Is it cruel to tease your children?

When Bee was about three or four years old I could make her cry by pretending to be a lion.

It would start with just a serious face and a very quiet roar and initially she’d just look a little concerned. “Stop it Mummy!” she’d say. But I couldn’t stop. I’d roar again, with the same deadly serious look on my face. She’d look a bit more concerned, so I’d do it again. Her bottom lip would start to tremble and I knew this was the tipping point – I could stop and smile and she’d be ok, or I could do it one more time and she’d cry. Obviously I had to do it one more time.

I found it hilarious. I am a cruel, cruel mummy.

Belle is harder to frighten, but much easier to make angry. She has a fiery temper, and pretty much anything will send her stomping to her room. Last week she had a friend for tea and I was opening a jar of jam for them to have on their rice pudding. I pretended I couldn’t open it, having loosened it slightly, and passed it to her friend to have a go. The friend opened it and laughed. Belle on the other hand didn’t find it funny. She apparently thought I was ‘mocking her’, and ran off to her room, sobbing. A tad melodramatic I think you’ll agree.

Now obviously I don’t want to bring up a complete drama queen, so I am trying to teach her the importance of being able to laugh at herself, and not take herself too seriously. With this in mind, Bee and I have taken to calling her Roy. She hates it, but we think it is hysterical. I’m actually laughing as I type. She just looks so much like a Roy to us, and of course when we tell her this, she gets even more furious.

I like to think that a bit of regular teasing is character strengthening, and my children certainly don’t hold make from insulting me on a daily basis, but I do sometimes wonder if I’m not a little too cruel. When Belle has a tantrum and is throwing herself about on her bed, should I be holding her and making soothing noises or is it ok to laugh and say ‘get over yourself Roy?’

I’m not sure. Let me know what you think…

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31 Comments

  1. 1 June, 2010 / 8:41 pm

    I’m glad you and Mr L don’t live together, as you sound just like him with Baba. No I don’t think teasing children is a bad thing, it is a life skill they need to learn. xx

    • 2 June, 2010 / 4:02 am

      That’s the trouble being a single parent – I don’t have a kinder one to balance me out!

  2. 1 June, 2010 / 9:27 pm

    I think it is great. If I recall, not too long ago, one of your children accused your hair of “bringing her down”. I think that would have been a perfect time to become queen of the jungle and give a good roar.

    You remind me of my mother’s best friend. She would tease her children too, and they would get mad. One day, while in high school, I was standing at the school book store counter. I ran it, being a uber nerd. Two very cute sophomore girls were standing there chatting with me, one of them was Brittany, the daughter of my mom’s best friend.

    Brittany had a razor sharp wit, and she said something brilliant. I laughed and said she reminded me of her mom. She quickly slapped me, and I, without missing a beat slapped her back. She went off in a huff, but later got over it. Jil who was with her thought it was great and felt Brittany was way too sensitive, as she like Janet (Brittany’s mom) too. Today, Brittany is a very successful world class rock climber and outdoor gear model, her brother is successful, and her mom is still quite a pistol.

    So tease away, it will be good for them.

    • 2 June, 2010 / 4:03 am

      She slapped you?! That does seem rather harsh – I think you were quite right to slap and back, and can take full credit for the successful career too, having put her in her place.

  3. 1 June, 2010 / 9:45 pm

    Absolutely not, I was brought up on a diet of good-natured ribbing and micky taking, it’s character building and bloody good fun!

    • 2 June, 2010 / 4:04 am

      Jolly good – I think it’s character building, and fun for me – just not sure how much fun Belle has! Never mind :-)

    • 2 June, 2010 / 4:07 am

      I do sometimes think I can be a little too sarcastic, it is supposed to be the lowest form of wit after all, but I don’t too anything rubbish like put slugs in their bed or buckets of water on top of doors, so I reckon I’m alright…

  4. 2 June, 2010 / 3:24 am

    Earlier in the day, when I read your post, I didn’t really understand the ‘Roy’ bit.

