Does your child mock or 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.
The other context is disrespect. 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. In this context, you should have boundaries about how much your kids can tease or mock you.
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, be very clear. Say to your child:
“If you laugh and tease me when I talk to you, that’s disrespectful, and it will carry a consequence.”
The consequence might be losing something important to the child until they apologize and tell you what they’ll do differently next time.
Related content: How to Give Kids Consequences That Work
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. And even worse behaviors fill the void.
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.”
Most of us will lose our cool and overreact at one point or another. We’re overwhelmed, frustrated, and tired of our child’s disrespect. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to have an extreme reaction.
Nevertheless, try to stay calm. You still want to set limits and be clear about what’s acceptable, but you don’t want to blow up. By overreacting, you’re giving the mocking more power than it should have, and you’re giving your child more control than they should have.
If your child is mocking you, it feels personal, but it isn’t. It’s your child’s behavior problem. Try to think about a time when your child has been angry and said things they didn’t mean. Imagine that’s what your child is doing when they’re making fun of you. It’s important to remember that no matter how upset your child is, they still love you and need your approval. Whether they show it or not, they care about what you say.
So don’t take it personally. As soon as you get into an argument and engage with their mocking, your maturity level sinks to your child’s level, and you become peers. You’re likely to overreact in this situation because you’re responding to words instead of what’s behind those words.
It’s hard to deal with any child behavior problem in public. We feel so embarrassed by our child’s behavior, and because of our child’s behavior, we feel judged by others. Whether at home or in public, it’s helpful to remember to react in a calm and business-like manner, set the limit, give a direction, and disconnect from any emotional response. You can say:
“If you don’t stop talking to me like that, we will leave this store right now, and you won’t get those new jeans you wanted.”
When your child is calm, reinforce what will happen if the behavior reoccurs and be prepared to follow-through.
Intervening more effectively when your child mocks you is something a parent can start to do at any time. Try to be as objective and honest as possible about the behavior and your response to that behavior. What has worked in the past? What hasn’t worked? Do you have a trigger that brings out an emotional response? Where can you begin to change?
As you use more effective parenting responses, you will begin to shape your child’s behavior. That doesn’t mean that they will immediately thank you for responding differently and stop teasing you. But with limits, teaching, and coaching, they will begin to find better ways to interact with you.
As you start setting limits, your child may push things further. But stick with it. Once your child realizes you mean business and are willing to follow-through on the consequences, their behavior will begin to change. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but with gradual steps, it will get better before you know it.
James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation®, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.