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Kids Who Mock, Imitate and Make Fun of Parents

by James Lehman, MSW
Kids Who Mock, Imitate and Make Fun of Parents

Does your child seem to constantly make fun of you? Mocking, imitating and laughing at parents can be harmless fun, but it can also become an annoying behavior that undermines your authority.

Some kids make a game of teasing their parents. There are two contexts in which kids can mock, imitate or laugh at you. One is in the family setting of teasing each other. It happens all the time and it’s perfectly acceptable. But you should have boundaries about how much your kids can tease or mock you. The problem arises when kids tease or laugh at you in order to be disrespectful or rude, and to undermine your authority. For example, when you're telling your son to turn off the TV and start his homework, and he parrots back your words to you and mocks your tone of voice, that's not playing. That's disrespect, and an attempt to chip away at your position of authority.

The response from you has to be very clear: “We’re not playing now. This is serious.” If at that point your child cannot stop laughing and teasing, you should walk away. When you talk later, make it very clear. “If you laugh and tease me when I talk to you, that’s disrespectful and it will carry a consequence.” This might be the loss of something that’s important to the child until they apologize and tell you what they’ll do differently next time. Parents are sometimes reluctant to make an issue of things like mocking and teasing. They think, “My kid does so many things that need to be corrected, I don’t want to bother with this.” But understand this: When your child mocks, imitates or teases you to be disrespectful and you don’t address it, your parental authority erodes quickly.

There are many ways to undermine authority and kids will use teasing and laughter to do just that, but parents have to recognize it and respond to it. Deal with it firmly and set limits on the teasing. When things are calm, tell them, “When we’re not playing, that’s not acceptable, and when you do that to me, you’re going to be held accountable.”


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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."

READER'S COMMENTS

That's all great, but what happens when the other parent (the biological father) does not back up what you have to say? Or if he doesn't make the kids accountable and I have no authority to give consequences to that child? When I do the argument turns from the child and I to my husband and I.

Comment By : confused

Right on target.

Comment By : mjones

thanks for this... it's become an issue here lately, and didn't know where to draw the line.

Comment By : jezuzgirl

Thank you for addressing this subject. We have a daughter who does this periodically and it drives my husband crazy since she mostly does it to him. We really didn't know what to do about it because like you mentioned in the article there are other "more serious" discipline matters, yet this one really bothered us, so thanks again. We love your program and it continues to make such a difference in our lives and family!

Comment By : Antoinette

To Confused - I have been in your shoes with the undermining dad and even though my son is now 19, still am to some extent. Hold YOUR ground. Set YOUR limits. Refuse to argue with the dad in front of the kid. Just say, I don't like it and I don't want you to do that to me. If dad undermines you, just say, well, your father doesn't care, but I do and I don't want you to do that to me. And WALK AWAY. I have learned a lot from Dr. Lehman and the most useful of all is, state your expectations and the consequences and WALK AWAY. Make sure that the consequences are enforceable and in line with what the kid did. Handle the dad the same way you handle the kid - state your expectations and walk away. I'm not going to argue with you about it. These are MY expectations, if you don't have a problem with him doing that to you, then when he does, he won't have consequences, but when he does it to me, he will. The kid will see the difference. Be especially careful not to let the kid triangulate with you and the dad. Just be clear and don't argue about it -- walk away. It's hard at first because you just want to tell them both where to go, but it gets so much easier. After a while, it comes naturally and it saves you a tremendous amount of stress. Good Luck.

Comment By : Been There

What do you do about a 36 yr. old who continually laughs at you and belittles you in front of his wife and 5 yr. old Son?

Comment By : BJ

Thank you so much for this article, this is my first time reading it. It is exactly what I am going thruoght with my son and it is driving me crazy.

Comment By : Mari

To BJ - That is even more unacceptable than a child doing it! I was told by my son's therapist that we needed to teach him how to treat us, and that absolutely applies with you. If I were in your shoes, I would tell him ONCE that speaking to you that way will not be tollerated, tell him how it makes you feel, then let him know that he will no longer be invited to your home if it continues. Then carry through with these consequences! Invite your daughter-in-law and grandson over without your son a few times, and maybe he will get the message. If the behavior returns in the future, remind him of the consequences and stick to them. I wish you well!

Comment By : Tammie

Please inform me how to handle this: My 11 y/o step-daughter keeps looking out my living room blinds, and when she is done leaves the blind messed up, where I have rto fix them again. when I talk to her about them, she denies ever doing this.I know it is her because her best friend lives next door. Please help me. Thank-you.

Comment By : DANHUNTSVILLE

I found this article very informative and useful, and it gives me great pleasure to know that I am on the right track in dealing with my 13 and 11 year old boys, which can be very challenging and frustrating moments. I can rest at ease to know that they are very loving and supportive aside from their mistakes.

Comment By : chapy

To Been There: Wow, sounds like you're doing a good job. I try the "walk away" thing, but my 12 year old son then follows me and continues to harass me "Mom! Mom! Mom!" I end up turning around and yelling at him and that doesn't do either of us any good. Any advice?

