Teasing is a part of family life for most people. But for new parents or parents who were raised without any level of teasing in their own families, knowing how much is too much can be a challenge. Teasing on the playground, in the classroom and on the bus can be a precursor to bullying, so it is important to know what boundaries to set in your own home so children can learn the difference right away. Parental teasing should never take the place of loving affection, but it can get across important lessons in lighthearted ways.
Emotional Ups and Downs
Each child has a unique set of personality traits and responds in different ways to different situations. One child may react emotionally to any level of parental teasing. Another child might quickly learn how to joke with his parents and laugh at himself. Understanding the emotional ups and downs of each of your children will help you know how best to communicate with them. Remember that as your children approach puberty, their ability to handle their emotions can change almost hourly. Parental teasing of any kind during those years can produce unwanted side effects like tears and anger, so learning to communicate in loving ways without any teasing during adolescence is important for healthy self-esteem.
Choosing what, if anything, to tease about will also depend on the areas where your child is most sensitive. Teasing from parents about physical appearance or subjects that are difficult in school should be strictly off-limits. This kind of parental teasing can produce negative side effects and lead to self-esteem issues that will follow a child throughout his life. But lighthearted teasing when a child makes a simple mistake can defuse a situation that might make him feel self-conscious. For example, if your son accidentally spills milk at the table, a laughing tease about adding cereal to the spilled milk might help him see you are not angry when he makes a mistake. This is especially helpful for children who tend to be perfectionists. Parental teasing of this kind can produce positive side effects in the home and at school.
Learning to distinguish between good teasing and bad teasing is an important part of setting the tone in your home with your children. Looking back to your own childhood experiences can help you set your boundaries and prevent any negative side effects that might be produced from parental teasing. Think about your relationship with your parents and the times they teased you. You can also think about the kind of teasing they allowed between you and your siblings. Remember how different words at different times made you feel and what you wished your parents had done differently to moderate the teasing or eliminate it altogether. The things that hurt your feelings as a child will also hurt the feelings of your own children, so learning from your experience can make you a better parent in this area.
Loss of Trust
Teasing is an unusual form of communication. Carol Bishop Mills, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Alabama, recommends that parents and educators look for communication cues that would indicate when teasing is in fun, should be discouraged, or should be stopped immediately. The same thing holds true for parents with their children. One of the most important relationships between parents and children is trust, and a negative effect of parental teasing can be the destruction of that trust. Children need to be able to trust their parents completely and feel safe. Teasing that undermines trust is always out of bounds, and parents who are in tune with their children's emotional needs will be able to set appropriate personal boundaries for teasing with their children.