Easing the Teasing: How Parents Can Help Their Children

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

Children who are teased on a school bus, in class, or during recess often don't want to go to school. Unfortunately, teasing can occur anywhere, and it is difficult to prevent--despite the best efforts of parents, teachers, and school administrators to create a more cooperative atmosphere (Ross, 1996). Most young children become upset automatically if they are called a name or ridiculed in any way. Parents cannot always protect children from these hurtful situations, but they can teach their children useful strategies to help them deal with teasing. Young children who learn these coping skills at an early age may be better prepared for more significant social challenges and conflicts in their preteen and teen years. This Digest discusses different types of teasing, why children tease other children, and strategies for both parents and children to help them deal with teasing. 

Types of Teasing

Not all teasing is harmful--playful teasing can be fun and constructive. Teasing and being the target of teasing can help young children develop social skills that they will need in adolescence and adulthood (Ross, 1996). 

Playful or good-humored teasing occurs when it causes everyone to smile or laugh, including the person who is being teased. In contrast, hurtful teasing includes ridicule, name-calling, put-downs, and saying or doing annoying things. Unlike playful teasing, hurtful teasing may cause the person being teased to feel sad, hurt, or angry. More hostile teasing, which may include tormenting or harassing, may require ongoing intervention by a parent, caregiver, teacher, or school administrator. 

Why Children Tease

Children tease for a number of different reasons: 

  • Attention. Teasing is a good way of receiving negative attention, and, unfortunately, for many children, negative attention is better than no attention. 
  • Imitation. Some children model or mimic what is happening to them at home by acting the same way to others at school or in the neighborhood. These teasers are children who may be teased by siblings or who experience aggressive or harsh parenting. 
  • Feelings of Superiority or Power. Many teasers feel superior when they put others down, or they may feel powerful when teasing upsets others (Olweus, 1993). 
  • Peer Acceptance. It is not uncommon to see children engage  in teasing behavior because they may perceive it as being the "cool" thing to do. It may help them feel part of a group. The need to belong may be so strong that a child may tease others to be accepted by the "popular" children. 
  • Misunderstanding Differences. A lack of understanding of "differences" may be the underlying factor in some teasing. Many children are not familiar with or do not understand cultural or ethnic differences. In some instances, a child with a physical or a learning disability may be the target of teasing because she is different. Some children criticize anyone who is different instead of trying to learn or understand what makes others special. 
  • Media Influence. One cannot discuss the reasons children tease without acknowledging the powerful influence of the media. Our children are frequently exposed to teasing, put-downs, sarcasm, and a lack of respect in many of the television programs geared toward children. 
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