Teasing: Control vs. Connection

Teasing is a perennial issue for children of all ages, but probably peaks in 5th, 6th, and 7th grade, at least in terms of intensity of reactions.  It can be a hard thing for a parent to hear about after school each day.

We read “Mom, They’re Teasing Me” by Michael Thompson in our parent book club last week and although I’ve read it many times, I was struck by a core truth in the book this time around.  We are all trying to balance two core needs — control and connection — in our relationships, and most interactions between kids come down to that tension.

This is not a negative “I want to rule the world” control, but rather a “I need to have some power and autonomy in my life.”  That need for empowerment does not usually encourage meaningful connection with others, and so the two are often at odds and kids have to make many decisions each day about what control to give up in order to foster connection, and what connection to give up to gain some control.

Of course, it gets very complicated because children are not born knowing how to proactively and appropriately build connection and negative connection (often articulated as attention) is better than no connection at all.  Teasing is a safe negative connection in the sense that if it doesn’t work, you can hide behind the negativity.

For the most part, kids have to figure it out on their own, but we can help them understand their motives tremendously by processing the conversations with them, asking them for others’ perspectives on the teasing, helping them own their own role in interactions, and sending them the message that you know they can do hard things, thus building up their confidence.

Of course, if you or your child ever feel overwhelmed by any negative emotions, never hesitate to enlist my help, or your child’s teachers.  Navigating social relationships will be one of the most important skills we can develop and it is well worth all of our time to nurture those skills.

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