Why You Remember What
Ever wonder why you
can recall certain things but not others, or why your recollection
of an event is so different
from a friend’s? It’s not premature aging:
Your memory’s just doing its job
reliable are your favorite memories? Here are four things you didn’t
know about the way your memory works.
Your memories are biased.
A while back, a friend of mine had to decide between a high-salary
(but not-so-interesting) job and a lower-paying position in a field
that excited her. In the end, she
accepted the latter. And now she can even remember why she wanted the other
job at all. The reason? Her mind’s been busy erasing evidence that might
cast doubt on her choice. In a study at New Jersey’s Princeton University,
people were given two options to choose between and later asked to describe
the options they’d had. Most were more likely to attribute positive things
to the choice they had made – even if those attributes actually applied
to the other choice. By selectively revising history in this way, your memory
helps you feel good about the decisions you’ve made, giving you confidence
to try new things without doubting yourself. “Trusting your decision-making
abilities is an important part of self-affirmation,” explains study co-author
Mara Mather, Ph.D.
Your mind rewrites your past
so you’ll feel good about your future.
Memories depend on your
Picture this: You’re meeting the parents of your fiance for the first
time. You’ve studied up – on their political leanings, their favorite
movies, even the habits of their beloved dog – but when you arrive, your
mind suddenly goes blank. Why? Blame stress. Anxiety interferes with the mind’s
ability to both store and retrieve facts, according to a study from Washington
University in St. Louis. In addition, you’re more likely to recall events
or facts that reflect a mood similar to your current one, says Eldar Safir,
Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Princeton. “If you’re grumpy,” Safir
says, “you’ll recall experiences related to that feeling, thus
perpetuating it.” That’s why you remember every detail of last
year’s tropical vacation when you’re relaxing on the beach – and
why it’s so hard to think of anything cheery when you’re having
a bad day at the office.
Your environment can change your mind.
The more sounds and images you associate with an event, the more convinced
you’ll be that your memory of it is accurate. In a study conducted at
the State University of New York at Stony Brook, people were shown images and
also instructed to imagine certain things, including a tool (a hammer or saw).
Many were also exposed to the sounds of a construction site. Afterwards, many
of those who’d heard the sounds recalled actually seeing the tool, although
they’d only imagined it. This kind of false memory is what psychologists
often see in people who have witnessed crimes. Someone might hear a gunshot
and see a man reach into his pocket, for example, and then later believe that
she saw a gun (even though that’s not the case). All of the other pieces
are there, so her memory tries to fill in the rest.
Memories are your key to self-discovery.
What you remember, whether major events or smaller incidents, offers meaningful
insight into your true interests and aspirations. “We all have these
ideas about who we are and what our life story is, and we’re more likely
to remember things that fit into it – and forget the things that don’t,” says
Mather. So if you’re good at recalling the minute details of what you
did in college but can’t remember important facts about what happens
at work every day, it’s time to sit up and take notice. Your memory could
be trying to tell you something.
It Really Happen That Way?
One more thing you should know about your memory: It alters events
to make you the shining star.
Here’s a personal example: I was the maid of honor at my sister’s
wedding a few years back. My sister, myself and another bridesmaid named
Patricia all have very different recollections of that event. So we asked
Nora Newcombe, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Temple University in
Philadelphia, to help us sort out the discrepancies.
The Maid of Honor (that’s me) says: “The
band my sister had hired to play didn’t show up, so they
got a deejay who was incredibly corny and played the worst music
you can imagine, including the 'Chicken Dance'. At the beginning
of the reception, he announced that I would be dancing with the
best man, who was married to Patricia. So the best man and I
walked out onto the dance floor, but before the song even started
Patricia came charging over and cut in, leaving me standing on
the dance floor all by myself. I was horrified!”
Patricia (bridesmaid #2) says: “I had
such a great time at the reception. I danced a lot – the
music was great. I loved the fun conga-line songs and the ‘Chicken
Dance,’ especially, but I remember that I had to ask the
deejay to play it. I don’t think he wanted to put it on.
My husband and I had a blast, and I even danced barefoot!”
