Playful teasing between parents and children can have positive effects, but teasing about certain subjects can cause anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and anger.
Keep it playful
Research shows that playful teasing between parents and their children can be a way to strengthen relationships, bring up difficult topics, and just have fun—but parents need to recognize when teasing crosses the line and becomes hurtful. “Teasing done well should be enjoyed by both sides, it should be playful,” says Carol Bishop Mills, PhD, graduate coordinator and associate professor at the College of Communication and Information Sciences at the University of Alabama. “But you need to pay attention to your child, if he looks away, tears up, does not engage in banter, you have to recognize that they are not enjoying it.” There are also rules about what is okay and not okay to tease your child about. Appearance and weight are both taboo, but teasing kids about safe topics, like a like a messy room, or things that can be easily changed, provide teachable moments, says Bishop Mills. Teasing should also be a two-way street. “You have to be willing to let your child tease you about things.” If they go too far, you have to make sure not to snap at them, and instead make it a teachable moment, she explains. “Tell them that you know you were meant to tease, but you hurt my feelings—this helps kids learn boundaries.” When you’re talking to other adults, this is the one sentence you should never say about your kid.
Fun is the number one reason kids like to play sports, and “it’s no longer fun,” is the number one reason kids quit sports, according to a George Washington University study. When parents get too involved in the coaching process, kids can become afraid to make mistakes and feel disrespected. While teasing can be a playful part of sports, it should not be done by the parent, says Bishop Mills. With performance, coaches and peers can tease the way parents can’t, she explains. “In sports, the teasing is done in the concept of being part of a team–parents are not part of the team.” Teasing a child about sports performance can not only cause a child to quit the sport, it can damage their self-esteem, says Gabriel Kaplan, MD, Medical Director of Behavioral Health Services at Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus, New Jersey. “The child already knows they are not good at their sport and they are already upset about disappointing their parents,” says Kaplan. “When they are teased, they feel attacked, insulted.” Kaplan says that parents have to recognize if the sport is a good match for their child. “If the child has talent, talk to the coach and find out what they can do to improve their technique.”
A disappointing grade can trigger emotions in both the parent and the child, but teasing should only be used for motivation, as a gentle reminder to study or do homework, and should not be focused on the ability because that could make the situation worse, says Bishop Mills. “Parents have to remember that teasing always has to have an element of humor—if it’s not funny, it’s not a tease.” Being upset because you wanted your child to get an A, but they got a C, is normal, says Kaplan, but parents have to learn how to make the upset productive. “It’s not wrong to say to your child, ‘I’m disappointed that you got a C,’ but then you must work with them to figure it out.” Discovering that your child isn’t “A” material is also a possibility. “He might be B material, but if there are continuous C’s, you need to examine if there is a learning disability or maybe they are depressed or being bullied.” Find out how to tell if your child’s math struggles are more serious than you thought.
Introversion and extroversion, are traits that are wired into the child, explains Bishop Mills. “Teasing a kid about being shy will only make things worse.” Shyness has to do with self-esteem, says Kaplan. It is healthy for parents to push their shy children to be with friends. He suggests setting up play dates at the child’s house and making the home a center of play and enjoyment. “If you try all these things and the child is still completely by themselves, then there may be something else going on. Try talking to the school guidance counselor to see if an event took place that marked the behavior.” Try these 12 tricks for boosting your child’s self-esteem.