Below is the unedited version of the article I sent to Dr. Yael Respler for her "Dear Dr. Yael" advice column in the Jewish Press (July 25th 2014). It is the third article I wrote for her surrounding my experiences with bullied children since we met about a year ago. I gratefully thank her for providing me the opportunity to get my ideas out to such a large audience concerning bullying. Her allowing me to share her spotlight has allowed me to positively affect the lives of many children I would have never met.
Yoni, Baruch Hashem is doing great in school. He is once again social, doing his work, sleeping better, not crying or clingy and not feeling like kids are out to get him. He is so much calmer. I attribute this to your kindness and belief in him as a springboard to him recovering. Thank you so much!
-E.L., Manhattan NY
Many mothers write to me frustrated as if there is no hope, as they struggle with their children in school and out, waiting for the day their child is bully-free and happy again. I wanted to share the above letter with you so you can see that there are people out there that can help. We have the privilege of having Captain Eilon Even-Esh, a self-defense and anti-bully expert, share with us his experience, so more parents, like the one above, can have a real solution to this very common problem.
Dear Dr. Yael,
Our son has been a bit quiet for the last weeks of school. We flat out asked him what’s going on and it appears that he is being bullied by a boy in his class. How can we possibly solve this issue? On top of that, he was recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. Is it possible that the bullying is affecting him to the point of ADD? And of course, it’s that time of year again and we sent him to sleep away camp. Despite the fact that the bully does not go to the same camp, quite frankly we are concerned. We know it’s kind of late in the game to ask, but maybe sleep away camp is not right for him this year? We just want to be good parents and do right by our son. What should we do?
-Ora, Long Island NY
Oftentimes, parents are so busy in their own world that their child can be bullied for a long time without the parents even realizing. I’ve seen an instance where a child was bullied for a year without the parents being aware. So first of all, congratulations to you for being sensitive enough to notice your son’s change in behavior. In these hectic times, that’s not easy.
The real solution to bullying is to empower the bullied child. This doesn’t mean that the neshama of the bully isn’t precious and in need of support and empowerment as well. It means you have to focus your limited time and resources to where it’s most important…your child.
Just as a father is responsible to teach his son Torah, a trade and how to swim (Mesechet Kiddushin 29a.), so too must a parent teach their child how to protect him/herself. This means you must teach your son self defense. It’s wonderful if you or your husband can personally teach him. But if that isn’t the case, please enter your son into a reputable martial arts school or arrange for private lessons. If the instructor truly knows what he is doing and 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 their students to attend group martial arts classes either because the classes mix girls and boys or some other relevant reason. 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 an age and temperament appropriate method of teaching. Typically with younger children I teach grappling skills that neutralize an attacker’s assault and enable the child to hold down the bully without throwing a punch. I sometimes call these methods “yeshiva or summer camp techniques.” Most yeshivas and summer camps have a zero tolerance policy towards fighting. With 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 Israel Defense Force) and other striking arts.
On the issue of ADD, please know that I do not have the credentials to assess if a child has Attention Deficit Disorder. However, in my work, I have seen bullying paralyze some kids. Typically, once they regain their confidence or the bully is removed from their life, the bullied child is able to concentrate again. 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 that they are truly interested in. I would humbly put forward that oftentimes a child will exhibit ADD like characteristics if they are not interested in the subject matter they are learning or if they are not engaged by their teacher in a style that suits their personality. There is, after all, such a thing as an uninteresting teacher. The problem may not be your son.
I think this is a good segue to the topic of sleep away camp. This year is my family’s first year in sleep away camp. I am director of Krav Maga and Paintball in Camp Mesorah in upstate NY and I travel twice a week to teach group and private Krav Maga lessons in other summer Camps like Mogen Av and Camp Kaylie. I can understand with your son away from home why you might be concerned. But I am seeing some kids absolutely blossom in summer camp. As one camp director told me, “learning doesn’t stop in the summer but it does change.” It’s this change in learning that may do wonders for your son. In addition to removing your son from the bully, he will be engaged in a totally different style of learning, have different teachers and will be exposed to a multitude of different subject matter.
May Hashem grant you much bracha and hatzlacha! Stay strong and please keep me updated on how your son is doing!
Eilon Even-Esh is the founder and head instructor of Shomer360, an organization whose mission is "to instill strength and confidence through world class self defense techniques within a Torah observant framework." He has served both in the IDF where he was a Staff Sergeant and in the United States Marine Corps where he has a Captain.