Teasing and Bullying: No Laughing Matter
What you must know — even if you don’t think it affects your child.
By Diana Townsend-Butterworth
How to Help
First, give your child space to talk. If she recounts incidences of teasing or bullying, be empathetic. Gene Gardino, director of counseling services and life skills at The Chapin School in New York City, suggests saying, "I'm so sorry. That must be really painful." Then place the ball gently back in your child's court, asking, "What do you think might help? What works with your friends?" If your child has trouble verbalizing her feelings, Froschl suggests reading a story about children being teased or bullied. You can also use puppets, dolls or stuffed animals to encourage a young child to act out problems.
Once you've opened the door, help your child begin to problem-solve. Role-play situations and teach your child ways to respond effectively (see below), advises Vicki DeLuca, mother of three and a graduate student at Fairfield University doing research on bullying.
You might also need to help your child find a way to move on, says Gardino, by encouraging her to reach out and make new friends. She might join teams and school clubs to widen her circle.
At home and on the playground:
Adults need to intervene to help children resolve bullying issues, but calling another parent directly can be tricky unless he or she is a close friend. It is easy to find yourself in a "he said/she said" argument. Try to find a intermediary: Even if the bullying occurs outside of school, a teacher, counselor, coach or after-school program director may be able to help mediate a productive discussion.
If you do find yourself talking directly to the other parent, try to do it in person rather than over the phone. Don't begin with an angry recounting of the other child's offenses. Set the stage for a collaborative approach by suggesting going to the playground, or walking the children to school together, to observe interactions and jointly express disapproval for any unacceptable behavior. In general, promote acceptable behavior with these strategies:
• Model the behavior you expect from your child. Avoid making jokes that stereotype or ridicule people.
• Make sure playdates and after-school activities are supervised. Most bullying happens when adults aren't around.
• Intervene immediately when you see inappropriate behavior. If adults are aware of bullying and don't say or do anything, children may see this as an endorsement of the behavior.
• Teach your child to be assertive and to make eye contact. Arm him with "I" messages: "When you push me, I feel annoyed. Please stop."
At SchoolA close partnership between parents and teachers is an effective frontline defense against bullying. When Silvia sees a child bullying other children, he makes it clear that the behavior is unacceptable and brings the parents and the child (usually the bully, but occasionally others who are affected as well) in for a talk. Gardino finds that schools and parents can work effectively behind the scenes to help a child meet and make new friends via study groups or science-lab partnerships. If you are concerned about your child:
Share with the teacher what your child has told you; describe any teasing or bullying you may have witnessed.
• Ask the teacher if she sees similar behavior at school and enlist her help in finding ways to solve the problem.
• If she hasn't seen any instances of teasing, ask that she keep an eye out for the behavior you described.
• If the teacher says your child is being teased, find out whether there are any things he may be doing in class to attract teasing. Ask how he responds to the teasing and discuss helping him develop a more effective response.
• After the initial conversation, be sure to make a follow-up appointment to discuss how things are going.
• If the problem persists, or the teacher ignores your concerns, and your child starts to withdraw or not want to go to school, consider the possibility of "therapeutic intervention." Ask to meet with the school counselor or psychologist, or request a referral to the appropriate school professional.