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What to do when kids make bad jokes

We’ve all been there, a child makes a joke with words they don’t seem to understand and then the room is blanketed a few degrees warmer with silence and awkward eye contact. Sometimes it’s a simple toilet joke taken too far, but other times language far more sinister is utilised and everyone is left feeling uncomfortable. Thankfully, those uncomfortable moments are golden teaching tools for adults to help support children as we both learn to navigate difficult conversations. Before you start sweating and start to think “Do people think I’m a bad parent?” or “I hope no one realises that that’s my kid”, give yourself a second, take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is a great opportunity to put your parenting skills into action. Keep in mind, there is nothing wrong with you or your child, bad jokes can be a phase – in particular toilet jokes for the younger ones. With older children, the uptick in internet and social media usage has created a myriad of behavioural symptoms, bad jokes being one of them. 

As internet culture has increased, as have young people’s exposure to concepts and words they simply cannot comprehend. Young people have become quickly exposed to social issues ranging from racism, feminism and gender from influencer-like sources, therefore the language and viewpoint in which young people are sometimes creating opinions and role-modelling from come in varying quality. Although there is a definite trend of children maturing faster than ever due to the internet, their brains are still developing at similar rates pre-internet revolution. So using the language and understanding what is being said can be vastly different experiences. Therefore, don’t over react to the content of what is being said, rather take a step back and look at the context – what emotion is the child or teen trying to communicate, what was the function or purpose of them sharing the joke? After you have calmed your own emotional reaction down, take these steps to support your child more:

Exploration: Check-in with the child, what do the words mean? Where have they heard those words before? What did they think and how did they feel when they first heard those words? 

Cause: What was happening before they told the joke, how were they feeling and what was going on around them? 

Effect: Ask the child if now, when they look around the room, if there was an expected or unexpected reaction to their joke. Typically, the answer is going to be unexpected, and this allows you to explain how when we act in a way that is unexpected it has different and perhaps difficult emotions consequences. If the joke was targeted at someone, ask if there’s an apology to take responsibility for any feelings that were hurt. 

Lastly, remember this isn’t about you as a parent, this is a parenting moment where you get to support your child. Parenting is a non-stop job where you never know when the next opportunity to test your skills is! 

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