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Teasing: The stress

I came home from my second job tonight to learn that my eight-year-old daughter has been keeping something from us.

She’s getting teased.

Thankfully it only started yesterday. But that’s two days now she’s had to endure it. I feel bad for the kid–kind of. Because tonight, after some discussion and role-playing, I think we gave her some tools that should help.

Now I kind of feel sorry for those who are going to tease her.

And actually I’m thankful this happened because the whole experience could really set a firm cornerstone in her personal development.

Here’s the story. A couple of days ago, Emma told a friend that she liked a boy. Now, obviously, I wasn’t there so I didn’t hear the context, but from what I know of “the boy,”— heck, I like him too.

He’s even been over to our house a couple of times. He’s nice, he’s funny, he’s polite and he’s fun. He might even be a little cute. Bottom line: he’s a good kid, and I’m glad that he and Emma are friends.

Anyway, so now kids are making kissy faces, singing “Emma loves J_____”, drawing hearts on her back with their fingers and whispering his name in her ear.

This morning, in the silence following the pledge of allegiance, some boy shouts out, “EMMA LOVES J_____!” for the whole elementary school to hear. ‘Course, it’s all over after that. Kids are joking and whispering in the halls. Poking fun at the boy. The way Emma tells it, now everybody, 1-4 is totally whipped up.

And Emma’s completely humiliated.

Apparently it got so bad that Emma’s teacher had to lecture the class about the how inappropriate all this is.

Understandably, Emma hasn’t had a great last two days.

Then tonight—we had to put our dog to sleep.

Teasing: the shame

And to top it all off she’s had trouble telling us about the teasing. I think she even started doubting herself and her feelings. Were they bad feelings? Did she do or think something wrong?

In the past, as parents, we’ve joked around the topic of “boys.” Nothing big (in my mind), but apparently big enough for Emma to cause her to hesitate.

Not good.

Talk about a kid under stress.

Teasing: getting to the truth

After she let it all out to her mom, Lisa did a smart thing. In order to get a clear picture, she asked Emma (as non-threateningly, non-judgmentally as she could) about her feelings. Did she want to hold hands? Kiss?

The answer?

“No. I just like him. You know—he’s funny.”

(WHEW! Right all you dads? You know what I’m talking about.)

Teasing: the answer (at least in this case)

Great, fine—so now about this teasing. They turned to me.

“Dad,” they asked. “What can Emma do or say to make the other kids stop teasing?”

To be honest, nothing really great came to mind. I had to think for a good while. Because really, I don’t think I’ve ever thought too much about an effective countermeasure. You can try to ignore it and hope it blows over. You could tell them to “shut-up” or “grow-up” but let’s be honest—shyah . . .like that’s gonna work!

Children are, well—childish. They’re going to keep on as long as it’s interesting and fun. So I started thinking—what was so fun about it?

Well, it’s about something mysterious: “Young Love.” Something they really have no idea about but want to appear to have the upper hand in. And then it hit me. Emma had to face it head on—without the shame, or guilt or fear that is assumed to be there.

“Emma,” I said. “These kids are teasing you because they don’t know something, and that ‘something’ is a little bit scary to them. But one of the coolest things in the world is a kid (especially a young girl) with unshakable confidence. So what if you just tell them that ‘Yes, you like J___ . So what?’ What would happen?”

“Well, I did say ‘So . . .’ once to a boy that was teasing me.” She said with the hint of a smile.

. . .teasers are like dogs that chase you because you’re running.

“What happened.”

“He just stopped. He didn’t know what to say.”

“That’s right,” I said, “because teasers are like dogs that chase you because you’re running. Or better yet, like a dog that barks but backs up at while he’s doing it.”

Then Lisa came up with the best comeback yet.

“Next time a boy says, ‘Emma Loves J____,’ look him square in the face and say, ‘That’s right. I love a lot of people. And you’d better watch out because you might be next.’”

I wish you could have seen the smile spread across her face. I wish you could have heard her giggling. I hope someday you can feel the relief and joy I felt when Emma said to me, as she was brushing her teeth, “I wish I would have told you guys sooner.”