Comment By : jaynie

* Dear DanHuntsville: It's hard to give a consequence for a behavior based on hearsay and assumptions. Unfortunately, continuing to accuse her of doing something she denies won't get those blinds straight! You might have a discussion with her about her household responsibilites, and include straightening the blinds as part of her daily chores. That way, you avoid the blame and denial it sounds like you are currently experiencing, and you get to have your living room looking neat and organized.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

Please advise what I can do when my 17 years old son doesn't care about consecuences.I stoped his cell phone after he was mocking me and he says ..OK ..now I hate you.

Comment By : Linda

* Dear Linda: What we recommend in the Total Transformation Program is to not rely on just consequences to change behavior; instead, rely on teaching your child problem solving skills. Letís say your child was mocking you because you got angry at him while asking him to do his chores. What problem is he trying to solve here by mocking you? Besides putting some of his anger off on you, heís probably trying to get you to ďback offĒ so he doesnít have to do his chore. Itís hard to do, but you donít his attitude to control you. Use the advice in this article regarding not over-reacting when kids mock you. Another technique that may help in this situation is to not give consequences in the Ďheat of the momentí. Donít skip the problem solving discussion with your child and just go to a consequence when youíre angry. You want to teach your child to stay in emotional controlóto not mock you when heís angry. Therefore, itís important to role model how to calm down first before discussing something important, such as consequences. We hope this was helpful and invite you to keep in touch with us.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Please help. My 22 year old son is living with us while taking a break from school. My husband and I have given him some responsibilities to help contribute around the house, such as yard work and supervising, with our final approvals, a quite extensive backyard renovation. He is trying to completely take over ALL household decisions, financial as well, while disregarding my authority as owner, homemaker, parent and wife. Much to my disappointment, my husband will not confront him or support me in talking to him about this. Yesterday, he talked with my maid service to change days and times for his convenience, while also making complaints about their service, which I am completely satisfied with. He is also trying to put a wedge between my husband and me and I do not understand why. When my husband got stranded in another city due to car problems and had to spend the night, he told him it was a good thing as mom was really in a bad mood and ready to "give it to him" when he got home. This was only because I had to get on to my son about not taking the dogs out on time (I was gone to the grocery) and one of them had a huge bowel movement all over the carpet, which I had to clean. We are all trying to do our part as our 32 year old daughter and her husband stay with us while she is being treated for breast cancer. I know this can create a lot of tension, but this has been an ongoing problem with him even when he has come home to visit in the past. This need to ridicule, disregard, and disrespect me and get his dad to side with him is not only hurtful emotionally but it is taking a toll on my health. I am completely devoted to my family as a loving parent and wife and yet, have no support. Can you please give me some advice? Thank you.

Comment By : stephie

* Dear stephie: One thing that might help this situation feel more under control is to hold everyone accountable for their own actions. For example, when your son says disrespectful things to you, say to him, ďItís not okay to speak to me that way.Ē Make this limit setting statement directly to him, letting him know that heís being inappropriate. If you feel itís inappropriate and makes you uncomfortable, then it is, and you donít need anyoneís backing to speak for yourself. When you feel your husband is not supporting you in matters regarding your son, donít hold your son accountable for this. Talk directly to your husband about missing and needing his support. Itís normal for couples to see things differently at times. Do your best to work cooperatively with your husband to come up with a plan on house rules and behaviors that you can expect from all the older children who are staying in your home at this time. We wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

First, let me say thank you that this site exists. I have been reading it for hours since finding it and truly appreciate all the good advice. I have a ten year old, very spirited, energetic daughter. She recently had an episode where she threw a french fry in my husband's face. This was after a scene where he was asking for her help with our dogs, and she resisted, and he warned her that she would lose a privelege, and she continued to resist, so she lost the privelege of hitting golf balls with her grandparents. She completely exploded with one of the most major tantrums she's ever had, probably because my parents were present. After my husband and my father left for golf without her, she raged on, I ignored her, because I was attempting to not pay any attention to her while she was in full scream mode. My mother was aghast, and told her she could not carry on like that in our presence, and sent her to the bathroom with the door shut. Next, my daughter proceeded to open the bathroom window and scream "LET ME OUT" and of course, we had to intervene because we were afraid that the police would come. My mother and I told her what coulp possibly happen, and my daughter tearfully calmed down, finally. What I think is that although violent, this perfect storm of rage was set off by having my parents present (they are often more permissive of her insistent behavior) and also a bit of overexcitement as we were at our vacation house and there were lots of activities planned. She was really looking forward to golfing with my dad and husband. She and my husband normally have a wonderful, playful relationship, but lately she has been resisting our attempts to get her to respond when we have chores or things we need help with. She deters us by saying she has something else she wants to do first, or she simply balks and says no. So this time when a major consequence was enacted, it did not go well. Needless to say, I've been reading up on what part in it my husband and I could have done better. And the french fry thing, that was a complete "in-your-face" disrespect thing, her acting out towards my husband, and for that we are having her do a timeout and letter of apology. So there's a lot of work to be done here, and I could use any insights and advice that the readers here would be willing to convey! Deeply grateful, Judy

