Inside: Raise kind kids by helping your kids be funny without being mean with these tips and tricks.
“Well, at least I don’t smell like chicken feet. Haha. Just kidding.”
“No, it’s funny.”
And then my husband chimed in with one line that changed the course of the moment for my little jokester:
“But who is it funny for?”
My son had to stop and think about it.
He might think it’s funny.
But my daughter, who was on the short end of the joke didn’t think it was so funny. She thought it was mean.
My kids, like most kids, are trying to figure out how to be funny.
So they laugh at inappropriate jokes.
They laugh at other people when they make a mistake or do something silly or embarrassing.
And they try out one-liners and comebacks they often hear on TV shows that mock people.
The problem is other people, their friends, classmates and siblings, are the target of the jokes.
And the “jokes” are not always so funny for those kids.
Funny is often hurtful.
So if we’re raising our kids to be kind, we have to show them how to be funny without being mean.
Why we need to teach our kids to be funny without being mean
As our kids are trying to fit in and find their place in their social circles and our family, they’re trying to navigate what will make other’s laugh.
Maybe they want the attention.
Or maybe they find joy in getting other people to really laugh.
And it’s a fine line between laughing at someone and making fun of someone or laughing at their expense.
But we are intentionally raising our kids to be kind.
We talk about kindness, model kindness, and encourage kindness.
We teach our kids how to be more mindful of others and to THINK of other people before they speak.
We even made being kind one of our only 2 family rules because we expect our kids to be kind.
And so we have to explicitly show them how they can be funny without laughing at someone else’s misfortune or embarrassing moment.
How to decide if something is more mean than funny
We don’t want to take away our kids’ senses of humor.
We want them to laugh.
We want them to enjoy life and giggle at silly things.
But there is a fine line between funny and mean.
Adult comedians often cross over this line. So inappropriate and “mean” jokes are what we’re used to hearing as adults.
Comedians poke fun of ethnicities and religions and groups of people different than on our own.
So it’s become our society’s normal to laugh at other people.
From rednecks to obese people to minorities who just got here from their country, almost every group has been on the chopping block.
And we were raised to laugh at blooper reels and dumb choices and dangerous activities on America’s Funniest Videos, Jacka$$ and Youtube videos.
Bob Saget has told us what to laugh at since we were kids.
The problem is when we transfer these jokes to real life and to real people, not everyone is laughing.
When someone falls on a video, the knee-jerk reaction is to laugh.
We can’t point and laugh.
So when someone falls in real-life, our knee jerk reaction has to change.
We have to offer to help. We have to check to make sure the person is okay.
On TV sitcoms, the one-liners that make fun of people get the “laugh track”…our kids are being conditioned to think it’s funny by network executives.
But in real life, when our kids deliver the snarky, sarcastic one-liners, it’s often hurtful or cruel.
So we need to help our kids decide what’s really funny and what’s not so funny to everyone else.
It’s more mean than funny when you have to say:
- Just kidding.
- No offense but…
- I was only joking…
- You’re too sensitive.
- But it made everyone else laugh.
Or when the person who is the brunt of the joke:
- isn’t laughing with you
- is physically hurt
- is crying or upset or mad
- walks away from the group
When these types of jokes are told over and over again, it comes dangerously close to bullying behavior and bullying when the person getting laughed at:
- gets teased about the joke long after the joke was told
- is the only one who is the brunt of the jokes
- has asked you stop and you continue
- is on the short end of a power dynamic (not in the cool crowd, younger, physically smaller, outnumbered, etc.)
- teased or laughed at for something they can’t control (their race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, sex, special needs, food allergy, level of academic intelligence, physical traits, etc.
Related: What is bullying and why all parents need to know the definition
How to help kids be funny without being mean:
1. Give them jokes
Encourage your kids to be funny without anyone being the brunt of the joke.
Grab joke and riddle books and have them learn a few good ones or teach them a few tongue twisters (my family’s favorite: Say “Toy Boat” five times).
I send my kids to school with jokes from this joke book so they can tell jokes to their friends at lunch.
And when they share these jokes with me, over and over again, I laugh.
I want them to get in the habit of knowing jokes that don’t make fun of other people are still funny.
Even if I’ve heard them a dozen times today.
Here’s a list of some great family friendly jokes from Frugal Fun 4 Boys and Girls
2. Teach them to help first, laugh later (if ever)
If they see someone fall in a video, remind them it probably hurt a lot.
And it’s not funny to be hurt.
This is crucial if we want them to know what to do if they see someone fall in real life.
I was running in middle school, slipped on a puddle and skidded out ten feet.
And everyone laughed.
But one person came up and asked me if I was okay and held out their hand.
It might have looked funny as I fell.
But it didn’t feel funny.
It hurt my leg. And my pride.
So when we see someone fall we can say:
Are you okay?
Can I help you?
Are you hurt?
And if it’s a friend who falls and they get up laughing, then it’s “okay” to laugh too.
3. Ask them this question
When our kids inevitably forget and laugh when they see someone do something embarrassing or fall and get hurt, ask your kids how it probably feels for that other person.
How does their knee feel?
How does it feel to fall off your bike?
How would it feel to walk back to class with toilet paper stuck to your shoe or with your zipper down?
And then ask them, “How do you think it feels to have that happen and then be laughed at for it?”
Pausing to help our kids acknowledge how others might feel teaches them to step out of their egotistical little worlds and be mindful of others.
It helps our kids to empathize and teaches them compassion.
4. Find funny shows without the comebacks
Ever since my kids outgrew the sweet Disney Junior and Nick Jr. shows and graduated to Disney and Nickelodeon, the snarky comebacks have reared their ugly heads in our home.
We’ve had to ban a ton of “appropriate” shows because while the content is created for 8-13 year olds, it’s not appropriate for our home.
Because my kids thought to get the laugh in, they had to have the last word in like their favorite TV characters…
The snarky, sarcastic, bratty taunt or comeback.
No, thank you.
That’s one of the quickest ways put a tear into our family identity we’ve worked hard to create.
Related: How to build a strong family identity
So when we hear the nasty one-liners, we remind the kids of our family rules and that what they ‘re saying is unkind.
And we started finding better shows that don’t have to put people down to get the laugh.
Related: 15 Surprising Things We Banned to Raise Kinder Kids
5. Steal my husband’s line
Borrow or “steal” the line my husband countered to my son when he was making a joke at his sister’s expense.
“Who is it funny for?”
Stop and ask your kids to decide if anyone’s feelings got hurt.
Is one person not laughing?
Have you made this joke before and the repetition of it is hurtful?
Is it “funny” because you’re making fun of someone else, but calling it a joke?
“Who is funny for?” is really asking: “Who is it NOT funny for?“
And when we encourage our kids to be funny in a way that doesn’t belittle or put down other people, we can laugh at their jokes whole-heartedly.
Because a kid who can deliver a real one-liner that’s funny for everyone, is a fun kid to be around.
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