Mary (the bride) says: “That reception
was quite interesting. When Patricia went over and cut in on
Martha, I was cracking up. She looked hilarious standing there
all by herself! The deejay was really bad – what can I
say? We were stuck with him – and I must have told him
six times NOT to play that stupid 'Chicken Dance.’ He
started it up when I was in the bathroom, so someone
must have asked him to play it.”
The psychologist says: “People star in
their own mental movies. We assign ourselves the role of protagonist,
and see the action as centering on us. In Martha’s memory
of being cut out of a dance, she’s more concerned with
what happened to her than to others; this was ‘her moment’ that
went awry. Patricia doesn’t remember cutting in on anybody,
just her own dancing – when she was the star. And Mary
recalls the scene as amusing, because she truly was the star
of the day. So that dance floor mishap was just a small part
of her experience.”
Use Your Head
You can talk yourself into the best run of
your life—or the worst. Here's how to
the power of your mind
you're a typical runner, your brain—at least the part that controls
your running—is your least developed muscle. "Runners are usually
much more aware of their physical state than their mental and emotional
states, which is like trying to run with your eyes closed, " says
Robert Burton, MD, a runner and assistant professor of psychiatry at
Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Training your brain to help
you run better
isn't difficult. It just takes a little practice. To help you, we offer
these mental strategies for solving 10 problem scenarios that many runners
Scenario #1: The alarm sounds for your early-morning run,
but the weather's nasty and your bed's so comfy.
What's your brain saying? "Go running
if you want to. I'm sleeping in."
Should you listen? That depends on your body, not your
mood. If you've been overtraining or feel achy and tired, roll over and
try again tomorrow.
But if you are just uninspired, turn off the inner voice—and the
alarm—and get moving.
"Every morning, I get the negative chatter," says Doug Bell, an advertising
executive in New York City. "All that nonstop yammering about how
much I don't want to run. I've simply learned to disregard it and head
out the door."
Sound advice: Commit to running in advance. Don't let
your morning run become a wait-and-see proposition, says Jim Spivey,
a three-time Olympian
and head track coach at the University of Chicago. "By the time you
go to bed, you already should have made a decision to run the next day,
especially if it's an early-morning run," says Spivey. If it helps,
line up a training partner and agree to call each other in the morning.
Scenario #2: You're running your weekly long one and not
enjoying yourself. Ahead is a cutoff. Take it and you're home in a few
minutes. Stick to your
route and you have five more miles to go.
What's your brain saying? "This is too much. Let's try again—maybe
Should you listen? Consider the training you've done and your current energy
level. Is this run reasonable or is it asking too much? Experience will
help here, because you'll know the difference between exhaustion and boredom.
Sound advice: Make your plans specific and you'll
be less likely to negotiate with yourself. "When I'm training for a race, I see my workouts as
building blocks," says Tricia O'Brien, a marathoner and Web site
editor in New York City. "If I don't complete a long run, I'll
just fall behind and have to catch up the next week."
Of course, there are times to be flexible. If
you decide to quit early because you didn't leave yourself enough time for
the run, for example,
make the most of the time you have left by accelerating your pace
or doing some pickups. That is, make it into a workout instead of a cop-out.
Scenario #3: You're doing your track workout and have
no desire to run any more repeats. Your only desire is to run to the
car and head home.
What's your brain saying? Between
repeats, it's whispering to you: "Let's
go grab some takeout, hit the couch and watch TV. "
Should do listen? Unless you're injured or feeling
completely exhausted, the answer is no. Track workouts are frequently
hard to psyche yourself
up for and hard to finish, says Jack Raglin, Ph.D., associate professor
of kinesiology at Indiana University. "The exertion and pain of
intervals are harder to handle than the general fatigue of a training
run or a long,
steady workout. "
Sound advice: Get creative, suggests Gary Pfitzer,
a copyeditor and runner in San Francisco. "You're no longer dragging your sluggish bag of
bones around a nameless track. Now you're in the Olympics. If you finish
this 400-meter repeat in 90 seconds, you'll win a bronze medal. A bit faster,
and you'll take home the silver or gold." Or get personal. "I
imagine racing people from work and picking them off, one by one," adds
Pfitzer. "It helps me to picture people I don't like."
Scenario #4: Your knee has been aching all week. But
you have a race coming up, so you're running anyway—and hoping
the pain will go away.
What's your brain saying? "Quit
whining, you wimp. Running is mind over matter."
