How to respond when adults tease your child

My brother has long been known to tease the heck out of anyone, and my toddler is no exception. The teasing can be simple; for instance, we were at the dining table when he positioned his head close to my toddler’s point of view, all the while claiming that he’s just looking at the food on the table. And even though my toddler, not appreciating the invasion of personal space, vexingly told him, “No!” my brother responded with, “Oh, but I’m just looking at the food!” It’s similar to when kids point their finger all but one inch away from another sibling and claiming, “But I’m not touching you!”

And yes, my brother is an adult who is in his 30s. (Ironically, he hardly teased me growing up. In fact, he was the one who would protect me from one of my older sisters who on her worst days threatened to throw my dolls out the window—for fun. The battles between those two, however, were quite the scene. Thank goodness we survived childhood and all still love one another.)

He’s not alone in teasing my toddler—my own husband sometimes has his fun with him as well. He too has done exactly what my brother does (what is it with sticking your face in front of a toddler that’s so hilarious?).

In my husband’s and brother’s defense, I could see why they would turn to teasing: my toddler wasn’t exactly Mr. Good Mood. When he is in one of his funky moods, he can either appear comically amusing or downright infuriating, that teasing seems the better option to getting frustrated with a stubborn child.

Still, I should have stepped in more aggressively in his defense. After all, he’s not an adult or even an older child who can retort in the same sarcastic manner. Nor are children’s ‘no’ always taken seriously. I could have switched places with my toddler or even explicitly told my brother to stop, saying, “LO already said ‘no’.” In doing so, my toddler would understand that his word can be quite powerful, and that his mom will always back him up.

Obviously I’m much more comfortable telling my husband to stop, but in social situations, even among my own family, I hesitate. I’m likely reluctant to step in because I don’t want to police everyone’s actions and learn that everyone thinks I’m that kind of parent. I don’t want to discourage others from playing with my kid or feeling like they have to walk on eggshells around him. I also don’t want to be rude. And so I stay quiet, or even laugh it off.

And more often than not, the teasing isn’t a big deal and doesn’t exasperate my toddler too much. But sometimes interactions with adults are often tricky because well, they’re adults. Handling social interactions between kids seems like a breeze in comparison. So sometimes I need to be more mindful of whether my toddler has had enough with teasing from anybody, even adults. After all, he has already taken the first step—saying ‘no’—so I need to follow up with ensuring he gets his point across.

How often to the adults in your kids’ life tease them? How do your kids react to adult teasing? When do you let it be, and when do you step in?

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4 thoughts on “How to respond when adults tease your child

  1. I know just what you mean. We try to teach kids assertiveness and personal boundaries but have a hard time with those ourselves, especially with family.

  2. This is a great topic. I think that teaching the significance of no even at a young age is important. How else will they understand that ‘no means no’ when they are older and well into adulthood? I think you’re on the right track.

  3. This is such a gray area. I think some teasing is good exercise. It preps a child for handling certain social situations, coming up with their own retorts, maybe even tossing the teasing back. It’s when it becomes disrespectful and malicious that it shouldn’t happen. More so when it’s adults vs. children.

    I usually step back and let the kid handle things, unless the line is crossed. I will say what I mean. I’ve smacked my mom’s boyfriend’s hand away for pulling my daughter’s ponytail after she repeatedly asked him to stop. I will let the kid fight for herself, tease back, or walk away. But if they need dad … he’s right here.

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