Negative labels

Name-calling is never an acceptable choice.

EVERY child is different. We want our children to grow up in a world where differences are accepted. If life were so simple, our children would be able to live without prejudice or discrimination.

The mother of a 12-year-old related the painful experience her only child had to endure throughout her primary school years. She had always been a timid girl. Every year there would be one classmate who would pick on her and call her names like “Fatty” or “Giant”. Her daughter was constantly teased because she was quieter than the rest. She was not much bigger than her peers; they just liked to tease her and laugh about it.

Teasing is a form of bullying. During their primary school years, children go into name-calling as part of group fun. Usually a bunch of children will gang up to taunt a particular child and call him or her names.

Many adults regard name-calling as harmless or child’s play. If their child is picked on, they would say to their child: “Scold them back. You can show them you are not afraid of them.” Or they would react violently and make their child wary of telling them anything.

One college student in her twenties told me that her school friends used to tease her endlessly. When she complained to her parents, her father did not believe her and told her that she was probably over-reacting. Her mother did not respond to her.

Children and teenagers must be taught and reminded that name-calling is unfair. A child who resorts to name-calling knows it gives him power over his target. He knows instinctively that it hurts and causes pain to others.

One primary school-age boy was constantly called names in school. Sometimes he got pushed around. When he complained to his teacher, he was ignored. His mother approached the PTA chairman and got a lackadaisical response from him.

Studies have found that teachers often fail to respond to name-calling or teasing in school. Many children suffer silently without any help. Negative labels can make children feel defeated, helpless and unattractive.

One 13-year-old student went on a diet because her school friends call her “fat girl”. Many adults admit the pain caused by teasing remains with them for life.

Whether your child is being teased or the one who does the teasing, parents must make it clear that name-calling is disrespectful and cannot be tolerated. They must be role models who never use negative labels like “stupid”, “lazy”, “naughty” or “hopeless” on their offspring. Children need to know that they can express their negative feelings by saying it straight out.

If your child is being teased in school, listen to her attentively. It is helpful for her to be able to talk to someone who listens. Most parents get very upset when they find out that their children are being picked on in school. They want to step in and stop the teasing.

Consider how you can help your child to build communication skills to deal with the teasing. It has been found that most children who are being teased tend to be passive and quiet.

Teach your child to say: “I don’t like it when you call me names.” Remind your child that she can walk away from the teasing without feeling guilty or fearful.

If your child’s physical safety is at stake, inform the school authorities without delay. It is never a small problem when your child’s safety is threatened. Teasing may seem trivial compared to physical bullying, but it is still painful for the child.

If your child is teasing her classmate, stop her immediately. Tell her that name-calling is unfair and disrespectful. Help your child discover her feelings when she is doing name-calling. Remind her that the name-calling not only hurts her friend but it can also make her feel bad as a person.

Your child needs to learn ways to build positive feelings about herself without having to make others feel bad. Examine your relationship with your child. Can you help her to use better words to communicate her feelings? To stop your child from name-calling, provide a home environment that is free from negative labelling.