Sunday, June 03, 2007

Bullying, Verbal Abuse and Smarts

It's hard to be smart.

It's hard to be smart in elementary school.

You can't say that to anyone. Try and you're laughed at. Things are allowed to be hard for people with learning disabilities, people who are mentally challenged, people with a physical or mental handicap. Things aren't allowed to be hard for you if you're smart. That's supposed to be a good thing. That's supposed to be an asset. If you're complaining about being smart, you're being ungrateful. People mock you and laugh at you and say cruel things to you. Because you're not allowed to complain if you're smart.

It's the smart kids, however, who have the hardest time in elementary school.

I mean anyone who is book smart. Anyone who likes to read. Anyone who always knew the answers in class, who was resentful that the teacher wouldn't call on them more often and bored, simply doodled through class. Kids who didn't ever have to study; they would ace the test without any work. And the kids who wouldn't tell their grades because they'd be attacked if they did.

I was one of those kids.

I read all the books in The Little Midrash Says which meant I always knew the answer in Chumash and Navi class. I would always raise my hand and the teacher would avoid calling on me in order to give the other girls a chance. I was bored. I would draw pictures all through class. It never occurred to me that people would think I was showing off or a snob, though in retrospect, I'm sure that is what they thought.

I was painfully shy. Not shy of kids, but of adults. It was regarded as an honor for the teacher to ask you to go to another teacher's room and request a board marker or a board eraser. I hated being asked to go on these missions. I hated having to go to the room of an adult I didn't know. What if I did it wrong? What if I went to the wrong room?

I didn't even like going to the receptionists' office. Adults frightened me. I didn't like them. I couldn't understand the easy banter some kids had with them. I didn't know how other kids in the school seemed to know all the teachers, even the ones who had never taught them. I didn't know anybody outside of the teachers I had to take. I was quiet around anyone else.

I didn't have any friends. In fact, I didn't know what it was to have friends. What would you do with the other person once they were actually at your house? I had no idea. On Shabbos, when other people would get together or have playdates, I would read books. I didn't realize this was unusual. I thought everyone read books or went to the park on Shabbos. It didn't occur to me that you could have friends over.

I tried very hard to make friends. It was very difficult. We weren't the same. This isn't me being elitist; this is me telling the truth. I was in the uncomfortable position of being more mature than those my age. I simply couldn't find the things they did to be compelling or interesting. I also wasn't good at them. I wasn't good at sports. And I didn't know much about fashion. So what would I talk about? I could only try to interest them in the things that interested me, and they would make fun of me for that. I "talked like a dictionary." I had a "good vocabulary." For some reason, this was regarded as a crime.

But the worst of it was that I was picked on. Bullied.

I was bullied by the shortest girl in the class. A girl I could have beaten up in two seconds flat. But she wasn't physically hurting me. She didn't punch me or hit me or otherwise leave any marks. She hurt me with her words. She verbally slammed me and put me down and was cruel to me- at least once a week, probably more often. She did this starting from third or fourth grade.

I didn't know how to defend myself.

I didn't have the ability to come up with quick retorts, with easy, witty comebacks. I was at a loss. She would say something hurtful and two hours later I would think of what I should have said, what I ought to have said. But it was too late; the opportunity was lost. I was slow. I was a slow thinker. I wasn't good at banter or at retorts; I wasn't good at giving as good as I got.

I was also not good at hiding my feelings.

When people hurt me, I became upset. I cried. This only handed her more ammunition. I was, she said, a crybaby. And others agreed with her. I was sensitive.

Being sensitive is even worse than "having a good vocabulary."

Of course, I was angry with myself. Anyone in my position would have been. Why couldn't I control my feelings? Why couldn't I, damn it, just not cry? Why did I have to show everything I felt; why couldn't I be more thick-skinned? Why was I so sensitive?

I tried to toughen up. There was a period of time, albeit a short one, where you couldn't make me do anything. I wouldn't cry for you. I was sullen, sulking, angry. But it was too hard to mantain. I couldn't do it. Everything she said was shocking, surprising; low-handed blows to the gut. I couldn't school my face into submission. She made me angry and I had no way of fighting back. Crying and yelling at her was exactly what she wanted; she wanted to see me cry. And she succeeded.

She only bullied me. I don't know why she hated me so much. My parents thought that perhaps she was jealous of me. I don't know. There wasn't much to be jealous of. Why be jealous of the kid who didn't have friends, couldn't play sports well and didn't know about fashion?

A lot of times what hurt was more her tone of voice than the words used. The words were innocuous; the tone made them poisonous. And of course there was the sarcasm.

I recall one time she walked into our sixth-grade class and smiling in a satisfied manner, possibly after reducing me to tears, she said, "I like to make people cry."

I can't remember the incidents so much as how she made me feel. She made me feel so low, so confused, so unhappy. She made me feel angry- angry at her and what she was doing, but also so helpless. There was no way to stop her. We tried every way possible. Also problematic was the fact that she was charming around anybody else. Nobody else saw this side of her. It was only me. I was the lucky one.

There was one time where she had made me angry and I wanted some privacy so I was talking to my sometimes friend and we were hiding in the closet of the room. So she calls out, "Shoshana and Chana are making out" in her mocking, nasty tone of voice. I didn't even know what it meant but I knew it was something bad. And I was angry and couldn't control it so of course I started crying, which just made everything worse.

There was another time where I had done something nice- someone had a little kids' chair they couldn't sit on; they were too tall. I was the second-shortest in the class; the shortest person was my bully. So I told the girl who was too tall to give me her chair and I sat on the baby chair while I gave her mine. My bully somehow managed to twist this entire scenario around and make me into doing something bad. I don't even remember what she said, but she somehow made it sound like I was an attention-seeking freak who was sitting on the little kid's chair in order to get everyone to look at me and more along those lines, when I had only done it to be nice. It was that kind of thing that really got to me, that she was even able to take the things I had done that were nice and twist them into something bad. And I didn't know how to stop her.

I couldn't defend myself at all.

I came home and would tell my parents, but they were at a loss for things to do. They called the girl's parents; that obviously didn't work. They even called the principal; that was horrible. My bully and I were called to the principal's office; she walked alongside me and said, "Listen, Chana, let's make up; I don't want to get into trouble. Let's just tell the principal we both get along." And of course, since he saw us both at the same time, I didn't dare to disagree with her. I couldn't tell him what she'd done to me in her presence; I was too scared. So we made up and I was disgusted with myself but what could I have done? She was the one who wielded the power, not me.

My parents tried to help me; they really did. They came up with retorts and responses and ways I could defend myself. But none of it worked. In the end, it always came down to her and me, and she always won.

She was a mercenary for hire. Whenever anyone in the class was mad at me, she'd saunter over to them and say, "Oh, you're upset with Chana? Let me help you" and she'd come over to me and shove me or take my things away or mess up my desk.

I was miserable.

Another problem was that it was all easy to dismiss. It wasn't as though she were really hurting me; she didn't leave scars or marks anywhere. And the things she did were minor enough that adults would dismiss them. It's just that they were constant. All the time, every day, I would go to school fearing what would happen that day, what she was going to do to me that day, what she was going to say. All these minor things add up until your life is truly miserable.

In seventh grade, I discovered a book. It was called Sticks and Stones: When Words are Used as Weapons by Dr. Miriam Adahan. I read the book cover to cover, then I had my parents buy it for me. It explained so much. It helped me so much. Because it made me realize I wasn't alone in this. I wasn't the only one who was mercilessly teased and bullied without cause, who was punished for being smart, who had to deal with this. No.

I was so glad to know that other people thought that that rhyme was wrong. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." In truth, words hurt far more than sticks and stones ever could. The rhyme should have been switched around.

I decided that my bully had APD. I read this passage and decided it absolutely fit my bully:

    THIRD DEGREE- CONSCIOUS CRUELTY: When people use words or facial expressions to control, belittle and terrorize others, this is ona'as devarim at its worst. Like a third-degree burn, the hurt caused by this type of verbal abuse penetrates deeply and often leaves victims with a permanent sense of worthlessness.

    People who purposely dominate and belittle, and do so compulsively, are like alcoholics. They suffer from a serious and dangerous addiction called Abusive Personality Disorder (APD).

    To gain control over others, those with APD use a range of cruel tactics such as violent explosions and cruel coldness, alternating with moments of charm and friendliness. Those with APD have no sense of guilt or remorse for the pain they cause others nor sympathy for their victims. If they do apologize, it is only to win back the person's trust, and once that is accomplished, they begin attacking again. Their compulsion to undermine and humiliate is as compelling as any addictive craving.

