Tali was very upset. Her 4 year old son, Eli, was playing trucks with his friend, Aaron. Suddenly, Eli grabbed the toy that Aaron was playing with and wouldn’t give it back to him, making Aaron cry. When Tali admonished him for his behavior and made him go sit on the couch, he started to giggle and would not listen to her. This made her even more upset and she wanted to punish him even further.
Laughing while being disciplined is pretty normal for kids. They do it because they get nervous. They know they have done something wrong and are not sure how to react. Some kids will cry, pout or act out and others, like Eli, will start to giggle.
Laughing in the face of admonishment also serves another purpose. Children will try to maintain their pride and dignity after they have done something wrong, so they might laugh to save face. They don’t want to let you know how hurt or worried they really are that you are disciplining them. They may have a hard time admitting to themselves that their behavior is inappropriate. It is easier for them to laugh than to face their inner consciences.
Parents should try to avoid viewing the laughter as defiant behavior. It is better if parents just ignore the giggling and say:
“Sometimes kids laugh when they are nervous and upset. I know you are not doing it to be disrespectful. I am going to wait until you calm down and then we are going to talk about ways to play with other children. When you stop laughing, we will talk about what words we need to use when we want our friends to share toys.”
Most children’s behavior is developmentally appropriate, even laughing in the face of discipline. It is how we perceive their behavior that sets the tone for how we discipline children. If we view their behavior as disrespectful and defiant, we will discipline in an angry manner. If we view their behavior with compassion and understanding, our discipline will be kinder and more effective.