Using Humor to Diffuse a Bad Attitude

by Jimmie Lanley on December 17, 2010

I’ve got a tween. And that means that attitude issues crop up more commonly than in other stages.
reading poem

I love Jamie’s creative Tips for Creating a “Bad” Homeschool Day Routine where she tackles what to do on those days that could easily erupt into full-blown crisis mode.

One suggestion she didn’t mention (but I’m sure she uses) is humor. Here are two examples:

How to handle a cranky kid who doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.

Pull out your copy of I Am Not Going To Get Up Today! and read it outloud right there in the bedroom.

I tried this on Sprite one day. I read the book with lots of expression and acting out. Then I left the room. In just a few minutes she was up and dressed.

Sure, I could have flexed my parental muscles and demanded she obey. And she would have. But her attitude the entire morning would have been terrible. It took me only a few minutes to read the silly Seuss book, and it set a playful atmosphere for our homeschool day.

How to handle the exaggerated sighing over a particular assignment.

Get really dramatic and silly. Turn on your acting skills to the point that the child can’t stay serious at all.

One day Sprite gave off an exasperated sigh after I gave her some work to do. I reacted with, “This won’t kill you.”

But she contradicted me, “Yes, it will!”

That was my cue! Choking out through fake sobs, I said “Oh, it was great having you as a daughter, Sprite. I will miss you so much after you die from this work.” I followed up with pretend, uncontrollable sobbing and nose blowing, saying “It’s so sad to see you go in this tragic way… killed by homeschool.”

Of course, Sprite couldn’t maintain her bad attitude. She dissolved in laughter at the absurdity of the situation.

Why Humor Works

Your child is not expecting you to use this tactic, first of all. The sheer novelty of it will catch her off guard and change the tone of the interaction.

And humor makes us laugh– both of us, parent and child.When we laugh, our frustration just melts away.

Although I am a firm believer in instilling obedience and discipline in our children, I do think that using humor at times is a great way to fulfill the command in Colossians 3:21 not to exasperate your children.

What about you? Do you ever use humor to deal with cranky kids? Share your tactics with us.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex December 17, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Oh yes! humour does work, but like you said “at times”. It won’t always work, and I know that with my teenager, it will rarely work now. What does work is what worked when she was a toddler, for me to try to figure out why she is cranking, and sometimes asking her a couple of questions..communication is key with a teenager in my opinion.

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Darya December 17, 2010 at 8:45 pm

This is great! It reminds me of a time my then tween was having a dramatic meltdown (which was so unlike her) and when she was done my husband said, “And the Oscar goes to the best drama queen in the Middle East”. We all just erupted in laughter and then addressed her attitude.

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Dawn December 17, 2010 at 8:57 pm

I use humor a lot around here. It works great for three of my kiddos. However, it does not work at all for my younger son. It just makes him madder. I think I better go read the above article.
Blessings,
Dawn

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Anita December 17, 2010 at 9:11 pm

I agree with Dawn. Humor works well, but you have to know your child. One of my girls responds beautifully to humor, but not the younger one. Problem is the younger one is very dramatic and naturally funny. So often she will say something in all seriousness, and everyone around her will crack up. We’ve even dubbed them “Allyisms” (her name’s Ally). So with her if I try to use humor she gets offended that I’m making fun of her instead of listening to her. She’s more of the let’s cuddle and read on the couch like Jamie suggested.

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Deanne December 17, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Humor is a good tool to keep in the toolbox, for sure.

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Phyllis December 17, 2010 at 10:44 pm

It doesn’t work for me. They think I am making fun of them. I do it anyway from time to time just because it is natural to me, but it doesn’t usually work.

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amy in peru December 18, 2010 at 8:49 am

Phyllis,
This is sometimes the case with my boys too… I DO have to be selective. Sometimes it’s just a matter of singing a silly song or just being silly… trying to make them laugh generally gets to them and even if they don’t give in completely and actually LAUGH, it does usually change the mood – a LOT better than chewing them out would, which admittedly happens occasionally… :(

But when I pull this tool, and the time is right, it does work almost every time…

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Sandy December 18, 2010 at 12:22 am

Excellent advice! We all take ourselves too seriously at times, our kids included. I love that you told her you would miss her after she died from homeschooling. Way.Too.Funny.

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Cindy December 18, 2010 at 1:29 am

Awesome post! Will you read the book to me when *I* don’t want to get up in the morning? ;)

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Susan December 18, 2010 at 3:42 am

What a great post, Jimmie! This is such a good reminder to me, as I have a tendency to be all about business. I don’t want to miss the fun either. Humor is such a lovely tool. It diffuses everyone at the same time–both exasperated mama and frustrated child feel better. Thank you!

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Debbie December 18, 2010 at 5:36 am

That is too funny Jimmie!
We use humor quite a bit, only it’s not coming from me. Our almost 15 year old son has a knack for mimicking people… and I’m no exception… He can capture most any ” mood or vibe” I’m giving off so when we are busting up hysterically it’s mostly because he has brought the humor to our homeschooling table! He has me in my teacher hat down pretty well…Thank Goodness… our almost 13 year old daughter takes things waaaay too seriously these days… naturally…
BREATHE~ LAUGH… BREATHE…. LAUGH….HIDE… then breathe some more! And this all to familiar phrase enters my mind often… This too Shall Pass!
Happy, Happy, Happy, Homeschooling…
Deb

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amy in peru December 18, 2010 at 5:51 am

Yes. Yes, I do. Today in fact. it works like a charm… almost EVERY time.

