Kidding Around…An Excuse for Inexcusable Behavior?

Posted April 28, 2010 by

“What? I was kidding.”

I get this response when I ask my son to stop whatever inappropriate verbal or physical behavior he is doing at that moment.  I pause, tilt my head, and think, “Really?”  His behavior is anything but laughable.  It’s usually disrespectful, scary, and sometimes dangerous.  And I’m getting tired of my kid “kidding around.”

I think his explanation of “kidding around” is his way of acknowledging that what he is doing is probably not the right choice.  Unfortunately, I also think he doesn’t know what the correct choice might involve.  Whether it is the right words or the right actions, he is at a loss.

Moreover, he will overcompensate.  Watch out world.  Waving a mop, swearing, or calling an adult “stupid” are all possibilities of how he might react in a nervous situation.  When I intervene to deescalate the scene, I am told, “Mom, I was kidding. Don’t you know that?”

Nope.  Saying “I was kidding” doesn’t erase the hurt or emotion that his words and actions caused.  In addition, no one else knows he was “kidding”.  No one else knows he just doesn’t have the social or problem-solving skills necessary to maneuver through the day.  He is on the autism spectrum, very impulsive, and socially emotionally young. He is also at the age where suggestions from parents or teachers are met with rolled eyes and an “I know that.”

I am tired of the kidding around. Is this just part of being a tween? I remember not knowing how to navigate budding sarcasm with adults or misunderstanding other students’ comments. How can I help him and perhaps be more proactive or preventive?  What are the right words to respond to your child’s “I was kidding!” and “I know that!”  When obviously he doesn’t.  Your suggestions…please!


Kim Stricker is a mom to two boys, an elementary school teacher, and freelance writer. She also writes a blog called lifeslikethis about the daily experiences of raising a child with Asperger’s and ADHD.

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  1. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    To ‘Oh Boys!’: It sounds like you are pretty worried about the impact your son’s behavior is having on him socially. James Lehman identified three effective parenting roles: the Trainer/Coach, the Problem Solver, and the Limit Setter. I recommend clicking on the links to read more about these roles and practice them. You do not have to micromanage every situation he is in. Rather it would help for you to set up some play dates and guide him through instead of trying to determine his every move for him. Start with one kid at a time and monitor from an appropriate distance.. It might help to set up a goal and two or three basic ground rules ahead of time. Talk about how he can achieve the goal and offer an incentive he can earn in order to motivate him to practice the new skill you discussed. If he struggles, pull him aside and remind him of the plan you came up with and how he can earn the reward. Over time, you can slowly add more kids to the mix. In other words, if he can’t handle multiple playmates right now, try not to put him in that situation. As part of your coaching and problem solving you can include some of Dr. Robert Myers’ activities and games to improve concentration, attention, and impulse control in your one-on-one time with him. Your son’s school counselor might also be able to work with him on impulse control and social skills as well. It can’t hurt to ask. We wish you and your son luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

  2. Kim Stricker Report

    To “Oh Boys!”: I am beyond thrilled you found this post! All of the right-on advice served us well. It is now almost 18 months later and all of the posts served us well. We no longer hear those words except on occasion when my son is trying to be funny, because he is. We constantly pointed out no one was smiling or laughing and we relayed what the person was actually thinking. As a 6th grade teacher, I gave my constant “joker” student the opportunity to earn “free mike time” to deliver his jokes. Not so fun when you are actually in the real spotlight, not just a heckler. Behavior stopped. So glad I reread this post. Puppet making happens this weekend! Tweens are too cool to redo or role play, but I love the opportunity to let them have a mom or dad puppet! Or neighbor, teacher, friend, coach, well you get the idea! It takes a village and EP is a village of us.

  3. Oh Boys! Report

    I am looking for help in this area as well. My 8yr old son has become a distraction to his classmates and teachers. He draws attention by trying to be funny but is actually annoying. The negative response he gets from others frustrates him and causes him to push their buttons even more. He has even started “being funny” to me when he is asked to do something. He gets much pleasure from annoying his brother and friends. We have been working on this issue since preschool. He knows what is expected of him, he knows the consequences, he knows how to better handle himself, but I am afraid it is a impulsive behavior that he can’t control. It can be so frustrating when he is upset because he doesn’t have friends that come over to our house or he doesn’t get invited for sleepovers. One on one, he can be amazing, but when there is more than one child, he fails. We have had him tested for ADD, and he may have some tendancies, but the Dr. does not feel that it is the case. I feel like I have to be on him like a hawk and micromanage every situation to keep him on the right track…How can I be a positive loving parent and not a controlling whip cracker?