    Many people with APD are very charming to those whom they want to influence, while terrorizing others. OR they are alternately charming and cruel, or nasty only to one family member while nice to others. This double personality phenomenon makes the victims thoroughly confused and constantly agitated.

    People with APD almost never go to therapy since they do not recognize that they have a problem. They think they are reacting to provocations in a justified manner and that their moments of niceness make up for whatever they do the rest of the time.

    What is very confusing about people with APD is that their public image is often so very different from their private behavior. They are often in positions of power and may be dynamic community activists, generous philanthropists and seemingly friendly, normal human beings. Outsiders would never imagine the viciousness which erupts only in the privacy of their own homes.


    page 29
I don't know if you can appreciate what it felt like for me to read this.

That was her exactly. That's exactly what she was like. She would be very kind to me one day, very pleasant, and the next day she'd be cruel again. She would apologize for hurting my feelings, then hurt me even more the next day. Most other people thought she was charming. Not me.

I finally had a kind of handle on why I was always so confused about her- that was part of it. All these apologies and lies and pretending to be nice only to kick me down again- was part of her act. So I got wise to it.

The book empowered me. I was still being put down, but now I understood, and that really made a difference.

It was Aliza who really helped me. Aliza came to my school in eighth grade and when my bully tried to put her down- because Aliza, too, was smart- Aliza just laughed and talked right back at her. And it worked! I had never seen this before. So I realized that it was possible to talk back; I didn't know how to do it but Aliza did. And Aliza got her to leave me alone. Which was one of the first reasons I decided Aliza was going to be my friend.

Strangely, my bully appears to have no idea what she did to me and how she made my life miserable. At the end of eighth grade, she signed my autograph book and wrote something about how "we were such good friends and she looked forward to having fun with me next year in high school." I looked at that in shock. Never had I expected her to write anything like that. Could it be? Could she really not have realized what she'd done to me, how miserable she'd made me?

It appears that the answer is yes.

I never brought it up to her. I think she has changed. She certainly had a miserable enough time at Templars- this time, it was she who believed she had no friends and who hated the school. I think that perhaps she has matured, grown up, become a better person.

It is strange that someone could do so much to another person and not realize the impact she has on them. She seems to have no idea how much I hated her, how she hurt me and how she ruined elementary school for me. I don't know whether she'd be sorry if she knew. I'd like to think she would be.

I will tell you what is hardest. It is hardest to see your sibling or someone else who is close to you going through the same experience you had to deal with, the same torture, the same bullying. At first, you want to deny it. You want to say it isn't happening, not again, not to him. But then you realize it is. And there's nothing you can do to change it. You're just as helpless as you were. Now he has to learn how to deal with it, how to cope, how to suffer through. You, just like your parents, can be a support system, of course. But you can't really change things. Not in any way that helps.

You can only listen as he catalogues the reasons he's being hurt- this time physically, too- because he's too frum for his school, not in any kind of ostentatious way, but simply because he doesn't touch girls. Keeping shomer negiah makes you too frum. Or because he really does pray, not those one-minute Minchas but a true prayer. Or because he's smart, bookishly smart, just like I was. Or because of his vocabulary and the way he speaks. Oh, and he's not incredibly good at sports (that prerequisite for being popular.) Yes, for all these reasons, he's the odd one out, the outcast, the one who is being bullied. Oh, and lest I forget, he's sensitive. The crime above all others.

Telling kids to toughen up doesn't help. In fact, most typical responses (thank God my parents aren't typical) don't help. Asking your child whether he provoked the bullying, for example. The first couple times, that might make sense- sometimes your child did provoke it. But with a constant bully, that's not the case. You've done nothing but you're still going to be attacked. Telling kids to "please" their bully doesn't help either. The bully isn't "pleasable." S/he's not going to stop because you satisfy some kind of condition of theirs. They get a kick out of what they do, putting other people down in order to feel more important themselves. Telling kids to "ignore" bullying won't work, either. You can't ignore it when someone is trying to hurt you. You can't. And being sensitive isn't a crime and shouldn't be treated as one.

I may say this, but what can I do? I can only watch what happens helplessly.


I love my brother. He doesn't deserve this.

Nobody does.


Anonymous said...

This brings back a lot of memories for me.

You've pretty much said it all, so I don't know what else to say.

To this day, I flinch when people tell me I'm intelligent. "Oh, but you're so smart," can make me shrivel. It means I'm inadequate, helpless, not 'normal'. There's nothing good about being 'so smart'. And yet I really admire intellect in other people.

I wish I could tell you what to do. I would be in touch with the school--if there's an approachable teacher, that can make some difference. But you've found out the hard way that the principal who says "This will NOT be tolerated in this school" is usually--mistaken.

THat your brother has someone to listen is a great blessing, even if it's not nearly enough.

Be well, both of you.

Anonymous said...

"...Aliza just laughed and talked right back at her. And it worked! I had never seen this before. So I realized that it was possible to talk back; I didn't know how to do it but Aliza did. And Aliza got her to leave me alone. Which was one of the first reasons I decided Aliza was going to be my friend."

And so the moral of the story is to talk back, is it not? lol. jk.

Chana said...


Yes, exactly. I think being smart is a good thing; I also think it makes things difficult.

As for principals and teachers- there are also several types. There are the well-intentioned ones and the ones who are just awful. Case in point: One experience I had with my seventh grade English teacher.

We had to write an essay. I wrote it and used the word "trice." I said that you could do something "in a trice." The teacher claimed the word didn't exist, that I had made it up. She made fun of me in front of the entire class. The whole class pounced on me. "Chana made up a wo-o-ord, Chana made up a wo-o-ord," they all said and made some more comments about Chana being "smart." The teacher didn't stop them because she was the one who had started it.

I was crying. I knew I hadn't made it up, that it was a real word. But the teacher said I was wrong.

One girl pulled out her pocket dictionary and obviously the word wasn't in there.

Only later, when I got hold of someone's more advanced dictionary, could I prove that I was right. I ran around showing the entry to a couple of people. I was shaking with anger.

It didn't matter; the damage was done. I was right, the teacher had embarrassed me in front of the class, and she was the one who was wrong. And she had allowed them all to taunt me.

So there's the kids who are bullies- and then there are the teachers who allow it to happen, perhaps not even realizing what they've done or instigated.


Not really, but you knew that already. It's easier if you're good at talking back, if you have that ability to make cutting witty comments, which I don't. It still doesn't solve anything really.

Scraps said...

Good G-d. You just described my own elementary school experience to a T, except it was my whole class picking on me.

I was book-smart, liked to read (it was less painful than trying to socialize and failing miserably), my mother wouldn't let me shop at the "cool" stores. And of course, worst of all, I was sensitive. It's astounding how in that one little word, everything I suffered somehow became my own fault. If I wasn't so sensitive, the various taunts and threats and verbal jibes of the bullies wouldn't bother me, right? "Why can't you just pull it together? Don't let them bother you. Ignore them. Don't show them that what they say/do upsets you." As if it's that easy?! I HATED the phrase, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," because I knew it was a total lie. Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can break your heart and spirit.

Unfortunately, I did not have a rescuer, or an epiphany about the inner nature of my bullies. I had a short reprieve when I switched schools, during which I was able to slowly learn that not all people my age are dangerous and some of them are nice. But then in high school I was once again the odd girl out, and once again I shrank into myself, trying to hide from the world. Not that it ever worked, but G-d knows I tried. I was so miserable...sometimes I don't know how I got through it. The main difference is that in high school, while I didn't have friends in my area, I did have long-distance friends I kept in touch with from camp, so I knew that I wasn't simply inherently unlikeable, at least when I wasn't too miserable to think past the present moment. I think that's really what kept me sane to whatever extent I could lay claim to sanity.

Sometimes I still wonder what kind of person I'd be like if I hadn't lived through that. But of course, I'll never know.

Bullies are evil.

M.R. said...

I assume you gave the book to your brother to read?

And I think that contacting the bully's parents does have potential to be helpful, as does nagging the principal until all buyllying stops. Just because talking to adults in charge didn't work by you doens't mean it won't work by him. This is a similar situation, but the people involved are different people. And if it doesn't help, at least something was tried.

Chana said...


