HomeHealth & BehaviorBullying

Ask the Experts

How do I stop my child from teasing other kids?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


How do I stop my third-grade son from teasing and bothering others at the bus stop?


Good for you for taking this seriously! Too often adults view such behavior as normal childhood play and minimize the affect it has on everyone.

Literature on teasing makes a distinction between friendly teasing and bullying. Friendly teasing is typically described as playful exchanges between equal and willing participants, while bullying involves an imbalance of power. Targets of bullying find such interactions — which can quickly escalate to physical altercations — intrusive, degrading, and intimidating.

In order to help your child find less antagonistic ways to relate to others, it's important that you determine what he's trying to accomplish through his behavior. Does he feel left out? Powerless? Is teasing a communication style he learned from family members, friends, or neighbors? Does he have developmental challenges that make it difficult for him to read social cues or comprehend the impact of his actions? Once you understand the underlying cause, you can empathize with him and help him learn new behaviors.

Empathy doesn't mean that you are condoning his teasing — it means that, through your own reaction, you can demonstrate appropriate behavior. Teach your son social skills through role-playing and problem-solving activities, and limit his exposure to TV shows and other media that portray teasing as an acceptable form of communication. Or watch those programs together and discuss what you see.

If the teasing occurs only at the bus stop, it may be that your son realizes there is no adult supervision. You may want to alert the bus driver and ask school staff to provide more supervision. School-wide behavioral plans and programs can help all students improve their social skills. For resources, check out the Educational Equity Center and National Crime Prevention Council.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.