  4. Stacey Report

    This is an easy one to me… Clarity of “semantics”. Hmmm..
    “Well, “kidding” or “joking” is said to make two people laugh. Do you think this makes me laugh?
    Additionally, you and I are not equal. I am your parent. Whether you like the situation or not – I was thrilled with it at your age either – I am your boss. This is just like the real world. Unless you are telling a joke, I am telling you the rule is that there is not to be disrespectful behavior in any manner or you will lose …. for …. each and every time.”

    (I have been a very successful middle school teacher for 12 years and a mother of two wonderful, yet strong girls, so there is plenty of experience here.)

    Things like “man – I am so bummed for you. You have now chosen poorly. You will lose __________.” No yelling, no loss of control, keeping your power (you do have more than a child does unless they own the house next door.)

    Parents! YOU paid for it by following YOUR bosses direction. THEY should NOT be entitled to the item unless they EARN it. IF we don’t really start holding the line, we are going to have a lot of homeless kids out there who refuse to follow directions.

  5. Been There Report

    Whoa, Kim,
    Hate to tell you this but inappropriate joking, if it truly is inappropriate joking is a characteristic of some people who are on the autism spectrum. I just learned this at a training on autism and autism spectrum disorders and it fits classically with behaviors my 47 year old husband, who is on the spectrum, exhibits. A person on the spectrum, like my husband, may say something inappropriate and then, when called on it, say “I was just kidding.” I have learned that there are times when it is an excuse for a statement that he may later realize was inappropriate, but that it also happens that he really thought it would be considered funny by other people. As you stated, “No one else knows he was kidding.” As annoying as this it, it helps me understand that this is another social deficit and not just a dishonesty issue. You might want to investigate it further in it’s relationsship to the spectrum before assuming it is “just part of being a tween.”

  6. WorkingKatyMom Report

    My story: My 16 year old son just did this yesterday! He was not doing his work in class-again. The teacher said he would have to finish it at home and my son replied “I won’t do it there either!”. I got a call and my son said “I was just kidding!” NO, it is not just kidding. Kidding is like hiding behind your moms skirt when you did something wrong. When we buy the ‘just kidding’ phrase we are the mom who defends her kid…even when he is wrong. If we keep allowing ‘just kidding’ as a defense, we put our children in harms way because someone out in the world will not care about ‘just kidding’, they will only care about the inappropriate behavior! I told my son that he cannot hide behind those words, that he will be disciplined and loose privileges for the action and the phrase ‘just kidding’ will not be his get out of jail free card anymore! I hope this helps someone.

  7. The Beahaviorista Report

    As a behaviorist I am wondering the “function” of this behavior. From what you have said It seems to me that your child is escaping the situation by making a joke. You are right in thinking that maybe the child does not know what to do or say. My advice would be to make your child deal with the situation immediately by coming up with something else to say beside, “I was joking”. You may need to give him some ideas, like, “I’m sorry mom”, or “Maybe that wasn’t a good idea”. Tweens are easily embarrassed and tend to cover up their feelings so another way to get your child to express his or her thoughts is to have them draw and/or write down the situation with an appropriate solution. Most importantly do not let your child escape the situation. They need to appropriately deal with their behavior before moving on to something else.

  8. Kim Stricker Report

    So many good ideas. We actually tried nueropathy without success. I think it depends on the practice. Thanks for all the support.

  9. Amazilia Report

    I have two adopted children whom we adopted at 8 & 10.
    They are now 13 and 15. My 13 y/o like all of you used
    “I forgot”, and “I was just joking” for anything and
    everything. Both of my kids have been in therapy for
    7 years. This was very helpful with attachment issues.
    Interestingly both of my kids ended up having
    neuropsychological assessments. Turns out they both
    have a brain “hiccup”. My son (the 13 y/o) has had the
    neurofeedback and is a different child. My husband,
    myself, and his teachers cannot believe the difference.
    Amazing! My daughter just started her neurofeedback
    and we are hoping for excellent results for her as
    well. Many of my coworkers (I work in a large hospital
    and clinic) have experience with this procedure and
    have also had phenomenal results. As a social worker
    I had not heard of this before but am very thankful
    it is an option. It will make life for my kids quite
    different in a much better way. It is used for kids
    who have experienced abuse, neglect, ADD and ADHD,
    PTSD. Just wanted to throw out there as an option
    for all of you. Take care!