It seems there are so many of us...Of course, none of us had the same exact experience, and we are each unique enough for it not to entirely matter that each one of us experienced it because it was still bad for me as the individual. It was still our own unique horror and pain.

What I can extend to you, though- and to anyone else like us- is a kind of understanding and moreover empathy and deeper than that, a form of love...I am so sorry for what you had to live through but I do think that in part that is what made you the unique, remarkable person you are. I know that I would never be able to understand unless I had myself experienced this, and in that regard it has helped me- you understand, of course, that I would never want to relive elementary school, and high school even less, but since I had to live through it, at least I have gleaned something from it. At least I can comprehend.

It's hard, you see. These things are subtle and they seem so small. So what if the teacher said I made up a word? But it means the world to a student...Sometimes when we are adults, we forget that. I made a vow never to forget to view everything through the eyes of a child and of course I am still close enough to being a child that I can.

I'm glad you got out of there with your sanity intact. God knows it must have been difficult.

I don't know if I agree that bullies are evil. Bullies are formed somehow- either because their parents behave in a certain manner or because they themselves have been abused or hurt (verbally, physically, whatever the case.) I find, to my own horror, that I myself can sometimes be too sharp or too critical and perpetuate the exact same verbal violence that was used on me. Strangely, we have the potential to become what we hate most, mostly because we have finally attained a position of power and believe that this is necessary...

Or perhaps I speak only for myself.

In any case, be well!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Chana, first of all I admire you greatly for telling us all about this experience. Sure, it's been many years, but it obviously has made a great impact upon you (as it rightfully should). You've reminded me of the age-old truth that tends to be forgotten so often in life--that there is more to a person than what meets the eye. Thank you for allowing me to learn about this other side of you, to appreciate you more as a person and not only as an intellectual. (Not that this is your only personal post, but it is pretty intense).

It may have comforted you to "diagnose" your tormentor, but remember that sometimes childhood trends are not followed through in adulthood. Indeed, as you said, people can sometimes fall victims to becoming their own worst nightmares. And it is possible that your tormentor has fallen into this category, albeit unknowingly. You say that she suffered later in her life--ultimately, then, the "diagnosis" did not carry her through.

That being said, no one intends to be a bad person. No one makes it their life mission to destroy others, unless they are deeply disturbed (as you noted so well). Your tormentor probably had some of her own issues that surfaced in her abuse towards you. I'm not going to say that her actions were correct at all, that is not my intention. But I am saying that this is what happens in the face of poor supervision and abuse/neglect of a child. The child gains pleasure in hurting others because either a) she wants someone to feel her own pain or b) she needs recognition.

Therefore, you're right--no one should ever have to go through this torture. No one should ever be the depository of someone else's pain. Your brother is included in that statement. And I can't even imagine the pain you both must have experienced in this.

So what can you do? Well, firstly, there are a lot of sites online that target bullying (even a simple Google search will get you quite a number of sites). I suggest reading those; they are much more of an authoritative figure than I. There are a few suggestions that some sites make:
1) Those being bullied should try to establish a network of friends for support.
2) Those being bullied should try to not be alone when the tormentor approaches. Bullies don't like large audiences (assuming they are not already on his side).

And yeah, being sensitive is no crime. It just makes one a terrible target for kids who don't understand how much pain words can cause. But at the same time, you've used your sensitivity very well--you've learned to channel that into your interaction with others. You have learned to sympathize with the underdog. Your sensitivity has made you grow.

May we continue to grow only from positive experiences.

Erachet said...

I can sort of relate to this. I was one of those kids who would read the ENTIRE literary textbook in elementary school BEFORE school even started. And the teacher would NEVER call on my to read out loud during class, which made me extremely upset. I always wanted to read out loud SO BADLY and I was too shy to actually go up to the teacher and explain how I felt when my raised hand was constantly ignored in favor of another kid who wasn't as good a reader as I was. I was bored in class, I was frustrated that other kids took forever to read what I could in at least half as much time. I remember in first grade, we had these reading circles and I vividly remember pretending I couldn't read the word 'elephant' because I wanted some attention for a change.

I was never outright bullied but I was also never a popular kid. I have this odd memory of all the girls in my class coming over to me and saying, "we don't like you anymore" and when I responded, bewildered, "but what about when we used to play together?" and they said in unison, "we were just pretending." I don't know if that actually happened or if it was a dream but I remember it SO vividly. I even remember what I was doing when it happened (I was sitting at a round, wooden table coloring a rainbow in the corner of a piece of paper). But even if it was a dream, it represents my feelings at the time.

I also actually still have a journal from my younger elementary school days when I made a guide for dealing with bullies. It probably isn't a very good guide, but it was something on my mind at the time.

One of the burdens of always being associated with the smart ones in the class is the pressure you end up putting on yourself. After a while, being smart was part of my identity, part of my job, my role in our grade. It was my responsibility to remain up there among the bright. So I started taking it very personally when I didn't get the grades I wanted.

There are so many reasons why being smart and doing well in school is so difficult. I think a lot of adults forget that because when you grow up, the problems are different and doing well in school is seen as a much more positive thing by your peers.

Mordy said...

Hey Chana,

God forbid I should alienate you from your own experience, but I think the feeling of being bullied, ostracized, put-down, harassed, etc in junior high or highschool is very common. When I got older and became friends with my former "bullies," I had the horrific experience of realizing that they had felt tormented and bullied throughout school, too. It forced me to redefine my own experience, because one of the things bullying makes you do is stop being aware of what is happening to other people. It's hard to pay attention when so much of your efforts are pledged towards keeping yourself sane.

The moral? I guess children are cruel. It might be a good thing, though. It makes you tougher, and more equipped to deal with the real jerks in real life.

Erachet said...

"I don't know if you can appreciate what it felt like for me to read this.

That was her exactly. That's exactly what she was like. She would be very kind to me one day, very pleasant, and the next day she'd be cruel again."

And this I appreciate very much. I've had more than one experience like this, both in school and in camp. It was so confusing for me because I never knew who was really my friend and who was only my friend when she felt like it. Some people were only my friend when it was convenient, like if they needed my help, and then they'd go back to being mean and cruel. And I never thought there was anything wrong with them. After all, they had so many friends. They must be good people. I thought there was something wrong with me, that there was something I wasn't getting about how to be friends with someone.

Anonymous said...

Good post. A few things:

1) Many elementary and high school kids can relate to this. Its not only the "smart kids" or the "losers". Many many children have tormentors and bullies (and many children are bullies). Most dont realize that others have it as bad or worse, and they also dont realize when they are bullying others.

2) "Those with APD have no sense of guilt or remorse for the pain they cause others nor sympathy for their victims."

This sounds like a sociopath, not a bully. Most bullies are simply insecure themselves.

3) Insults hurt everyone, but honestly, those such as yourself, who really fall to pieces over insults usually come from homes with parents who are very overprotective, over-coddle and over praise their children. By the time these children are faced with insults they are incapable of dealing with it. Although I don’t know you, if I had to guess, you have very overprotective parents.

Anonymous said...

Anon said:

"Insults hurt everyone, but honestly, those such as yourself, who really fall to pieces over insults usually come from homes with parents who are very overprotective, over-coddle and over praise their children...".

Anon, I happen to know Chana's parents personally-you are mistaken. Please do not generalze.

Chana said...

Anonymous 7:06,

Your response is a good example of the typical response, which is to blame the victim. It's my fault. I'm overcoddled, overpraised and otherwise at fault, and that's why I'm so sensitive and fall to pieces. Of course.

I understand why you say this; you should know that you are wrong in doing this. And I hope you do not do it to your children, should you have any.

That having been said, of course bullies pick on everyone. But it is harder if you're smart, because in that case you're not even so-to-speak justified in complaining. It's like the idea of the deserving and undeserving poor; there's the deserving and the undeserving bullied.

As for the definition in the book -there are three levels. Level #2 is the one you describe, where the insecure kid sets on a person. Level #3 is the one I described and it is the kind of person that I was dealing with.

Anon 7:28,


Going back up to Rebecca- I agree with you that bullies do not come out of nowhere and people do not generally desire to be evil. As I mentioned in a comment, bullies come about through the reasons you stated- lack of role models or bad ones, etc. As for the two reasons you picked up on google:

A. I did not have friends
B. She did it in front of people, lots of people. It didn't matter.


Very much agreed and I think it's interesting to find that those who bully others were themselves bullied (or saw themselves as having been bullied.) It's the lovely cycle of abuse. That having been said, I also agree with you that if one must undergo unpleasant experiences, at least we can get something from them.


