Dealing With a Class Bully

Q: My eight-year-old son is somewhat of a perfectionist and has a tendency to daydream. In kindergarten, his teacher was concerned that he was too much in his own world and might be on the PDD (pervasive development disorder) spectrum. The administration was very concerned at the time, and wondered if he belonged in a regular mainstream yeshivah altogether. Testing results indicated that his problem was not very severe, baruch Hashem. He was mandated for counseling and has been seeing a school counselor, which we feel has been very helpful. She has discussed social issues with him, and has had him play with classmates as part of the counseling sessions, to help fine-tune his interactions with peers. We have also focused on his issues of perfectionism at home, through suggestions from the counselor.

A problem that remains is that the school hanhalah seems to still view him as a “rachmanus.” When the principal happened to come in to test the boys, my son made only limited eye contact, and he was quite shy. (This information was relayed to me by another staff member.) He is not always that way; I think he was intimidated by the principal’s visit. (That’s a part of his perfectionism, I guess — he is afraid of disappointing adults.) His rebbi does not complain about his behavior at all and is satisfied with his academic performance.

I’m also debating whether to call the principal about a classmate of my son who is bullying him. I know that this boy is enduring a problematic home situation, but that is not a reason for my son to be a korban. I’m afraid the administration will say that my son is just a “lemele” (a passive and weak boy), and that other classmates are not complaining about this other boy bothering them. I’m afraid that calling the school will just stress the idea that my son is “a problem,” even though he has improved greatly. How should I handle this?

A: Most school principals spend the most time with students who cause the most problems. Once a child’s behavior has improved, few positive updates land on the principal’s desk. Though no news can be assumed to be good news, it is not always the case.

Your son’s rebbi, most probably, has no idea of the administration’s concerns in kindergarten, and has not mentioned your son to the principal at all, as he is doing fine. Though you have a right to be concerned about how the school’s hanhalah views him (as they had severe concerns initially), countering their limited view of your son needs to be done in an indirect fashion.

You can ask the rebbi how your son participates and concentrates in class. If the rebbi feels that improvement is needed, you can speak to your son and create a behavior modification system with the rebbi, in which you call the rebbi towards the end of each week, for two minutes, and address the relevant issues. You can then ask the rebbi to please mention any improvement to the principal, as the area of classroom performance has always been a challenging one for your son. If the rebbi feels there are no issues, you can ask him to mention your son’s appropriate behavior to the principal (again, stressing that in the past this has been a challenging area for your son).

Call the school administration regarding the bully in class. During this call, focus on the “bully” who, you understand, might be going through a difficult time. The way the bully interacts with various classmates can be discussed, as generally there is not only one “victim.” In this way, your son’s issue with the bully becomes more of a general class issue.