[Week 22 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
Why do people tease each other?
Teasing is not something unique to the world of children. In fact, my husband teases me a lot. When trying to understand teasing, we really need to look at each instance and each relationship. All teasing is not equal. Here are some reasons people tease each other:
- to show affection
- to lighten the mood
- to start communication
- to get attention
- need for physical activity
- to irritate
- to bully
Not all of these reasons are mutually exclusive. For instance, boredom might give rise to affectionate teasing. There is nothing wrong with that. But possibly it would help to have a better definition of what teasing is before we go further.
How would you define teasing?
It is interesting to note that the first definition of tease in the dictionary has to do with gently pulling something apart, often for untangling or revealing. It is a persistent, careful action with the hope of reaching a positive result, such as brushed hair or scientific discovery.
The meaning of tease when it comes to relationships can be either positive or negative. It can be meant to be harassment or it can be meant to be playful. The end result can depend as much on the person responding to the teasing as the person initiating it.
How do we decide which kind of teasing is going on?
In our house, we had the guideline for any teasing or jokes that “if the other person didn’t know what was going on, it was probably not appropriate.” The gist of it was that if the other person might end up believing something that wasn’t true, it wasn’t a good joke. If the object was to make the other person react a certain way solely for your own entertainment, it probably wasn’t good teasing. We also discouraged teasing someone for something they might legitimately feel insecure about.
Our reasons for this were two fold. First, we wanted people within the house to be able to trust each other. Secondly, we wanted everyone to learn to think of the other person.
Here are some examples of unacceptable teasing:
- Pointing out that a little girl’s ears were on the large side.
- Sneaking up on someone to scare them.
- Telling someone that you were going to give them something, but then not really.
All of these kinds of teasing tend to be done with a mean or selfish spirit. However, it is also true that some things can become more acceptable as the children grow up and become more secure. In our family, it is now pretty reasonable to make comments about each other’s uncommonly large feet or quirky habits. It brings smiles when a hormonal girl is teased for crying or a young man is teased for being sweet to a young lady.
A key ingredient to healthy teasing
For teasing to be mutually understood, there has to be trust. The teasing should not undermine that. Thus, when one of the children might accidentally put the wrong ingredient in the dinner, we might tease them about odd flavors, but balanced with clear appreciation for the help and effort in cooking. Their father might surprise any of them with some tickling, but it is always accompanied by smiles and hugs.
The more you know someone, the more you can safely tease. If you care about them, you will not want to cross the line into purposefully hurting their heart or spirit. When you know someone well, you can become an expert in teasing in just the right sort of way, that is, in fact, better than no teasing at all.
Teasing as healthy family humor
Teasing is a core part of family humor. Really, Dad, are you going to pour the whole bottle of salad dressing on your plate tonight, too? heh heh. Teasing can commemorate both happy and stressful times. After one of our daughters died, I teasingly told the other kids that if they were going to cry like they were dying, they had better make sure they were!
Teasing can relieve stress in other ways, too. What if someone’s last attempt at karaoke was horrible? It can be helpful to laugh together and say, “It can’t be worse than last time.”
It is good to help children learn to laugh at themselves in the right sort of ways. They need to understand that laughing at their weaknesses or mistakes helps put things in perspective. The right mix of teasing in a secure, loving family environment is the best place for that to happen. The children will not just be left with the negative, but will also be encouraged and accepted in spite of failure or ridiculousness.
How to diffuse teasing
Sometimes teasing goes on because children are bored, needing physical activity, or lacking supervision. Of course, children still need to learn to control impulses, but too often adults are constantly keeping children in situations where the children are not allowed to move or interact in normally social ways.
If children are given time to run around and play, then asked to sit with some self-restraint at a meal, that is a fine teaching/training time. However, if children are told all day long exactly where to sit, who to talk to, and made to engage in tedious workbooks, it is hard to blame the child for having pent up energy, both physical and social.
Adults seem to quickly forget, or think they need to squelch, childish energy. Most institutional school settings have an upside-down mix of requirements for children. They want children to act like adults, but be treated like caged puppies. It is easy to understand why a child in such circumstances might resort to teasing to both communicate with his fellow inmates and to let off some steam.
A couple of short recesses, with very limited options and negligible creative potential are hardly going to make up for hours of being confined to chairs and lines. Lunch time doesn’t count as free time, either. There may be some conversation, but the cafeteria is not the place to inspire heartfelt exchanges for most people.
I am all for helping children to learn self-control, but that doesn’t mean they should be put in situations to constantly frustrate them. Any regulation of teasing should include honest evaluation of how the adults might be exacerbating it. Children can be taught the right attitude about teasing on one hand, while the adults in charge can take responsibility for changes they should make.
The responsibility of the teasee
Learning how to respond to teasing is important for all relationships. Especially in a family situation, a teasee (person on the receiving end of teasing) should be willing to give the teasor (the person doing the teasing) the benefit of the doubt. They should all be willing to communicate about misunderstandings. In other words, being on the receiving end of teasing should not be a reason to be offended or hold a grudge or go into a rant. A teasee is still responsible for his own reactions.
The teasee needs to learn to consider proportion of action. Those are big words for learning to ask “how big of a deal is this really?” These are perfect times to remember that we shouldn’t be going around looking for reasons to get upset.
Both teasee and teasor will have opportunity to view the perspective of other person. Why did one person think it was fun or harmless or affectionate? Or maybe it was done because of feelings of neglect or similar negative perceived treatment? Why was the other person bothered? Does he feel abused or just annoyed? Can he learn to enter into friendly teasing without letting it escalate destructively?
Things to help evaluate teasing
- What is the attitude of the teasor?
- What is the objective result of the teasing?
- What is the situation that has led to the teasing?
- What is the overall environment for the children?
- Is the timing reasonable?
- Is this something that has already been asked to not be done?
Like many things, teasing can be done in good ways or bad ways, in ways that build up relationships or in ways that tear them down. And like many ways of communicating, how it turns out depends on both people involved. Helping your children to have a less selfish view of teasing will be good for everyone.