Yet another way in which we are similar. :D

Anonymous said...

Glad we agree, Chana. The ideas I got from Google, however, I intended for your brother; by now you are beyond this stage and, like you said, you didn't fit those conditions anyway.

And here's something else I've been thinking of. You are very lucky, dear Chana, that this did not bring out the worst in you. I was a very good kid, thank G-d--until people started picking on me in camp. Thank G-d, my experience was not as dramatic as yours--but I did not remain so innocent. As mordy pointed out, the abused become abusers sometimes. I did not become a bully, but there were times where I began to pick fights with kids. Not because I was innately cruel, but because I needed a sense of control. Of course, this was only a passing phase in my childhood--today, I don't think I am capable of being a cruel person, at least not conciously or with malicious intent. Rather, I sympathize with children such as you and your brother, and other children I know who are very special but otherwise underestimated among other children. Ah, if only children could see people more deeply.

Anonymous said...

Some pointers from a teacher:
Based on my observations over the last 20 years of teaching, I have the following suggestions for your brother:
Current School Environment:
1. Don't give up so soon. Do get as proactive as you can at changing your current circumstance.
Your parents should respectfully speak to the teachers, principals, and if possible, the parents of any pronounced, consistent offender. Be careful to insist on confidentiality from the teachers and administrators and be careful to come forward, especially to the parents, with written documentation of specific incidents. If it is a class wide problem, consider #2.

Change of Environment
2. If it is possible to switch classes, do so. If it is possible to consider switching schools, do so. Sometimes class makeup is just Mazel. There are more bullies in one than the other. There could be a more wholesome, sweet-natured class in another school not as much to your parents' liking that would be better for him. Note: Can an entire class be sweet-natured or mean-spirited? Absolutely. Ask any teacher. The truth as we know it is that a class develops that way over time and we attribute it to one of many possible factors: a. a couple of strong bully types who lead the class
b. the mazel of a bunch of strong bully types who happen to be in the same class
c. macho kids gravitate to each other. If there is a choice, they will be together.
d. a class is known as a bad mix, only one class per grade, teachers just get used to it and tolerate it instead of trying to take stands. That said, when you do have a "bad" class, it is almost impossible to change the tide because the bullies/cliques (especially for girls) have formed long ago and are very connected to the home situations of these children.
In short, do not outrule changing schools. Do make inquiries about the class in the next school that your child will attend. Can you find out the nature of the class? Absolutely. Parents must feel empowered when choosing a school and must ask and ask and ask the difficult questions. Dig around. In the frum world, you can get the name of a teacher, you can get the name of a parent and you can ask. You can also ask the principal of the intended school. If you ask the right questions, you get the right answers. Sometimes parents do not ask.

Next suggestion is going to hurt so I preface it by saying that I personally was the smart kid. I was top in my class in Elementary and close to top in High School. I liked to read, watch classic movies, had a great vocab, was occasionally bullied. I am also a very sensitive soul which is why I enjoy your blog. I have also seen bullying in action from the other side of the teacher's desk. I see the kid who doesn't fit every day, every year. So hold on for the following advice. Disclaimer: The intention here is definately not to blame the victim, but I would be remiss if I did not honestly tell you what others wont, that the victim, and specifically the victim's parents, can help by making accommodations. We have the luxury as adults to say: "Hell, I'm gonna be who I am." We do not have that luxury as children because children's behavior is governed somewhat by peer approval especially in adolescence, especially girls. To be practical, we must try to help our children fit in. Some parents, and I am not referring to yours as I do not know them, just do not fully realize how important fitting in is and how important their role is in helping their child fit in.

3. Scraps said:
"mother wouldn't let me shop at the "cool" stores."
Okay, ready? You have to give in a little to the demands of the culture you are in. Parents do need to be more aware of what the kids in that particular school are doing, wearing, etc. and to the best of their ability as long as it is within their personal Halachic and Hashkafic parameters, they must adapt and help their child adapt. They should purchase clothes that will be looked at as "in" especially girls. They should make sure their child is well-groomed. They should encourage sports in younger years and get practice in an environment outside school for a child who does not have a proclivity for sports. Especially a boy. I will tell you a true anecdote. I once caught my husband practicing baseball with my then 5 year old son and this went on so long I had to protest. I said, "What if he doesn't end up liking baseball? Or what if he's no good at it?" My husband calmly looked at me and said, "He will be as good as we help him to be. You have no idea how important it is for a boy to be good at sports. I am saving his life right here." Flash forward 4 years and my son is a great ball player. It has helped him tremendously in school. He is extremely short, but yet he feels comfortable at recess and at gym-- and at playdates by the way-- because of sports. It gives him a language when speaking to other kids. He is a brain, you know, just like his mom, but he can relate to the kids who aren't and they sense that. You see, some of this is that the bully with his/her own issues zeroes in on the easier prey. Having a language with which to relate to others is super important. That is where sports and cool clothes comes in. Is it disengenuous? Is it forced? Not if you start young. If you start young, all of this is more doable. The clothes, the sports, the playdates. It's gotta start young to be most successful. Parents are the ones with control over this. There is much that can be done behind the scenes to get a child hooked up. I always try to drop off and pick up my preschooler at birthday parties because this is where I get to do some old fashioned sleuthing. I observe the parents of the birthday child, the other children, my child with the other children, the parents who come to drop off and pick up their kids. I get a bonanza of observational evidence. I use that to request friends for next year's class (we have 2 classes per grade), I use that to help me choose who we ask over for playdates, who we follow to day camp in the summer. This is all because I am a teacher and because I was the kid who was different.
What do you do if your child is older already so the preventative tactics can't be used, when you can't switch to a "good" class, when talking to the principal and others does not work, when you can't switch schools...suggestion 4.

4. Get Thee to a Camp, JCC art/science/ music program, martial arts class, boy scouts...
Scraps says: "The main difference is that in high school, while I didn't have friends in my area, I did have long-distance friends I kept in touch with from camp, so I knew that I wasn't simply inherently unlikeable,"
It is crucial that the alienated child have another environment with other children to experience, a way to be around kids more like himself. Big deal. Very helpful to his self esteem.

I conclude with a simple picture. Picture my current student, Junior High boy, with his plaid shirt tucked in, always doing what is right, head down, serious countinence, not particularly good at sports, great friends. Two observations: a. he's going to be a great man one day. He is already a great young man which is what I told his parents and in many ways what I have told him. b. the previous observation is just not enough right now to make him smile. Never smiles. So, I wish for your brother that he finds a way, that your parents help him find a way to smile. And I am glad for you that you have found your smile even with the painful memories.

Chana said...

Anonymous Mom,

Thanks for the suggestions. Most of them are not applicable in our particular situaton, but they're appreciated anyway.

For anybody who is concerned, my brother is going to be fine. This isn't so much my cry for help on his account as an upset statement that he has to deal with the same crap.

My brother has a secret weapon, you see, something I never had- he has a twin.

That's a built-in friend, support system and confidante. So I'm not worried- he's going to be fine in the end. It's just getting to the end that's going to be difficult.

Ezzie said...

Ah, this post was long in coming... :)

I pretty much had the same experience, which slowly dissipated from the end of elementary school through HS (though the times in HS were much more cruel, harsher, and more embarrassing), finally stopping completely when I got to Israel. Interestingly, my migraines stopped at the same time.

What was interesting about my "bullies" was that while in the first few years, they were often not the 'cool' kids but those who were trying to be, in the later years, it was the 'cool' kids. It took me a while, but I realized that some of it was actually jealousy. The character traits I was strongest in were often the very ones they were weakest in... or, alternatively, they felt slightly overshadowed in the areas in which we had similar talents. The only they felt they could repair their low self-esteem was by cutting everyone else down.

haKiruv said...

I've had a bunch of accounts of being bullied with school mates.

First time I got bullied, was when I was in 1st grade. I was five and the bully was seven and about twice my size. He picked a fight with me and wouldn't let me go inside the sitter's house. He told me to fight him or something, so I clenched my fists and went at him like a boxer. I didn't know how to box then, so I looked pretty silly. I even remember thinking to myself how silly this is. He hit me once in the gut, knocked the wind out of me and I fell to the ground. I never had the wind knocked out of me before. One other neighborhood kid was there and they both just laughed. Even to this day, the kid that was watching just laughs about how I went it with my fists raised. I got the last laugh though, because they're both wanted in some southern states for drug trafficking or something, and the one that hit me has been in prison multiple times.

