Why You Need to Respond when Adults Tease Your Child

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.

Adults Tease Your ChildYou’re at a family party, and grandpa teases your child and pretends to take away her 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 child is feeling some anxiety.

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 she’s 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 everyone’s behavior and what they say to them. Do that often enough and you might prevent others from even wanting to spend time 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 and she feels upset. Despite your friends and family’s protests, you may need to trust your gut and stand by her side. Why?

1. Your child is still a child

Kids’ version of jokes and humor don’t fall on the same level as those of us in adulthood. Their jokes usually run from corny to downright strange and not funny, so when adults pit jokes—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 teasing situations where a friend—again, well-meaning—was joking with 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.

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2. 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 her “no” into account.

If you know she 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 teaser know to knock it off, it also shows her that her words should be heard and are valid.

Having you by her side validates her feelings and reassures her that her frustration is normal.

3. 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 said. 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 she 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.

4. Kids can’t speak for themselves

Infants and toddlers can’t say they aren’t enjoying the hugs they’re forced to give or that they don’t want raspberries blown on their bellies. Even kids slightly older may not know it’s okay to speak up, or don’t know how to phrase their big feelings and emotions correctly.

What seems like fun to others can feel embarrassing or cause panic to your child. Some kids can feel anxious or withdrawn when they’re the center of attention. What works for one child may not work for another, and you’re the best judge of how much yours can take.

And it’s tough facing adults, so when she sees you stepping in on her behalf, she knows you’ve got her back. You’re reinforcing the trust she has placed in you.

What to do when adults tease your child

Dealing with adults teasing a 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 take offense if you tell them to stop the teasing and sarcasm. Others will even hold grudges against you at the snap of a finger. 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 personality types and relationships you have with others. But when teasing becomes too much, try a few of these tips and tricks:

1. 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 he seem bothered, or is he laughing right along? If he seems to be enjoying the joke, you may not need to put a stop to the teasing, but if he looks hurt, then it’s time to step in.

Before stepping in too quickly, watch his reaction to see what your next move should be. You may not even need to step in if he seems to enjoy the playful banter or can joke right along.

2. Say something lighthearted

Let’s say you realize the teasing is getting out of hand. Your response depends on the joke, the person saying it, and if this is a recurrent behavior. You can then diffuse the teasing by saying something lighthearted but still to the point.

For instance, if you notice your child 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.

3. Address the adult

If the teasing persists despite your lighthearted attempts to make it 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. While you find the jokes funny or even accurate, your child doesn’t feel the same way.

In fact, you notice that he gets upset when he feels like he’s in the spotlight, from jokes to general attention. Explain that he may not understand the joke, or doesn’t realize it’s meant to take lightly. Even though you know it’s a joke, he may not, and feels upset about it instead.

Then, follow up with constructive suggestions on what your child does like about this person, such as when he gives him snacks or roughhouses or plays soccer with him. 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. He 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 his 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 him. If you need to step in, do so in a lighthearted way such as with a funny comeback to the joker or a playful “knock it off.”

And if the teasing doesn’t stop, address the adult in private by acknowledging his intentions that may not sit well with your 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 his expense. Be his advocate, the one who’ll step in. You’ve got years of experience with social settings, much more than him. Step in to be his voice when he needs it the most.

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  1. Concerned nana says:

    My daughter’s boyfriend keeps teasing her son and he gets angry with him when he won’t eat certain foods. My daughter is on anxiety pills and I’m wondering if that’s causing the problem but she won’t listen to me

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi there, I’m so sorry you have to witness these scenarios. You’re definitely a concerned grandma, for even finding these articles to help your grandson. I’m wondering if there’s a way to gently mention him to stop, or to joke about it for him to stop teasing or giving him a hard time about eating food?

      Otherwise, as difficult as it is, I would share your point of view to your daughter and leave it at that. It’s hard for parents to watch their kids no matter what age make less than stellar decisions such as allowing her child to be teased. But at a certain point, we need to let go and allow them to make these decisions for themselves.