Should you listen? To your knee? Yes. To that run-through-the-pain idiot
in your head? Absolutely not.
"This is a clear warning," says psychiatrist Burton. "Doctors'
offices are filled with runners who disregarded pain and were forced
out of the sport." Raglin agrees: "I've seen people who cut casts
off to keep running. These people did not stay runners for long."
Sound advice: Determine (and stick with) your long-range goals, not just
the immediate ones. Even if you've set your sights on an upcoming race,
you must pay attention to all the signs, not just the ones you want to
see. If you feel pain for two days or more in succession, stop running
for a day or two. Or three. That's probably all it will take for your pain
Scenario #5: You're in the first miles of a race and
you feel great. So great that you think, "My plan is too conservative.
I'm going for it!"
What's your brain saying? Something unintelligible (it's drunk with power).
Should you listen? Definitely not. "In races, people often get caught
up in the excitement of the early miles and want to run faster than they'd
planned, " says Raglin. "It's never a good idea to give into
that." But if you're feeling unstoppable in the closing miles
of a race, then you can pick up your pace.
Sound advice: Before changing your strategy mid-race, ask yourself if you
feel this need for speed for reasons other than talent and training. Ego,
perhaps? Too much coffee? Your love interest is watching?
"I can't tell you how many times I've gone out too fast in races," says
Anthony Cady, a footwear designer in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. "I
finally learned some tricks, such as focusing on runners around me and
guessing how long it would take to catch them at my conservative pace.
Or I'll decide on a point toward the end of the race where I'll speed
up if I'm still feeling good." Breaking up the race into these
kinds of manageable segments is a great way to control your pace (and
#6: You're ready to run—and it's getting
dark. But you're behind in your weekly mileage and you had a big
piece of cheesecake at
What's your brain saying? It's
weighing fact and fantasy. Fact: "This
is probably dangerous." Fantasy: "That doesn't matter."
Should you listen? Yes—to the fact that running
at night can be a bad idea for all sorts of reasons.
Sound advice: The decision to exercise can be complicated,
especially if you're running because you feel fat or need a jolt
of self-esteem. But
if you really need to exercise after hours, be smart: Run with a
friend or run indoors.
"When I lived in New York City, I worked crazy hours and always wanted to
run late-night," says Nichole Bernier Ahern, a freelance writer
in Boston. "It was tempting to go out and stay on big, brightly
lit streets, but I knew that those were dangerous, too. So instead,
to the gym
and run on the treadmill. The only danger there was dying of boredom."
Scenario #7: You're well into a marathon when, suddenly,
you're overcome with doubt. "I'm slowing down and now I'll never make my time," you
think. "I may not even finish!"
What's your brain saying? "Okay,
the starting-line euphoria is passed. I've cataloged our CDs and
planned our next vacation. I'm bored, and
I'm hearing a lot of complaining from our legs."
Should you listen? Unless you're injured, no. "Late in the run, it's
natural for your mind to come back to your body," says Spivey. "Realize
that it's telling you the truth: the time on your watch and the fatigue
in your legs are real. But that doesn't mean you need to dwell on
Sound advice: Take inventory of how you feel, then
turn your attention elsewhere. Look ahead and imagine cheering friends
or finish-line popscicles
and bananas. Or use meditation. "I have a mantra: 'Quiet in the head,
quiet in the hips,’" says Barbara Bourassa, a marathoner and
publishing executive in Wilmington, Mass. "I clear my mind and
focus on my stride, and it helps me tune out the negative chatter." Another strategy is to embrace the angst. Lots of runners actually
use that negative self-talk to perform better. So if you're sick
Pollyanna, tell yourself, "This is bad! I'd better get moving!" It
just might help.
Scenario #8: You've been following a running program for several months,
but recently, your progress has stalled.
What's your brain saying? "This
is hard work, so where's my reward? Running is no fun."
Should you listen? If your mind says, "Quit, " say no. But if
it says, "Change something," pay attention.
Sound advice: "Progression in training is rarely smooth and linear," says
Burton. "It's natural to want to manage your progress, but there are
many parts of the process you can't control." Which is why plateauing
is the norm. So take a longer view and remember how much you've already
Carlene Paquette, a software communications consultant in Kanata,
Ontario, Canada, beats the blahs by staying in perpetual training. "I
always have a race coming up, so I always have a schedule. I also
keep a detailed
training log so I can see every improvement."
