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Tips for Dealing with Teasing

By Judy Loseff Lavin, M.S.W.
Author of Special Kids Need Special Parents

Teasing is one of those childhood things that most of us experienced and hated. The words cut deep into our souls when we were impressionable and not sure of ourselves. Unfortunately, as long as people have existed, teasing has too. It’s a part of life. The trouble is, when your child with special needs gets teased, you feel like you’re going to go ballistic. It becomes much more than a badge of childhood. Teasing affects the entire family and can leave irreparable scars on your struggling youngster, even if your child has acted in a way to provoke the mean remarks. It’s complex. So, how do we help our kids protect themselves when teased? Although each situation differs and experts say that no one response to teasing works every time, there are some things we need to keep in mind about teasing so that we can help our child cope.

First of all, it’s important to note that almost everyone gets teased at one time or another. Teasing is primarily a grammar school problem, when anything different stands out to children. Secondly, teasing seems to follow a pattern. Kids get teased more during winter months than in the fall or spring. That’s because winter is the dullest time of the year, and in some climates, the time when the weather is cooler so kids are cooped up indoors. New environments are also when you might find more taunters. Usually, children pick on those they don’t know as people. As soon as they get to know a child’s personality, they are more accepting of him or her.

With that in mind, our kids can still get teased. Unfortunately, it’s often part of special needs. However, here are several tips you can teach to a child struggling with taunts:

*Be a compassionate listener. Don’t deny what your child is telling you, but repeat back to him what he’s said. It also helps to name what he’s feeling. For example: Mom: “So, Johnny said you’re ugly because you have a scar on your face.” Tina: “Yes! And, I do have a scar and I don’t want to go back to school.” Mom: “That was an awful thing for Johnny to say to you. He has no right to say that. I can hear how angry and hurt you are. I’m feeling badly. What can I do to help you?”

*Talking about the hurt alleviates pain. You also want to remind your child of his or her strengths. Build him up so that the comment becomes smaller and is put in perspective.

*Empower him by giving him a positive view of himself, says parenting expert, Adele Faber, co-author of How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk. Faber suggests saying, “I’m glad you’re not the kind of person who would tease anyone. You’re the kind of person who would see another kid with a problem and help, not try to make him more miserable.”

*Encourage your child to find kinder playmates.

*Acknowledge that it’s hard to ignore the offender. Faber suggests asking, “Do you think you could pretend to ignore him?”

*Don’t discount the comeback you thought of after the fact. If it works in another situation, use it.

*Confront the bully. Suggest that your own child ask the harasser why he said what he did. Usually, that makes the person think about his words or actions, often leading to a ceasefire.

Remember, family support mends a lot of hurts. Help your child feel the support of his family and friends. Show him that what is happening with unkind kids has more to do with what is wrong with other kids than anything different about themselves. Ultimately, the more self esteem children have, the less they be upset be teasing.

Judith Lavin, M.S.W., author of Special Kids Need Special Parents, and a former journalist with the Chicago Sun-Times, recognized the need for an easy-to-read resource for physically and emotionally exhausted parents like herself, as well as their families, teachers, doctors and others who work with them. Lavin speaks to numerous organizations and parent groups around the nation, giving them inspiration and hope.

Lavin’s work has been featured in numerous publications such as the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Newsday, Washington Parent and Chicago Parent. In addition, she has appeared  on radio and TV news and talk shows around the U.S., including NBC-TV's Today show, PBS-TV's Small Talk for Parents and the CBS Radio Networks. You can visit Judy at