Vol. 6, No. 2• May 2002

Parenting power: Helping children cope with teasing

When a child experiences teasing, it is important to see the problem from the child’s point of view. Sit down and listen attentively to your child in a non-judgemental way. Ask your child to describe the teasing. Where is it happening? Who is the teaser? Understand and validate your child’s feelings. It might be helpful to relate your own experience of teasing as a child. The following strategies may help:

  • Do not overreact. A parent’s overreaction can result in a child overreacting.

  • Convey the message: “You can handle it.”

  • Encourage children to be with children who make them feel good, not bad.

  • Review your own behavior—do you tease your children inappropriately?

Teasing cannot be eliminated, and children cannot control what others say. However, they can learn to control their own actions. Parents can teach simple strategies that will empower children and reduce feelings of helplessness. When children realize that there are effective strategies to use in teasing situations, they will cope more easily.

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, 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.

Ignoring. Displays of anger or tears often invite more teasing. Therefore, it is often effective to ignore the teaser. 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.

Visualization. Many young children respond well to visualizing words “bouncing off” them. This provides them with the image of not having to accept or believe what is said. Another effective visualization is for a child to pretend he has a shield around him that helps the teases and bad words bounce off.

Reframing. Reframing is turning the teasing into a compliment. For example, a child being teased about her glasses could respond politely, “Thanks for noticing my glasses.”

Agree with the facts. A teaser may say, “You are such a baby!” The teased child can answer, “I do cry easily.” Agreeing with the facts usually eliminates the feeling of wanting to hide whatever the child is being teased about.
So? The response of, “So?” to the teasing conveys indifference and sends the message that the tease doesn’t matter.

Respond to the tease 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.

You can help your children understand that sometimes teasing can’t be prevented and that they can’t control what others say. However, they can learn to control their own responses and reactions, which will “ease the tease.”

Adapted from Freedman, Judy S. (1999, Spring). Easing the teasing: How parents can help their kids cope. Early Childhood, pp. 1, 4. Ms. Freedman is a licensed clinical social worker at Prairie Elementary School in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. Her book, Easing the Teasing: Helping Kids Cope With Name-calling, Ridicule, and Verbal Bullying, will be published by Contemporary Books, a division of the McGraw-Hill Companies, in September 2002. Her e-mail address is [email protected] and her website is www.easingtheteasing.com.

Copyright 2002 Jordan Institute for Families