  10. Brenda Fox Report

    I have to say Thank you to all of you who have commented and shared your stories. Not to sound mean but it is nice to be able to share and hear others that are going through the same stuff. I know we are not the only ones but it is encouraging to hear the different ideas you all have on helping our kids and us live healthier and happier lives. God Bless You all in the help.

  11. momoftwo Report

    I loved aMayzing’s response. I, too, struggle with this “I was just joking” problem, but the real problem comes from the fact that my son is only imitating his dad. I wish I could get my husband to understand the difference between a put-down and a joke, but he just doesn’t see it. He will hurt my feelings, and when I don’t laugh, he will pull out the old, “Come on. I was only joking. You need to lighten up!” Unfortunately, my sons see/hear this, too, and it means a lot of discussion between them and me about this behavior. I only hope that our discussions will win out over dad’s modeling.

  12. MomsICU Report

    Anytime my child is being surley, it is her way of saying, I need more time with you. (She also has a mental disorder.) I don’t condone the behavior, in fact, if the behavior makes me stop what I’m doing, then I will tell the lack of respect being shown is not what a (which ever grade the child is in)-grader should be doing. I also tell the child, I know you can be respectful and caring. I respect you and love you enough that you do need to know what is acceptable and what isn’t. The real world will do the same. Good luck. Find something both of your enjoy doing, whether it’s throwing a ball or walking in the park. Believe me, someday your child will appreciate it.

  13. LovelyRita67 Report

    WOW I am so glad to see I am not the only one that goes through this on a daily basis. I have a 12yr old step son that uses the “Im just kidding” or “I forgot” more than anything else. I agree that it is his way of dealing with the fact that he was in the wrong. He has always had a hard time understanding the “line” That the joke was over the line or that comment was over the line. “Oh sorry I forgot” or “I was just kidding, what is the big deal” are his answers for seemingly everything. At this point I don’t know what to do or say either. The role play thing seems to help at times (when it is involving his 3yr old brother) but most of the time he just rolls his eyes as if I just grew a 2nd head. 🙁 UGH!

  14. Gramma Jones Report

    I respect all the experiences and challenges you have all shared. I faced some of the same things when our six were growing up, but my biggest help (and improvement!) came when I attended a teachers’ seminar aimed at young children and socially unacceptable behaviors. Their solution: Puppets! It is important for each child in the family (or class or play group or whatever) to have an opportunity to make a hand puppet for themselves. Ideally the project will take three or four 60-90 minute sessions for the creative phase. Get a book from the library about styrofoam balls as the foundation for the puppets’ heads, with built-up noses or ears, papiermache skins, shiney shank-button eyes (so they sparkle and have personality), and paints and clothes as desired. The extended time for the creation IS NECESSARY to have each child form a bond with his/her puppet. THEN comes the teaching part: When a child acts out unacceptable behavior, let the role play be between the child and his/her puppet (now his alter-ego). When the child needs to vent, teach him/her to use the puppet as a socially-acceptable way to act out his inappropriate behaviors; then coach the child to teach the puppet better manners and to be an example for his/her puppet. The child will gradually (but some VERY QUICKLY!!) project all unacceptable behavior onto his/her puppet and will gradually internalize the acceptable behaviors. This works wonders, giving the child both an outlet for frustration and anger as well as a pathway to self mastery. This project is developmentally appropriate at various ages for ALL children; there’s just a longer window of opportunity when a child is lagging behind others, whether disabled or not! We had glorious experiences together, both second and third generation AND in volunteer/career settings. GO FOR IT!