…this is an excellent tool!

amy

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Nadene December 18, 2010 at 3:58 pm

My children love to quote comments from stories or movies and many a ‘hairy’ moment has disolved into giggles! When humour has not worked, we have used the “Hit The Rewind Button!” and that person who has had a bad moment, rewinds and tries a different response. The Lord’s grace gives us the opportunity to forgive and allow someone another opportunity to try again. I think most these tough moments really require grace.

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Kate December 18, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Oh, yes! Humor is nonstop, at times, in our home, much to my consternation. When I’m really angry, I can’t use humor but I really try to stay calm (it’s gotten easier, now that the kids are older) and catch them off guard with humor. My nearly 10 year old is the drama queen – she blows hot and cold emotionally but if you can make her laugh, it helps, even if just for a few minutes. I love the days she’ll do 5 pages of math with no motivation from me. It balances out the days she cries and moans through a few problems. I’ll try to remember your great acting skills the next time I hear “This will kill me (and I have heard it)!” Thanks for the tip!
- Kate (Have a lovely Christmas, by the way!)

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Tammy December 18, 2010 at 10:38 pm

This is great advice. I really could have used this tactic the other day with my son’s meltdown over math. At least I’ll have it for next time, though, we are now on Christmas break…I hope I can remember to use when we start school again in January.

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Melody December 19, 2010 at 5:24 am

Sometimes when my kids are whining about doing school work I will pretend to play the violin and hum a sad song–off key, while they are talking. Sometimes I sing the Mr. Rogers song “You’ve Got to Do It”, sometimes I do exactly what you did with Sprite. My favorite thing to do is to say nothing until they ask for lunch, or they want me to do something for them and then I start whining and saying ‘do I have to?’ and how unfair it is that I always have to do stuff, and why do I always have to do it. I try to use the exact phrases that they use when they complain, and then they laugh and start trying to encourage me using the same phrases I would usually say to them. The role reversal seems to work better than other things! :-)

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MarshaMarshaMarsha December 19, 2010 at 7:07 am

We have attitudes that creep in at times as well. And then sometimes the kids have an attitude too.

One tactic I use to diffuse attitudes is food. Yup, the old “I think you need to eat something” tactic. When things are really rough, I demand that said child eat a bowl of ice cream, even if we haven’t had lunch (or breakfast) yet. Other times, I tell them to pop some popcorn and eat 23 pieces only. Not 22 and not 24, exactly 23. The silly preciseness of it makes them start laughing with their eyes.

Other times I will give them a specific task outside, like “Go outside and don’t come back in until you have scored 5 baskets.”

We can all use a breather sometime!

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Angela December 21, 2010 at 12:46 am

I love how real and transparent you are Jimmie…great ideas too! I tried using humor this morning to wake up my 13 yo “Sleeping Beauty” and it worked!

Have a Blessed Christmas!

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Sharron Clemons December 22, 2010 at 4:45 am

I love how real and transparent you are Jimmie…great ideas too! I tried using humor this morning to wake up my 13 yo “Sleeping Beauty” and it worked! Have a Blessed Christmas!

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Susan Evans December 25, 2010 at 1:36 am

Humor is so important in life. In the middle of the night a couple of days ago, 4 of us were vomiting. (We had a stomach flu.) In the morning I said to my husband, “Maybe I’ll lose a couple of pounds like I’ve been wanting.” Then I started singing, “Always look on the bright side of life…” He laughed.

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Rachael December 27, 2010 at 5:54 am

Thanks for the reminder Jimmie! We as adults need to be reminded not to take little inconveniences as tragedies sometimes too!

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alecat December 27, 2010 at 7:12 pm

We’ve discovered humour works here at the right moment, as well as some ‘setting up’ to help achieve a goal she thought impossible.

We had a struggle on our hands, but we encouraged her to finish a hike up a mountain. Tears turned to the biggest grin when she got there FIRST!!

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Kim William December 29, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Oh, yes! Humor is nonstop, at times, in our home, much to my consternation. When I’m really angry, I can’t use humor but I really try to stay calm (it’s gotten easier, now that the kids are older) and catch them off guard with humor. My nearly 10 year old is the drama queen – she blows hot and cold emotionally but if you can make her laugh, it helps, even if just for a few minutes. I love the days she’ll do 5 pages of math with no motivation from me. It balances out the days she cries and moans through a few problems. I’ll try to remember your great acting skills the next time I hear “This will kill me (and I have heard it)!” Thanks for the tip! – Kate (Have a lovely Christmas, by the way!)

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Robin at Stone Soup Homeschool Network December 31, 2010 at 2:34 am

I had to post this one on the Stone Soup FB page and twitter! Thanks for the reminder. Getting frustrated never helps, and although my kids might not always appreciate my humor, at least I can keep SOMEBODY’S attitude in check—mine!

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Jimmie December 31, 2010 at 6:29 am

Exactly, Robin. You are such a great supporter of my blog and writing. THANK YOU!

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Tamma December 31, 2010 at 3:31 am

For eye-rolling-
“Oh no!”, I exclaimed. “It looks like your eye muscles are degenerating. Time for some eye muscle excercises.” Holding my finger in front of his eyes, we chant. “North, South, East and West.”- while his eyes are following my finger- we giggle and laugh and invariably end up with one final eye roll.

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Jimmie December 31, 2010 at 6:29 am

I LOVE this, Tamma! Brilliant. Can’t wait to use this one.

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