Recently I was at a table of guys. All but two of us were fathers. The question came up about what is appropriate when joking with your children? What’s healthy joking with your kids, and what’s not? Surprisingly, one of them looked at me and said, “That would be a good topic for you to write about on your blog!”
Since I am trying to include more resources here to help parents, even if I’m not one, it wasn’t a half bad idea. So, I took up the challenge.
As I thought about what healthy joking with kids should look like I came up with seven principles I would follow if I had kids of my own.
1. ‘The Golden Rule’ Rule
As the old saying goes, “Kids are people too.” I joke with my wife, and sometimes make fun of her, but she knows that it’s never mean-spirited, and I make fun of myself far more than I do her.
The Golden Rule, in this case, is Joke unto others as you would have them joke unto you. Even in our joking, our words must be as we would want others’ words be to us.
2. Don’t Learn Comedy from Hollywood
As long as I’ve been alive TV show comedies have relied on the cheap laughs of biting sarcasm, making fun of, and sniping at. They did it on The Jefferson, Sanford and Son and Archie Bunker, M*A*S*H, Mad About You, Roseanne, and I’m sure everything sitcom that’s been produced since.
I haven’t regularly watched TV shows in so long, I have no idea what’s popular nowadays. If you want to study them for how to joke with your kids, watch them and do the opposite of whatever they say and do.
3. Healthy Joking is Age Appropriate
My father is 88 years old. He’s been known for his sense of humor all his life and he’s still very sharp for his age. But I have also noticed in recent years that I can’t joke the same way with him anymore. His mind runs just a second behind and doesn’t quite catch the occasional quick quip. If I want to say something funny I almost have to rehearse it first in my mind, testing my material to see if it is obvious enough to be enjoyed.
In the same way, how parents joke with ten year old is different from how they would have five years earlier, just as it will be five years into the future. Like all public speaking, consider your audience.
4. Healthy Joking Considers Each Child’s Temperament
You’ve seen it. One child is lively and outgoing, a natural crack-up. His brother or sister is the exact reserved and introspective opposite. One rolls withe punches while other takes everything to heart. Loving your children means loving and joking with them in ways that respect their individual God-given temperaments.
5. Don’t Pull All Your Punches
Speaking of rolling with the punches…it seems to me that pulling every verbal punch is not wise. Obviously biting sarcasm or a sharp barb intentionally meant to hurt their feelings isn’t loving (See Rule #1). At the same time, age and temperament appropriate verbal repartee builds character and prepares them for the real world.
Eventually they’re going to experience the humor (good, bad, or otherwise) of their peers. Letting some soft verbal jabs land and engaging a tussle of wits will help develops thick skin at home under the coaching care of loving parents and help prepare them for the inevitable.
6. Know When and How Hard to Punch
Joking with children, or even adults for that matter, requires that we know when and how hard to punch. Is it the right time for a joke or barb? Is it too much, too fast? Is it an intentional “low blow”?
James warns us that we can’t control our tongue, so it’s important we recognize in ourselves when our “just joking!” really isn’t—a danger specifically cautioned against in Scripture. (“Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” Proverbs 26:1).
7. Shift the Focus. Share the Laugh.
Part of laugh and developing both a maturity and humility is being able to laugh at ourselves, both in making fun of ourselves and when we are the focus of the humor. At the same time, we have to be careful not to always make our children (or in my case, my wife) the constant focus of our comedic genius. Doing that isn’t funny; it’s mean.
Whenever possible, look for ways to include your children on “your side” of the joke, laughing together at an idea or object (not a person, unless that person actually is wanting you to laugh at them like a clown or a silly character in a movie).
Any parent who aims to live submitted to the Scriptures will naturally want to love and nurture their children in a way that pleases the Lord. And that includes healthy joking, that is in ways that glorify God even in times of laughter and playful teasing and joking. All of us, parents or not, would do well to keep that in mind in how we communicate with others, no matter their age. After all, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).
What do you think of my 7 principles for healthy joking with your kids? Anything you disagree with? Anything you would add? Share your thoughts in a comment below!
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