Helping kids cope with teasing has become an increasingly important topic in the news and in the schools. As kids- both younger children and teens have faced chronic teasing and/ or bullying, stories have come to light of incidents where those who have been teased become severely depressed sometimes leading to suicide. In other instances, the teasing had lead to anger and rage and acts of violence towards the public years later. From a mental health, public safety and moral point of view, helping kids cope with teasing is the right thing to do.
Teasing is the verbal assault of 1 or more children on another for the purpose of hurting the other person’s feelings and making them feel bad. Teasing is universal to a greater or lesser extent, especially among younger children. My last name is Heller, and I can remember a young boy who was jealous of my athletic ability who used to call me Heller-Smeller or Hell, to try to get me angry. Almost everyone has a story or memory of being teased by someone as a child.
Elenor Roosevelt was quoted as saying, “no one can make you feel bad about yourself without your consent”. Cognitive therapists teach “tease tolerance” to young children to help them master in incorporate the long time children’s rhyme, “ sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me”. As a behavioral psychologist, I was taught that behaviors are reinforced or strengthened or weakened by their consequences. Sometimes, teaching a youngster to ignore the teaser and show that their words have no effect on them, decreases the likelihood of future teasing, whereas reacting with hurt or anger may in fact strengthen and increase teasing behavior in the future.
In helping kids cope with teasing, children can be taught to believe that those who tease them don’t feel very good about themselves and tease others to try to feel better. Teasing says more about the person doing the teasing than they do of the person being teased.
Role playing and mental rehearsal are “cognitive-behavioral methods” that parents, teachers and cognitive therapists use to help kids cope effectively when being teased by others.