When Joking Isn’t Funny
“You’re too sensitive.”
“Can’t you take a joke?”
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of one of these comments, you know it can make you feel even worse than the joke that was just made at your expense.
When kids become the butt of family jokes, it can hurt.
My dad used to tease me in the name of humor. He and my older sister would share a laugh, while I felt mocked, humiliated, and left out of their fun. Mainly, he used sarcasm to bring attention to my shortcomings or highlight mistakes I’d made. I doubt he ever meant to offend me, but he certainly seemed unaware of the effect his jokes had on me and my self-esteem.
I finally found the courage to stand up for myself (at the age of 22) and say, “Stop making me the target of your jokes. It hurts my feelings.” Instead of taking responsibility and apologizing to me, as I hoped he would, my dad got defensive and told me to “lighten up.”
That was almost 18 years ago, and we have a great relationship now, in part because I realize that his behavior had more to do with him than it did with me. I’ve grown to understand that people sometimes use sarcasm as a passive-aggressive style of communication, or because they experienced contempt in their own childhoods. So ultimately, I did lighten up and stopped taking his jokes personally.
But as a kid, I didn’t have the capacity to think beyond my own hurt feelings.
Even now, my dad’s teasing still sometimes stings, but over time, I’ve developed a much better ability to laugh at myself. Plus, I’m not afraid to dish it back to him so we can have a laugh together at his expense once in a while.
The point is that, like me, some kids are sensitive. Rather than teaching them to “toughen up” or “brush it off,” adjust your humor in a way that shows respect for them.
There are enough bullies and meanies out there to contend with — kids shouldn’t have to protect themselves from their own parents, too.
When jokes are truly funny, everyone laughs. Notice your child’s response. If you say or do something light-heartedly and then realize it wasn’t received that way, make a genuine apology.
Marissa often jokes about her own distractibility, but there are times when teasing her about it would be mean instead of funny (like if she hurt herself because she was preoccupied). Dalia is less likely to laugh at herself. She can be quick to anger when she feels teased, so I’m more conscious about taking her seriously.
It can also be insensitive to talk to your friends and family about things your child does in front of your child. Kids say and do things that amuse adults all the time, but they don’t always intend to be amusing. When you joke or laugh with someone else in the presence of your child about something he said to you in all seriousness, you may embarrass him — or worse — betray his trust in you.
Keep a notebook for writing down all the witty and profound things he says and does, so he can enjoy reading about them when he’s older, and delight in them with others privately. If you want to raise kids who can laugh at themselves, the best thing to do is to model it for them. Laugh at yourself when you goof up and make yourself the target of your own jokes.
This April Fools’ Day, don’t be a fool. Don’t frighten, humiliate, or hurt your children. Use humor to connect with them instead, and create funny, lasting family memories.
On that note — if you’ve got any funny April Fools’ stories, please share them in the comments below.
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