How to Help a Child Deal With Teasing

By Cara Batema
Teasing can lead to depression or a loss of self-confidence.
Teasing can lead to depression or a loss of self-confidence.

No parent wants her children to endure teasing from their peers, but many children do experience this behavior either occasionally or frequently. By modeling and practicing coping strategies, you can significantly improve your child’s confidence and ability to handle stressful or frightening situations. While you might feel uncomfortable talking about such a serious subject with your child, the positive impact of skills to deal with teasing is too significant to ignore.

Talk to your child about teasing, and encourage him to tell you when someone at school or in another environment teases him. Listen to your child calmly and show empathy. Use your child’s narrative as a catalyst for talking about ways he can handle a similar situation in the future.

Define situations for your child and explain when he should handle the teasing himself or find help if the situation is not safe. An unsafe situation might include an isolated location with no adults in sight, an occasion when the teasers are bigger or older, teasing that involves pushing or threatening or when teasing reoccurs. Instruct your child to report teasing to an adult as soon as possible in unsafe situations.

Find out how your child responds to teasing. You can learn this information from his recount of teasing events, observing him while he plays with friends or siblings or by role playing. You might notice during this time that your child struggles with self-control, so you can target strategies like staying calm or relaxation skills to teach your child.

Teach emotion regulation skills and the importance of staying calm. Children who are emotional or timid are often targets of teasing because perpetrators try to get a reaction. Tell your child it is important not to show his teaser he is upset or scared, and practice emotional control through role playing. This step is key to dealing with teasing but does take time and practice.

Teach your child to use a confident voice when telling teasers to stop. Your child can handle some teasing situations himself, and boldly confronting a teaser and saying “stop” or “leave me alone” might be just enough to get the perpetrator to walk away. Give your child tips, such as standing up straight or looking the teaser in the eye; this body language shows confidence and assertiveness.

Instruct your child to “agree” with teasers when it’s appropriate. For example, if a peer laughs and says, “You’re the only person in here with red hair,” your child can respond, “You’re right, I am the only redhead.” The teaser mostly likely won’t know how to respond or have further ammunition to keep teasing.

Practice daily relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing or slowly counting backward from 10. If you continuously practice relaxation in ordinary situations, your child will likely be able to translate them to stressful situations like teasing.

Instruct your child to find a teacher or adult to report teasing behavior, and remind your child walk away from a teaser or to stay near adults whenever possible. Walking away is an effective beginner strategy because it doesn’t involve relaxation skills your child is just learning or bold strategies like telling a teaser to stop.

Practice positive self-talk with your child. Sometimes in stressful situations, your child might think “I can’t handle this” and end up showing he’s upset to his perpetrator. Through practice, your child might start to think, “I’m scared but I can handle this” or “I don’t agree with what this person says about me.” Positive self-talk improves confidence and might avoid a negative reaction to teasing.

Demonstrate appropriate responses to teasing while role-playing. Let your child see how you would handle the situation, and encourage your child to do something similar.

Teach your child to shrug or ignore teasing behavior. The shrug tells the teaser you don’t care what he says, which might reduce chances of teasing happening again. Ignoring teasing is the most common advice given to children, and it does require some emotional regulation -- your child must not look at or respond to the teaser, and he cannot show anger or tears.

Help your child picture himself as a super hero or having a protective bubble that won’t allow teases to pass through. This visualization helps your child feel safe and gives him the mindset that he doesn’t have to let teases hurt him.

Tip

Explain the difference between teasing, bullying and harassment. Bullying is often repeated over time and is intended to ridicule or intimidate a child. Harassment involves verbal, visual, written or physical conduct based on a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or other characteristic, and harassment creates a hostile environment for the victim. Teasing involves taunting, criticism or intention to hurt someone’s feelings; while teasing is less serious than bullying or harassment, it does have negative effects on a child’s self-confidence.

Talk to your child’s teacher, bus driver or other adult in charge of situations, particularly if teasing continues to happen in that specific location. Ensure that these supervising adults respond appropriately to teasing situations.

Teach your child to use a combination of strategies. Sometimes it takes a couple responses to get a teaser to stop, or your child might find one strategy more useful than another depending on the situation. You want your child to have as many options in his bag of tricks as possible.

Warning

If your child says he doesn’t want to go to school or other setting or seems sad, consult his pediatrician for a referral to a counselor or mental health professional who will have additional strategies for helping your child deal with teasing.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.