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How to Banish Bullying—Tips for Teaching Empathy to Children

Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a parent more than knowing that their child has been injured; physically, socially, emotionally…

The Torah is chock full of guidelines on how to be sensitive and caring to every one of Hashem’s creatures, whether they fly, swim, walk on two feet or four. Just as we are taught to be kind to animals, we must learn to be kind to each other.

In this week’s parsha we learn the importance of being an upstander. Vayigash Elav Yehudah—“and Yehudah came close to him.” Yehudah recognized the injustices around him. He saw that his father and brother, Binyamin, were going to be punished for crimes that they were framed for. So, he made the courageous decision to stand up for what he believed in and he raised his voice in disagreement. Yehudah came forward with words, transforming animosity into healing.

Yehudah Ha-Levi teaches us that a human being is called a medabber, the one who speaks, since the power of speech is what separates us from animals. With words, one can change the world. Sometimes when one sees an injustice occurring it’s difficult to physically stop it, yet one can almost always act as an “upstander” and verbally express disapproval.

Naturally, we all strive to raise children that are “menschen” and we try to protect our children from harm and from bullies. Sometimes, however, it turns out that our own children may have some bullying qualities, and here we have an important job to do in addressing this as well. We, as parents, have an opportunity to teach our children to be a medabber, and not to allow the bully in them to rear its ugly head.

Just as we are obligated to teach our children how to protect themselves, we must also teach them how to protect others. The best way to “bully-proof” a child is to teach empathy. When children can imagine themselves in another person’s predicament, they are less likely to become bullies and more likely to interfere when another child is being bullied.

By performing simple acts of kindness and compassion, we can inspire and motivate our children to think of others. Every day, there are many opportunities to teach children to show respect and to have empathy.

Here are some strategies to help your child consider the feelings of others:

Most importantly, show your child how much kindness happens around him or her every day and ask them to suggest ways they can be kind too. Big and small opportunities exist daily. My personal favorite strategy is to pay it forward! Make it a family rule to repay a kindness with a kindness. If someone holds the door open for your child to enter the restaurant, your child can re-pay the kindness forward by holding the door open for someone else.

When a child learns to put others first, kindness and compassion become second nature and bullying disappears.

By Dr. Tani Foger, Principal of Yeshivat He’Atid

 

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