News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington



     How many of us have made it through childhood without hearing any taunts? The words spoken to us by others may still linger in our memories. As adults, we may look back and wonder what we did to bring on such unwanted attention and what we could have done to end it.

     When our children come home upset by teasing, we may feel as helpless now as we did then. Do we tell them to ignore the comments, to fight back, or to tell an adult? Will their actions only compound the problems or help to resolve them?

     Fred Frankel, Ph.D., in his book Good Friends Are Hard to Find, explains that children often tease because they enjoy watching their targets become upset when their buttons are pushed. The more upset the victims become, the more rewards the harasser receives. Also, the teaser may enjoy the reaction of observers who often laugh at the expense of the targeted children. This public humiliation can increase the pressure to respond to the comments with skill and confidence. A parent's initial response can be to offer support and understanding to let the child know that we believe in them and are "on their side." A second thing that parents can do is to discuss with their children why it may be that others tease.

       The key, according to Frankel, is to diffuse the attack. Remaining silent and trying to ignore the taunt can lead to pent up anger. This resentment can build until children explode in either tears or rage. And trying to "out-tease" the teaser usually just intensifies the fight. What we parents can do, however, is teach our children coping skills, such as being able to employ humor. By striking the delicate balance of neutralizing the torment without stooping to the aggressor's level, children will be most effective. Having readily available the tools to take the sting out of the attack can leave our children feeling stronger and more self-assured.
      For example, to the comment "You act like a baby," children could respond with "Yeah, and your point is..." or "So I've noticed." Other retorts Frankel recommends include "So what?," "Tell me when you get to the funny part," and "I heard that one before." You can also help your children develop their own responses that feel comfortable to them. They can practice with a parent, although daily sibling sparring may provide a fertile practice ground.

      Frankel notes two situations that may require assistance from authority figures. The first involves fighters and the second, bullies. Fighters are those who tend to misunderstand social cues and, therefore, strike out at anyone with or without provocation. They do not care who their victims are and usually have very few friends. These are children to avoid. Frankel suggests telling your children to stay near yard monitors or move to other games when such fighters are present.
      Bullies, in contrast, pick on others because they enjoy seeing the others' reactions. Careful to attack when adults are not watching, they often select targets who are vulnerable and/or unassertive. While improving interpersonal skills may be helpful to prospective victims, authority figures may be needed to supervise the interactions more closely. Bullies often appear to be the "good" kids to teachers, so Frankel cautions that tact be used when approaching other adults.

    While we do not want to promote tattling, whose sole purpose is to get the other person into trouble, we must let our kids know that help is available. It is incumbent upon all of us to keep our children safe both physically and emotionally. We need to provide the tools, techniques, and verbal skills for children to use and offer them opportunities to practice them with us. If these prove inadequate, we need to be ready to assist more directly.
      We may not be able to end childhood teasing. It will likely remain one of those childhood rites of passage that our children endure. Yet equipped with an effective set of skills and supportive adults, our children can escape unscathed.

By: Deb Cohen, Certified Parenting Education

March 2000
Vol. 2/ No. 5

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586

Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.

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