Scenario #9: You've joined a running group, but you're intimidated by
how fast the other members train. So, somehow, you seldom make it to
What's your brain saying? "When
we leave my comfort zone, that makes me... uncomfortable. "
Should do listen? Probably not. Any change in training
partners is bound to feel a little strange. "You can't expect to stay comfortable when
you're challenging yourself," says Burton. "You need to
allow for a bit of adjustment, and that's going to be unsettling.
way to make it comfortable is to make it familiar."
Sound advice: Look for a group that will challenge
you, but don't aim too high. "If you try to take on too much, you'll get hurt or discouraged," Raglin
says. So pick the group that's right for you—and stay with it. "In
general, you'll benefit by running with people who are a bit faster than
you are," says Spivey. "The team spirit helps everyone,
both new runners and veterans. People love to cheer each other on,
benefits from everyone else's accomplishments."
Scenario #10: Your spouse (or your best friend) is
not a runner and complains that your workouts are pulling the two
apart. So you try to ignore
the comments—and then feel guilty about it.
What's your brain saying? "This
person doesn't understand my running. But I don't know if it's his
(her) problem or mine."
Should you listen? Yes. "You really need to take your partner's concerns
seriously," says Burton. "They may be signs of other problems." For
example, he says, deep-seated resentments can come out as anti-running
Sound advice: First, to make peace between your
running and your loved ones, decide if you really are short-changing
someone. "If you run
on your own time, that's fair," says Raglin. "But if you're running
during the only time you two have together, you may need to make some changes." Maybe
you can run at another time of day, or you can ask your spouse or buddy
to accompany you on a bicycle or in-line skates. "The message should
be clear that you value this person, not just your workouts," adds
Second, don't discuss the details of your running unless asked—at
least not for more than a minute or two. "Runners often like to talk
about the details of their workouts," says Raglin, "but
people who don't run don't like to hear that stuff."
You Can Do
Here are some mind tricks to keep you moving in the right direction:
Play positive. Say—out loud—how great it is to be running today.
Or imitate The Little Engine That Could: "I think I can, I think I can" has
a very nice cadence to it.
Take a journey. Let your thoughts entertain and distract you. Think of an old
song and sing it to yourself all the way through.
Challenge yourself. Pick a point up ahead and
bet yourself you'll reach it by a certain time. Then congratulate yourself—and
pick your next target.
Know when to focus. When you get tired, your mind will automatically think about
your physical state. That's when you need to put it to work to help you run (instead
of distracting or entertaining you). Concentrate on running with good form, maintaining
your pace, and finishing strong.
SELF – April
Beware the Energy Vampire
Feel like your spirit is being squashed? You could be a vampire victim
know the type: The friend who whines nonstop about her work crises.
The neighbor who never has a good thing to say. A coworker who talks
for hours without coming up for air. They're today's version of Transylvania's
most famous export, only they suck energy instead of blood.
"Energy vampires impose themselves on you and your time. They demand your
attention and therefore your energy," says Judith Orloff, MD,
a psychiatrist and author of Dr. Judith Orloff's Guide to Intuitive
it's obvious—a friend with a negative or demanding attitude
can bring your spirit down." Other times, it's less apparent:
A coworker's chatter may be upbeat and yet you feel drained. That's
because her nonstop verbiage
is holding you hostage, Dr. Orloff says. "The more she talks,
the longer she prevents you from doing the work you want to do and
stressed you become. And that drains your energy."
Next time you feel exhausted during a conversation, try walking 20 feet
away from the other person. If you perk up, you've found an energy sucker
to avoid. When you can't distance yourself physically from your vampire
(at work, say), form a mental separation between her and you. Does your
coworker gossip incessantly? Ignore her. Eventually she'll have to find
someone else's energy to drain.
Zero in on a fitness goal and give
psyche a boost
Kathleen Kastner, turning 50 this year means entering of the most physically
stage of her life — and all because of a walk.
After watching her husband and several friends prepare for and
run the Big
Marathon, she decided to complete the course herself as a walker.
