Parental Coping Skills: How to Use Humor to Defuse Fights with Your Child


As a parent, when all else  fails, sometimes all you can do is laugh. But did  you also know that finding the  humor in a situation is actually a helpful  coping skill that, when used correctly,  can be very effective? For starters,  laughter helps give you some objectivity  and allows you to find common ground  with your child, even during an  interaction that might have been tense and  angry moments before. Simply put,  it’s hard to be mad and laugh at the same  time. As you’ve probably noticed in your own life, the ability to find the humor  in a situation can instantly dissolve a fight or help us relate to one another   in a new way.

Laughter  should always be about the situation, and not about the person. If you laugh at  your child, that can be shaming—and will probably cause his anger to  escalate.


Related:  Is your child’s defiant behavior no laughing matter?

Remember, how we look at things affects how we choose to react or  respond to  a situation. The ability to view the situation from a lighter perspective, when  it’s appropriate, can  help keep you calm and help you respond from a more  thoughtful  place, rather than from an emotional one.

It’s important to note that one  of the very first things we do in life is  laugh, before we speak or even walk.  There’s a reason people say, “Laughter is  good for the soul,” and “Laughter is  the best medicine”—there really is that  physical benefit, because it relieves  stress and benefits your circulation and  respiratory system, to name just a few  things. Not only that, but as Bill  Cosby says, “Through humor, you can soften  some of the worst blows that life  delivers. And once you find laughter, no  matter how painful your situation  might be, you can survive it.”

You may be sitting there saying, “You don’t  know my kid—there’s nothing funny  about his behavior.” We’ve worked with oppositional and  defiant children and teens for years,  and Kim is the mother of an  adult child with ODD. Believe me, we know where you’re coming from! We’ll be  addressing how to use a sense of  humor with ODD kids later on in the  article.

Related:  ODD Kid pushing all your buttons?

7 Ways to Use Humor Effectively as a Parent

Remember, it’s about the situation, not the person.  The number one rule about using humor with your  child is that the  laughter should always be about the situation, and not about the person.   If you laugh at your child, that can  be shaming—and will probably  cause his anger to escalate. Here’s an example  from Kim’s life: When her ODD  son was about 11 years old, he was mad about  something and went to kick a  cabinet door in the kitchen. In doing so, he  slipped and fell on the floor, not  hurting himself. They both started laughing  at the absurdity of the situation,  and he completely forgot what he was angry  about in the first place. In that  moment, Kim was able to look at him and say,“Okay,  c’mon, that was funny. I  love you, but that was funny.”

As a parent, the question to  ask yourself with humor is, are you joining  with your child—is it shared  humor? Or are you laughing at your   child? Laughing at someone’s pain, hopes, fears or beliefs isn’t funny, but   laughing together during a silly moment can do wonders to bridge a gap or   defuse a fight.

Related:  How to defuse fights with your child and stop  the blame game.

Above all, you don’t want to  hurt your child’s feelings—that’s not the goal  here. You don’t want to laugh at  something that’s important to him or her. And  of course, it’s never good to laugh  when your kid has been hurt  physically or emotionally.

Learn to laugh at yourself. As a parent,  it’s good to laugh  at yourself once in a while.This is also something that we  can model for our  kids. It’s so important to show them how to refrain from taking themselves so  seriously all the time, and that it’s okay to laugh when  you make a mistake.  You can even chuckle, shrug and say, “I can’t believe I was so steamed  about that customer who cut in line  at the bank today. I should’ve just let it  go. I guess I was just in a bad mood  or something.” By doing this, you’re  literally showing your child how to “laugh  it off.”

A question that can help your child. A great  question to  ask when things are getting tense is, “Wow, why are we arguing about something   so small?” This pulls both of you out of the argument, lightens the mood, and  gives  you some objectivity and perspective. Let’s say you want to see one movie  but  your child would rather go to another, and you start to argue. You can calm  things down by saying, “Okay, this is silly, huh? You pick the movie this time,  and I’ll  pick the next one.” That way, you are modeling to your child how to  change the  mood and put things into perspective.

Focus on your child’s strengths. One parent  we knew had a  son who would argue and argue, no matter what was at stake. He always  had to have the last word, and his mom said it was exhausting.  One day when he was explaining yet again why he shouldn’t have  to do his  chores, she thought to herself, “Man, someday he’s going to make  a really good  lawyer. I can just see him up there arguing in front of a judge.  And the judge  is going to say, ‘Oh my Lord, enough already!’” The mom didn’t  share this with  her son in that moment—he would have gotten defensive and angry—but  it helped  her put his behavior into perspective and have a moment of private   amusement.

Related:  How to give effective consequences to your  defiant child.

For Parents of Defiant or Oppositional Kids: For  parents of  really defiant, oppositional kids, it may feel like there’s nothing  to laugh  at. Life can get so difficult with these kids – it can become very  intense and  exhausting. But even with ODD kids, there’s actually a lot that you  can find to  laugh about. Again, you don’t want to start laughing at your child—you  probably already know  that if you laugh at an ODD kid, he’ll usually escalate.  You can laugh to  yourself, though, when the situation gets ridiculous.

Here’s  a good example. One parent we worked with had a 16-year-old boy with  ODD. She had to call  the police because he’d become violent and broken  some things in the house.  While talking to the officers on the front porch, the  boy actually said,  “I want to get emancipated and live on my own, but my mom  won’t give me a  ride down to the courthouse so I can fill out the paperwork.”  (He didn’t  have a driver’s license and hadn’t yet taken driver’s ed.) The mom  walked away  and chuckled to herself privately.

The point is, sometimes it’s  good to just walk away. You may need to go in  your own room and laugh quietly  to yourself, like this mom did. When Kim was  raising her ODD son, she became  adept at stepping back and taking herself out  of the equation and looking at  everything from an outside perspective. She  maintains that finding the humor in the situation “saved me on many, many  occasions.”

Related: “Parent the child  you have—not the child you thought you’d  have.”

Will we laugh about this later? Another  great question to  ask yourself when you’re upset about your child’s behavior is,  “Will this  matter in a few months or years?” If the answer is “no,” you can  probably let  it go after you address the situation with your child. And, while  this may not  be a laughing matter right now,recognize that it might be funny later  on. It’s good if you can say to  yourself, “Someday, we’re going to look back on  this and laugh.”

We also want to state here that just because you find  some  humor in the situation doesn’t mean you’re minimizing it. It doesn’t mean   you’re saying “This is funny so there aren’t going to be any consequences.” You’re still  following through as a parent, but you’re also keeping your head  above water by  allowing humor to give you some perspective.

Use laughter to connect with other parents. If you can  find  other parents to connect with over your kids’ behavior, it can be so  helpful.  It normalizes things, releases tension to laugh together,  and helps you relate  to someone else and find that common ground. When you can  empathize with each  other and find the humor in your own situation, it lightens  the load, even when  you’re going through a rough period with your child. In the  movie Steel  Magnolias, Dolly Parton’s  character says it so well: “Laughter through  tears is my favorite emotion.”


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