Next time I got bullied was later in elementary school. This kid started talking about my mom (that he knew well) and about me and kept getting in my face. He started pushing me and carrying on and I finally just saw red and punched him in the face and the stomach and he went down. I thought I was going to be in trouble, but the sitter actually didn't chastise me. She actually told me that he deserved it and was glad a kid finally did something about it. I was grounded though, and my mom actually thought I was the one that was the bully! My mom and I have always had problems though, so I think that's a whole other story.

Last significant bully I had was a Junior in high school. This guy was smaller than me, but he came from the nice part of town and I grew up in the not-so-nice part of town. I think he felt empowered to pick on me. He would always say silly comments to me and take my pens, papers and pencils off my desk and keep them for himself and collected them in his locker as trophies that his friends could laugh about. My locker was also next to his. This happened for months. One day, he mocked me so much, I felt myself loosing my cool, and thought that I was going to just blow up on him. Instead, I went to the teacher of the class we shared. He said he'd reprimand him next time he did it again. The bully kept doing it though, and the teacher was ineffective. So, I was so frustrated, I went to my father and said with a straight face, "There's this kid that picks on me, and if he does it one more time, I'm really afraid I'll hospitalize him". My dad was kind of shocked, but he knew I was serious. We decided to call the bully's father that my father ironically knew from high school. I listened to the phone conversation and I must admit it was funny. But, anyways, it was resolved. The bully's father reprimanded him and the guy never even talked with me after that. No eye-contact, nothing.

I'm glad how that last bully was handled. The key could be getting authority figures involved that understand and can control the situation for the better. Teachers don't want to get involved because of liabilities and lack of energy. But, parents usually care enough to work things out and make them at least a little better. Even among grown-ups, we pray to a higher authority, to resolve issues.

e-kvetcher said...

As a parent of kids in the Skokie day school system, one thing I can say is that the topic is getting a lot of visibility. The school has a social worker who concentrates on bullying issues. I know there was a committee formed to deal with those issues as well.
One thing that I noticed is that it is much easier to fix things when the kids are young(7-9 yr olds). We had a situation where a kid moved here from a different town and was being bullied. In addition to working with the school, the mom managed to orchestrate a few shabbos meals where the bully, the bullied, and some other neutral kids were all in a social situation, and in a small group, eventually, the bullies just let up. The fact that the parents of all these kids also reinforced that everyone had to get a long was also instrumental.

Anyway, I wish your brother the best of luck.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is uncanny . I didnt realize there was a feature in Gmail chat, where, when you chat with someone they can read your thoughts and post them, lol.. You are good, Chana!!

When I was in HS, whenever I asked a lot of questions, or read lots of books, and r"l, science magazines, a lot of the other girls were laughing and smirking.


Anonymous said...

So much of what you said resonates with me.

School can be rough.

It was sort of surprising to find out that even some very popular people I knew didn't have such great high school experiences.

the only way i know said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the only way i know said...


At first I thought back to my school days and felt lucky that I was never bullied .
Then I remembered that I was actually bullied for a few years from about 6- 9 years old by one girl.
I was scared of her.
She was big and fat and she hit. The thing was, that no one liked her very much.
Not even the teachers.
So I didn't feel alone or overwhelmed.
When I think of her though, I feel terrible pity. I think she suffered from insecurity as a child and up to young adulthood.
But, she did change and become nice as she grew older.

It didn't affect me very much, though.

Also -
while as kids - they are called 'bullies' -
in the mature world -
bullies are what I would call 'manipulators'.

They are there.
They are horrid.
They're insecure too.
They don't always realize the way they are.

And they're a very difficult breed to deal with as wel

Anonymous said...

Apart from the obvious useless pain inflicted on the smart kids and beautifully expressed int his post, bullying clever children has also done a lot of bad to the school system (at least on my side of the Atlantic - France).

When kids try to be poplular, they have to be interested in fashion and celebrities they do nothing to push up their grades, especially in semi-deprived areas like where I work. As a result if the parents aren't behind them and push them to become the best they can be, these smart kids just become less and less smart. What a waste!

I believe you had great parents Chana, that must have heped you. Hope it helps your brother too.

P.S. Due to LiveJournal's lack of technical support, I have now moved my website. Just thought I would let you know since I mentioned your blog in a post yesterday.

Looking Forward said...

I was also bullied. I was always different and utterly bored in school. I Spend my free time reading the encyclopedia. Your post mirrors much of what I remember from school, all the way through highschool.

but chana, your writing shows just how much the bullies hurt you. Even as you write about it I can see how much worse your sentence structure is than your usual, how much less expressive. They must have really hurt you.

Anonymous said...

Well, it would seem that many people had similiar things happen to them at one time or another while growing up.


Perhaps this is why they say it is "all part of growing up". I don't mean to minimize what you or anybody else went through but outside of extreme cases this is par for the course.
No, you brother does not deserve it. That is the best thing that you can kep telling him in hopes that he will realize the truth in it.

Looking Forward said...

no G, it isn't all part of growing up. This is to touchy an emotional subject for me to really express my self thoughtfully, but this kind of bullying is very uncommon for the average child. Bright children generaly have these problems, and it seems that alot of the people here are very bright. This is one of the reasons why it is suggested to make special classes or schools for the exceedingly bright children, because otherwise they get left without friends. (and no, the push for mitzuyanim does not include these kinds of kids in my experience. Mitzuyanim are far to normal to be that bright.

Anonymous said...

As I said...

"but outside of extreme cases"

->this kind of bullying is very uncommon for the average child.

Well obviously, every child is bullied in the area of their weakness.

->Bright children generaly have these problems,

I agree

->and it seems that alot of the people here are very bright.

Eh. :)

Anonymous said...

I think Anon 7:06 PM is correct. And as a reader of this blog, its of little surprise that you have trouble coping with bullies (fyi, I am not blaming you for being bullied, im just noting why it probably affects you so much.).

I remember reading a post of yours discussing how your parents wouldn’t let you sleep over at friends. If that isn’t over protective then what is? Not only that, in response to criticism to that post, you temporarily shut down your blog. Additionally, reading posts about your interactions with your parents and siblings makes it very clear that you were in fact raised in an over-nurturing household. Its saccharine sweet and loving, which is nice, but at the same time strips a child of the ability to deal with adversity. Simply put, your family more closely resembles the Flanders than it does the Simpsons.

By the time you were being bullied in elementary school you had little ability to defend yourself and cope with the hurtful words (which, once again, I am not justifying).

Anonymous said...

about your brother, ... bolster him with positive messages and logical rational understanding of what is going on...(1) the bully has problems (2) there is nothing (ABSOLUTELY NOTHING) shameful about being smart or sensitive (3) what the bully wins by shmaing you, him, anyone else is that you won't live up to your full potential, because you will walk part of the rest of your life in fear. ...and that is not what der Eybishter created us for... He did not create us to cower in our fear at what we could become if we fully lived up to our intelligence, our strength, our knowledge... I wish for every student who is bored, there were tutors.. when I teach and find the bored ones I give them books out of my personal library to read and do reports on.. so they get my attention once or twice a week in private one-on-one sessions and I assign them extra work, so they will be challenged. It's a flaw in the Jewish school systems.. we don't have enough money to really teach our children at the tiered levels they ought to. It is true too that the teachers ought to stop the bullying, but that they don't.. and part of that comes from those teachers' own insecurities. Look up a famous quotation by Marianne Williamson..." “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Your friend who spoke back to your bully... she was not afraid and she let herself bbe who she was. So this is what Iw ould tell you to tell your little brother.. show him this post and all the positive messages that you get back.. let him know he is not alone, let him know too that this is a challenge from Hakadosh Baruch Hu, a test like David HaMelech faced.. a challenge to see if he will conquer his fear. --and here the fears are fears of rejection, fears of not belonging, fears of other's judgments... but you can help him by showing him that he can strengthen his bitachon even... and remember that he is loved by, accepted by, and belongs to Hashem, the Jewish people, ...and, I hope, his family.

Fewer and fewer Jewish families are treaching their children the power of unconditional love. I wish I knew how to stop that trend becuase it is what kills Am YIsrael more than anything else. Make a safe place for him, so that whatever he does -even if he goes off the derekh (cv"sh)- that he knows you love him... that he knows you will always love him... and that your desire is only for good things in his life, and we believe that this sort of life is what will lead to good.