She trained for several months in her hometown of Salinas, California,
and walked the
marathon, loving every minute. So much so that she worked on establishing
the official Big Sur 21-mile Power Walk, which she now directs.
Kastner, who also works as a pediatric nurse, is now getting ready
full marathon walk and her fifth stab at Big Sur.
"It's such a feeling of excitement and exhilaration to train so hard for
something, and it's such an achievement when you finish," she
says. Her next goal: to walk a marathon in less than five and a
Setting goals is nothing new to most of us. Essentially, anything
we plan to do — and then actually do — is an exercise
in goal-setting. But taking a formal approach can be highly effective
in boosting your
physical fitness, self-confidence, and overall motivation. It really
how fit you are now, or what your target is. As long as it challenges
you to go beyond your limitations, it's can do wonders.
"Goals focus your attention on the task at hand, making your efforts more
effective. And setting goals helps you define your objectives clearly," explains
Robert Weinberg, Ph.D., professor of sports psychology at Miami
University in Oxford, Ohio, and a researcher on goal-setting in
exercisers for more
than 13 years. So instead of just wishing for an abstract thing — to
be in better shape, or to be thinner, faster, or stronger — you're
stating a desire to be something specific: a distance walker, a
competitive cyclist, whatever you want.
Goals also show you in no uncertain terms what you can do, Weinberg says.
Setting a goal forces you to figure out how, in a very practical sense,
you're going to accomplish something. It also provides you with an instant
dose of stick-to-itiveness; studies show that people who set goals tend
to persevere in their efforts, even when things get rough.
And reaching a goal can make you confident in your ability to achieve
what you set out to achieve — in every aspect of your life. Just ask Brandy
Burt, 30, of Cincinnati, who ran the Dublin (Ireland) Marathon last year. "I
knew it was out of my immediate reach, but I said, 'I'm going to do it
anyway,'" she says. "Making it happen has helped me set
goals and other areas. I know now how to make plans to achieve
of just hoping that I'll eventually get them done."
But ensuring that you come out of the experience as pumped up as Burt takes
a bit of thinking and planning on the front end. Here's how to get started:
Make your goal challenging — but reasonable. Most people
have the best results with a goal that's moderately difficult,
Goals that are too easy won't provide you with any real physical
or emotional payoffs. And goals that are too hard could get you
overwhelmed that you give up.
Be specific. Define your goal for yourself
in clear terms. For example, you may want to complete a10K, while
someone else may want to run her
10K at a specific pace; both of you have the right idea. You don't
have to plan your goal down to the smallest detail. Just be sure
it so that you're not in doubt about what exactly you are trying
Do some research. Seek out information on your sport and the event you're
planning to enter, and find specific tips on training. Look to books and
magazines as well as trainers, coaches, and other people who've done at
what you're setting out to do.
Make a plan. Most experts advise a conservative
approach: Increase your output — the number of miles you walk or run, the time you spend
in the pool — steadily, and up your total no more than 10%
or 15% a week.
Think long-term as well as short-term. Research
shows that combining weekly or daily workout objectives with a
larger end goal works
better than having
just one target, says Jack Raglin, Ph.D., associate professor of
sports psychology at Indiana University. That means if you're planning
complete a 50-mile charity bike ride, you should set up a few sub-
goals — a
10-mile ride, a 20-mile ride, and so on — along the way. "If
you break up your goal into bite-size chunks, your training will be much
more effective," Raglin says.
Track your progress daily. Write down what
you did, how long it took, and how you felt. This provides valuable
your focus between your daily (or weekly) targets and your main
objective. It also gives you a mental edge on the big day. "You'll know exactly
what you did to prepare, so you can be confident of your ability to me
to your goal," Raglin says.
Be flexible. Reevaluate your goal periodically
to be sure it's still appropriate. For example, you may be zooming
along and find
a more ambitious goal
seems doable. Burt says she initially planned to walk her marathon,
jogging a few miles if she felt she could. But while training,
she found she
was running farther and farther — so she upped her goal to
a 26.2-mile run, no walking allowed. And she did it.
On the other hand, you may find that you have to downshift. Kastner
says she tried to run the Big Sur Marathon for two years in a row
thwarted both times by injuries. "It became obvious that running was out of
the question," she says. "It just wasn't meant to be.
