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Teaching Children How Words Have the Power to Hurt

Teaching children how words have the power to hurt-01

With the toughest (and most controversial) anti-bullying law going into effect in New Jersey yesterday, what better time is there to discuss teasing and bullying with the children in your home or classroom? The activities from The Anti-Bullying and Teasing Handbook and Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure offer strategies for handling difficult topics such as how words can affect others, how it feels to be included or excluded, and the importance of kindness and accepting differences in others.

Below is an activity from The Anti-Bullying and Teasing Handbook that teaches children how everyday words can be used to hurt others and the effect that hurtful words have on everyone.



  • Circle time or meeting time


Time for this activity

  • 15 minutes




What to do

1. Begin by asking the question, “Do you ever think that words can hurt us?” Say, “Let’s think about it.” Give children a chance to talk about how words can be hurtful. Explain to children that sometimes it is not the word itself, but the way it is used that makes them hurtful. Use the word shrimp as an example. Ask, “Does anyone know what a shrimp is?” Children may or may not know that a shrimp is small sea creature. Show them a picture of a shrimp. Then say, “Let’s watch the puppets to see how shrimp can become a hurtful word.”

Puppet 1: “You’re too little to be in this class. You’re a shrimp.”

Puppet 2: “I’m not a shrimp. I’m a person.”

Puppet 1: “You’re a shrimp. Your name is ‘Shrimpy.' Ha, ha.”

Puppet 2: “I don’t want to be a shrimp. A shrimp is a little fish. I’m a boy.”

Show the puppet “Shrimpy,” hanging its head and looking sad.

2. Talk about the puppet story with the children. How did being called “shrimp,” make the puppet feel? Was “shrimp” a hurtful word? Say, “Let’s think about another word.” Ask, “Does anyone know what a rat is?” Children will probably be able to describe a rat. If not, you can describe its physical characteristics or show a picture. “Let’s watch the puppets to see how rat can become a hurtful word.”

Puppet 1: “Give me that truck. I need it for my building.”

Puppet 2: “I had it first, and I need it for my game. I’ll give you a turn later.”

Puppet 1: “I want it right now. Give it to me.”

Puppet 2: “No, I won’t. It’s my turn.”

Puppet 1: “You’re a rat. Ratty, rat, rat.”

Puppet 2: “I’m not a rat. I was trying to be fair.”

Show the puppet, “Rat,” walking away and looking sad.

3. Talk about the puppet story with the children. How did being called “rat,” make the puppet feel? Was rat a hurtful word?

4. Summarize the discussion. “We really need to think about not using words in a way that can hurt another person’s feelings. Think about how we might feel if someone called us an animal name just to make us feel bad.”

5. Close by saying that animals are fine creatures in nature, but calling people by animal names hurts their feelings.


For more activities on teaching children how name-calling hurts others and how children can recognize feelings in themselves and others, check out some of the take-home activities from the book, Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure

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