invited to many smachot and tzedakah functions. We also enjoy spending Shabbat meals with our many friends. However, it has recently become clear that we are not spending enough time with our children. We are constantly being pulled in several directions and do not know how to say no. The situation must change, as we do not want our children to suffer.
However, we do not know how to go about making changes without inadvertently insulting people and losing friends. We live in a community where it is expected to be socially active; as a result, people rarely reject an invitation. While we do not want to seem snobby or uninterested in others or in the community at large, something must change.
How can we balance all of these social obligations with being better parents?
You are indeed in a difficult predicament, and it is admirable that you realize that your situation is affecting your children and that you want to make changes for the betterment of your family.