That's when I decided to walk."
Here are some great goals to consider, no matter what your sport:
a Race for the Cure 5 K (3.1-mile) run sponsored by the Susan B. Komen breast
Cancer Foundation (800-653-5355; www. raceforthecure.com) or a10 K (six 6.2-mile)
race that's part of the Avon Running Global Women's Circuit (212-282-5350; www.avonrunning.com). Several charities sponsor runners in marathons;
in exchange for fundraising,
you get transportation to/accommodations at the race site and other valuable
support. Two programs to consider: The Leukemia Society of America's Team
in Training (800-482-8326 or www.lsa-teamintraining .org) and
The Arthritis Foundation's
Joints in Motion (800-960-7682 or www. arthritis.org). For information on
other races and events, contact the Road Runners Club of America
(703-836-0558 or www.rrca.org).
Cycling: The Leukemia Society is sponsoring
cyclists in El Tour De Tucson (Arizona),
a 100-mile "century" ride, as part of its Cycle 100 program (November
21, 1998; 800-482-8326). For smaller challenges, try a ride or race sponsored
by a local bike club. For a national listing of clubs, go to Cyber Cyclery
In-line skating: The International Inline Skating Association's Web site (www.iisa.org)
lists races and other events.
Multisport events: Danskin runs a series of short-distance women-only triathlons
across the country; for more information call 800-452-9526. Or contact USA Triathlon
through its Web site: www.usatriathlon.org).
Outdoor sports: Adventures Sports Online (www.adventuresports.com or 530-662-1889)
lists hundreds of different outdoor sporting events, such as paddling, climbing,
backpacking, and cycling.
Walking: The National Multiple Sclerosis Society sponsors a series of annual
walks (800-344-4867 or www.nmss.org). For noncompetitive 10 Ks, contact the American
Volkssport Association (800-830-9255 or www.ava.org). If you're thinking of walking a marathon, look for a race that keeps its
course open for at least seven hours. Consider the annual Marine Corps
25, 1998, in Washington, DC.; 800-786-8762) or the Big Sur International
Marathon 7-, 10-, and 21-mile walks (April 25th, 1999, in Carmel, California;
Teaching About Teasing
Sooner or later, every kid is a victim.
Here's how to help
yours handle it
Laura looks like a younger version of any magazine cover girl — tall, long-limbed, slender. But don't try telling her that.
For the last two years, Laura has been teased about being too thin. Other
children call her a "stick" and tell her she looks "weird." "She
comes home upset, telling us the kids at school are calling her names because
she's skinny," says her mother, Patricia Graves, of Fayston, Vermont.
The teasing has turned Laura from a self-assured a child into one who's
worried about how she fits in. "It's made her cry and feel bad about
herself," Graves says.
Laura's experience isn't unique: Seven- to 10-year-olds tease
each other all the time. While some teasing is good-natured and
be shrugged off or responded to with a similar wisecrack, mean-spirited
hit home. "Kids are needling each other, so they go for whatever's
available," explains Leon A. Rosenberg, Ph.D., director of the Johns
Hopkins Children's Mental Health Center, in Baltimore. "But when children
spot a kid who seems to be a little more vulnerable and who embarrasses
easily, then the teasing will focus on him and whatever seems to upset
him most, usually his physical appearance," Rosenberg says.
Theodore R. Warm, MD, a child psychiatrist in the pediatrics
department at a Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, in Cleveland,
teasing as a deliberate attempt to create tension in someone else.
When a peer
calls him stupid, the insult cuts deep because a child this age
doesn't have the intellectual maturity or self-confidence to defend
insult hurts because it seems real.
Interestingly, most kids first learn a form of teasing at home:
Games like peekaboo and "I've got your nose!" are good-natured
forms of teasing that help children through various stages of
Such benign teasing is a positive way for parents to interact
with kids. In fact, most child-development experts say that children
exposed to teasing at home may have more difficulty handling
when it occurs
at school. " Teasing is part of what's known as incidental learning," says
Edward Christopherson, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at Children's
Mercy Hospital, in Kansas City, and author of Beyond Discipline (Overland
one actually tries to teach a child to do it, but they often
learn it through our interactions with them."
most kids first learn teasing at home, through games like
peekaboo and "I've got your nose!"