    Now it is later in the day, and I have since purchased the 1st series of ‘The IT Crowd’, which I believe is on 4. Is the calling of your daughter ‘Roy’ a reference to that show?

    I am fairly certain that I am missing a great reference, and my life would be considerably more full if I got the joke, and was included in the fun.

    • 2 June, 2010 / 4:09 am

      I’ve never actually watched the IT Crowd – is it any good?

      I wish I could say there was some kind of clever reference, but it’s actually just a random name we picked for her. Its randomness is part of the reason we find it so funny I think.

  5. 2 June, 2010 / 6:15 am

    I can remember my Dad doing exactly the same to me when I was a child, I would get so cross that he teased me all the time, but looking back I suppose I deserved it, and we now have a fantastic relationship – now I’m an adult I give as good as I get! Great blog, might try the roaring with my 3 and 5 year olds!

    • 4 June, 2010 / 4:55 pm

      That all sounds reassuring! You should definitely try the roaring – it’s lots of fun :-)

  6. 2 June, 2010 / 11:47 am

    My husband teases our 2 boys all the time, but I rarely do it. So when they want reassurance they tend to come to me. I was teased a lot as a child, because I always rose to it – I was good bait, but having been on the receiving end I find it very difficult to do it to others to the extent of making someone cry. I have no problem with gentle teasing, especially when someone really does deserve it, but sometimes it can go too far and become cruel, and while you can always argue that it helps toughen someone up, I think you do have to know when to stop. I suppose it depends on the personality of the child – some are able to take it better than others.

    My 3 year old already loves to tease, and to wind people up quite deliberately. I think it’s in his genes, so I’m sure I’m heading for being on the receiving end of more merciless teasing in the not too distant future!

    • 4 June, 2010 / 4:56 pm

      I do feel slightly bad about the making Bee cry part. I didn’t do it often, but it was just so tempting to see her cute little face with the bottom lip stuck out. (Bad mummy).

      It does sound like you have some teasing to come from your 3yo – have fun with that!

      • 7 October, 2017 / 3:05 am

        The person she trusts the most is intimidating her to the point of helpless distress (tears) because this person enjoys it,

        Then said person posts online looking for positive affirmation for her uneasiness at having done this.

        You may want to reflect on the possible darkness at the root of this, it may help you to understand your motives better.

        • Gemma
          23 July, 2019 / 11:32 pm

          Thank you, for saying what i couldn’t put into words. I feel that teasing someone is fun for both if they both enjoy it but if only one enjoys it it’s bullying and incredibly selfish. ‘Character building’ it is not, it’s destroying and oppressive if it’s one-sided, regardless of your opinion on how ‘mild’ it is. I know this from experience. Emotionality is unique for everyone and should be respected.

  7. 3 June, 2010 / 7:50 am

    I had a lisp as a child and my parents thought it was hilarious to make me sit on their bed on a sunday morning (only day that dad didnt work so was there when we got up) and say ‘sausages’ and ‘trousers’ just to hear me lisp :-s

    • 4 June, 2010 / 4:57 pm

      Oh dear, that does sound a bit harsh! Did you hate it? Has it resulted in years of therapy??

      • 9 June, 2010 / 11:19 am

        Nah, now i think about it it was quite funny…funny at my expense but funny all the same lol
        x

        • 13 June, 2010 / 11:49 am

          Phew, that’s a relief – she seems to be getting used to the Bob thing now. I won’t do anything too cruel, like mention her stinky breath too often.

  8. 3 June, 2010 / 8:42 pm

    Nah not cruel, character forming and yes, we do it too (although not the lion roaring, not tried that one… yet)

    • 4 June, 2010 / 4:58 pm

      Oh good, I was beginning to feel a bit guilty, especially after the lisp story…

  9. 3 June, 2010 / 9:54 pm

    Roy! I love it, I was laughing as I read it too! Brilliant. We tease Lois quite a bit for being such a clutz and call her a donkey after which we go ‘Hee Haw’. The baby has started to join in too which makes it even funnier. I too see it as character building and hope it doesn’t come back to haunt me. Sort of dreading her starting school when she can tell other adults about the mocking and we may get into trouble/warned for damaging her etc etc.

