What's the first thing you want to do when you find out your child is getting teased by other kids at school? I don't know about you, but my first impulse is to MAKE IT STOP. I want to march right into that school, collar the perpetrators, and put the fear of God or whatever they believe in (The Enderman?) in them so they'll stop hurting my sweet little flower's feelings, the little jerks. And then I want to find out WHO has dared to allow this grave injustice to occur -- the teachers? Lunchroom aides? Heads must roll! Justice must be served! My child shall not suffer any further heartbreak or humiliation or ...
But I'm not going to be that parent. First of all, the situation is rarely so simple as a kid or two teasing another child. And secondly, it's a lousy way to raise a resilient child.
I'm not saying that if there are persistent problems with teasing at your school that you shouldn't get involved. We've all seen how bullying can get seriously out of hand. Every school should have policies and actively encourage an environment where bullying is not allowed to grow and flourish.
But I'm talking about the occasional teasing. Say your kid comes home with a full lunchbox and an empty belly because some mean girl made fun of her super-healthy lunch -- that sort of thing. After I process my Mama Bear feelings, I feel like my first conversation should be with my own child.
I think it helps to start with questions. What exactly happened? Who said what? And most importantly, how did it make you feel?
After talking about how teasing makes us feel, I'll move on to talking about how even if someone makes you feel bad in the moment (which is totally understandable -- I think telling children to "shake it off" and repress their more uncomfortable feelings backfires eventually) doesn't mean you have to change yourself. And this is the really hard part.
It's one thing if you're annoying and provocative. But kids need to learn how to have integrity and stay true to themselves, even if that means being different and making themselves vulnerable to teasing. True confidence doesn't come just from affirmation and compliments. Confidence comes from those difficult moments when you have to stand up for yourself. So we talk about what to do the next time teasing happens -- which, by the way, never involves socking the teaser in the mouth.
I'm not an expert at this process, by the way. Sometimes we don't make it much further than the "how does that make you feel" stage. I'm fumbling through these incidents clumsily, and I've made the mistake of intervening too much. Thankfully they're rare. But that's the ideal I'm striving for. One of the hardest things I do as a parent is watch my child get hurt and resist the temptation to make it all better immediately. I'm there for support, not as a magical fixer. My son has to do his own growing.
How do you usually respond when you find out that your child is being teased at school?
Image via Nattu/Flickr