My son has a cleft lip, and other kids have been making fun of him. How can I help him handle the teasing?

Most kids experience teasing at some point and it can be very difficult for them to handle. Kids with a cleft lip or other physical differences can be easy targets because the differences are so visible.

But you can help your son by encouraging him to express how he feels, showing him that you understand, and talking through some strategies for dealing with it. For example, teach him to be assertive (but not aggressive) and to use a proud voice to tell the child who is making fun of him to stop.

Other strategies might include ignoring or walking away, finding a “safe” person or a friend to be near, or telling a teacher or another adult. Some kids like to think of short phrases or jokes to say in response to teasing, but remind your son not to tease back, fight, or say something hurtful in return, which can only make the situation worse.

You also can help him become more resilient by offering your support, and encouraging activities and friendships that develop his strengths. Get him involved with organized activities — like music or sports — that he enjoys and where he can thrive.

Many schools now have programs to deal with bullying and promote positive relationships between kids, so you may want to talk with school personnel, such as a teacher, guidance counselor, or principal, about it. For instance, if teasing tends to occur in specific settings (like at the bus stop or during recess), work with school personnel to develop solutions.

If you’re concerned about ongoing issues or if you notice sudden changes that concern you (like your son doesn’t want to go to school, seems sad, or seems to have a hard time separating from you or family members), talk with a counselor or mental health professional for additional support.

Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD