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When not to use humor with your child

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

It's not funny

You’re a fun mom, a funny mom, a silly mom with an infectious laugh. You are expert at using humor to diffuse tense situations with your kids and create a happy home. You have worked hard to help your children develop a good sense of humor, a tool that will help them in life. But guess what? There are times when humor is not appropriate. There are times when you should most definitely not use humor in your parenting.

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Humor is a funny thing (pun intended): It plays on and works with other emotions to have the desired effect. But some emotions and humor are less friendly and/or straddle a much finer line of appropriateness. Emotional hurt and physical pain, for example. When your child is emotionally or physically hurt, humor can tumble off the wrong side of that appropriateness line far too easily -- even while we often call laughter "the best medicine." When the issue is very serious to your child, hold back on the humor until you are absolutely, positively sure that it will have its intended effect -- or you risk making the situation worse.

Consider personality and development

Just as with age, emotional development and personality affect the development of a sense of humor, so does it affect what one considers not funny at all. What you might consider funny as an adult, with different life experience and perspective, your child -- whether two or 12 -- might not. You're also dealing with developing egos. The situation in which your child finds himself with friends may be totally absurd to your eyes and ripe for satirical and sarcastic comments, but in your child's eyes, it's a complex social dynamic they are trying to figure out how to navigate. And it's not funny at all.

Some things aren't funny

Even if you try to keep a lot of humor in your day-to-day life, there are some things that just aren't funny. Injuries and bullying and friend drama and plenty of other circumstances and events just aren't funny to most adults and kids, especially not at the outset. Maybe down the road you can find something light in the situation, but tread very carefully at the start. Part of developing a sense of humor includes understanding what is not funny, and this is very much a lead by example situation. Just as humor can connect people, misused or misapplied humor can have the opposite effect.

No excuses

If you do find yourself in a situation with your child when you laughed when you should not have, don't try to make excuses. No lame claim like, "I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing with you," because if your child is not laughing, you are most definitely laughing at them. And it can really hurt, whether you it meant to or not.

Say you're sorry, and mean it. Acknowledge that you may have hurt your child's feelings and talk about it. Explain why -- as an adult you may have seen some humor, but let your child know you can see how it isn't funny to them.

A sense of humor is a wonderful thing, but you have to apply it well. Learn when to and when not to use humor in your parenting, and you'll be in good stead to help your child learn the tools of humor that can be a great social navigation tool for their whole lives.

More about laughter

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Laughter: A parent's best defense?
4 Fun ways to lower anxiety


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