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Teasing and bullying: the difference


Teasing occurs when you playfully poke fun at each other and neither party feels hurt. Everyone may have a good laugh and it is all in fun. Most importantly, playful teasing is not directed at someone’s difference, such as religion, ethnicity, speech or appearance.


Bullying is intentional. This means that the bully intends to hurt the other person. Bullying also involves an imbalance of power, like an older child bullying a younger one. Bullying is also an aggressive and negative behaviour. Bullying can happen over and over.

Bullying takes many different forms:

  • Taunting, calling someone names
  • Threats or intimidation
  • Social exclusion
  • Insults based on race
  • Gossip
  • Graffiti
  • Coercion, which is forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do
  • Stealing what the other person has
  • Physical assault, such as hitting
  • Cyber-bullying

Bullying can have long-term effects such as low self-esteem, avoiding school and anxiety/depression.


Taunting occurs when a person makes fun of someone else with the intention of hurting their feelings. Sometimes taunting can be confused with teasing, but it is not the same.

A taunter looks for a negative reaction, such as turning red, looking sad, teary, embarrassed or scared. Taunting can come in many forms.

For example, if someone asks, “Why do you talk like that?" or "Why do you look like that?” over and over, even if they get an answer, you should begin to suspect this has moved from mere curiosity to taunting. Another example may be calling a child with a craniofacial difference “flat face.”


Children with facial differences sometimes find that they experience frequent and intense (hard) staring. This is a form of taunting. For example, each time a student looks up in class, the taunter or bully is staring at them.

Social Exclusion

Another common type of bullying is social exclusion. This means not letting someone play or join the group. For instance, one child might tell a child with a speech difference, “Anyone who doesn’t talk through their nose can be in my club.”


With technology becoming easily available, cyber-bullying can take place by email, text messaging or in chat rooms. For example, posting a student’s picture on a website with a negative comment is a form of bullying. This type of bullying can often cause great fear and anxiety. This type of bullying might also be a serious threat.

It’s important for parents to monitor and closely watch what their children are looking at online and to teach them to use the Internet safely.

Sometimes when a child with a facial difference is bullied it is not clear that the bullying is related to their facial difference. Bullies might focus on other things, such as the child being shy, less popular, isolated or even not wearing trendy clothes.

Warning signs

There are a number of warning signs that may suggest that taunting or bullying is going on. The most important sign is a recent change in behaviour and habits, overall appearance or social life.

  • Change in friendships and social activities
  • Drop in grades
  • Change in mood (moody, irritable, teary, sad, clingy)
  • Change in appearance (ripped, torn or missing clothing, unexplained bruises)
  • Physical complaints (stomach aches, headaches)
  • Change in sleeping and eating patterns

Some of these signs are also seen in anxiety and depression and may not be related to bullying. Talk to your child about these changes to find out what they might mean. It is often wise to seek the support of a family doctor or mental health professional as well.

Coping with bullying

No one should cope with bullying alone.

A helpful strategy is learning to tell your story. Telling your story can be a helpful way to manage people’s curiosity at first. For example, you are out in a public place and a stranger is staring at your child. If you feel comfortable you can say, “You look like you are wondering about Jimmy. He has Treacher Collins Syndrome. Would you like to know what that is?” Or have your child explain it themselves if they feel comfortable.

You may not always need to tell your story. Think about the relationship you have with this person. If the person staring or asking questions is someone you know and will see a lot, it may be helpful to take the time to educate that person. On the other hand, you might not want to tell your story to someone you will not see often.

Another helpful strategy is learning to respond to people’s questions. Practise responses to questions.

People might ask:

  • How did you get your scar?
  • Why do you talk like that?
  • Why does your ear look like that?

What parents can do

  • Remain calm and supportive. Listen carefully to your child and gather as much information as possible.
  • Reassure them: “You were brave to tell me. It is not your fault. We will work together.” Stress your child’s strengths and make sure they know how unique and special they are to their friends and family.
  • Contact the school principal or guidance counsellor and share the facts. Be sure to talk regularly with school staff about the situation. If the situation is not addressed and a plan is not put in place, consider contacting the school board superintendent.
  • Tell your child to get immediate help from a trusted adult if they feel at all threatened.
  • Even a suspicion of bullying should be investigated.
  • Trust your child. Remember even adults can be bullies.
  • Help your child improve his/her social skills by using role-playing and learning “one liners” that they can say. For example, “I would prefer it if you would not stare at me.” This will help to build confidence. To help show confidence, it is very important for your child to have eye contact and stand up straight.
  • Provide social opportunities, such as group play, to develop skills and strengths in favourite activities to build self-esteem.
  • Teach your child how to respond to uncomfortable or negative situations.

What not to do

  • Do not contact the bully or the bully’s family. If it needs to be done, it should be done by the school. If the bullying takes place outside of school property, you can contact the police or a health professional.
  • Do not encourage your child to fight back.

