child being bullied It's no coincidence that children everywhere tease one another. They can hardly help it. It's fun for them, a game. That's why I view the verb "kid" as deriving quite naturally from the noun form of the word. Kidding is simply what kids do.

And what's the object of this well-nigh universal game? Well, that's easy enough to answer: simply to make the teased child mad. To get a rise out of them--get their goat.

The problem, however, is that children who are sensitive or insecure--and, to varying degrees, what child isn't?--can get their feelings badly hurt when they're ribbed or ridiculed. So even while the teaser's intent is rarely to cause them actual emotional pain, too frequently the effect of teasing is almost indistinguishable from bullying. However "innocent" the "kidding around," it can yet lead to the same sort of psychological distress that bully victims experience.

You've probably heard kids characterized (at their worst, at least) as brutal, mean, and cruel. But I'd prefer using the terms inconsiderate or insensitive. For children generally are not sufficiently mature to identify emotionally with the child they're busy mocking or making fun of. And it's worth pointing out that the essential word in "making fun of" is "fun." Not to belabor the point, but for many (if not most) kids it's just fun to tease--and at times, even torment--other kids.

bk of bullying And all that it takes for a child to be "teaseworthy" is that they deviate (even slightly) from certain norms, conventions, or expectations-whether in weight, height, facial features, dress, manner, performance, intelligence . . . or whatever. Moreover, children being teased, in attempting to protect their vulnerable feelings, typically don't reveal their emotional suffering, but rather attempt to disguise it (as well as to "fortify" themselves) by immediately reacting with defensive and whiny anger. So the teaser never receives any clear feedback that, however unintentionally, they've seriously wounded another's feelings. It's not as though they can witness the butt of their joking lying on the ground half bleeding to death--though that, subjectively, may be just how their teased victim feels.

Which is precisely the problem. For as already indicated, the largely unconscious aim of "the teasing game" is to induce anger in the "teasee." Ironically, all the teaser needs to do to win the game is to make the teasee mad--which, in general, is quite easy to accomplish. Yet once the teasee grasps the jesting, non-malicious essence of this game (and, unfortunately, many can't because they're so overcome with feelings of being degraded or demeaned), then all they need do to defeat the other is to take their mockery in stride--or non-defensively respond with lighthearted banter of their own.

Of course, I should add that if the teasee's ability to successfully resist all their teaser's efforts to make them lose their cool only ends up incensing the teaser to the point that they begin to substitute physical blows for verbal ones, it's much more difficult for the child teased to win the game. Such aggression needs to be dealt with differently--either through the teasee's resolutely returning the blows (i.e., standing up to the teaser), or through promptly reporting the teaser (or bully) to the appropriate authorities. Still, far more often than not, teasers stop their teasing once teasees adequately demonstrate that they're "tease-proof." And once teasees are able to fathom the essential nature of the game--and learn how to emerge victorious over those who would taunt them (though not really with any conscious motive to humiliate them)--they'll be able to gain increased confidence, strength, and social competence.

Nonetheless, teasees can't be expected to achieve this till they're taught just how to take what teasers say to them less personally. It's only when they can appreciate that they're perfectly okay and that it's their sensitivity (in itself not a bad thing) that's being used against them, that they can adopt an attitude of nonchalance, or even humor, in situations that formerly emotionally overwhelmed them.

And such an altered perspective is bound to leave their would-be antagonist in the dust--frustrated and (having at some point exhausted their arsenal of insults) defeated as well. When the teasee repeatedly resists playing by the teaser's rules--refuses, that is, to accept the one-down role the teaser wishes to assign them--the teaser eventually feels obliged to give up. For their attempts at harassment obviously aren't working, the game isn't turning out to be much fun, and with each failed tease they need to examine whether they're not in fact making a fool of themselves. Not only aren't they scoring any points against their supposedly "weaker" adversary, but each time the child teased contrives to make light of their derogatory words and gestures, they experience additional points as being scored against them.

It's vitally important that adults explain to a child who's been hurt by teasing that the child , or children, responsible for their distress really doesn't know what they're doing--that they're not so much vicious or malicious as they are immature and inconsiderate--unwittingly having fun at their personal expense. And, by definition, "inconsiderate" means not considering the ramifications of one's behavior. In this case, the other kids aren't yet capable of realizing how much anxiety, and outright misery, their taunting words may be causing the teased child.. The teasers, that is, are simply acting in a non-empathic, "juvenile" way (but then they are, after all, juveniles).

several kids teasing Once a child can grasp that the rejection they've been experiencing may be more "seeming" than real, and that their perceived "enemies" are mostly just "toying" with them (i.e, playing with them as toys, for their own entertainment), they can let out a sigh of relief. And once they've learned to respond differently to their teasers, then--with reawakened hope--they may even figure out how to get these "antagonists" to be more friendly and accepting toward them. For they've now demonstrated what skilled "game players" they can be, too.

Finally, if kids are compelled to kid (as in, "kids will be kids"), then kidding right back--but calmly and with soft-edged wit or humor--can transform the very nature of the game. And "mutating" the initial barbs into something much more pleasant and good-natured, the object of this newly revised game might just be giggles and shared laugher for all.

Note 1: Various techniques for dealing with teasers and bullies have been well delineated by others in the field, so if you need more detailed "how to" information, I suggest you do so Googling. One of my fellow bloggers on PT, Izzy Kalman (whose perspective closely resembles my own), has his own site dedicated to the topic.

Note 2: You might teach your child this tour-de-force response that potentially could stop teasers in their mocking tracks. Have them learn to utter (preferably, at breakneck speed) these lines: "You can't kid the kid you want to kid ‘cause the kid you want to kid can't be kid. Get me kid?!" Anyhow, it's a start in the right direction. . . .

Note 3: I invite readers to follow my psychological musings on Twitter.

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