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Tips for Overcoming Teasing at School

Hello Dr. Nelsen,

My sister Clara sent me this message regarding her daughter Erika, age 8, who is being teased at school:

"Erika was upset at bedtime tonight.She told me she's running out of words to say to kids that bug her.She's so sensitive and I'm trying my best to toughen her up a bit and explain also she must learn to shrug off a lot of things some trouble makers have to say.I guess they'd asked her if she was a P.T. and when she asked what it was they said, "Potty-trained" and laughed. It sure wouldn't have been a big deal to me but I spent about 20 minutes getting her to stop crying and to feel okay again."

Is there some advice you could give her?

Thanks in advance,

Uncle Frank

Dear Uncle Frank

Teasing has been around forever and, unfortunately, is probably here to stay.Kids can be so cruel to each other.I do have some suggestions that may help lessen the pain. Instead of giving her a lecture (I know your sister doesn't mean to lecture, but that is what it sounds like when we tell kids what they should do) use reflective listening.This means to listen with empathy and reflect back her feelings, "I can understand how much that must have hurt."Another possibility is to just hold her and let her talk.Don't try to toughen her up or try to talk her out of her feelings. On the other hand, don't overdo it.You want to show understanding and love, but you don't want to convey the idea that she is a victim.After showing empathy, let her know you have faith in her to handle the ups and downs of life. Parents need to realize that they can't protect their children from painful life experiences.Children often get over the pain quicker than their parents who can't stand it to see their children suffer. If children do not get over it, it could be because they get to much attention from being a victim.Even though children need empathy, they do not need over protection. After she has had time to feel her feelings and calm down, she might be ready for some discussion about teasing. Sometimes it helps to share times you were teased as a child and how it made you feel.You may help her gain some perspective by asking her some questions.(Asking questions that invite her to think and draw conclusions is much different than lectures.)Ask her what her friends are teased about.Every child is usually teased about something even the most popular kids.When she starts talking about what other kids are teased about, she will realize she isn't the only one.My daughter was teased about her curly hair.She felt terrible and hated her hair.When I asked her what other kids were teased about, she soon felt better as she realized that even the kids she admired the most had something they were teased about. This discussion can be followed up with more "what?" and "how?"questions. "How do you think others feel when they are teased?What are you learning from this?How do others handle teasing?What could you do to take care of yourself?How could you help others feel better?What could you do to make yourself feel better?" Mom could ask herself the same question.Since it is so painful to see her child hurt, what could she do to help herself feel better?This would be a good way to be an example for her child.Maybe they could make a list of favorite things to do.Then after a reasonable time to feel the pain, move on and focus on the joys of life.

Jane Nelsen