It’s happened to all of us– at least once or twice. We’ve been called “four eyes” or “carrot top,” or something even worse. Growing up, our parents probably armed us this little ditty to sing back to our tormentor(s), “Stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But the fact is, words hurt. A lot.
I attended a presentation for parents through our school district. It was really intended for parents of grade school and beyond–but gee–have you noticed how kids are getting picked on earlier and earlier–even preschool?! My littlest one, Kelly ( 3) attends a “Children’s Day Out” program twice a week and at least twice a week, I hear stories in her tiny angelic voice that so-and-so was mean to so-and-so…and yes, sometimes even my little one is the victim of a “mean kid.”
And so I went to “Easing the Teasing: How Parents Can Help Their Children” presented at Oswego High School Tuesday, February 2 2010 by Judy S. Freedman, MS LCSW.
Before I get into what I learned and how it can help you and your kiddos, I ought to point out how humbling (and old!) I felt driving my minivan into a high school parking lot–and parking my beast next to teens kissing inside their first cars parked in the bath of floodlights from the stadium.
Here’s what I learned from Ms. Freedman–the anti-tease lady:
- Kids are teased everywhere: the bus, the classroom, the lunch room, at recess, in the library. No place is immune
- Kids will be teased about anything and everything: What they have, what they don’t, what they look like, how they dress, talk, what they read (or don’t), how they perform in the classroom or the athletic field.
- Teasing and Bullying are on a continuum….playful teasing is like a “0” on a 10-point scale. It’s good-natured and everyone is laughing and smiling. Somewhere in the middle (say a 5 or a 6 on that scale) is cruel and hurtful teasing. This is where the kids are called names, they feel embarrassed and a sense of exclusion. That can turn into “hostile teasing” (8 or 9 on the scale) and then finally–to full-fledged “bullied” which can be horrific.
- Remember, now that we are in the 21st century there is a whole new generation of “mean kids” and they target their victims through what cyber-bulling…websites, blogs, emails, texts are all cess pools of bully bacteria.
Why do kids tease:
It used to be that bullies needed attention, or were jealous. Those reasons still exist, but here are more of Ms. Freedman’s ideas:
- Attention. Yep-the classic: negative attention is better than none at all.
- Imitation. Parents are harsh and aggressive at home, siblings tease siblings–why not go to school and do it to someone else?
- Power. “Gosh, it feels really powerful to put someone else down, I think I’ll do it again.”
- “Kids will like and accept me.” It might be the cool thing to do if you desperately want to be part of the “in” crowd.
- Cultural or ethnic differences. Neighborhoods and schools vary–no one person is the same or comes from the same kind of family. Different styles of dress or ethnic foods…sadly, even physical and learning disabilities fall into this category.
- Media. Look at what’s on television–on the computer, too. Sarcasm, lack of respect, and put-downs to name a few. Kids learn and see this behavior everywhere, even on PBSKids, even if you’re watching Dr. Phil or Days of Our Lives and you don’t think the kids are paying attention–they are.
What’s a Parent to Do?
- Stop, look and listen. Give your kid some time and validation while at the same time, reviewing your own behavior. Has your playful parenting humor crossed the line?
- Don’t over-react. Approach it neutrally and be supportive.
- Let you kid know that if that person (the bully/teaser) makes them feel bad, they can–and should–spend time with kids who make them feel good.
That’s the easy part. Here’s the nitty-gritty:
1. Teach self-talk. This is all tied to self-esteem. We all participate in self-talk all day long. What can you teach your child to say in their mind that will take the sting out of teasing? “I’m more important than that.” “Not’s not true-….I’m good at___” Self-talk is a hard one for young kids to get. It’s a pretty abstract concept. Start by listing out your child’s positive traits. Do this together as a family at dinner…you are fun, smart, great artist, creative….make a habit of bringing up your child’s qualities and strengths often and they will begin to internalize it. Then self-talk will come easily.
2. Ignore. My mom used to tell me, “make like a duck and let the teasing roll off your back.” Some kids don’t really know what it means to ignore. You have to define it for them. Walk away, don’t make eye contact, make them invisible/disappear. Role play it at home–this ought to fun and easy, “I’m going to pretend to ignore you. Let me show you how it’s done.”
3. Agree with the facts. “You’re right. I am short (have a big nose, red hair).” Leave it at that. The bully will be dumbfounded.
4. Respond with a compliment. “I am amazed that you notice how I’m dressed everyday. You are very observant.” Or if the teaser notices a bad grade on your kid’s math test, “You’re right–I’m not loving math right now. You’re good at it, maybe you can tutor me?”
5. Visualize mean words “bouncing off”–this goes along with the adage, “I’m rubber and you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.” Can you teach your child ways of “seeing” the cranky words get squashed by a sneakered foot or hit by a tennis racket?
6. The I-message. I don’t know how this would come across to a young kid, but it’s worth putting out there. It works like this, “I feel ___when you _____. Can you please stop?”
Teasing is a part of growing up, but if we start early teaching our kids positive coping skills, they will be ready for whatever curve-balls life throws at them. Even if it happens in the parked car at high school.
Judy Freedman’s book, “Easing the Teasing” (Contemporary Books, 2002) can be found on Amazon.com
You can send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org