DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My son, who’s 10, was picked on last year at school. Now he’s worried about going back this fall. How can I help ease his fears? At what point does teasing becoming bullying that, as a parent, I should address with the school? I don’t want to be overprotective, but I do want to help if he needs it.
ANSWER: It’s good that you are thinking about this before school starts. There are steps you can take now to help your son get ready for school that may make it easier for him. If the teasing continues, though, or if anything happens that threatens his safety, you should talk to school staff right away.
First, make sure your son understands that he has a right to be safe at school. Let him know that if he feels unsafe at any time, it is critical he tell you. Some children worry that this will be seen as “tattling.” Reassure him that you want him to talk about it if something scary or threatening happens.
Second, ask your son about the teasing. Are there specific behaviors or something about the way he interacts with others that you can help him manage? For example, some children are awkward in social situations, and that can be a source of teasing. Parents can help by teaching social skills. Those may include basics, such as not interrupting, laughing at jokes, praising others when they do a good job, not talking too much, and keeping their hands to themselves.
It also may be helpful for your son to talk with you about ways he could respond to teasing. Particularly when teasing is mild, a little humor may help defuse it. But let him know, too, he does not have to respond to comments at all if he doesn’t want to. Walking away can be a good response.