      The next best course of action is to show your grandson unconditional love. Let him know you’re there for him and won’t tease him. That he can be completely himself with you. ~Nina

  2. Leonette Johnson says:

    i sure have that problem. at first it was a joke….but i start noticing that my baby (1y5mths) starts hitting me, or others. Say “ha a” in a aggressive manner. his nanny (my sister in law) normally tease him, constantly. tease him by hitting him, grab him at the chest…..(as if his older). i see my boy don’t like it any more, he alway cries when im near by – and it seems he’s a bit scared of her…

    So, i prepare myself not to freak out too much when she does it the next time – but i just cant step up because i know im not going to be too polite about it because i carried it too long. and i discover that i dont like seeing my baby be unhappy. His my first born.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      So sorry to hear that, Leonette! There are definitely people who like to tease, and not for any wrong reasons—it can even be how they show affection, or what they think will make the child feel better. If you feel it’s getting worse, perhaps you can mention it, even casually to her at first, so she can stop teasing.

  3. Dreamer123 says:

    Hi! Thank you for your post. I have a little cousin who gets teased by my uncle, while im not sure of what to do. Do i defend her or ignore the teasing? At least now i know how to step in if she ever gets upset. Im not a mother, or is soon to be, but i dream of being a mother someday. It looks pretty challenging, but i believe being a mother is the best thing that can happen to a woman.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi there! If you feel comfortable addressing it with your uncle, you can say what you observe, like, “I don’t think she likes that.” If anything, reassure your cousin that it’s okay to feel upset, that her feelings are valid and not silly. xo, Nina

  4. So I have a brother in law that teases my 2 year old toddler. He is known as the immature bully to children. My husband constantly tells him to quit because no one laughs but him. He thinks it’s funny to pretend take away his toy, say “my toy, my milk” etc. And that’s the only way he “plays” with him. I want our families involved in my son’s life but not if he continues to “playfully” torment my child

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      I hear you, Jeannie. Ideally, our families would interact with our kids exactly the way we want and wish them to. And for most of them, they do, or the little quirks they have are forgivable. But it sounds like he’s not stopping, no matter how often your husband tells him. Maybe he thinks you and your husband are just joking around, and usually people will “get the hint” even if we do say it playfully. But either he doesn’t get the hint, or he thinks it’s not big deal. Depending on your relationship with him, you might want to sit with him alone and share how you feel, doing your best to make it about what you want best for your son, rather than an attack on him. You’d even want to start the conversation by acknowledging the good things he does with your son, like engaging with him, etc., or acknowledging his intent, so that he also doesn’t feel attacked. Or sometimes you simply choose to spend less time with him if he truly doesn’t stop. It all depends on your relationship, but hopefully you find a resolution soon!

  5. I just found this when looking for ways to handle teasing at home. My daughter is 10. I just remarried in October 2022 and my husband sometimes teases my daughter about different things – liking boys, thinking kissing is disgusting, and even how often she cries. He has gotten better about teasing her about boys, after promising several times that he’d stop and not following through with that promise until one night when my daughter admitted to liking boys but was hesitant to tell me until I promised not to tell my husband. After my conversation with her I told my husband that because of his teasing she was afraid to tell me things, and it made him think harder about teasing and he has since stopped teasing about boys. However, he does tease her about crying and being moody. If she gets upset he’ll call her pouty face, grumpy pants, etc. Then when I say something he’ll get defensive and say, “Well, she does cry a lot.” He knows my mom called me a crybaby a lot when I was a kid so then he said “I’m sorry, I forgot that was a trigger for you.” I keep telling him it’s not about my triggers, it’s about my daughter and I’m tired of him teasing her until she cries and then acting like it’s no big deal because she “always cries.” He’s so great to me, but I feel like he doesn’t respect her just because she’s a kid. And I hate that.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi there, first off, big hugs. It’s tough dealing with teasing when it’s in your own home. I believe that we all carry baggage from our own upbringing that define how we behave as adults. Perhaps in your husband’s past, teasing was simply part of his life, and it was how his family members dealt with issues, both big and small. So to him, it’s so “natural” to tease as a response to these comments she makes.

      But if you see that it’s causing issues with your daughter, then those patterns have to stop for her sake. You want her to be able to tell you things without fear of judgment or ridicule. Perhaps sit down with him in all seriousness and talk about how this is important to you, not because of your own past, but because you want to develop a healthy, open relationship with your daughter, and the teasing is impeding that.

      Hopefully he understands that this is a big deal for you and that he should stop teasing her for her sake. <3