What a child can do

  • Learn as much as you can about your facial difference so that you can explain it with confidence if people ask or stare. If you are not comfortable explaining it, practise by role playing or memorizing what to say. Parents and friends may be good people to help you with this.
  • During the bullying, take a deep breath and think:
    • What are the steps I can take to deal with this?
    • What are my choices?
    • Am I safe here or do I need to get help?
  • Talk to other children with facial differences.
  • Talk about what is happening. Talk to friends, parents, school staff, teachers and/or guidance counsellors.
  • Stay in a group as much a possible. Use bystanders – your friends, siblings and peers for support.
  • Be calm and confident. The bully is looking for an emotional response (such as anger, fear, frustration or sadness). These responses will encourage the bully to continue.
  • Tell someone. Don’t be fooled into thinking you will be a tattler. Tattling is done to get someone in trouble. Telling is done to tell about actions that are unsafe or are meant to hurt another person.
  • Don’t give up. If the trusted adult doesn’t act, find someone else who will.
  • Bullying should never be ignored. Don’t let fear prevent you from reporting it. Always report bullying.
  • Call the Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) or the police.

Role playing

Role play to learn how to respond to a bully. Role playing is very important for children with communication difficulties. It’s always good to practice with a parent, brother or sister. Use the answer that is most comfortable for you.

For example, when the bully says: “You talk funny.”

You can say:

  • “I was born with a cleft palate and it’s hard for me to make certain sounds.”
  • “I know, you should have heard me last year.”
  • “Yes, I’m working with a speech-language pathologist to help me.”
  • “If you really want to sound like me I can give you lessons.”
  • “So?” or “Yes, and I’m good at it.”

It is also important to make sure good eye contact and body language (such as standing up straight) are used to make these responses stronger.

Special Circumstances

Speech and language are important skills for social interaction. If there are difficulties with communication skills, such as the production of speech sounds, speech that sounds nasal, understanding and expressing ideas, facing the bully becomes more challenging because speech and language skills are needed to solve the problem.

Role-playing can also help in these circumstances. If someone is having difficulty understanding your child’s speech, you can say:

“If you are having trouble understanding (name of your child)...”

  • “He can repeat it for you.”
  • “He can say it in a different way”
  • “We can explain it together.”

Teasing and bullying resources


The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Teasing
Stan & Jan Berenstain
Random House Books for Young Readers, 1995
ISBN: 0679877061

Kevin Henkes
Harper Collins Canada, 1996
ISBN: 0688147321

Why am I Different?
Norma Simon
1st edition, Albert Whitman & Company, 1993
ISBN: 0807590762

Rosey…the Imperfect Angel
Sandra Lee Peckinpah
Dasan Productions, 1993
ISBN: 096278060X

School age

Stop Picking on Me
Pat Thomas and Lesley Harker
1st edition, Barron’s Educational Series, 2000
ISBN: 0764114611

My Secret Bully
Trudy Ludwig
Ten Speed, 2005
ISBN: 1582461597

Cat’s got your Tongue: A Story for Children Afraid to Speak
Charles E. Schaefer
1st edition, Magination Press, 1992
ISBN: 0945354460


Queen Bees and Wannabees
Rosalind Wiseman Paperback
1st edition, Three Rivers Press, 2003
ISBN: 1400047927

Odd Girl Speaks Out
Rachel Simmons
1st edition, Harcourt Inc., 2004
ISBN: 0156028158

Odd Girl Out
Rachel Simmons
Harcourt Trade Publishers, 2003
ISBN: 0156027348

The Misfits
James Howe
Simon and Shuster, 2003
ISBN: 0689839553


The Bully, the Bullied, the Bystander
Barbara Coloroso
1st edition, Harper Collins Canada, 2003
ISBN: 0006394205

Bullying at School
Dan Olweus
1st edition, Blackwell Publishing, 1994
ISBN: 0631192417

Children with a Facial Difference
Hope Charkins
Monarch Books, 1996
ISBN: 0933149611

Easing the Teasing
Judy S. Freedman
1st edition, McGraw-Hill, 2002
ISBN: 0071381759


Nickel Takes on Teasing (social skills software)

Community Support Organizations

About Face International

Changing Faces

Wide Smiles - cleft lip and palate resource

Additional websites

Advice for teens (United Kingdom)

Specific information about cyber-bullying for parents and teens (Canada)

Anti-bullying programs for schools, information for administrators, teachers and parents (U.S.A.)

Bullying is part of this site and children can call or post online questions

Information for both children and adults (Canada)

Information for parents, social workers, teachers, students (U.S.A.)

Information for parents and children (Canada)

Information for parents and children (Canada)

Developed and maintained by youth (Canada)

Information for parents and youth

Good book lists for adults and children and good activity book for children (printable)

Free electronic version of the book to download, electronic quiz about the book, other information about the children book “The Bully”

The Teasing and Bullying Guidebook was developed by Holland Bloorview and the Hospital for Sick Children for children with facial differences and their families.