  15. Brenda Fox Report

    We have a son that is 12 but has the ADHD,OD which in our terms means that his brain has not matured enough yet to be in the reality of the real world. Plus the extra problem with not having the concept that he will pay for problems he causes. On top of that he has major hearing loss that requires him to have a hearing aid. Also has Chire Malformation which is a scary issue with the bottom of his brain stem hanging to far down into his spinal column. We have lately had so many issues with him and his lack of adult authority and lack of respect to adults. He has always had the love for people in his heart and always did things to help others. I know that he is growing up and is needing his space but disrespect is not allowed or permitted no matter what condition the child might have. Never physically violent just totally acting out defying all orders given. Back talking to the extreme as to having detention at school and grounding at home. This is a constant thing not getting any better over the last year to year and a half. We are so truly tired and have bought almost every program out there to help us and him. We take him to doctors, psychiatrists, and we do live by God’s word. We study the Bible and have given it to God. Is there any one who feels the same? Any suggestions are welcome.

  16. Lori Report

    I also love aMayzing’s response because it is perfect. Dr. Lehman always says to not ask children “why” they do things. Who cares if they say they are kidding or not? Just enforce the consequence when they break the rules. Simply tell them that “I’m kidding” won’t be accepted as an excuse anymore.

    My daughter, age 6, did the same thing only it was “I forgot” when she broke a rule. I explained to her (not right in the moment of disobedience) that even if she says “I forgot” she would still get the consequence…and she stopped saying it.

  17. nanzilla Report

    loved your response and plan on using it with my granddaughter the next time I hear “I was joking”. I don’t remember going through this with my two, now grown, children.

  18. Bridgetteciaj Report

    The just kidding is totally a ruse. But I think in all fairness I loved what one parent said about it also being an inability to realize the correct way to behave. Our kids are in NEED OF INSTRUCTION. That’s why they are children. As adults we are here to lovingly guide them. I am right there with you guys. I don’t think I even realized just how much till I read this article. I am going to add some humor to these ideas.

    “Yeah, that sure was funny!” Do overs are another great tool to use. ex: “Since that obviously was NOT funny as jokes are supposed to be, let’s try another way you could have handled that.” My kids are s-t-u-b-b-o-r-n, so sometimes this is a real challenge for me. I don’t want to give up and let them out of the learning experience so they have a “victory of wrong behavior.”

    I also tell them things like, “Come on, we both know that wasn’t funny. You want to be treated more like an adult, that involves acting like one.” We’re always working on “owning your stuff” Nobody is perfect, we just need to work towards being the best “me” we can be. 🙂 (or however I should have worded that!)

  19. aMayzing Report

    When the child does an inappropriate behavior and says, I’m just kidding.” then say, “I’m not; and because of your (name-calling; throwing something – whatever the behavior is) your punishment will be…. I am sure the next words out of his mouth will be, “Can’t we have fun and joke around here anymore?” Say “absolutely – only when we all are laughing. But no one is laughing at what you did – and that will not be tolerated here anymore.

  20. Kim Stricker Report

    I do hope you write a book on this subject someday. I know my child can learn to control himself. He has made a lot of progress in the past years. What kind of therapist does one look for in this situation? It is difficult to get the right person. I seem to find the “let’s talk about it” types most of the time.

  21. cswartz40 Report

    It sounds like me that your son has what we call functional behaviors. Considering your child’s diagnosis and age, and the fact your describe your child’s behaviors as sometimes being dangerous, I would seek out a professional that specialize in modifying behaviors. Not a therapist your child goes to and talks to, but one that will work with you and the child to target his behaviors.

    When I worked with families in the home, I help them identify behaviors and categorize them into stop behaviors and start behaviors and help them set realistic expectations for the behaviors. Then I had the parents prioritize the changes they wanted to see in their child. As an example, verbal aggression and physical aggression are two different behaviors and the intervention is different. ( rarely targeted more then one or two changes at a time! Also, being able to identify, triggers, sequences, frequency, duration, intensity of the behaviors are important to identify strategies and interventions.)

    The intervention used for either is also different depending on the child and the parent.

    What work for one family did not necessary worked for all families or parent or child.

    However, what I have found is that their is three basic type of children.

    The first: you implement a rule or change and the child stops the behavior and follows the rule or change, no problem.

    The second: you implement a rule or change and the child stops the behavior and then after a period of time when they think the parent has let their guard down, they will test the parent and the boundaries.

    The third: you implement a rule or change and they fight you and refuse to comply.

    All three of these types if you are consistent and stick to the rule or change will eventual accept the change as long as you stick with the consequences or with the rule or intervention.