Comment By : judyintheburg

* Judy: It sounds like this incident caught you by complete surprise. You did some very effective things: you tried not to engage with her while she was having the tantrum, you stayed fairly calm, and youíre having her make an amends to your husband. These are all great moves. One thing you could have done differently at the start of all of this is to let her know she would not be able to go golfing until she helps out with the dogs, instead of taking golfing away altogether. This is a small change that may have really altered the course of your day for the better. Now that all is said and done, it would be a very good idea to do some problem-solving with your daughter. Ask her what she was thinking when she threw the french fry at your husband. Ask her what was going on for her at that time. Her response will tell you the problem sheís trying to solveóperhaps she was angry, or she didnít think it was fair that she had to help. Let her know her behavior wasnít okay and ask her what she can do differently next time she is in this kind of situation instead of throwing things. You can have her write her plan in her apology letter. For more information and ideas, I am including some articles about effective parenting roles and chores. We wish you and your family luck. Take care.
Why Consequences Aren't Enough, Part 1: How to Coach Your Child to Better Behavior
Why Consequences Aren't Enough, Part 2 Making Child Behavior Changes That Last
"I'll Do It Later!"6 Ways to Get Kids to Do Chores Now

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Can you address a twist on this problem? That of the parent who mocks a child? The context is typically some level of misbehavior on the part of the child, a teenage boy, which may be tied to any number of things. The parent, quickly seeing misbehavior as a challenge to authority that must be crushed, responds with mocking, belittling ridicule, and the situation escalates, predictably and consistently. Parent then wonders why the child does not respect the parent. Any thoughts on what to tell a parent who a) denies mocking and b) refuses to consider they are part of the problem? Thanks.

Comment By : Bill

* Hi Bill. It sounds like you have a great understanding of the importance of role modeling as a parent. Itís very difficult to support a co-parent who is parenting ineffectively. The best thing to do is to find a common goal and talk privately about how to achieve that goal with your co-parent. In the moment it can be very hard to accept that you cannot control what the co-parent does. You can only control yourself and so itís important to do your best to respond effectively. One should be careful not to correct an ineffective co-parent in front of the child as it undermines that personís authority. In other words, the child gets the message that they donít have to listen to the less effective parent. Here is an article in which James Lehman offers more information and ideas for parents who are not on the same page: Differences in Parenting? How Your Child May Be Using it Against You.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

THANK YOU, THANK YOU,THANK YOU, THANK YOU,THANK YOU,THANK YOU,THANK YOU!

Comment By : drspkdmom

I have a 5 yr old son. He has behavior issues at home and at school. He is in counciling and I don't feel it's working. The school is doing all they can to help by communication and putting behavior plans in place but that doesn't seem to be working either. I don't understand where this is coming from. He's always been this way. We have an 8 yr old who is nothing like this. No problems. We are at our wits end and losing patience by the day. He mocks and defies authority, is impulsive, tests all boundries, etc. However he is so smart. No learning disabilities at all. He does great academically. He is also very loving and shows affection. He feels remorse and says he wants to be good and he wants to make good choices. He plays himself to be the victim alot because kids "tattle on him". I need help and I need to turn his behavior around. I need our homelife to be peaceful again. I feel like nothing we have tried works. Any advice?

Comment By : Help!

* To ĎHelp!í: Itís so frustrating when you feel like what youíve been trying to help your son hasnít been working. Your son seems to have some really good traits and he does express a desire to improve his behavior. What he might need you to do is teach him some new skills he can use to do just that. James Lehman felt that when counseling isnít working, trying some new techniques in the home can be a very helpful addition. Here is an article that will help you learn how to take on more of a problem-solver role with your son at home: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems." We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I have a quick question; I have three kids 9, 4, and 20 months. My 4 year old will laugh when we scold the other children, when someone gets hurt, if SHE hurts someone or a pet, and laugh at us when she is being defiant. She knows we do not like it so she does it even more. Is this a behavior to address with the I don't like that walk away method? I find that it affects the other kids as well and she is extremely influential over my 20 month old daughter. Thanks.

Comment By : vinnie302

* To 'vinnie302': It can be very frustrating when you are trying to be an effective parent, and feel like you have a laugh track accompanying you all the time. We do recommend walking away and not giving that behavior a lot of attention in the moment. When she has stopped, and you have a chance to calm down, we advise coming back and talking with your daughter about what she was thinking when she started to laugh, and what she can do differently next time. You might find it helpful to do an incentive system with her, where she can earn a small reward when she chooses to do something other than laugh or make fun. Iím including an article on behavior charts you might find helpful: Child Behavior Charts: How to Use Behavior Charts Effectively. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

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