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Safety and Wellness

Is it Bullying or Teasing?

Matthew Witham, Director of Child and Family Services at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, says it’s important for parents to know when teasing crosses the line into full-blown bullying.

Matthew Witham, Director of Child and Family Services at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, says it’s important for parents to know when teasing crosses the line into full-blown bullying.

October is bullying prevention month and a time to raise awareness about the harm created by bullies.

Matthew Witham, Director of Child and Family Services at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, says it’s important for parents to know when teasing crosses the line into full-blown bullying. “Although teasing has an element that can be hurtful,” Witham explains, “there’s a continuum that goes from gentle teasing to bullying. It is important to help understand your child’s experience if they talk to you about their interactions with their peers.”

Witham is pleased anti-bullying campaigns are getting attention and adds that curbing bullying is crucial for a child's overall success at school. "Bullying often goes beyond a single event," Witham says. "In many cases it is repetitive and can lead to a child being hypervigilant, preoccupied with avoiding bullying situations and fearful. Fear is never a good ingredient for successful learning."

He says teamwork between parents and teachers is the key to really helping kids feel safe so they can explore, learn and be creative. "It's important for the adults to act in a responsible, thoughtful way when a child tells them they're being bullied," Witham cautions. "If a parent or teacher decides to confront a child's bully directly adults should help to ensure the situation gets better and work eliminate the risk the child may be targeted for retribution."

Kids standing up to a bully.

Bullies tend to pick on kids who are alone. Encourage your child to stay away from kids who tease, if possible, and to find people with shared interests. 

Bullying is more calculated and intense

Bullying is more calculated, intense and persistent than teasing. In some cases, it can be a learned behavior—from TV shows, computer games, or family members. If the teasing isn’t too intense, these strategies may help. But if it persists or worsens, parents shouldn’t hesitate to intervene.

Take charge:  Your child can’t control the teasers, but can control his response. Advise your child not to engage with the teasers—and if possible, walk away. Ignoring teasing may make it worse for a while, but when bullies see that teasing no longer works, it will no longer be “fun.”

Stay calm: Kids who tease want to see that they’re bothering your child. Encourage her to take some deep breaths or count to 10.

Reject the teasing: Just because someone says something in a loud voice doesn’t mean your child has to accept it. Tell your child to think of the words as rubber balls that bounce off him, or to imagine he has a shield that deflects mean words.

Say “So?”: “So?” is a way of saying that teasing doesn’t matter. If your child sends the message that she isn’t scared or bothered, the bully might back off.

Stay in a group: Bullies tend to pick on kids who are alone. Encourage your child to stay away from kids who tease, if possible, and to find people who share his interests. Having even one good, supportive friend can help. 

Play it safe:  Emphasize that it’s okay to ask for help. If your child has told the teaser to stop, and the teasing continues or worsens, or if it becomes physical, she should tell an adult right away.

Tips for kids to make the bullying stop

The website StopBullying.gov has several suggestions for actions children can take if they are being bullied:

Tell the bully to stop and use a clear, strong voice.

Talk to an adult you trust. Don’t keep your feelings inside. A trusted adult will help you feel less alone and can help you make a plan to stop the bullying.

Stay near adults and other kids. Most bullying happens when adults are not around.

Be smart on social media. Always think before you post something online. If you see something that makes you sad or scared online that is cyberbullying. You should tell an adult about these types of messages. 

A Gillette patient reads

A Gillette patient reads "It's Okay to Ask" to an elementary school class. 

A book can help

Parents never want to see their children struggle with teasing or bullying. Instead of feeling helpless, use the issue as an opportunity to start a classroom conversation about friendship and kindness. A book for elementary-aged students, called “It’s Okay to Ask,” is an ideal tool to begin a positive discussion that will empower you and your child. The book is published by Gillette Children's Healthcare Press, written by experts at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare and illustrated by Twin Cities artist Nancy Carlson.

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