Do adults tease your child, even with good intention? Learn why you need to respond to others’ teasing and how to do so firmly yet tactfully.
You’re at a family party, and grandpa teases your child and pretends to take away his toy. He means well, as most adults do when they try to make kids laugh, but now the teasing has grown out of hand and your toddler is getting upset.
On one hand, you don’t want to be that parent everyone has to be careful about with what they say to her kids. So you laugh it off, while still dropping enough hints that it’s time to stop the teasing.
But you realize your child is getting upset and doesn’t appreciate the joke everyone seems to be laughing at. Or worse, she doesn’t even realize they’re laughing because of her.
Why you need to respond when adults tease your child
Dealing with people who tease your kids is a balancing act. You don’t want to go overboard and monitor what everyone says to your kids. Do that often enough and you might prevent others from interacting with them.
And some teasing isn’t all that terrible, especially when your child seems to be able to brush it off easily. We all tease one another in good jest, so policing even the slightest hint of a tease may be too much.
But sometimes, adults cross the line or your child feels upset, and it’s time to respond. Despite your friends and family’s protests, you may need to trust your gut and stand by your child. Why?
Your child is just a child
Kids’ version of jokes and humor don’t fall on the same level as thoes of adults. My children’s jokes usually run from corny to downright strange and not funny. So when adults pit jokes on kids—no matter how well meaning—it may not sit well at all.
After all, your child isn’t an adult or even an older child who can retort with a good comeback. She’s not used to this kind of joking, especially when it seems like she’s being made fun of. She may have a feeling a line has been crossed but doesn’t know how to defend herself.
I’ve been in situations where a friend—again, well-meaning—was teasing my son, except the joke was way over his head and didn’t even know my friend was having a laugh. In those cases, it’s still important to say, “He’s teasing you, it’s a joke” to call it off.
Adults don’t always take kids seriously
Let’s say your child does get that it’s a joke about her, and even tries to defend herself with a good-natured “Stop.” Some adults may still not take her seriously, assuming she’s in on the joke or is able to laugh it off. Other times, they simply don’t take their “no” seriously.
If you know your child has had enough and adults aren’t listening, it’s time to stand up for her on her behalf. Coming to her defense not only lets the other adult know to knock it off, it also shows your child that her words should be heard, and that her are valid.
Having you by her side validates her feelings and reassures her that her frustration is normal.
Adults shouldn’t laugh at a child’s expense
Some adults don’t mind being the subject of jokes—personally, I’m rarely one of them. So I can’t imagine why adults should laugh any more at a child’s expense when we hardly do it to one another.
It’s fine to laugh with kids about a joke, especially one they can also laugh about, but it becomes a problem when they’re the subject of one.
You can always tell one from the other by imagining how your child would feel if she found out you’re laughing at something she did or say. If she can laugh right along, then it’s a joke she can join in on. If she ends up in tears, then you know adults are laughing at her expense.
It doesn’t matter whether your child knows she’s being teased or laughed at or if she’s oblivious. Not only is being the subject of a joke a terrible place to be in, it’s worse when kids don’t even realize that they are.
What to do when adults tease your child
Dealing with adults teasing your child can get tricky. Some people may not think their jokes should be taken so seriously, while others believe their teasing is done with affection.
Some kids can stand to be the subject of jokes, while many would burst into tears if they even so much as knew others were laughing at them.
To make it even worse, some adults can feel offended if you tell them to stop teasing, and others even hold grudges against you. They might turn it around on you and say you’re making a big deal out of nothing, and relationships can feel extra tense.
There’s no clear definition on what is or isn’t appropriate, what with different personality types and relationships you may have with those around you. But if you feel like adults are teasing your child too much, try a few of these suggestions:
See if the teasing needs your attention
You may not need to stop all teasing, so base your involvement on your child’s reaction. Did she seem bothered, or is she laughing right along? If she seems to be enjoying the joke, you may not need to put a stop to the teasing, but if she she looks hurt, then it’s time to step in.
Before stepping in too quickly, watch your child’s reaction to see what your next move should be. You may not even need to step in if your child seems to enjoy the playful banter or can joke right along.
Say something lighthearted
Let’s say you realize the teasing is getting out of hand. Depending on the joke, the person saying it and how often they tease, you can start diffusing the teasing by saying something lighthearted but still to the point.
For instance, if you notice your child is getting upset, you can throw the joke back on the adult. You can also tell them to stop in a lighthearted, playful way but still with a hint of “Don’t go there.”
Let them know it’s enough, and often, just the fact that you’ve come to your child’s defense, even in a playful way, will already send that message.
Address the adult
If the teasing persists despite your lighthearted attempts to make them stop, take that person aside and let him know.
Start by empathizing and relating with the person. You might say that you know he loves your child, or that the teasing isn’t a big deal to most people. You might even say you find them funny or even accurate, but that your child doesn’t feel the same way.
In fact, you notice that she gets upset when she feels like she’s in the spotlight, from jokes to general attention.
Explain that your child may not understand the joke, or doesn’t realize it’s meant to take lightly. Even though you know it’s a joke, she may not, and feels upset about it instead.
Then follow up with suggestions on what your child does like about this person, such as when he gives her snacks or roughhouses or plays soccer with her. This reassures the adult that his relationship with your child is important and valued when expressed in other ways.
Keep this conversation in private so the adult doesn’t feel reprimanded in front of an audience. He’ll feel less defensive and will be better receptive to your ideas when he doesn’t feel attacked in front of everyone.
Your little one is still a child, one who may not “get” the kinds of jokes adults like to make. She doesn’t appreciate being the subject of one and may not have the same sass or quick thinking to retort with a good comeback.
And adults shouldn’t have a laugh at a child’s expense, especially if they don’t take her feelings seriously.
Instead, first decide whether the teasing needs your attention—you don’t want to stop all types of jokes because they might upset your child. If you need to step in, do so in a lighthearted way such as with a funny comeback to the joker yourself or a playful “Knock it off.”
And if the teasing doesn’t stop, address the adult in private by acknowledging his good intentions that may not sit well with your particular child. Highlight other ways your child enjoys his company to reassure him you value his relationship.
No one likes to see her child teased, least of all by adults who may be laughing at her expense. Be her advocate, the one who’ll step in. You’ve got years of experience with social settings, much more than your child. Step in to be her voice when she needs it the most.
Read more articles about respecting kids:
- Why You Should Definitely Intervene when Adults Overwhelm Your Kids
- How Sharing Funny Stories about Kids Can Be Hurtful
- 3 Reasons Your Child Doesn’t Have to Hug Everyone
- Kids’ Complaints Aren’t Petty… At Least to Them
- 3 Ways We Unintentionally Disrespect Our Kids
How do you respond when adults tease your child? How often do the adults in your kids’ life tease them? When do you let it be, and when do you step in?
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