From an early age, children notice differences among themselves. Children may be teased about wearing glasses, having red hair, being overweight, skinny, short or tall. Some children don't let teasing get to them - it just rolls off their backs. Others are more sensitive and may become quite upset, angry or sad. As a parent, you play an important role in helping your child cope with teasing, for whatever reason.
Evaluating the problem
- What kind of teasing is your child experiencing, and how bad is the problem? Your child may not want to talk about name-calling and other kinds of teasing. Ask your child for details in a supportive and respectful way. Sometimes just allowing your child to talk about these problems can be very helpful.
- First, find out the situations in which your child is being teased. For example, is it just one child who does all the name-calling, or are there several children involved? Does the teasing happen at a certain time of day, such as during recess or on the school bus?
- Next, in a caring and concerned way, try to find out the names your child is being called. Be sensitive to your child's feelings - what might not sound so bad to you could be very upsetting for your child.
- Then, ask your child how he or she feels when being teased. Sad? Angry? Hurt? It's important for your child to know that you understand his or her feelings, and that you are "on your child's side." Avoid being critical; telling your son or daughter to just "toughen up" probably will not help the situation.
- Find out how your child responds to being teased. Does your child ignore it, cry, become withdrawn or tease back? Sometimes a very upset or aggressive response encourages other children to tease more, just to get a reaction.
- Finally, decide with your child if it would help to talk with a teacher, school counselor or other counseling professional.
Helping your child cope with teasing
You can help your child come up with ways to deal with teasing. You can also help your child cope with teasing in more positive ways, by putting teasing into perspective.
Some teasing and joking is good-natured and is not meant to hurt anyone's feelings. Help your child learn to tell the difference. It's OK to joke back, or just say "that's goofy."
Mild teasing can be handled by
- Ignoring it and walking away, or
- Having a response ready, for instance, "I don't care what you think." Have your child practice responding to teasing in a calm, confident way. Role play with your child. Remember, it's important for your child not to use aggressive comments that could make the situation worse.
Severe teasing can be handled by
- Making sure there is enough adult supervision in school and other group settings, especially during free time, such as recess and lunch.
- Suggesting that your child stay with a friend during times when teasing usually occurs.
- Find out which children are responsible for the teasing. Work with parents, teachers or the school counselor to solve the problem.
Putting teasing in perspective
- Help your child understand that size is just one of your child's many characteristics and that everyone is different in some way - height, weight, hair color or other characteristics. Other characteristics, such as kindness, creativity and personality, are much more important.
- Encourage your child to have a positive attitude. Focus on his or her strengths, talents and interests.
- As children get older, they become more mature. That should mean a lot less teasing from peers in the future. As children get closer to becoming adults, they learn that teasing people about how they look is senseless.
- Children who try to be mean are just that - mean. Their opinion doesn't matter.
- People are individuals. They vary in many different ways. Almost everyone is teased at one time or another for being different in some way.
Some children are shorter because they have short parents. If you are short, tell your child about your experience with being short and how you dealt with it. It will help your child to know that you truly understand his or her feelings, since you have "been there" yourself - and have lived through the teasing.