Teasing, Ages 3 to 6

How can I get my child to stop teasing?

Talk to him. Start out by letting him know why you want to discuss his teasing, that is, because his friends or siblings are complaining about it, and you don't like it, either. Explain that there's a difference between a funny comment and taunting that leads to tears. Let him know that his gibes have a consequence: His friends and family may not want to play with him anymore.

Then ask your child what makes him tease. Is he angry? Jealous? Afraid that someone will pick on him? He might be worried that he's bigger or shorter or less coordinated than other kids. Perhaps he's getting teased himself and striking back. If he has a new baby brother or sister, maybe he resents getting less time with you than he used to. Reassure your child, and let him know that you can teach him other ways to feel secure and handle conflicts.

Finally, give your child a few simple dos and don'ts: Don't call people names, don't chant or sing catchy phrases about them, and don't taunt them about things they can't change, like the color of their hair or the shape of their nose. On the other hand, it's fine to poke a little fun at a friend who likes it, to gently tease your parents and siblings (stopping if they want you to), and to make clever, kindhearted remarks that make others laugh.

Resist the urge to tease your child as a way of getting him to stop. Like hitting your child so that he'll quit hitting, this technique never works and may backfire. Better to lead by example, showing your child ways to express himself without putting others down.

Why do kids tease?

One of many reasons is the simple fact that they have a powerful sense of humor. Laughter is a sign of a healthy child, and as your youngster's language skills expand, he will delight in unexpected rhymes and puns (he meets a girl named Hannah and notices it sounds like banana). Children also use teasing to show affection and to get a distracted parent to notice them. And older children sometimes tease younger siblings to pressure them into giving up "baby" behavior, such as thumb-sucking or whining.

However, some children tease because they're angry -- jealous of a friend's new toy or resentful of a younger brother or sister. Children also tease defensively, if they feel insecure about their own appearance, abilities, or importance to others. Natural aggression is another reason: Between the ages of 3 and 6, children shift from physical tactics (biting, hitting, pushing) to verbal ones (taunting, threatening, insulting).

If your child teases too frequently or too harshly, it may be a sign that he feels insecure or angry. If he needles a sibling, it could be that he wants more attention from you. Talk to your child to find out what motivates his jeering, and how you can help him stop.

Is teasing always wrong?

In moderation, teasing can be a good thing -- a way for your child to develop a sense of humor and to share a laugh with you and others. Tweaking you now and then also allows your child to assert a bit of independence and spirit without being outright rebellious or disobedient.

References

Frances L. Ilg, M.D., Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D, Sidney M. Baker, M.D., Child Behavior: The classic child care manual from the Gesell Institute of Human Development. HarperPerennial 1992.

American Academy of Pediatrics, HealthyChildren.org. Teasing and Bullying. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/obesity/Pages/Teasing-and-Bullying.aspx

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