I remember when my daughter was being teased. It was heartbreaking to see her suffer. As parents, our natural reaction is to want to protect. However, it’s in these challenging moments that we have the greatest opportunity to empower kids for the future. One of the most important lessons we can teach our children is that they have the power to interpret information and decide how to respond to it.
Here are five things you can do to help your child deal with teasing:
1. Ask questions.
Teasing can be good-natured or it can be hurtful. This is true whether a relative or a classmate is doing the teasing. Ask your child what was happening when he was being teased. Was it meant as something hurtful? If so, why would that person want to hurt him? Was it to gain social status or perhaps to show displeasure about something that happened in the past? Was the teasing meant as something playful? Did the teasing bother your child? Why? Asking your child these kinds of questions will help him learn how to analyze situations on his own in the future.
2. Play some tennis.
When kids get upset by even good-natured teasing, it’s often because they don’t have strategies to respond. This may be particularly true for kids with learning and attention issues.
My daughter was very sensitive to teasing until we started helping her come up with quick responses. We did this by playing a little game we likened to a tennis match. If someone teases your child in a good-natured way, that comment is like hitting the ball over the net. Your child needs to come up with a response—that’s the equivalent of hitting the ball back. If your child can do this, he earns a point.
With practice, kids can get very good at clever comebacks. Some of these comebacks might be lines they practiced at home. It’s important to teach that these comebacks are meant to be playful, not hurtful. Help your child learn how to avoid crossing that line.
3. Practice walking away.
Help your child think through possible responses to teasing that is meant to be hurtful. Ask your child, “What do you think is the best way to handle this? Let’s come up with some strategies together.”
One response that might help put an end to the hurtful comments is for your child calmly look the teaser in the eye, say, “Thank you for noticing,” and walk away.
4. Know when to step in.
As much as possible, try to support your child in handling the situation himself. But if the teasing continues, you may need to step in. You could let the relative know that what he’s been saying is hurtful and that he needs to ease up on your child. If a schoolmate is doing the teasing, you may need to alert the teacher or the other child’s parents.
5. Be supportive.
This might be the most important tip of all. Let your child know you believe in him and that you’ll always be there to offer support. Working with your child on strategies to deal with teasing will help him develop the confidence to try to handle things independently. Knowing you love and support him will be a big confidence booster too.