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Teasing of children

tease; teasing; bullying;

Teasing is a common way that people interact with each other, and often it is enjoyable, but sometimes children are embarrassed and hurt when they are teased.


‘Only teasing’, ‘pulling your leg’, ‘it’s just fun, ‘winding you up’ are what adults may say when challenged about what they are saying to children and to other adultsabout how they look or what they are doing. 

But teasing is only fun when the person doing the teasing and the person being teased are both enjoying the experience – which may happen often when people know each other really well, and they can choose to say things that they know the other person will be comfortable with.

But sometimes the person being teased is not enjoying the experience. In fact he or she may be very upset about what others may think of as a harmless bit of fun.

Sometimes people do not realise how distressed a child is, particularly if the child does not know them well, does not know how to stop the teasing, or has learnt not to ‘talk back’ to adults.

Teasing is a form of bullying when someone’s feelings are not being taken into consideration, when it continues after the person being teased has asked for it to stop or when you know that what is being said is upsetting the other person.

What is teasing? 

There are three main types of teasing.

  • Teasing when everyone feels good, like between family and friends when you are all just having fun together and everyone is aware of the feelings of the others.
  • Teasing done by people who do not know what the effect on the person is, perhaps because they do not think what they are saying is distressing the person. They may think that they are being funny, but the other person is feeling embarrassed or insulted. They may think that even when a child blushes or squirms at what is being said that this is still harmless fun,
  • Teasing which is intended to make someone feel bad - like name calling, put downs, frightening/bullying/ threatening behaviour.

When adults tease children

Sometimes adults forget that young children may not understand the kind of teasing that goes on between adults. They don’t know the background or why the adults are comfortable with the teasing, and often they don’t quite understand the full meanings of the language used.

Adults may use teasing as a way to encourage kids to try something new or try harder. And this may work when they know each other well and the adult is attentive to how the child is reacting.

But teasing from adults can have the opposite effect to that intended by the adult. Teasing children about their appearance, weight, intelligence, behaviour, abilities, or using derogatory nicknames can be hurtful and harmful.

If the child looks uncertain, unhappy or angry, then he or she does not understand the teasing or feels that the teasing is a putdown. They may think you are rude or you don’t like him.

When adults tease other adults 

When adults tease each other when children are around, this can also be upsetting to the children, who may see this as fighting or arguing and they can feel afraid.

They may think that the adults are being rude to each other and resent what is being said to someone they love, or feel that the adult should be unhappy because the other adult is putting them down.

How to help if your child is being teased

Most kids will have some experience of being teased by other kids, and by adults and some will be distressed by it.

If you see that your child is distressed by teasing by an adult you could:

  • Firmly ask the person who is teasing your child to stop – saying perhaps that the words are unkind. Your child may be embarrassed that you have intervened, so it is important to be polite initially, then more assertive if the adult persists in causing your child distress.
  • Let your child know, at a suitable time, that you know that the teasing is upsetting her. You could let her know that the adult is not aware of the effect, but that you know that the teasing is unkind. Listen to what she has to say and ask about her feelings.
  • Plan with her how to manage the teasing if it continues. Perhaps you could promise to stop the teasing, or talk about it afterwards if it is difficult to avoid the teasing.

Sometimes children will not tell you directly that they are being teased, but you may notice that your child is unhappy. 

Teasing which leads to your child feeling unhappy is bullying. Perhaps you could look at our topic on bullying to get some ideas for how you could support your child.

You can help your child by encouraging her to tell you if she is being teased. Talk together about what she could do if she is teased again.

This may include:

  • Using a loud firm voice to tell the person who is teasing/making fun of her to stop. [You may want to practise by acting this out with her.]
  • Ignoring the person and walking away.
  • Telling you, a teacher or another adult.

Ask your child what she has learnt to do about teasing at school. Talk about how this is a form of bullying and talk through what she has learnt about ways to deal with bullies.

Read the topic Being teased on our Kid’s health site and talk about it together. Maybe some of the ideas will help your child.   

If the teasing happens often at or after school, arrange to talk with your child’s teacher or school counsellor. All schools have an anti -bullying program with clear steps to follow. Ask for a copy and ask how they implement the program.

What if your child is doing the teasing?

Hearing that your child is in trouble for teasing or being unkind to another child can be upsetting for you, but you should take this seriously and let your child know that this behaviour is not acceptable and that it is a form of bullying.

Don’t jump in quickly to defend your child. The teachers or other parents will only let you know when they are sure that this is happening, often when they have witnessed it themselves.

If you are not sure what to do then reading these topics on our Kids site may be helpful. You could get your child to sit with you when you look at them, or ask your child to read them.

Being a by-stander to teasing

When teasing upsets someone, others can feel uncomfortable. But that doesn’t stop some people joining in.

Maybe some kids join in to protect themselves from being the victim.

Are you a bystander to bullying? may be a topic to check. See if you can discuss this with your child, or ask your child to read it.

More topics on our Kid’s Health website for children to read

There are several more topics on the Kid’s Health site that you could read with your child. Many children contributed to writing these topics.


Kids Helpline for children and teens in Australia - telephone 1800 55 1800:

The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner has some good information and tips on 'digital harassment'. 

Bullying No Way! 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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