“Freckle face.” “Dorkwad.”

A blend of childhood curiosity and mean-spiritedness can lead to name-calling. And what if it takes place in your presence? Do parents have an obligation to step in and say something?

Absolutely, says Judy Freedman, the Glenview, Ill.-based author of “Easing the Teasing” (McGraw-Hill, $15.95).

“Parents need to talk to their kids about right versus wrong,” she says. “They see so much teasing on TV – sitcoms, cartoons, late-night TV – it has blurred the line between being respectful and disrespectful. There’s a real model of meanness in media.”

But name-calling is a tricky behavior to address. Say you hear your son say that another kid is “so gay.” A well-meaning parent can easily get tripped up in a long-winded reprimand/explanation that channels “Seinfeld” (“not that there’s anything wrong with that”) and confuses the heck out of your kid.

Freedman suggests using the opportunity to ask your child some questions.

“Is that a put-down?” she offers. “How do you think he would feel if he heard you say that? Tell me about his annoying behaviors.”

And offer some answers of your own.

“Explain what gay is,” Freedman says. “So many kids who are gay are terribly victimized. Depending on the social maturity of the child, you can explain that.”

The names themselves, after all, aren’t always the hurtful part. It’s the intent behind them that matters. “Shorty,” for example, may be technically accurate. But that doesn’t mean it’s fun to hear. And that’s the distinction kids need to hear, Freedman says.

If your child is on the receiving end of name-calling, Freedman has some tips for minimizing the fallout (all of which are listed on her Web site at www.easingtheteasing.com.

“One strategy is just to agree,” she says. “You’re right, I am short.” Or, “I do have a lot of freckles.” If somebody calls you “four eyes,” say, “I appreciate you noticing my glasses.”

“Teasers are looking for a reaction,” Freedman says. If their target reacts with anger or tears, the bully gets what he or she wants and the teasing will escalate. “Kids can’t control the words or actions of a teaser, but they can control their own reactions,” Freedman affirms.

Another approach is to offer the teaser a compliment.

“A kid might be teased for being a slow runner,” Freedman says. “He could learn to say, ‘I know. I wish I could run as fast as you can. You’re a really great runner!”‘

If this all sounds a little unnatural, don’t fret. Freedman swears that kids – especially younger ones – are very receptive to these approaches. “But you have to train them,” she says. “Practice, rehearse, reverse the roles.”

A lot of kids, after all, are looking for ways to reverse the seemingly endless cycle of name-calling and teasing.


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