When a Parent Should Intervene if a Child is Involved in Teasing or Bullying
Nearly every child will encounter some form of teasing, but it can be difficult for parents to determine if—and when—they should intervene. Erin Siemers, PhD, psychology resident on staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, has the answers you need.
Teasing is as common as sprained ankles or scraped knees, but the effects can stay with children much longer. Children tease for a variety of reasons, including social acceptance and positive reinforcement—such as laughing from other children.
While some teasing is harmless, other forms can be damaging to a child’s self-esteem. If you learn that your child is being teased, talk with him.
“Parents need to understand the child’s perspective by discussing what happened and finding out how the child feels as a result,” Dr. Siemers says. “Once you know how your child has been affected, you can work on strategies for dealing with the problem.”
How your child will respond to being teased is dependent on her age and personality, as well as the circumstances of the incident. While some children may be able to joke about the teasing or respond humorously, others may feel socially rejected.
When Your Child Is the Offender
If your child teases other children, it is important to respond firmly but calmly. Discuss the matter privately with your child, reminding him that rules at home and at school must be followed, and that making hurtful comments to or about others is unacceptable.
“Talking with your child about how teasing affects others will build a level of empathy,” Dr. Siemers says. “Both positive and negative reinforcement are important aspects of dealing with teasing, so look for times when your child displays respect or empathy for others and acknowledge it. Likewise, when rules are broken, punishment—such prohibiting games, television and toys—is an effective method of showing your child that the behavior is unacceptable.”
Keeping the Line of Communication Open
Communication is the key to any good relationship, so parents should maintain an ongoing dialogue with children. This will enable kids to feel safe about coming to parents with concerns they may have and will give you the opportunity to help.
Is It Teasing or Bullying?
“Innocent teasing can be a natural part of children’s social relationships,” says Erin Siemers, PhD, psychology resident on staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Harmful teasing, however, can create anxiety, depression and even academic difficulties for children.”
If you notice any change in your child’s behavior, talk with her to determine the cause and assure the child that it is not her fault. Most schools have policies in place to deal with bullying, so it is important to immediately contact the child’s school or teacher if your child feels in danger or if her physical safety is threatened.
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