Noach faced scoffers and bullies, yet he still built the Ark. When the floodwaters came, because he did finish the ark, he did bulid it, he and the animals were saved... stay true, little brother to who you are. Hold fast to your dreams, your compass on life, seek good role models and remember to fight your fear.

This is what I would tell your little brother if I were in your shoes, Chana.

I would for you and for him say...
Learn to say no.

If you haven't already give your little brother this book you talk about, knowing from it that you, him, anyone else out there.. you are not alone.
Then learn to say, "no, this isn't right." out loud. Louder. LOUDER. Even without the witty comeback, to stand up and say this isn't right. you know it isn't a good thing what you are doing. ... even if you still walk aaway with dirt on your face, you know *you* did the right thing. It isn't the right thing to sit there and appease the bully, because you make it so the bully will nab someone else. Chas v'chalilah, maybe someday the bully will become an abusive parent or a rapist, lo aleinu, ...but you the bullied have a role in this.. fight back just by standing up tall and saying, "I will not allow you, Bully, to make me feel small and inadequate. I do not know what Hashem has in store for me, but I believe that I am who I must be to do what I have been created to do. Leave me alone."
Then whatever else the bully says, just go into repetitive mode, and say "Leave me alone" louder and louder each time until you draw attention to yourself.. the bully, believe me, the bully is 80% likely to go shrinking off or running off. Once you decide to make a scene and not fold, the bully will think twice about what he/she is going to do. You... you have the power to help him or her decide what they are going to do next, so as you say, "leave me alone" stand up straight, stand tall, Think that Hashem created you and has put detail, attention, care into you.. to make you for a specific goal and job and so you are going to do what must be done here. Repeat "leave me alone" in succcessively louder and louder tones standing straight and tall...confident, and if you draw a crowd.. great.. the bully is going to have to perform... either he/she performs or doesn't. most don't. the ones who do... there are other tricks. Odds are good if they are verbal bullies that saying "leave me alone" louder and louder will get them to go away.. they don't want that. they just want the power trip on someone smaller and easier.

Tell yourself and your little brother positive messsages to counterbalance the message of humiliation/shame that the bully is trying to teach you & him and recognize.. it is quite likely that the bully leads a really miserable life at home, probably has few real human connections (that [HAHA!] sensitive people do tend to search for and find in larger numbers than non-sensitive people, read Elaine Aron's series of books on _Highly Sensitive People_ if you need back up on how valuable being sensitive is.) and the bully is heavily insecure -otherwise he/she wouldn't need the power trip of intimidating you. Likely the bully is being bullied -as so many others have remarked... and so the thing to understand is that your bully is probably just inconsiderately and unconsciously passing on his or her shame/humiliation on, making him or herself feel better by bullying someone else... and so rather than absorb all that referred pain, anger, and frustration that bully after bully is passing along.. stop it in its tracks. Say no. leave me alone.
A short concise answer is best (which I'm clearly not following that piece of my advice.. oy!)

Stand tall, no matter how short (short is in the mind of the person.. I once stopped a class to make every single girl stand up by her dsk as I went down the rows and taught them how to stand tall and confident... I deemed that more lifelong useful then the lesson plan of the day, but look, I stopped teaching, too, becuase people felt I was too uppity... so perhaps I was wrong, but I do not think so and perhaps Hashem placed me there to do just what I did so those girls would have a moment of knowledge that might come back to them in a vital moment. One never knows. The ways of Hashem are mysterious and not for us to dissect.) ... be assured Hashem gave you talents, gifts, knowledge for a purpose, sensitivity, love of reading, and it is your job to do all the good you can to achieve His purpose...

Also, as I see you are in the NYC area.. find a program called IMPACT or Prepare, Inc. they do courses across the United States and in Israel. Go take some of their classes. What bullies do is the same as muggers, criminals, vandals, rapists, and every womman, and teenaged boy and girl needs to learn the skills they teach. There is a class for teens but it isn't taught in every location and sometimes only once a year. I do not know if it is offered in your locale, but it is for teens and then another program for younger kids. Find one and when or if you have the money (you can always inquire about scholarships for it, explain the religious restrictions and ask if they can make accomodations to help) go and do it. The younger programs are for mixed boys and girls, the older classes are separate sex, the adult class is women only as it teaches a higher level of boundary setting that is important for and unique to the female fear.

if you need more information post a note to yvette to write in her facebook... and hopefully I'll get the message as I have never read your blog before this morning.

all the best

rivkayael said...

Hi Chana--just to clarify (the above post which may sound somewhat enigmatic--I'm the Yvette mentioned by the previous poster)--I posted a link to this entry to a facebook note because I related to this and didn't realize that it was so cross cultural and prevalent. Thank you for writing this--it took a lot of courage to write what you did. Many victims of abuse never dare to come out and call it as such, convincing themselves that to call it abuse is self-aggrandization. As a result, the scars are never resolved and affect all future relationships. Some victims only realize that they have been "abused" when they see something like what you've written.

Thank God for your parents and for your ability to overcome this. Your brother is blessed to have you and your parents.

Anonymous said...

durant said:

"you were in fact raised in an over-nurturing household. Its saccharine sweet and loving..."

YOUR "ANALYSIS "IS INSANE!Actually,it speaks volumes about your own unfortunate upbringing.

Anonymous said...

"YOUR "ANALYSIS "IS INSANE!Actually,it speaks volumes about your own unfortunate upbringing. "

No it isnt. This is a real concept in psychology.

Children who are over praised/coddled/protected by their parents have tremendous difficulty dealing with adversity in school, and later in life on the job. They tend to crumble at the slightest criticism or insult.
There is a reason “ultra-lovey” families are ridiculed in pop culture (i.e. the Flanders), and it isn’t because of jealousy.

Scraps said...

I know I wouldn't have been the same person if I hadn't been through my horrendous elementary and high school experiences--for good and for bad. I think that it has definitely made me more sensitive to others' feelings, and to social situations in general. When I'm in a position of authority I try to look out for the kids who aren't being included and/or actively picked on. At the same time, though, I think that in many ways I would have been a much healthier, well-balanced person and less socially awkward and painfully shy. While I have learned from my experiences, I'm not always sure if the knowledge was worth the price I paid for it in blood and tears. I, too, could not be paid any amount of money to live through my school days again.

Was there more my parents could have done? I'm not really sure. Honestly, it was a lot more than me not having cool clothes, and even just being "too smart". My mother told me years later that every single year of my last four years of elementary school it was a struggle for my parents to decide whether to send me back to the local day school (where I was being tormented) or to send me to public school. Which was more important, my Judaism or my sanity? Ultimately, each year I did go back, but I'm sure it was never an easy decision for my parents to make.

Interestingly, I didn't have too many problems with bullies for the first several years of school, and even successfully fought one when I was very young. It was only midway through elementary school, when my class underwent some changes (two of my best friends left, some new kids came) that the class turned on me. I'm still not really sure why. Kids that used to be nice to me--not fake-nice, but really nice--when we were younger became my tormenters. And of course, there was one girl who would alternate between being my friend when it was convenient (when the other kids were ignoring/picking on her) but would drop me at the slightest provokation or for the smallest reason. For instance, one time when a teacher gave us a pop quiz, she graded it on a curve because she hadn't told us to prepare. However, I committed the grave sin of actually doing WELL on the quiz, thus throwing off the curve and wrecking everyone's grades; while the rest of the class was annoyed at me, this one girl didn't speak to me for a week! She would only give me nasty looks and mutter things under her breath. In many ways, I think my "friendship" with this girl was the most damaging to me, even though I knew she was untrustworthy, because to this day I'm never really sure of where I stand with someone. I think it stems back to her, and how I never knew on any given day whether or not she would "like" me.

If I could have switched classes, I would have. The school was small, so there was only one class per grade. I went to JCC day camp, but I was just as bullied there as I was in school, if not more. I hated every minute of it.

I once saw a powerful quote, which unfortunately I cannot attribute because I don't know who said it, but I'd like to share it anyway: When will the world understand that words can cut as sharply as any blade, and that these cuts leave scars upon our souls?

When, indeed?

Scraps said...

Oh, and for the record, my family wasn't "extra-lovey" and coddling, either. I was taught from a very young age that life isn't fair and that I can't always have my own way and so on. And it didn't help me at all.

Anonymous said...

