by Constance Dugan, CCC/ SLP
(Editors Note: The article is taken from the International Stuttering Awareness Day On-line Conference. )
We can help kids who are being teased IF we know it is happening. But children often keep this information to themselves unless we open up the topic and keep it open.
I take a teasing inventory with school age kids at every session. Routine makes for safety and allows kids to prepare. When the form is introduced it takes only a few minutes to explain. (I read the questions to younger children.) At subsequent sessions it takes only seconds unless there is a problem with teasing. Often the child will have marked the form before even sitting down. Often, after weeks of no teasing, I have been surprised – but not caught off guard when there is something to report.
Yes / no questions are generally unproductive, so I use a scale that asks “How much?” rather than “If.” When there is no teasing, I comment favorably on the health of the child’s community. This encourages thinking of bad behavior rather than bad people and takes any blame off the victim if teasing should occur.
“Who” is straightforward.
Description of the teasing lets me find out whether the problem is name calling, mocking, pushing or something else. Knowing the details helps in planning an appropriate response.
The feelings question can be a tough one for kids to answer. Many have few skills for talking about this topic. If this is the case, we work on developing a feelings vocabulary, which can be represented with pictures for younger children or words for older ones. It is important to recognize not only different feelings but different intensities. For example, “annoyed” reflects less distress than “furious,” It’s also important to acknowledge that one can have more than one feeling at a time – for example “a little nervous and also very proud.” Leave space for additions. As kids become more skilled at verbalizing their feelings they need more possibilities.
The paired questions “How did you feel? / What did you do?” communicate the old advice: Honor your feelings but monitor your actions. Following these up by “How did you feel then?” can help kids become aware that they have some power to reduce their own suffering.
Questions about adult help are important because we want to know about the support our kids have from other adults. These questions also allow us to stress that reporting is not “tattling” and is something expected of a responsible community member. Children can also feel proud when they appropriately and successfully handle a teasing situation themselves.
I include the section on bystander teasing for a couple reasons. It can help kids recognize that others get teased, too, about lots of things – not just stuttering. It is also the case that children are hurt when they witness others being mistreated and adult help may be needed.
The last section asks about the child who stutters teasing others. Recognizing that they sometimes tease makes it less awful and reinforces the notion of bad behavior rather than bad people. If they do not tease others in a mean way, it is a positive character trait to celebrate in the interest of nourishing self-esteem.
I find it handy to slip the teasing inventory into a plastic page protector with the child’s feelings list on the other side and offer them a dry-erase marker (kids love them). If there is to be a long break from therapy, it can be sent home for parents to do.
Routinely taking inventory of teasing is an important part of my work with school-age children. I am grateful for the times it helped alert me to problems that might have otherwise lurked out of my awareness.