Children endear themselves to their parents with every little thing: the cute way they talk, their bumbling attempts to try something new, and the way their heads bobble when they toddle. They are just so loveable. It is only natural that children make us feel joyous.
It is especially joyous when we get to share a laugh with our children. But sometimes the grown-ups are the only ones laughing. When this happens, we may not realize what our laughter can do to children, or how deep it can cut.
As someone who grew up with speech impediments, I know exactly what it feels like to be laughed at; to have attempts to communicate met with derisiveness; to have sincere expressions met with mockery. It feels infuriating. It is belittling.
Children deserve the affections of their favorite grown-ups. They deserve to enjoy their time with us. They don’t deserve our ridicule.
It is one thing when you and your child are having fun together. The child may be even by purposefully eliciting your laughter. That is great. You are building interpersonal connections.
That is the litmus test: Are you connecting to your child through the laughter?
If you are not connecting to your child through the laughter, then your laughter might be a barrier between you and your child. Here are three situations when a child may feel hurt by grown-up laughter: when they are trying, crying, or simply being.
Children have so much to learn, so they try things. They try to walk, they try to pronounce new words, and they even try on clothes (remember the pink bunny outfit from A Christmas Story?) As they try, they struggle. Sometimes they look cute as they struggle. When they are making sincere efforts, however, consider that they may not be trying to look cute, and laughter may not be the reaction they are going for.
A crying child is experiencing distress. This should go without saying, but it is not okay to laugh at someone in distress. Nonetheless, there seem to be a lot of people who find it funny when parents prank their children by pretending to have eaten all their Halloween candy. A famous American talk show host does this every Halloween, and it is truly awful. It draws explosions of big feelings from children, and raucous laughter from the adult viewers who apparently don’t view the child’s distress as warranted. It is shameful to use children’s suffering in this way for purposes of amusement. Even in less dramatic circumstances, to laugh at a crying child is to hurt the child.
Have you ever told a cute story about your child to another adult? Have you ever done it with your child right there with you? Children don’t always appreciate it when they are talked about as if they aren’t even there, especially if the story involves some personal details and results in adult laughter.
In all of these trying, crying, and being examples, the child is not inside the joke. By virtue of being outside the joke, they may feel like, well, an outsider. Consider that they may feel humiliated, insulted, or shamed, even if they don’t seem to be affected.
It is not asking too much to weigh these considerations. After all, children have valid perspectives. Those perspectives are worthy of our reflection, because the children themselves are worthy. Children are whole people. They deserve to be treated with dignity.
How to Cite this Article: Brian Vondruska, “Stop Laughing at Your Kids”, The Kind of Parent You Are, accessed [date], https://www.thekindofparentyouare.com/articles/stop-laughing.