    • 4 June, 2010 / 4:59 pm

      hahaha! I love that you even make noises to go with it! I feel much better about JUST calling her Roy now.

  10. 9 June, 2010 / 9:47 am

    We started calling Kathryn “Bob” when she was about 8 – actually her full moniker was “Bob Hungy’s Cheesy Jeans” (don’t ask). She’s 15 now – and everyone calls her Bob – she registers everywhere online with the name BobKat… she even has it screen printed on the back of her school sweatshirt – so be prepared for “Roy” to hang around forever! :)

    • 13 June, 2010 / 11:49 am

      You can’t say ‘Bob Hungy’s Cheesy Jeans’ and not expect me to ask!!??

  11. Mokkie
    1 June, 2013 / 7:36 am

    Oh. How I love to your blog. How I TOTALLY wish I was there to watch you tease your children. Then I would grab the pinking shears and complete a very tidy tubal ligation. Just teasing! A little depoprovera with your daily needling could spare a few tears in the future. I jest. Just joshing you! I think women like you exist everywhere. And for that, there is a little thing called the murderous blog reader fantasy. Just a silly little fantasy that give me the kickles. *smirk*

  12. Miranda
    28 June, 2015 / 7:29 pm

    I know this article is older but I really want to share my opinion on the matter.

    There are many types of people in this world, some are more sensitive and others are joksters. It’s fine to joke around however when people verbally or non-verbally communicate to you they don’t like that (sometimes kids don’t know how to communicate how they feel so they stomp off) you need to respect that. You cannot force a sensitive child to be the light-hearted kid you wish they would be, please accept your children’s boundaries and consider their qualities gifts and not flaws.

    You mentioned you don’t want your child to be a drama queen, when you disrespected her character you allowed her inner drama queen to come out. I am not saying you have to walk around on egg shells with your daughter but just know what upsets her or not. My niece is 7 and has an interest in boys and when people tease her she stomps off crying. Then people think it’s funny when she’s upset but really it’s not funny. When she gets older she will most likely keep boys a secret if people keep teasing her about them, she could end up into trouble.

    While your intentions are not meant to harm your kids reflect on how this may affect them when they’re older. If your child needs help, comfort, or safety they should come to you knowing you’ll take their fears and concerns seriously and not as a joke.

  13. Hilary
    25 June, 2016 / 9:29 pm

    Some people are just naturally not very sensitive, and teasing is no big deal. My dad is like this. But some people are highly sensitive. It’s a real thing, you can look up “highly sensitive person” and read up on it. This is what I am, and always have been. Maybe your daughter is, too.

    Thing is, just like when giving good gifts to friends, we have to stop and think about what is best for them, not what is most amusing for us. The same goes for teasing. As a highly sensitive person, I can assure you, teasing really is no fun.

    The next thing I would ask you is to consider why you tease children in the first place. “Because it’s fun” isn’t really the source, in case that’s what you’re thinking. Why is it fun? Here’s the answer: Because it gives you a feeling of power.

    Should we really be seeking that power high from (and at the emotional expense of) children? Think about this. You’re better than that.

  14. Jill
    20 September, 2020 / 10:30 am

    Teasing is fine but only when the person who is being teased is OK with it. If you listen to the words or what you did out of context it sounds nasty. “I deliberately made my child cry by scaring her ” or “she was happy… I called her baby over and over, ignored her pleas for me to stop until she was so upset she ran upstairs to get away from me”

    A teaser needs to know when to stop.

    Tease a child regularly without care and they will stop confiding in you for fear of being mocked. They will learn that its OK to engage in bullying behaviour as long as its done with a smile.

    Some people are very sensitive to this stuff. It can cause real damage if misjudged.

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