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Your Child Today: 5 to 8 years

Words That Sting: Help your grade-schooler learn some "teasing defusers"

"Mom, I think you're mean to Dad," declared my young daughter. Ouch. I wasn't intentionally being mean to my husband. But I do come from a long line of teasers?it's one of the ways I show affection. My daughter got me thinking, though. Teasing can easily cross the line into cutting remarks that wound. And nowhere is this more evident than in elementary school.

"Everyone gets teased sometimes," writes educator and author Elaine McEwan. "Whether a person is tall, short, thin, fat, smart or not smart, somebody can find a reason to tease." Anything that sets a student apart?wearing braces or using a hearing aid, for example?is a setup for teasing.

Why do kids tease others? Partly to attract attention.

"In the early grades," says veteran teacher Kim Hicks, "kids don't have a clue how to get someone's attention or how to enter a group. So they go after negative attention instead. I find that teasing usually happens in transition times like going to lunch, during recess, before school or on the playground rather than in the classroom."

It's heartbreaking when your child comes home from school crying because she was the target of unkind words. And while you can't protect your children from every bruise in life, you can help them practice some "teasing defuser" strategies. Try one of these approaches:

Ignore it. In Nobody Likes Me (Shaw), Elaine McEwan suggests these defusers: don't look at the person, don't talk to the person and don't argue or disagree. Think about other things or walk away.

Quietly resist. Don't cry or run. Stand up straight, look the teaser in the eye and give an "emotional shrug"?a gesture that says "I don't care." Your child can even agree with what the teaser is saying if it's true. For example, she's wearing saddle shoes or his hair is red. Bill Cosby recommends this kid-tested comeback: "So?"

Defend with humor. Studies show that kids with strong self-esteem and a good sense of humor have an easier time than kids who let teasing get to them. When one little boy at my daughter's school was called "shrimp," he responded by saying: "I love shrimp!" It worked.

Draw a line. Teasing has gone too far when nothing works to break the cycle or if threats are involved. If it gets to that point, you must intervene by calling in a teacher or another parent.

Meanwhile, practice these teasing defusers with your child and pray that the unpleasant experiences will teach him to always season humor with kindness and to be sensitive toward the feelings of others.

?Suzanne Woods Fisher
Freelance writer and mother of four

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