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Children are small in a world full of much bigger people, and young children frequently feel disrespected by adults and seen as less than fully human. They often deal with these feelings by teasing and putting each other down; in doing so, they're showing someone a little smaller or a little younger how they've been treated themselves.
When your child expresses concern, first and foremost listen, without going off into your own issues and reactions. You can ask, "What do people say? What does that feel like? How do you feel when you see people putting each other down?" Let your child express her emotions, by talking or by crying or getting mad.
But don't stop there. Talk to the teacher or a school administrator and make sure the school has a policy against children's disrespecting each other. If it doesn't, help create one. The policy should state that teachers and parents will step in when a child is saying something mean. The general approach should be: "I know you wouldn't say anything this hurtful unless something was bothering you or something like this had happened to you. What's going on?"" If you can keep the perspective that children don't do mean things unless they've experienced something mean or scary or hurtful themselves, then children will feel understood when they're the ones doing the putting down.
If you have a little extra time and energy, you can also volunteer to take small groups of children out of the classroom for a bit to talk about teasing and put-downs. Ask them what it feels like when it happens to them, what it feels like to do it, and what the one thing is that they wish no one would ever say to them again. If the group is small enough (two to three), the children will feel they can talk with one another, and you can help them with their negative feelings. Share your ideas with the teacher, and get her input.
Tell your child that when someone is acting mean, he's feeling bad inside. Say that it's not about the child who's being put down, and that the child who's being mean needs help, and that she can ask an adult for help. The main thing adults need to remember is that no child really wants to be mean and hurtful to another. It's a sign that the child is feeling bad. Punishment will only make him feel worse, and more prone to act out toward another child when the adults are out of earshot.
If things have escalated to the point where a child is saying really nasty, mean-spirited, oppressive things, it's time to step in. An adult should separate the children, firmly tell the name caller that she wants to know what's making the child act badly, and make it clear that she will not allow the name caller to continue to hurt another person. It's important for children to know that parents and adults at school will help them. They need to know that the ones being targeted will be protected and that the ones doing the targeting will get help. If your child tells you about name calling and put-downs at school, talk with other parents and with the teachers to figure out a way everyone can work together to solve the problem.