A message to durant(Dr.Phill. wannabe):
kids need love,safety and security to thrive. Real concept in psych. or not-you are twisting it to prove your point.

Chana said...


I would respectfully like to disagree with you re my upbringing and my parents.

My mother and father are very strict parents, far stricter than the norm. I grew up knowing that my actions had consequences. If I did something wrong, I would be punished, have my age-appropriate time in the corner or time-out. If I did something right, I would be praised. As I said, actions had consequences.

I do not consider this to be mollycoddling. I consider it to be a logical system.

However, this system disappears when one is being bullied. You do not do something wrong to a bully and are then punished for it. You do nothing. The bully attacks you for nothing. And that is why I did not know how to appropriately respond.

About sleepovers and the like. My parents were concerned about my sleeping over at houses of people we did not know very well. In this age of child molesters and the like, it is a sensible concern. The reason I stopped my blog over that post was because I was angry with how I had misrepresented the issue and caused others to think that they were at fault. My parents are not at fault.

Was it a bit harder for me growing up? Sure it was. My mom's motto whenever I said something in the name of the all-holy Everyone was, "You're a *insert last name.* You're not everyone else." Yes, my parents learned to give a little, to make accomodations, to let the kids shop at the cool stores or do whatever was necessary to fit in a little better. I was the one who really grew up with the strict "You're not everybody else. You're Chana ________." I'm the oldest child which is why it makes sense. As Anonymous Mom explained, my parents learned to give a little more.

But I am glad of how I was brought up. It was a relatively strict upbringing, as I said. Actions had consequences and my mother wasn't going to have me indulge in what was fake or fashionable simply because "Everyone" mandated I do so. I couldn't sleep over at just anybody's house; the parents made the rules, not the child.

I believe that this was a good upbringing. A warm, nurturing, loving family with firm rules that established who was in charge. I think your use of the words "saccharine" or "lovey-dovey" are inappropriate and offensive.

In truth, I do not think you have any idea of what a truly loving family environment is. From what you describe, it seems you have only seen false ones, which is a shame. I hope you do get the opportunity to observe a firm, loving family unit. It's not that common.

Anonymous said...

I know what im saying now isnt very popular on this blog, but that doesnt change the fact that over coddling and protecting can help children developed into emotionally fragile people who cant deal with difficult situations on their own. And its not necessarily knowing how to respond (although that is a part of it) but more so learning to roll with the punches and taking criticism.

Based on chana's description, her bullying didnt seem as severe as many other children get bullied. Yet, she was completely unable to deal with it on her own. And later on in life it only gets more difficult, and there may not be someone to help her out next time.

Of course I agree that children need love and nurturing. Its all on a spectrum, and most experts now agree that if you go too far on it you can create emotionally defenseless children.

Anonymous said...

"A message to durant(Dr.Phill. wannabe):
kids need love,safety and security to thrive. Real concept in psych. or not-you are twisting it to prove your point."

Chana uses psychology to label some grade school bully a "sociopath", and thats cool, but i bring up a very valid point-one that is being written about very frequently in psychology journals, and even recently in the WSJ- and im the one who is twisting?

Looking Forward said...

anon, your comparison, like those who have hawked it before you, is litteraly insane and filled with so many fundemental errors of equivication, and outright denial of reality and society as to be utterly rediculous.

Tell me durant, when you have a problem with a coworker or a boss who refuses to deal with you or even speak to you civily, what do you do? When an individual is relentlessly harrasing you and will not listen to reason or work with you, how do you solve it? (hint, generaly not by ignoring him!)

Looking Forward said...

Tell me durant, when you have a problem with a coworker or a boss who refuses to deal with you or even speak to you civily, what do you [go to?

Looking Forward said...

who instead of what

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

me too

Ezzie said...

Actually, HNC, in terms of that at least, Durant has a point. While I may disagree completely with his guesses as to Chana's upbringing or Chana herself, the idea that there are children who *are* overcoddled is a correct one.

I have far too many friends who suffer from a serious lack of independence and a reliance on others to handle issues for them. The case you cite (a troubling boss, et al) is a perfect one: That is a situation which at that point in life, a person *needs* to be able to deal with on their own. Does that sometimes include involving others? Yes. But they need to be able to take the original initiative, speak up for themselves, stand up for themselves. And on occasion, this will be done in one simple way: Ignoring it.

The ability to ignore is one of the most important in life. Not everything need be addressed, nor answered, nor responded to. Not every problem is best solved by facing it head on, but by letting it disappear. Often, turning to face a problem just gives it greater legitimacy than it deserves, strengthening it.

Erachet said...

"You're not everybody else. You're Chana ________."

Wow, my dad says the same thing. He still says it to me (and to my siblings). But then, he's also a big fan of the cheesy, mussar speeches: "Remember, Erachet, you're a *lastnamehere*, be proud, have confidence, all *lastnamehereagaininplural* are successful in what they do and you will be, too." We all usually just roll our eyes and squirm until the cheesiness is over.

Anonymous said...

to learn to say no. perhaps that is the power missing when you're being bullied. personally i always prefer witty comebacks, they make for more vivid memories. but there is something lost there, in lowering yourself to speak their language. to speak to them is to speak as they will understand you. to me someone incapable of such communication is enviable.

Looking Forward said...

The problem ezzie, is that while adults are rational and generaly can be reasoned with, children are not. In the eyes of the vast majority of children, or indeed anyone under about the age of 20 or so, might ultimately makes right, and because I can do it means I should.

This is the fundemental difference between children and adults. To children, especialy male children, solving a problem like this means abusing the other person back, it does not mean speaking to the person or interacting with them on a rational reasonable basis. With children, interacting with them and trying to reason with them why it might be a better thing to leave you alone, generaly gets you beaten up. How do I know? because I used to try it. Nomatter how much I tried to reason with my bullies, they would not leave me alone, so, since they where threatening my person and my property, I appealed to the teacher to mediate the problem and intervein. Needless to say this was not a popular option.

This is the same way that adults deal with problems. First you try and speak to them, and then you try to deal with it in other ways. Problems in the childs world are not at all analogous to problems in the adults world. Once someone becomes an adult, they generaly are a semi intelligent person, and are capable of reason and actualy giving a little to get a little, and can generaly be spoken to. Those who are still not capable of interacting civily are generaly informaly or formaly censured, (AKA shunned and or sent off to jail or other corrections) and generaly have to pay hard for their offronts to other people. This is not true for children, and in the childs world of school, might makes right, and that tends to be the end of it.

I've seen it personaly ezzie, both as a child and as an adult. This isn't over coddling the child, this is trying to make sure that they are safe, physicaly and emotionaly, and therefore able to thrive. They CANNOT learn to solve problems at this age, generaly because all of the other children of their age are not rational or reasonable, and therefore resort to other (inethical) means of solving problems. Because of this it is pointless of expect these children to solve their problems themselves. I witnessed this all growing up, and it wasn't in college when suddenly I found my self able to solve my problems my self, because suddenly my peers where able to actualy speak reasonably with me.

further, abuse by one's peers is a much more likely source of incapacity in solving problems than is being protected, because of the damage abuse reeks upon a person. The abused lack sensible boundries and therefore have no means of even recognizing problems as such. As a general rule, those who have been protected recognize those boundries, and later in live when their peers suddenly become workable, they will be able to reason with them then.

No, I'm sorry but the entire "kids need to learn to work it out for themseleves" is a big fat lie.

Anonymous said...

