Helping Children Deal With Teasing:
Teasing can not be prevented, and children can not control what others say; however, they can learn to control their own reactions. Parents can teach their children the simple strategies listed below that will empower them and reduce feelings of helplessness. When children realize that there are effective strategies that they can use in teasing situations, their coping skills are strengthened.
Self-talk. Encourage children to think about what they can say to themselves when they are in a teasing situation. A child could say to himself, “Even though I don’t like this teasing, I can handle it.” A child should ask himself, “Is the tease true?” Often it is not. Another important question is, “Whose opinion is more important… the teaser’s or mine?” It is also helpful for the teased child to think about her positive qualities to counteract the negative remarks.
Ignore. Displays of anger or tears often invite more teasing; therefore, it is often effective for children to ignore the teaser. The child who is being teased should not look at or respond to the teaser. Children should try to pretend that the teaser is invisible and act as if nothing has happened. If possible, walking away from the teaser is encouraged. Parents can role play “ignoring” with their children and praise children for their excellent “acting.” It should be noted that ignoring may not be effective in prolonged teasing situations.
The I Message. The “I message” is an assertive way for children to effectively express their feel-ings. The child expresses how he feels, what has caused him to feel that way, and what he would like others to do differently. For example, a child could say, “I feel upset when you make fun of my glasses. I would like you to stop.” This strategy generally works better when expressed in a more structured or supervised situation, such as a classroom. When used in other situations, such as recess or on the school bus, it may lead to more teasing when the teaser perceives the child being teased is upset. Nevertheless, it is an easy skill to teach children to help them deal with many situations. The child should learn to make eye contact, speak clearly, and use a polite tone of voice.
Visualization. Many young children respond well to visualizing words “bouncing off” of them. It provides them with the image of not having to accept or believe what is said. This image can be created by showing how Nerf balls bounce off a person. Another effective visualization is for a child to pretend he has a shield around him that helps the teases and bad words bounce off. Again, this technique gives children the message that they can refuse these put-downs.
Reframing. Reframing is changing one’s perception about the negative comment; it is turning the teasing into a compliment. For example, a child teases another about her glasses, “Four eyes, four eyes, you have four eyes.” The child being teased could politely respond, “Thanks for noticing my glasses!” The teaser is usually confused, especially when there is not a reaction of anger or frustration. Another child might respond to a tease by saying, “That is agreat put-down.”
Agree with the facts. Agreeing with the facts can be one of the easiest ways to handle an insult or tease. The teaser says, “You have so many freckles.” The teased child responds, “Yes, I have a lot of freckles.” The teaser taunts, “You are such a cry baby.” The teased child can answer, “I do cry easily.” Agreeing with facts usually eliminates the feeling of wanting to hide the freckles or the tears.
“So?” The response of “so?” to the teaser conveys an indifference that the tease doesn’t matter. Children find this response simple yet quite effective. This strategy is humorously addressed in Bill Cosby’s bookThe Meanest Thing to Say.
Respond to the tease with a compliment. When a child is teased, it is often effective to respond with a compliment. For example, if a child is teased about the way he runs, he can answer, “You are a fast runner.”
Use humor. Humor shows that little importance is placed on the put-downs or mean remarks. Laughing can often turn a hurtful situation into a funny one.
Ask for help. At times, it is necessary for a child to seek adult assistance or intervention if the teaser is persistent.
Reprinted from ERIC Digest EDO-PS-99-7 by Judy S. Freeman. ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced. Additional Copies can be printed from the Pediatric Development and Behavior Homepage, http://www.dbpeds.org/handouts . Read the whole article at http://ericeece.org/pubs/digests/1999/freed99.html.