Teasing and Scaring Kids!

Coincidentally, right after last week’s question about complimenting children came this question about scaring them. I thought you might like to think about both because together they are like a tune-up for understanding life from your child’s point of view.


I have a five-year-old girl. For some reason my sister’s husband Miles teases her all the time. Sometimes he is very funny, but at other times he scares the daylights out of her. What he does that frightens her is exaggerate consequences. Here are a couple of examples.

“If you don’t finish your hotdog, I will get a magic wand and turn you into a hot dog.”

“If you don’t stop crying, I will bring you to a special noisy place where all children go who don’t stop crying.”

What can I do?


You definitely have a problem to solve and an obligation to your daughter to do so. This uncle is acting inappropriatetly. While we know that this kind of teasing makes him feel powerful, he does not realize that. The more power he feels, the less power your daughter feels; and that is not good. While uncles are often the ones in the family who provide a lighter more joking approach to discipline than parents, they should not overstep their boundaries. In the old days, many uncles liked to do their scaring with the “boogie man,” but everyone seemed to feel comfortable with that guy!

While the obvious answer might seem to be just to tell this uncle to stop, we know that is not so easy. Best is to talk to your daughter later on in privacy. Ask her all kinds of open-ended questions to find out what she heard and really thought about these threats. If you detect uneasiness, quickly explain this powerless gesture.

In addition, talk to your brother about what actually happened. Because he probably never dreamed that he was really being so powerful, he is likely to be sorry and volunteer not to continue this practice. If needed, go ahead and kindly request a change in his behavior. If you see that your daughter is fine, you can let this problem go.

September! The Month of the Babies

Do you have a crying baby? Do you know why? Keep on studying until you get it. It is your baby’s job to teach you, and it is yours to learn.

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  1. Hi that’s great advice and I have used that and it has worked well.

    If it turns out you have a difficult adults on your hands there other things that you can try..

    I have had to teach other things to kids in situations where a grown up was mean or a kid was mean and wouldn’t respond to regular things!
    First I spend a lot of time saying…. I’m sorry you were scared or I’m sorry your feelings were hurt, that’s hard!
    Then I spend a couple of months saying sorry and clearing up the scary part and teaching the child to stand up for themselves.
    I find that a difficult grandparent or uncle will sometimes respond more to a kids saying nicely, that hurt my feelings or that scares me please stop.
    I have also found that humor works, when a child I know was called weird, I had her practice saying funny things in response….we laughed so hard at all the ideas…the child landed on ” thank you I know I’m so interesting and the other person responded saying yes you are and never said it again…

  2. You can always count on Ava to zero in on the exact problem. I love the idea of having the child approach the uncle. Yes, that does seem like the exact right way to get that uncle’s attention.

    I also love your caring understanding beginning. Yes, it would be very comforting to a child to know that an adult understands his or her pain. Feeling understood is the best!!!

  3. Aw thanks sally I appreciate it, you always say such supportive things!
    As they say necessity is the mother of invention:)
    I guess looking back I have worked with a lot of difficult families and had to find new ways to get thru. Sometime all I could do was give the child empathy and tools to cope eventually:)

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