    I probably could write a book on your posting, but the real truth is that the answer is complex. Yet I hear similar stories every day, and there is not a definitive solution or intervention. Except consistency and finding what works for you and the child. I would also like to add, that when seeing a family in crisis, I rarely spend less then 3 hours with that family and that is normally a quick fix with referrals for the behaviors that is determine by the child’s and family treatment history and the intensity, frequency, and duration of the behaviors.


  22. Kim Stricker Report

    Good advice and it does make me feel better to know other parents are dealing with this excuse. Because, of course, it is an excuse. Isn’t it? I used to role play much more when my boys were younger, I need to use that more in spite of the tweenager resistance to it. I have also learned a nice technique to use with lying (also a problem in my son’s world). Lies are usually wishes of how the child wants their world to be…understanding that makes the outrageous exaggerations somehow easier to stomach. Please keep those ideas coming, I need them all.

  23. Susan Engel Report

    Hey, Kim … I, too, have had this reoccurring issue in my household with my 2 boys. While my 6 1/2 year-old is usually the culprit, the problem I have is that my fiance doesn’t do anything to help the issue. What I mean is, I think he is a source of the problem as has a tendency toward sarcasm (which irritates me to no end, trust me) yet couch it with, “But I was just kidding!” (SIGH) Really now? Then, as one of the other commenters above stated, why am I (or the person to whom the remark or action is directed at) not laughing!?!!

    I believe that “a joke” or to be “kidding” implies that it’s supposed to be humorous to everyone involved. And, at the LEAST, if it’s not funny, then at least it should NOT intend to be harmful or hurtful — physically or emotionally.

    I really like some of the replies that I’ve read here. Good stuff to keep in mind for “the next time”! 😉 Keep up the great work and timely topics, Kim! 🙂

  24. kathy Report

    Wow, I am “not kidding” this insight hits home for our house of three teens! I see the roles of the drama triangle every time I hear this line.

  25. sherit Report

    My 15 year old has a problem with lying and when caught in a lie will say, “I was kidding.” After Christmas, he went to school and told his friends that he got a four wheeler for some reason and actually had kids asking if they could ride it. When one of his friends asked me about it, I was like, “What? He doesn’t have a four-wheeler and never will…at least from me!” My son’s immediate reaction was, “I was kidding!” I have tried to explain that it is lying and not kidding but I have yet to get him to comprehend that concept. It is rather embarrassing being asked outlandish questions by his friends, cousins, or neighbors as they check out his stories.

  26. CantelopeHead Report

    My usual response is to ask each of the kids involved if they thought the act was funny – including the offender. Stress that kidding means to joke and people laugh at jokes – did anyone laugh at your action? Next time tell a joke that is funny. Of course, the comment is just an excuse for bad behavior which needs to be dealt with.

    Reflecting now, I should just be ignoring the excuse (above just gives more reason to react) and deal with the action with consequences invalidating the use of the comment the next time.

  27. adhdmomma Report

    My 7 year old ADHD son does exactly the same thing. I think it’s their way of making excuses for an inappropriate behavior. I have been at a loss on how to respond on this too. Sometimes I tell him “xxx is not a joke.” Sometimes I just call him out on it and point out that I know he wasn’t kidding and he can’t use that as an excuse to get away with poor choices. It is an aggravating reflex for sure.


  28. Rhinomom Report

    I am so there too, and anxiously await responses. Wish I could give you words of wisdom, but at this point all I say is “Not appropriate” or “is that how you want people to treat you”, but don’t feel it is being “heard”. I wish I could get the idea of you can’t do/say whatever you want whenever you want through to them. It is hurtful “just kidding” or not!

  29. Philip Report

    I don’t know if this will help or not, but we have experienced this with our 3, going on 4 year old. He likes the phrase, “I was just joking.” This doesn’t help much when he has pushed his sister, or thrown a book.

    We usually respond with taking the time to role play with him. Asking him how he should have responded and have him walk through the actions and words. Then we stress that joking is not okay when it could hurt someone or when it is showing disrespect to someone. We then ask him to apologize if appropriate. With end our talk by acknowledging that he is a smart boy and that he needs to practice what he has learned next time.

    This sounds like a lot of work, and it is. It has really helped though. To be honest, it has been quite a while since we have had this talk. Anyway, hope it helps.



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