Teacher here again:
Kids cannot work things out by themselves, but parents need to encourage them, role play (very helpful with younger children) possible reactions. Environment, environment, environment. Prevention, prevention, prevention. Parents control these. Chana, I will not discuss your home life as I do not know you, but I will reiterate what I see repeatedly, that parent choices can make a big difference in the life of a child. The idea that overprotective parents send weak adults out there unable to roll with the punches is valid. It is valid in psychology and it is valid in anecdotal evidence. Bear in mind that all rules have exceptions. Also, bear in mind that rolling with the punches often refers to adversity in general, change in particular. The flip side result of the overprotective parent is that the child has an inner strength built on the foundation of "over-loving" that he/she has gotten. This inner strength works like a CD that repeats itself in the child's head saying that he/she is loved, is worthy of love, is important, is OK. That's what it did for me and I am the most overprotected person on the planet, almost. While my mom was very protective and nurturing, mollycoddling happened at my house, she was also very attuned to my social situations, making sure I had friends, went to every party, threw great birthday parties, got into the "nicer" class. That said, I had mazel growing up. Mazel is a big component. I had nice girls in my class to be friends with when the bullies acted out. I had someone to talk to after I was tripped when I was chosen to be the Chazanit during davening. If a child doesn't have that, isn't in a good environment--the mountain is more steep to climb. But, please, do not underestimate the power of a parent to actually set the scene for success, especially in the younger years. Please do not underestimate the power of "fitting in" as much as possible. It sounds un PC, it sounds phony, it sounds wrong. But adapting to one's environment is an extemely healthy tool. We all have time to be completely independent, on our own path people when we are adults. I know I am now which is why I love your blog. In many ways you remind me of my younger self. What I find disturbing is when parents do not get down to the level of the child, do not fully see, experience, understand that world and internally expect that this child could rise above, be okay playing by different rules and promotes that. Not good. Some parents really do see their children as little adults, especially if they exhibit a mature attitude, a above-average intellect. It is the environment that these parents sometimes do not think about. I tell parents all the time that 8+ hours a day is an awful lot for a person to spend in an environment that is not top priority. This relates to getting tutoring or special ed services, this relates to getting psychological help, this relates to just positive strategizing and coaching. 8+ hours--the ENVIRONMENT--requires lots of parent attention from preschool on. If the child and his/her reactions are addressed in a vacuum, then it is not going to work. Strategies for success sometimes mean accommodations as you mentioned Chana. The earier on that they happen the better.

Chana said...

All right, let's clarify a couple things.

Ezzie and Anonymous Mom,
I never took issue with the idea that mollycoddling is problematic for a child. I agree with this idea. I know people who were mollycoddled. I only take issue with its application to me. I was not mollycoddled, I was not treated with kid gloves and I did not grow up in a universe where everything I did was right complete with sappy happy faces (as Durant suggests.)

Canadian Princess,
That gives me insight into the matter- thank you. Would not have thought of that. I always figured the people who work well with sarcasm and banter and talking back are the ones to admire the most. And perhaps they are, but as you pointed out, there are still disadvantages.

Also, Anonymous Mom,
My father wishes me to relay a thank you for your advice re helping kids to fit in; it was very helpful for him to understand.

Ezzie said...

HNC - That's simply untrue (the end), and I disagree with your approach. As I said before, the approach to bullies as a child should be Ignore - not try and reason with them.

Chana - I know you weren't. :)

Looking Forward said...

ezzie, when bullies steal and vadelize your things do you think that ignoring will help much?

and do you seriously expect a child who is being verbaly assaulted by a bully to come out unscathed? quoth chicken soup for the soul three: "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can shatter the soul"

relational agression leaves horrid scares on anyone, but how much more so when the childs sense of self is not fully formed! Those words, that rejection that the child faces at that age, will form a permenant part of their personality, far from helping them learn to live with it, it will actualy damage the child for the rest of their life.

Children to not learn to deal with problems by ignoring them, they learn to ignoring them by being shown love, caring, concern and validation, and anything, anything that impinges on that sense of validation and competence, will later hurt them as a person and render them more susceptible to teasing later in life. There is more than enough adversity in a childs life without having to minimize the tragic damage that a bully can reak on a childs psyche. A child tends to measure and evaluate criticism based on what important people have told them in their youth, and if they learn in their youth that they are valuble capable people (and one certainly has to teach them to show themselves that they are capable), and when they do, later undeserved criticism will bounce right off them.

Children DO NOT learn to deal with bullies later in life by dealing with them in childhood. I speak from personal observation, personal experience, and my own learning. This especialy applies to people who are bullied throughout their experience in school. Such people emerge from school with severe problems, on the whole, and with fragile minds and personalities. They do not emerge more whole, as you might suggest.

Anonymous said...

there is a lot of truth to HNC's last entry. Basic needs of love,safety and security must be met in order for the young children to master their developmental tasks and move on to the next level. Chana and her siblings are lucky in that respect-it sounds like there is unconditional love as well as firm/consistent rules in their house.
I'm a child psychologist with a private practice-simply an FYI.

Anonymous said...

"I was not mollycoddled, I was not treated with kid gloves and I did not grow up in a universe where everything I did was right complete with sappy happy faces (as Durant suggests.)"

Im not sure youre in the best position to judge this. After all, you were just trying to explain how it isnt overprotective for a parent to not allow a child to go to a sleepover. Also, in some of your responses it sounds as if you may be confusing "coddled" and "spoiled"

Its very difficult for someone to accurately assesstheir own upbringing. However, considering how severely bullies affected you and now your brother, why are you so quick to rule this out?

Ezzie said...

Anon - That's not what I'm saying - see my comments above. I'm saying that it is ALSO very important that kids learn how to ignore bullies and their like, and that most of the time, that's the solution. Not only aren't parents or teachers usually around when there's bullying, and speaking up/fighting back/trying to "reason" merely result in worse bullying, but implying that unconditional love by itself will somehow make it all better is naive at best, dangerous for a kid in the long run at the worst. At the same time, there obviously is a need to a) tell parents/teachers what is going on; b) have parents who DO show incredible strength and support; and c) have the ability to ignore and 'toughen up' against bullying. Bullying doesn't disappear on its own, and as G noted, it's (sadly) a part of life for most kids in some fashion, though certain types certainly get more than their share.

Anonymous said...

Chana, for the record, I wasn't referring to you with the mollycoddling, I was referring to Durant and clarifying something for him. Concerning you, I was referring to something you eluded to in your post, but I think it would be best if I don't bring it up again. I'm glad I was of help to your dad. I don't often get to have frank conversations with the parents of my students about issues such as these. There is so much we could learn from each other (parents and teachers).

Looking Forward said...

ezzie, the problem is these kids CAN'T toughen up against bullying. They toughen up by being loved and cared for, being bullied only results in serious emotional scars, that if it is consistantly applied, can litteraly damage a child for life. Obviously we are not talking about isolated incidents, but where there are isolated incidents, there are also children being cronicaly bullied, and they will be damaged. EVERY CHILD BUT THE SERIOUSLY ILL IGNORES THE BULLY THE FIRST FEW TIMES.

the idea that you are projecting is a dangerous misnomer, and irreperably damages children daily.

Anonymous said...

Here is what you can teach a child who is being bullied:

Don't react to the bullying. Bullies may give up if they don't get attention.
Don't fight back.
Try role-playing or practice what you'll say to a bully, such as, "I want you to stop now."
Show confidence with your head held high.
Stick with a friend while on the bus, in the cafeteria, between classes, or while walking to and from school.
Talk to an adult. Parents, teachers, principals and guidance counselors can help you stop the bullying.
Try to meet classmates who are friendly and supportive and who will include you in their activities.

Ezzie said...

Anon - Exactly.

HNC - I'm sorry, but what you're saying is simply incorrect. Those who have gotten past and learned from bullying (including myself) did so in ways similar to the last comment by anon. It doesn't make sense to say that "these kids can't toughen up" - they must to some extent, or they will forever be treated the same way and run over by others. (In fact, you've brought to mind a couple friends of mine who to this day are still troubled, likely due to this very lacking.) Being loved and cared for is important, but it does not 'toughen one up'.

Finally, most kids DO react the first few times to bullies, and often many, many times... until they learn that ignoring is a better tactic. They do NOT ignore the first few times, or they likely would not have been picked on as much later on.

Jack Steiner said...

As a yid from outside the system I wanted to add my own nickel. Some people say two cents, my ego says that my thoughts are worth more. ;)

I was bullied a bit as a child but I handled it differently. I hit the bully in the mouth with my lunch.

This is not how I am teaching my children to handle things, but it was effective.

More to the point, I appreciated the honesty of this post. It must have been hard to open up and be so vulnerable.

the dreamer said...

just found your blog.

my g-d, about half of this post sounds like me....

brings back such memories...

thanks for writing out your thoughts. i truly appreciate them.

Lion of Zion said...

it is a very tough situation when nothing seems to be effective in stopping a bully.

my wife's friend has a son who is a good sweet kid that gets picked on. nothing worked (the school brushed it aside). finally his father saw the bully in shul one today and he told that if he ever touched his son again he would put him though a wall. sure enough the bully's father came all huffinh and puffing about how his son was afraid to leave the house. the good kid's father responded that he did not care. his first priority was for his son; he then added that if he (the bully's father) had a problem with this he would put him through a wall too.

not that i condone violence, certainly against little kids. but it worked.