Teasing is part of growing up
Trading barbs is completely normal in children ages 7 to 10, for several
reasons. At this age, kids begin to select friends based on more than just
a shared love of coloring or singing songs. Now they want to fit in and
be with kids who look or act like them. And, as isolating as it is for
the victim, teasing is very unifying for the teasers, who often band together
to make up jokes or pranks. Children also tease as a way of expressing
competitiveness. In school, kids are constantly being tested and ranked,
both in academics and in sports, and teasing is a simple form of one-upmanship.
Growing communication skills contribute to the increase in
teasing, as well. Between ages 7 and 10, a child's vocabulary
language are sharpening; he's learning to express more sophisticated
thoughts and to attach value to his observations. While a younger
child may innocently
remark that another child is overweight, a seven- or eight-year-old
has learned to add a value — in this case, a negative one — to
the idea that someone is heavy. Thus an overweight child now is labeled "Fatso."
Teasing also gives kids a pleasurable feeling of control over others or
over a situation. Teasers quickly learn that a clever taunt will produce
two things: laughter from other children and reaction from the victim.
In his research, Warm found that the vast majority of the children he studied
said that they tease their peers because it's fun.
Parents can help kids cope
It may help to view this painful rite of passage as an opportunity for
your child to learn that she can handle adversity. Try these tips to help
her through the rough spots.
Listen — and sympathize. Let
your child tell you, in her own words and at her own pace,
what happened. Then tell her that you appreciate how
she feels. Say, "That must have hurt your feelings" or "I
know it feels bad to be called names." Resist the urge to talk about
how mean the other kids are or to downplay the importance of her feelings.
When she's calm, ask your child how she handled the teasing. Ask simply, "What
did you do?" This takes the emphasis off the teaser's behavior and
encourages your child to see that she has a role — that
she's not merely a victim.
Offer encouragement, not lectures. This
is where many well-meaning parents slip up — telling the child what he should have done. Instead, bite
your tongue and keep the conversation going by asking him, "What
Fix what you can. In many cases,
kids are teased about superficial things — a
lunch box, a haircut — that parents dismiss as silly.
But that's a mistake, says Dorothea M. Ross, Ph.D., a professor
of California at San Francisco and author of Childhood Bullying
and Teasing (American
Counseling Association). "Parents shouldn't buy a child
all new clothes," she says, "but often they can modify
something to help eliminate teasing." Sometimes, she
says, spending money on more fashionable blue jeans or a
to Get Involved
Is your child getting teased too much? Ask yourself the following questions:
Is he less social?
Does he seem to have fewer friends than before?
Is the teasing affecting his schoolwork?
Have his eating or sleeping habits changed?
Has the teasing been going on for more than a few weeks?
the teasing is affecting your child's friendships, schoolwork,
and general attitude — in other words, it's becoming
really disruptive — it's time to step in.
To do so, make an appointment with your child's teacher. Discuss the experiences
she's described and develop a plan for relieving as much of the problem as
you can. Ask what's being done to punish kids who tease or bully others, and
determine if action is warranted in your case. The teacher may not realize
how upset your child is, so you should make sure she understands the depth
of the problem.
a strategy together. Talk with
your child about what she can do the next time she's teased. (For
tips on how to
in, see " When to Get Involved," left.) Just ignoring
a teaser may seem like the simplest advice, but it's very hard
to do — and
the teaser will unusually up the ante until he gets a reaction.
Instead, Ross advises parents to encourage their child to take
action without being
confrontational. For instance, your child can adopt a carefree
attitude, as if he's not bothered by the taunts, and maintain
a confident but not
threatening posture: standing up straight, arms relaxed, looking
the teaser in the eye. He might come up with the nonaggressive
response, like agreeing
with the teaser ("You're right. I am a slow runner. So
Try role-playing at home to help your child practice these
new strategies, Ross says. "The fact that the child is
standing up to them is usually enough to throw the teasers
off. And it gives
when he actually gets the teasers to back down."
Set the right example. If
you want your child to take another kid's words less seriously,
you'll have to act nonchalant yourself.
it is important, but don't make an issue of teasing. Then it's
more likely they your child won't either. "In the end," says
parent's attitude will have a big impact on how a child views