My young son has a cleft lip, and other kids have been making fun of him. How can I help him handle the teasing? – John
Adults can help by letting all kids know that teasing and making fun is never OK — that it is unkind, unfair, and hurtful.
Still, many kids will experience occasional teasing, and it can be difficult for them to handle. Kids with a cleft lip or other physical differences can be easy targets because the differences are so visible.
Kids who get teased may need help knowing how to respond. Encourage your son to tell you if he gets teased. Calmly listen and show him that you understand his feelings. Then talk together about some ways he can deal with it if it happens again.
For example, depending on the situation and your son's age, you may want to teach him to:
Use a confident voice to tell the child who is making fun to stop.
Ignore or calmly walk away from the teasing.
Avoid acting too upset by teasing (getting a big reaction can satisfy the teasers and make them likely to try again).
Think of a short phrase or joke to say in response.
Walk away and find a friend to be near.
Tell a teacher or another adult.
Talk with your son about which of those ideas might work best for him and practice them by role-playing. Remind your son not to tease back, fight, or say something hurtful in return, which can only make the situation worse.
You also can help him become more resilient by offering your support and encouraging activities and friendships that develop his strengths and confidence. When you're hearing about his day, be sure to focus on what he enjoyed and what went well, in addition to any difficult moments he faced.
Many schools now have programs to deal with teasing and bullying and promote positive relationships between kids. Ask the school staff (a teacher, guidance counselor, or principal) if your son's school has such a program. If teasing tends to occur in specific settings (like at the bus stop or during recess), work with school personnel to make sure that an adult in charge responds to the situation when it happens.
If teasing becomes an ongoing issue or if you notice sudden changes that concern you (like your son doesn't want to go to school, seems sad, or seems to have a hard time separating from you or family members), talk with a counselor or mental health professional for additional support.