Words Can Hurt More Than Sticks And Stones

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Whoever said "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words don't hurt me," might have been deaf. Words can hurt. Relentless teasing can be devastating to a child. So, I was pleased to see a "how to" book that offers practical and straightforward advice for children victimized by teasing.

Interestingly, Scott Cooper, the author of the book, Sticks and Stones is not even a mental health professional. Perhaps, that explains why the book is practical and easy to read. Psychologists tend to make things unnecessarily complicated. Cooper is a financial expert but he has been a teacher, basketball coach, Scout leader, Boys' and Girls' Club volunteer, and above all a father of three children. He offers in the book techniques similar to those he taught his children about how to deal with teasing, unfair criticism or ridicule.

Parents are encouraged to sit down with their children and discuss the examples given in this article. They may do role-playing with their children in which they play the role of child who is being teased. Later, parents may play the role of a teaser to help a child practice dealing with the teasing. Most of the techniques discussed here are a form of verbal judo. Judo, an Eastern martial art, is not so much about counter offensive as it is about deflecting assault directed at you. Likewise, in verbal judo, instead of countering teasing with teasing, you simply deflect the verbal attack directed at you.

Explain to your child that there are two kinds of teasers, the benign and the belligerent. A benign teaser may quit if you give some type of response such as just shrug your shoulders, roll your eyes or smile. A belligerent teaser is a bully who wants to inflict emotional pain. Make sure that you don't let those words hurt you or make you feel bad because none of what teasers say is accurate. The worst thing you can do is to look upset or hurt. So, don't give a teaser the satisfaction he or she is looking for.

Also, tell your child that some bullies are potentially violent and dangerous. Don't try with them any of the techniques discussed here. The only appropriate technique to be used with a violent bully is the "act of disappearance." Just make yourself disappear. Don't say anything. Don't retaliate. Just leave as quickly as you can and go where there is a responsible adult. Don't go to a place where a bully may find you alone. Here are a few techniques that can be used with non-threatening teasers, adapted from Cooper's book:

1. Use the Power of the I: Assertively express what you want or don't want. Examples: "I want you to stop doing that"; "I want you to leave me alone"; I don't want you to do that": "I want you to stop teasing me," or "I don't want you to speak to me like that." If you feel okay about it, you may even use the short form, "Stop it" or "Cut it out" and give your teaser an angry face.

2. Disarm them with " Might" and "Maybe": By responding to teasing with such statement as, "You may be right," or "Maybe," you may succeed in disarming your teaser. Take for example, your classmate who says, "You're so dumb, I can't stand you." You say, "You may be right about that." The teaser retorts, "Yes, You are!" You say, "Maybe."

Below is an example in which both of the above techniques are combined:

Teaser: Hey Shorty, what's your problem?
You: I don't want you to call me that.
Teaser: What's the matter Shorty, you don't like it?
You: You might be right.
Teaser: I am right, Shorty.
You: Maybe.

3. Shrug off the teasing: Shrug your shoulders. Look away. Don't look at a teaser. A teaser would love you to look at the sneer on his or her face. So, don't make eye contact. Act bored and make a dismissive statement such as, "I don't care," "So what," or "Doesn't matter." Here are two more examples:

Teaser: Hey! You walk funny.
You (with a shrug): So what.
Teaser: Hey, dorky! Your shirt looks funny.
You (with a shrug): I don't care.

4. Poke fun at yourself: Another way to disarm teasers is to go along with their gags. For example, when you are teased, fake a cry and say something, "Oh, you're really hurting my feelings." If a teaser calls you names, you may take a bow and say, "Thank you. Thank you very much. You are much too kind. I have been called worse. Here is an example of a different kind:

Teaser: You look like a penguin when you walk.
You: Thanks for noticing. I've been working hard on my penguin walk.
Teaser: Just look in the mirror, you even look like a penguin.
You: Oh my gosh, you're right. Call my parents. I 'm ready to take my trip to the North Pole, now.

5. Say, "I like it": Another smart way of deflecting a verbal attack is to say something like, "I like it this way, " "Because I want to be like this " or "It works for me."

As you teach your children these five techniques and role play with them, help them to identify the potentially violent and dangerous teasers. Advise them to not engage in any interaction with them and to leave immediately.

May your child become a black belt in verbal Judo.

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Copyright 2000, Mind Publications 


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