Back-to-School Essentials: Bullying Prevention Skills to Help Kids Handle Teasing

By Judy S. Freedman, M.S.W., and Mimi P. Black, coauthors of Ease the Tease

Back-to-School Essentials: Bullying Prevention Skills to Help Kids Handle TeasingAttention, shoppers! Retailers are excitedly reminding us that it’s back-to-school season. Advertising of every kind is filled with the hottest school supplies, the latest fashion trends, the must-have shoes, and the best online offers.

What’s a must for kids that can’t be purchased at your local shop, the mall, a big box store, or online? Bullying prevention skills. These coping skills are crucial in handling mean-spirited teasing, exclusion, and bullying.

We teach our children many “ounce of prevention” safety skills, such as those for crossing the street, riding a bike, or encountering strangers. But young learners are often blindsided when they encounter hurtful teasing. The good news? We can teach kids of any age how to handle teasing in the same proactive and preventive way we do for other skills. Preparing kids to know what to do or say when someone calls them a name or makes fun of them is the first step in bullying prevention.

When children are teased or ridiculed, they often feel angry, sad, or afraid—or some combination of all three. They may resist going to school. Being a target of teasing and bullying can result in chronic stress, anxiety, aggressive behaviors, depression, low self-esteem, academic decline, social withdrawal, and physical illness. And because bullying behaviors grow in the rich soil of unchecked teasing, it’s important to prepare kids for the likely possibility that they’ll be teased and teach them how to handle it when they are.

We’ve found in our work that kids are teased about anything and everything: from how they look to how they solve math problems, from their heritage to how they run. But kids who can confidently address teasing are far less likely to become targets of bullying. Kids who are successful “tease-easers” have learned that while they can’t control the words or actions of the teaser, they can control their reactions to the teasing. They’ve learned ways to keep their cool and not give the teaser the satisfaction of an upset reaction.

Sounds tough, doesn’t it? Especially since we grown-ups sometimes have problems keeping our cool when we’re teased. Throw in the fact that young kids’ perspective-taking skills are still developing and the prospect sounds more challenging yet. But our research has shown that even the youngest schoolchildren can learn how to confidently handle teasing, and even have fun doing it.

An ideal way for children to learn these skills also happens to be one that maximizes their fun factor: through creative role-play. Most young children love role-playing with a trusted grown-up in a safe environment. You can help the children in your life anticipate teasing, learn calm and confident ways to respond to it, and practice these skills in a safe space so that they’ll be easier to use in the moment.

As you walk students through this practice, help them understand that their body language is an important element in tease-easing. Adopting a confident and assertive (but not aggressive) stance can have bigger benefits than children may realize. Consider using a mirror during role-play exercises. Little learners might enjoy choosing dress-up clothing and accessories. “Try your hat” at one yourself!

Here are some actual role-play responses given by elementary schoolchildren as they learned to master tease-easing skills.

A boy who was teased for being short made eye contact and said with a confident voice and a smile, “Yes, I am short. In fact, I think that I am the shortest person in my grade and in my family.”

A girl who was teased for being a slow reader replied calmly, “You are really a good reader. I wish I could read like you.”

A boy who was called “Brace Face” responded brightly, “Thanks for noticing, but I prefer to be called ‘Railroad Track.’”

Keeping cool in the face of teasing doesn’t come naturally to most of us, no matter how old we are. But practice makes . . . confidence! While you’re role-playing with kids, you just might be sharpening your own tease-easing skills too.

Have a great year!

Judy Freedman | credit: Michael Lee PhotographyJudy S. Freedman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., is a licensed clinical social worker with more than thirty years of therapeutic and educational experience with children, adolescents, and adults. During her more than two decades as a social worker in elementary schools, she created the Easing the Teasing program, which empowers kids with essential skills and strategies to handle teasing incidents, and which was the basis for her parenting book Easing the Teasing: Helping Your Child Cope with Name-Calling, Ridicule, and Verbal Bullying (Contemporary Books/McGraw Hill). She gives presentations and workshops to parents, educators, mental health professionals, recreational personnel, and students. Judy received the Illinois School Social Worker of the Year Award in 2011. She lives in the Chicago area with her family.


Mimi P. BlackMimi P. Black, Ph.D., is a psychologist, bullying prevention specialist, and actor. She has published articles on several developmental psychology topics and given invited addresses on bullying prevention to school administrators, faculty, parents, and students. For more than 25 years, she has played countless roles in various media as an on-camera and voice actor. Mimi has worked on both sides of the camera in the development of children’s educational television programs. She lives in the Chicago area with her family.

Ease the TeaseJudy and Mimi are coauthors of Ease the Tease

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