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Extension Agent: Help your children handle teasing, bullying

April 12, 2011 at midnight
Updated April 11, 2011 at 11:12 p.m.

Sarah Womble

By Sarah Womble

Do you remember the school bully who went around teasing and threatening you or your classmates? Remember how you felt? Remember how you wished he would just go away?

Ever wondered what happened to someone who was teased or bullied or what became of the bully himself?

Teasing and bullying is an ongoing problem for many of our children. Research reports shows that at least 20 percent of children ages 2 through 17 experienced one or more forms of bullying during the past year.

According to a nationally representative survey, the risk for being bullied peaks during middle childhood, with the highest rates occurring among 6- to 9-year-olds.

An exception was Internet harassment, where the peak age was 14-17.

Those who are the victims of teasing and bullying can experience long-term consequences. Victims of bullying may suffer from anxiety, fear and low self-esteem. They may avoid peers, school and social activities where they may be exposed to teasing or bullying. In some cases, children may drop out of school to avoid being harassed or attacked.

"Negative consequences for those who bully have been demonstrated as well," said Rick Peterson, assistant professor and Texas AgriLife Extension Service parenting specialist. "Childhood bullies have school attendance and performance problems. Those who bully tend to become aggressive adults and are more likely to become involved in criminal activities."

Parents and adults should not expect children to deal with bullies on their own. Children need to be taught that bullying is an unacceptable behavior. Children must be taught useful strategies to help them cope with teasing and bullying. Teasing and bullying cannot be totally prevented, but children can be taught to control their own reactions.

Parents can teach their children some simple strategies to empower them and help them cope with their feelings and sometimes helplessness.

Some strategies parents and caregivers can teach their children include the following:

Self-talk. Give children things they can say to themselves when they are being teased or bullied, which can counteract the negative remarks or behaviors. A child can say to herself, "Even though I don't like being teased, I can handle it."

Oftentimes, the teasing is not a true reflection of the child, and the child should question himself by asking, "Is the teasing true?" In addition, the child should remind himself that his opinion of himself is more important than the teaser's opinion.

Ignore the teasing. Children should practice ignoring the teaser since reacting with anger or tears may invite more teasing.

Parents should monitor the teasing, particularly if it turns into bullying and/or harassment, and be willing to intervene.

"I messages" are a way for children to express their feelings and ask to be treated differently. For example, a child could say, "I feel upset when you make fun of my clothes. I would like you to stop." This strategy may work best in a classroom or daycare setting, where adult supervision is present.

Using humor is another way to cope with teasing. By the child laughing at the hurtful comments or put-downs, it shows that the teasing has little effect on them. Another way to show indifference is for the child to respond to the teasing with, "So." Responding with "so" indicates that the teasing doesn't matter. Children find this simple reply to be an effective response to teasing.

Asking for help at times is necessary if the child is having trouble with the above strategies or if the teasing turns to bullying. Children can handle most types of teasing. However, if the teasing is repeated or occurs for a prolonged period of time, it becomes bullying and may call for an intervention by parents, teachers and caregivers.

The Texas 4-H and Youth Development program has developed a curriculum titled "Take a Stand."

Three levels of curriculum were developed to reach youth from the third through 12th grades. If your group is interested in utilizing this curriculum or having a program on this subject, please contact your local county extension office.

Sarah Womble is a Victoria County extension agent - Family and Consumer Sciences.

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