Easing the teasing Empower kids with confidence, skills tocope with taunts By Monica Ginsburg
Teasing is often viewed as a rite of passage, something that, if ignored, will eventually go away on its own. But teasing does much more-it teaches bad lessons to both the children doing the teasing and the children being teased. It can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety or even aggressive behavior in your child, says Judy Freedman, author of Easing the Teasing: Helping Your Child Cope with Name-Calling, Ridicule and Verbal Bullying (McGraw-Hill/Contemporary Books, 2002).
With kids back in school, there are many places- the bus, the playground, the lunchroom-where teasing happens. While kids can't control the words and actions of teasers, they can control their own reactions.
"Getting angry, crying or complaining usually prolongs or intensifies the teasing," says Freedman, who also leads role-playing and other confidence-boosting exercises at Prairie Elementary School in Buffalo Grove where she is a social worker. "Calm responses often discourage the teaser, who was hoping for an emotional reaction."
Kids who learn to handle teasing feel more confident and are less likely to be victims of other bullies. Here are tips to help your child ease the tease:
1 Be prepared. Use role-playing as a tool to talk about potential teasing situations and responses. Coach your child to ignore or walk away from teasing or to respond by saying "So?" Even a laugh or a smile can diffuse the tease.
But don't wait until your child comes home and says he's being teased. "With brainstorming and repetition, kids get it," Freedman says. "You just have to plant the seed."
2 Think positive. "I teach kids to take a deep breath, ignore the tease and say something positive to themselves," says Colleen Cicchetti, a psychologist with the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Examples of positive self-talk include: "It's OK that I wasn't invited to the party" and "I may not be a fast runner, but I'm a good hitter."
3 Cut it off. Cut off the teaser with rejoinders such as: "That's not nice" or "You're being mean." "Stop-talk is probably the most effective method for ending a tease, but the hardest for most kids to do," says Cicchetti, who also teaches coping techniques to Chicago area children in second and third grade as part of the hospital's Mental Health in Schools Project.
Still, practice can make perfect. When Joellyn Oliff's 8-year-old daughter Sydney overheard another child making fun of some of her friends, Sydney told the young offender: "You're not nice. I don't want to be around someone who's not nice" and walked away. "Because she practiced some of this at school, she had the confidence to respond in the situation," says the Buffalo Grove mom.
4 Don't cross the line. Teasing can be what Freedman calls "fun and friendly" when both parties are smiling and laughing. Trouble starts when teasing moves from fun and friendly to hurtful and cruel. Phrases such as "that was funny before but it's not anymore" tell teasers they have crossed the line.
5 Speak up. Encourage your child to speak up when someone else is being teased. She can tell the teaser to stop or take the victim out of the teasing situation by suggesting they go somewhere else together. If nothing else, your child should walk away so the teaser won't have an audience. A kind remark when the teasing ends can be a comforting show of support. "We need to give kids the message that it's socially responsible to stand up and speak out, not just stand by," Cicchetti says.
6 Respond sympathetically. Don't brush off teasing as "no big deal." Listen patiently and in a nonjudgmental way when your child experiences teasing. Validate your child's feelings and tell them about your own experiences when you were young. Resist the urge to rescue your child. Less-structured settings such as recess, school bus rides and afterschool care are all fertile grounds for teasing. They also are the perfect places for your child to learn coping skills.
"I wish every school bus could have a parent[or supervisor] on board," Freedman says, "but I get so upset when parents quickly rescue their child from that. If kids have never been teased on a bus, where are they going to learn the coping skills and strategies they'll need for other life situations?"
7 Take a stand. "So much of what kids watch on TV and in the movies glorifies mean behavior, and kids have come to think it's OK," Cicchetti says. "Parents need to take a stand and say that teasing and name-calling is wrong." Watch suspect shows with your child and discuss the characters' behavior and how your child would feel if he or she were in the situation.
8 Stop sibling teasing. Take a stand at home, too. If kids think it's OK to tease siblings, they're likely to bring those patterns to school. Similarly, examine your own behavior. Stop making sarcastic or teasing remarks if they're not perceived by your family as fun and friendly.
9 Involve your school. In March, a coalition of education, youth advocacy and mental health organizations launched the first No Name-Calling Week in schools across the nation. The goal was to create an opportunity to talk about teasing and name-calling and provide students and educators with tools to reduce teasing in their schools.
"When a whole school community is saying teasing is not OK, that sets an emotional tone for kids," Cicchetti says.
10 Ask for help. After your child has tried three coping strategies without success, it's time to ask a teacher or adult for help. Likewise, if a teasing situation at school progresses into bullying, parents need to ask for help from school administrators. "I've never seen a bully stop by himself," Freedman says.
Resources Move Over Twerp, by Martha Alexander (Penguin USA) The Berenstain Bears and the Bully, by Stan and Jan Berenstain (Random House) The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Friends, by Stan and Jan Berenstain (Random House) Bully on the Bus, by Carl W. Bosch (Parenting Press) Oliver Button is a Sissy, by Tomie DePaola (Harvest Books) Furlie Cat, by Berniece Freschet (Lothrop Books) Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes (HarperTrophy) New Boy in Kindergarten, by Jane Beck Moncure (Child's World) Tyrone the Horrible, by Hans Wilhelm (Scholastic) First Grade King, by Karen Lynn Williams (Clarion Books)Monica Ginsburg, who lives in Chicago, is a frequent contributor to Chicago Parent and the mother of two children.