SELF
July 2004
"Sleep Yourself Smarter"

RUNNER'S WORLD
April 2004
"Find the Zone"

SELF
October 2003
"Excuses, Excuses"

SELF
February 2003
"Get Inspired"

SHAPE
February 2002
"How to Make Your Messages Heard"

RUNNER'S WORLD
June 2001
"It's a Woman Thing"

 RUNNER'S WORLD
July 2000
"Use Your Head"

 SELF
April 2000
"Beware the Energy Vampire"

COOKING LIGHT June 1998
"Moving Target"
 PARENTS
June 1998
"Teaching About Teasing"

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SELF
October 2000

Why You Remember What
You Remember

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

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How 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 mood.
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.

Did 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.”

 

 

RUNNER'S WORLD
July 2000

Use Your Head

You can talk yourself into the best run of your life—or the worst. Here's how to harness the power of your mind

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If 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 face.

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 next week."
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 to disappear.


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 your inner voices).

Scenario #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 lunch.
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, I'd go 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 them."
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 of playing 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 accomplished.
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 practices anymore.
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. The only 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, and everyone 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 of you 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 comments.
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 Raglin.
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 It
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 2000

Beware the Energy Vampire

Feel like your spirit is being squashed? You could be a vampire victim

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You 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 Healing. "Sometimes 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 the more 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.

 

COOKING LIGHT
June 1998


Moving Target

Zero in on a fitness goal and give your psyche a boost

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For Kathleen Kastner, turning 50 this year means entering of the most physically fit stage of her life — and all because of a walk. After watching her husband and several friends prepare for and run the Big Sur International 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 for 10th 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 half hours.

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 doesn't matter 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 things instead 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, Weinberg says. 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 hurt or leave you so 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 you've defined it so that you're not in doubt about what exactly you are trying to accomplish.
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 to 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 checkpoints, and it lets you split 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 that 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 but was 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."

Choose Your Challenge
Here are some great goals to consider, no matter what your sport:
Running: Consider 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 at www.cyclery.com.
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 Marathon (October 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; 408-65-6226 or www.bsim.org).  

 

 

PARENTS
June 1998


Teaching About Teasing

Sooner or later, every kid is a victim. Here's how to help yours handle it

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Nine-year-old 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 can be shrugged off or responded to with a similar wisecrack, mean-spirited taunts can really 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, defines 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 himself. The 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 development, Warm says.

Such benign teasing is a positive way for parents to interact with kids. In fact, most child-development experts say that children who aren't exposed to teasing at home may have more difficulty handling it 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 Press). "No one actually tries to teach a child to do it, but they often learn it through our interactions with them."

Interestingly, 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 and understanding of 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 happened then?"

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 at the University 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 new backpack is the simplest solution.

When 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?

If 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.

Develop a strategy together. Talk with your child about what she can do the next time she's teased. (For tips on how to tell if you should step 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 what?"). 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 the child a great boost 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. Acknowledge that 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 Warm, "a parent's attitude will have a big impact on how a child views teasing."

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