When Teasing Occurs
When your teased child comes home from school or the playground irritated and hurt by another’s words, it’s hard to know what to do. Parents witness endless tears and misdirected outbursts in the aftermath.
Once you learn the details, it’s tempting to just tell your child to stand up to their accuser, but this takes confidence that teased children rarely have, at least at first.
Listening to a Teased Child
When your child finally confesses what happened , it’s essential to just listen without offering a ready solution right away. Help the child tell his story in as much detail as he is ready for. He probably won’t want you to probe because then he feels accused.
Sometimes children even feel criticized by parents’ innocent questions because they have become so sensitive from their experience with the teaser. The teased often feel ashamed.
Statements like, “Tell me what happened” or “Tell me more about it” will probably suffice. It may be hours or even days of bits and pieces of the incident that reveals what went on. With a lot of patience, you may discover this teasing has been going on for weeks and your humiliated child was too proud to say what happened.
What Can a Parent Say?
Once the story or stories have been told, your child will feel some relief because she feels less alone with her feelings. She feels less alone because she has let you into her world of self-doubts and hurt. Now she is ready to hear your reassurance that words aren’t facts. One of my favorite is to say, “If you were called a zebra or a hedgehog, would that mean you were one?” Kids often ponder this question and then laugh when they get it. It seems to go further than just reassuring them that what they were accused of wasn’t true.
However, what if what they were accused of is true? Maybe they are short or tall or chubby or skinny or loud or quiet or whatever. They need to know that those characteristics don’t make them into a good or bad, smart or dumb, unpopular child disliked by others. This is when they do need to be told that all kids are different in different ways and that’s just fine. Remember the teaser instinctively probably knew what to needle your child about. So now, we’re on the subject of self-esteem.
Building and Rebuilding Your Child’s Self-Esteem
Now it is time for all the reassurances that your child’s been pooh-poohing. But they must be specific, detailed, and accurate not vague, general praise that can be tossed off quickly. Think of your child’s particular attributes and remind him of them with stories of things he did to demonstrate his strengths. Children remember stories more than just words of praise.
Standing up to the Teaser
If your child is continuing to be teased and adult intervention with the teacher, coach, other parent, school bus driver and/or others has not stopped the problem, it is indeed time to coach your child to put an end to the matter.
Gently, ever-so-gently, let her know that you believe in her ability to use her words to tell the teaser emphatically that it’s time to stop. Explain how to speak firmly with expression and maybe tailor a short script together. Then always follow up with your child.
Remember, your child may falter or succeed. Either way, it’s his effort that needs the praise.
And, of course, your love.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with an upcoming book in October, 2015 , Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior. The book will include a selection of stories about mothers and fathers who discover wisdom in a new parenting mindset.