Many frustrated mothers write to me, seemingly without hope, as they struggle with their children both in and out of school, waiting for the day their children are bully-free and once again happy. This week Captain Eilon Even-Esh, a self-defense and anti-bullying expert, shares his experience with readers. His goal is to help parents find a real solution to the very common problem of bullying.
Dear Captain Even-Esh:
Our son was a bit quiet during the last few weeks of school. We asked him directly what was going on, and it appears that a boy in his class was bullying him. In addition, he was recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. Is it possible that the bullying is affecting him so greatly he has developed this condition?
He is now in sleepaway camp. Even though the bully does not go to the same camp, we are still concerned. We know it’s kind of late to ask this question, but perhaps sleepaway camp is not right for him this year. We want to be good parents and do right by our son. What should we do?
Ora from Long Island
Oftentimes, parents are so busy that their child can be bullied for a long time without their even realizing it. I know of a situation in which a child was bullied for a year without the parents being aware. So congratulations to you for being sensitive enough to notice the change in your son’s behavior. In these hectic times, that’s not easy to do.
The real solution to bullying is to empower the bullied child. This doesn’t mean that the bully’s neshamah isn’t precious; it is and he is also in need of support and empowerment. However, it does mean that you must focus your limited time and resources on what’s most important – your child.
Just as we learn in Masechet Kiddushin (29a) that a father is responsible to teach his son Torah, a trade and how to swim, so too must a parent teach his or her child how to protect himself or herself (self-defense). It would be great if you or your husband would do this for your son. But if that isn’t possible, please enroll him in a reputable martial arts school or arrange for private lessons. If the instructor truly knows what he is doing and is not just making his students punch the air while wearing pajama-like uniforms, you will see a real transformation in your son – hopefully in a short period of time.
Some yeshivas don’t allow students to participate in martial arts classes because the classes are gender-mixed. If this is the case for you, please contact me for private lessons or to arrange a group class at your shul, yeshiva, or home.
I prefer a method of teaching that is age and temperament appropriate. With younger children I typically teach grappling skills that neutralize an attacker’s assault, enabling the child victim to hold the bully down without throwing a punch. I sometimes call these methods “yeshiva or summer camp techniques” as there is usually a zero tolerance policy toward fighting. Using these punch-free grappling techniques, my students clearly demonstrate that they are only protecting themselves. Only for my adult and teenage students will I incorporate Krav Maga (the self-defense system of the IDF) and other striking arts.
As for ADD, please understand that I do not have the credentials to assess whether a child is suffering from it. But in my work I have seen bullying paralyze some kids. Normally, once the victim regains confidence or the bully is removed from the victim’s life, the bullied child is able to once again focus. On the flip side, I have also seen children and adults with the ADD label act contrary to its definition when they are engaged in an activity they are truly interested in. I would humbly put forward that children will often exhibit ADD-like characteristics if they are uninterested in the subject matter they are learning or if their teacher is not engaging them in a style that suits their personalities. There is, after all, such a thing as an uninteresting teacher. Thus, your son may not be the problem.