Using Humor to Parent Well

June 11, 2021

Using humor to parent well.

My brother and sister-in-law have adopted this amazing encouraging phrase for their daughter who is two. When she gets hurt by falling over or running into something, they immediately tell her to say, “I’m tough.” After she says it through her tears they tell her to say “I’m super tough.” Humor is an effective tool to diffuse tense situations and build connections to our children. How can we incorporate humor to parent well? 

In the case of my niece, this tactic works really well with young children. I modified it with my 11-year-old and it had an equally positive outcome. When I asked her to clean her room and she began to roll her eyes back into her head, I said, “Say, I’m tough.” She started to smile as she knew what was coming. Before she could say it, I said, “Say, I’m super tough.” By this time she couldn’t help herself from grinning from ear to ear. Humor is especially needed and effective in times where you might want to scream.

Laugh uncontrollably when you want to scream.

One way to incorporate humor to parent well is to start to laugh when you want to scream. It is totally contrary to what your children will expect. Sometimes you will have to fake the laughter at first, but just keep laughing until you can’t help it. If you laugh for about 2 minutes your kids and your spouse will wonder if you have lost it, but I bet they start laughing as well. If you need inspiration just YouTube, “Getting the Giggles”. Laughing takes the tension out of the situation. It hits the reset button in your brain so that you can come back to the situation with a light-hearted attitude. 

Use funny voices or accents.

My children don’t always spring out of bed in the morning. Typically it takes a few rounds of knocking on the door, poking them, ripping the covers off, etc. However, one tactic they hate but is totally hilarious is when I sing them awake. I especially like my operatic awakening songs. Here are a few other options and examples that can help bring some creativity to your parenting. 

  • Opera Star – sing a song to get them out of bed, or dressed in the AM
  • Cowboy or Country accent – as the voice of a pet that needs some tender care
  • Gangster – when they need to do chores (think “The Godfather”) 
  • Foreigner – when siblings are fighting jump in and start speaking an unknown language or gibberish and make gestures like you don’t understand why they are fighting?

Use reverse psychology.

When my kids would get into a really bad mood, I would threaten to press their smile buttons. I would say something like, “Look at that sad face. What are we going to do about it? Hmm….I know, I’ll just press the smile button.” Of course, this is all in the delivery. It is like telling them whatever they do they better not smile. Or start picking up toys and let them know that you GET to pick up ALL of them. They don’t get to pick up any of the toys.

Be willing to be silly.

Ways to be silly include: pretending to be a silent mime, talking in gibberish, calling in the “clean up crew” on your walkie talkie hand, and slapping your forehead when you make a mistake. All of these things keep your child on their toes, and can redirect their negativity. Doing the unexpected actually causes their brains to have to refocus, which can help to diminish the anger in the moment. This not only helps children but parents as well. I love a few of the examples outlined in Hillary Frank’s Weird Parenting Wins: Bathtub Dining, Family Screams, and Other Hacks From the Parenting Trenches

  • Get kids to eat beets by telling them it will turn their poop pink
  • Keep siblings from fighting in public by threatening to start singing
  • To calm active imaginations, give your child a kitchen spatula, calling it a “magic scepter,” to protect them from the monsters they fear.

For older children, using sarcasm can be useful.

I love this Dad’s note to his teen regarding cleaning up the kitchen. He uses some language and imagery from a popular movie to get his point across. 
Another great example is where this father gives his teenage daughter a Virginity protection blanket. It’s playful, funny, and gets the point across without being overly serious.

The point of using humor to parent well is to alleviate some of the pressure of discipline and character development. A common misconception is that if you are funny while you are teaching or training your child that they will think you are a pushover. The reality is that parents who use humor have stronger connections with their children. Humor is a creative process. If you try something and it doesn’t work, keep trying! Afterall, isn’t it better to find a playful, fun way to discipline than yelling, crying or banishing your child to Siberia? I hope this post encourages to try something new next time your child hits the “nuclear” button! How have you used humor to parent well? I’d love to hear your story. Please get in touch through my “Dear Jess” column. 

Disclaimer: Humor isn’t always appropriate and can be hurtful if the child thinks you are laughing at them or being insensitive. Make sure you are careful to observe your child’s reactions. If they seem hurt, apologize and let them know you were trying not to get angry in the moment. 

Mucho Love,

  1. Chris Nagy says:

    Ohmyheart! This is all soooo good and makes a ton of sense! I love “if your kids are fighting in public, threaten to sing opera at the top of your lungs”… hilarious! Such good wisdom… better to start when they’re young🥰. Love this Jess🙏

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