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Humor is an effective parenting tool for disciplining and bond-building. You don’t need to be naturally funny to add humor to your parenting toolbox. It is a surprisingly effective — and underused — parenting technique to relieve tension and strengthen the bond with your children. For parents, humor can be a gateway to a deeper connection.

Humor isn’t just for goofy moments. It’s a gentler way to get your children to do what you want…and, in many instances, save a parent’s sanity. In her book, Weird Parenting Wins, Hillary Frank, creator of the podcast “The Longest Shortest Time,” offers hundreds of ideas. They include suggesting that eating beets will turn your poop pink to deciding those important decisions that divide siblings and escalate arguments: who picks the car radio music; who sits in front; or who chooses the family movie by designating one kid odd and one kid even. On even days of the month, that child gets to choose. To prevent siblings arguing in public, threaten to start singing in the grocery store or at the mall. Or, start singing anyway.  

Frank offers an enormous stream of quirky tips that may work for your child in situations you find sticky, irksome, or impossible. If not humorous at the time, they are more than likely to be retold many times over for years accompanied by laughs from both parents and kids.

Humor protects the parent-child bond

Sadly, parents’ endless, sometimes caustic and demanding attempts to have children follow rules or behave can eat away at the parent-child connection.  

For parents who are infuriated by what their child has done or won’t do, summoning humor in those frustrating moments has a surprising bonus. Dr. Rod A. Martin, an expert in the value of humor, believes humor improves emotional well-being and relationships. He points out, “Besides boosting positive emotions and counteracting negative moods like depression and anxiety, humor is thought to be a valuable mechanism for coping with stressful life events. It’s also an important social skill for initiating, maintaining, and enhancing satisfying interpersonal relationships.” In other words, humor serves to reduce a parent’s anger while diffusing tension in your child.It’s a win-win.

A lighter approach reduces both parent’s and child’s stress. It also can keep a situation from escalating and reduce a child’s feelings of regret or remorse over having done something inappropriate. For example, let’s say your child has broken a window playing ball in the house after being told to stop. In this moment, sprinkling in humor along with your scolding can balance feelings of shame that your child will likely have already.

Quirky activities that embrace humor

Instead of being an intractable parent, try some of these: 

  • Act silly — walk backwards or abruptly stop speaking — as a signal that you do not approve of whatever might be happening at the moment. The children will laugh at you once they understand your action means you are not happy with their current behavior. Think of it as a more effective signal than becoming cross or yelling — things your children may have become numb to.
  • Talk to your child in pig Latin or ask her to repeat it back to you in the language she’s studying in school or in pig Latin. “I didn’t mean to break the window” in pig Latin is: “Iyay idnday’tay eanmay otay eakbray ethay indowway.”
  • Pretend you’re an angel or part of a cleanup crew (when a mess has been created) to diffuse the situation and get help with cleanup. This helps when a child is automatically mortified or sad after having done something wrong.
  • Make believe you are crying or sad or do a dance and give it a name: “The Broken Vase Dance” or the “Not Going to Bed Dance.”
  • Make up a jingle to use when your child might be acting unsuitably or is about to break one of your rules…and repeat it often. For example, blurt out a tune when you see your daughter is about to go over her allotted nightly screen time. Or, sing when your son is about to touch an object he shouldn’t.
  • Laugh at yourself when you make a mistake or do something “dumb.”

Remember: It’s about diffusing tension

We are all not naturally funny, but breaking into laughter or acting nonsensically eases tension simply because your child was expecting something else: your wrath, a stern warning, or a stiff punishment. You push a child away who likely feels miserable because he broke a rule or your favorite bowl (or because he got caught).

True, humor isn’t always the answer: Anything that puts your child in physical danger or seems to put his academic or social standing at risk calls for a serious chat or imposing restrictions.

But, by changing the tempo with humor, you deflect your child’s apprehension and give him a chance to rethink his actions instead of focusing on your reprimand or pouting over the grounding you deliver. She’s already stressed by the transgression that curtailed her privileges and may begin to harbor resentment toward her restricting parent.

How do you want to be seen in your child’s eyes? As a fun, easy-going parent who rolls with the “punches” even when they sting? Or, as a tough taskmaster who lacks flexibility or the ability to understand that kids make mistakes — often unintentional, but upsetting nonetheless?

The more you can call up your sense of humor and put the problem in perspective, the more likely it is that the parent-child bond will be strengthened. Most importantly, humor underscores that you love your child despite the immediate misstep. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’snever too late to insert some humor into parenting your toddler or teenager.