I work with a lot of adolescents who have trouble appropriately handling anger. When I ask them what they think they are supposed to do when someone upsets them, the number one answer is “ignore them.” I also hear adults telling the kids this all the time. How unrealistic is this?! If someone calls you a curse word, are you really able to ignore it? Maybe once or twice but what about five times? Probably not. And it wouldn’t be appropriate to ignore it if this continues to occur. We don’t want our kids to be verbally assaulted by peers regularly and do nothing. We want them to learn how to calm down and then assert themselves appropriately. Check out my previous blog on coping with anger.
So what should we as the adults say when an adolescent tells us that someone is calling them a name or talking about them. First, ask him if he needs a few minutes to calm down. This can be as simple as going to a different part of the room and taking some deep breaths. If the child is very upset, he may need to go to a different room or talk it out with someone. Then, once he is calmer, review how he can ask the peer to stop. Examples are “Don’t talk to me that way, it’s rude” or “It is not okay to speak to me that way” or even “I will have to report your behavior if it does not stop.” This can stop some peers from continuing their behaviors. For other kids, though, they will continue to be inappropriate. In those cases, you as the adult need to intervene. You need to talk to the peer that is acting inappropriately and at times give a consequence. The harassed kid needs to see he is supported.
A thought to end on. If a coworker called you a “B-” daily, I hope you would say something and if it continues I hope you would seek management support. We need to help our kids in the same way.
Stefanie F. Pisarkiewicz, LPC
Experience and information from a counselor and mother- sharing her two cents on children and teens.