Helping Children to Cope with Teasing and Bullying
By Josie Castaldi, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Director of Psychology
Can you remember a time, as a child, when you were teased by peers? I can. And, even with the perspective I’ve gained over the years, these memories are not pleasant ones. The rhyme goes “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Well, I didn’t believe that as a child, and I don’t as an adult, either!
It is universal that parents want to protect their children; the desire to keep children safe and sheltered can be even more pronounced when children have special needs. Nonetheless, one of the most important sets of skills that parents can teach children is how to cope with teasing or unkind comments from others. Rather than just being told to “ignore them,” it can help children to have a repertoire of responses to help them handle these tough situations.
Ways to help children handle teasing or unkind remarks:
- Help children to be appropriately assertive: Practice making direct comments such as “I don’t like it when you do that” or “stop bothering me” and then moving away. You can also encourage children to respond when others are being teased or bullied. Such statements honestly convey a child’s displeasure about how they (or others) are being treated, and also help children to feel that they have responded to hurtful comments, rather than just holding their frustration or anger inside.
- Help children to problem solve: Discuss and practice what children could do differently next time to handle uncomfortable or hurtful situations. Practicing alternate responses in a safe and neutral environment can help children feel more competent the next time they find themselves in a similar real life situation.
- Solicit additional adult intervention if needed: Tell children that, if teasing persists, you will discuss with other adults to help remedy the problem. Present this in a matter of fact manner so that children can view this as helpful, rather than something that could embarrass them in front of peers. Also emphasize to children that talking to adults is not “tattling,” but is something that takes courage and can help to improve the situation.
- Encourage children (when they are ready and in a way appropriate to their developmental level) to provide information regarding their disability to others: Sometimes stares and abrupt and/or unkind comments occur when others are uncomfortable or fearful about those who look different from them. You can prevent some problems by explaining and providing information ahead of time.
- In your day to day interactions, model for children how to treat others: Children take their cues from adults. Model being respectful, kind, honest and firm. Show children that it is possible to stand up for yourself in a way that is not hurtful to others.
- Help children to understand the dynamics of teasing and bullying: Discuss that people often tease or say unkind things to others because they are unhappy or have been hurt themselves and then take this out on other people.
- Help children engage in esteem-building activities with family and friends: This will make it easier for children to take teasing or negative comments in stride. They will have emotional reserves which make it easier to share feelings, complain, process and/or laugh about insults, and then move along.
In conclusion, teasing, staring and bullying can be hurtful and have a potential negative effect on children’s self-esteem. Yet on a positive note, support from family and friends can be an important buffer and help children to keep perspective, stand up for themselves, and learn how to handle tough situations.
For additional information:
Special Kids Need Special Parents: A Resource for Parents of Children with Special Needs. Berkley Books, New York, 2001. ($13.95 in paperback)
Your Child: Bully or Victim? Understanding and Ending Schoolyard Tyranny, by Peter Sheras, PhD. Skylight Press, 2002. ($13.00 in paperback)
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