Kids are always doing and saying something that makes us laugh. Sometimes they do it to share their joy with us, and sometimes it’s unintentional because they are figuring out the way the world works, and putting things together (that we may not have thought belonged together).
Sometimes in the moment, we crack up. I’m guilty of it myself.
But what happens when we do?
Laughing at children sends a message
Our reaction, as unintentional as it can be, still has it’s effect. You might be giggling because “you love how cute they are” but kids are hearing: “you are so incorrect, it’s funny”.
How would it feel if we were in a board meeting of a multinational corporation during the first week of work, and said something that made all of the big wigs laugh in a “wow, you really don’t know anything” and “it’s so ridiculous what you’re saying:” kind of way?
Would we feel confused? Embarrassed? Would it help us, or prevent us from feeling confident?
Kids are just as sensitive to our reactions, as we are to other adult’s reactions. Maybe adults laughed at us when we were children too? What do we remember about how that felt?
Laughing at children’s remarks or actions dismisses their sincerity.
They may say something really awkward like “This squash looks like your head papa!” or they may have a vivid observation “The fan goed roundy and roundy and throwed wind on us!”
Whatever kids may say, usually they mean it with utmost seriousness. They are describing something they see, or understand. When we laugh at their knowledge or use of words, we are laughing at who they are. They receive the message that what they do and say is silly, and doesn’t have real value.
Children are not entertainment
Often we laugh at children when we are in an adult social setting. We relate with other adults by watching their reactions, or just want other adults to enjoy how much being with kids makes us laugh. Is this at the expense of the children?
I frequently notice how when adults laugh after a child does something “funny”, they look at other adults to see their reaction. This is very interesting. Is there some type of social evaluation going on?
Using children as a way to make our guests or family members laugh is belittling to our kids existence. It is disrespectful. Would we put grandma on display to make our friends laugh? or a person with Tourettes? How much do our kids have control over their “funniness?”
(need I say more?)
Laughing is fun when everyone is in on the joke
When we are laughing and joking about what kids do, do they understand why we are laughing?
If they are staring at us questioningly, and our reaction doesn’t seem to make sense to them, we are creating a disconnect in our relationship with them. This may be great bonding time for adults, but how does this help us bond with our children?
How to respond when something “silly” is said
I love it when kids give me the opportunity to practice a mindful response. I call it mindful, because I try to be intentional (not impulsive) in how I wish to respond.
- Stick to the facts of the observation without the need to correct. — “Does that remind you of papa’s head because he lost all of his hair?”
- It’s ok to provide more information, so everyone’s on the same page — “I wonder if it might hurt papa’s feelings to hear that, because he was sad when he lost his hair, and he might not want to be reminded about it”.
(FYI: I’m using this example because I used to say that when I was little. At the grocery store. To my dad! Now that we’re adults, he brings it up regularly and cracks up about it, “remember when you used to point at the melon and make fun of your poor old papa?” Of course, my original observation was innocent of mockery.)
- Repeat what your child is noticing, and ask them more about it– “That’s true. The fan does blow air on us, what else did you notice about the fan?”
- If you really did laugh (sometimes it just comes out), explain what you found so funny about it and stay mindful about your child’s feelings. — “I laughed when you said that, because the way you described how the fan works sounded so different to me.”
Find ways to share joy instead
Now let’s talk about laughing with our kids! How different does this feel?
Our kids are laughing with us, and they understand what’s funny. Usually, it is something outside of ourselves, like a funny story, or a funny picture. Sometimes it is sharing joy about something funny that we, the adults, did (self directed humor relays the message that making mistakes is ok)… “d’oh! I dropped my toast again! I have butterfingers today!”
Sharing joy means staying connected with our children, and sharing the same perspective of an experience. Aka: We are in the same boat!
This always feels good to both parties. Now just remember to not share joy at the expense of someone else who isn’t in on it.
A quick word about babies
In my opinion, I notice that babies get laughed at the most. They drool and babble and are learning coordination.. which is so uninhibited and free in physical actions! Yes, lots of funny material there. But babies are also people. Yes, whole people. They are in tune with our messages and are sensitive to them. Maybe we feel that a little laughter at their expense doesn’t hurt. Is this true? I haven’t found any direct studies yet, so I couldn’t say “officially”. I just know it feels “off” in my heart.
If we are planning on treating our whole growing humans with respect, why not start right away? If it’s disrespectful to laugh at what kids do, or adults do, or elders do– at their expense, why should it be ok to laugh at babies?
Respond to babies in the same respectful way. When they spit, say “I notice you spit. I wonder if you’re done eating that food?”. When they burble, say “I hear you saying something. You are looking at the cup, are you saying “cup?” and point to the cup.
When grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and strangers are laughing at baby and you have learned to take your baby seriously (because you respect your baby so much), you can narrate to the baby, “Everyone is excited to have you here and watch you grow.” Validate the babies perspective, and stay an active part of it. Emphasize with the experience and make sure everyone is on the same page.
Please take children seriously. Even if they seem funny to you. To them, they may be sharing something thoughtful and genuine. Let them know you love them by treating them with respect and dignity. This will help them become confident and secure adults. And maybe when you’re saying something silly in your later years, they will show you the same respect.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you think