Dear Dr. Yael,
After reading your columns about bullying, I wanted to share a wonderful story about how our own son changed from a bully to a tzaddik. I will start by talking about my son who when he was two he was a little, chubby, cute kid. At that point in his life he was sometimes teased by other children. Therefore even at two he would bully these children who teased him to get what he wanted and he would do anything to get his way. Instead of the adults in his life understanding that he was having a challenging issue by being teased about his weight and was therefore responding by bullying those who bothered him, the teachers would hit him thinking that hitting would teach him how it feels to be hit and prevent him from hitting others. In actuality the fact that he was hit or punished by his teachers made him even angrier, and he therefore lost respect for the adults and thought in his mind that he had the right to do whatever he wanted.
As he grew older he respected his Rebbes 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 and he was punished more often and became disconnected from authority and stopped caring about other people’s feelings. This led him to become a bully and he lost his respect for his peers. He always was an excellent talmid and knew how to learn, which protected his self-esteem to some extent. In addition, we were loving parents to this child and built his confidence. He had some self-esteem and self-respect, but he did not respect his peers. For example, when he was about nine years old, he was playing in the backyard in his yeshiva with his peers. They were playing ball and the ball fell on the roof so he grabbed somebody else’s shoe and threw it also up 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. In effect he did this to hurt the boy since he was left out of the ball game as he was not very good in sports.
At that point in his life he really did not comprehend the difference between a ball and the shoe and he claimed that he did not do this to hurt the boy, but rather to have fun and get extra attention. We, as his parents decided to take him for anger management therapy. The most crucial thing that came out 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, understanding that they ultimately are seeking to help him succeed in life. As he began to succeed in his learning and his respect to authority, he channeled his feelings into helping others. He began helping his peers and he tried to aid his chevrusas in their learning and in the long run he gained their respect in a proper manner. Ultimately, he became more caring and helpful to others and he totally stopped his bullying behavior. Our son became a caring person and a true tzaddik in his middos.
His behavior shocked the Menahel and Rebbeim in the yeshiva and since he changed dramatically, he gained the respect of his peers and of the authority figures in the yeshiva.
At this point, his peers come to him for help and in addition to augmenting his self-confidence it leads him to be even more of a tzaddik.
Even though he was put down in the yeshiva we, as his parents, continued to believe in him and build his self-esteem. This was the magic tool to changing our son from a bully to a tzaddik. I wanted to share this story, to help parents whose children use bully tactics when they feel badly about themselves. I believe that our seeking out proper help and our constant understanding and support of our son helped him to change his middah of being a bully to become a caring and giving human being. We are so proud to be his parents and he continues to grow in his learning and middos as a teenager. We believe that with proper help and positive reinforcement one can turn around their children’s life.
Thank you for listening and we hope that you print our letter to help other parents who are faced with these kinds of challenges with their children.
Happy Loving Parents
Thank you for sharing your amazing story with our readers. You inspire others to rise to the challenges of raising children who are sometimes difficult. It is the consistent love that you gave your son with the constant reassurance that enabled him to change from a bully to a tzaddik. You as parents continued to believe that he can change and you looked for proper help in dealing with his anger as well as continuing to love him unconditionally. You also constantly built his self-esteem, which allowed him to change his middos so dramatically.
If other parents can read your story and learn to get help early for their child when they experience a problem, as well as to nurture their children with love and positive reinforcement, we would 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 also a reflection of parenting that does not breed self-esteem. 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 a emotionally healthy home, the healthy partner at times can not bear the pain of living with a dysfunctional mate. Therefore not only did you save your son, but you hopefully protected him so that he can engage in a healthy marriage and ultimately raise beautiful confident children.
Thank you for this amazing letter. Hatzlocha!