The Anger Reaction and the Humor Alternative
Parent-Child Communication

The Anger Reaction and the Humor Alternative

Not a lot of people know this about me, but growing up I excelled at throwing temper tantrums. I have since learned to control them. However, sometimes the “Tiger Kat”, a term coined by my dad, comes out.

When I was young, to distract me from my overwhelmingly angry feelings as I yelled and stomped around, my dad would tell me, “No, no, no. You are doing this all wrong. If you are going to throw a temper tantrum, you have to get down on the floor and kick and yell and throw your arms around.” Then he would show me how it was done. It was absurd. Parents do not throw temper tantrums! But, more importantly, I would realize that I was not going to do that crazy thing, so maybe I needed to cool off. These thoughts made me uncomfortable and increased my frustration. They resulted in me going to my room, steaming, but also starting to think more rationally. Other times I would actually get on the floor with my dad, yell and kick some too, then feel silly and stop my tantrum.

As you can see, humor can be a good way to deal with anger: “it’s hard to be mad and laugh at the same time” (Abraham, & Studaker-Cordner, 2013). Humor also helps your child see incongruities in his behavior and communication.

It can be hard to tell a joke when your child is yelling and your nerves are increasingly on edge, but it is still worth trying. “Humor—free of hurtful sarcasm or ridicule—neutralizes conflict by helping you:

  • “Interrupt the power struggle
  • “Be more spontaneous. Shared laughter and play helps you break free from rigid ways of thinking and behaving, allowing you to see the problem in a new way and find a creative solution.
  • “Be less defensive. In playful settings, we hear things differently and can tolerate learning things about ourselves that we otherwise might find unpleasant or even painful.
  • “Let go of inhibitions. Laughter opens us up, freeing us to express what we truly feel and allowing our deep, genuine emotions to rise to the surface” (Robinson et. al., 2015).

Still, out-temper-tantruming your kids may not work. For instance, when you have a teenager who is upset, annoyed, or irate, she has probably already learned not to run around the house yelling at the top of her lungs. Her anger looks different from the temper tantrums she had when she was younger. So, if you attempt to get on the floor and fling your limbs, it might convince your teenager that you are treating her like a kid and not taking her feelings seriously instead of turning it into a humorous situation. Another type of humor may be appropriate in this situation.

A Few Tips on Introducing Humor During an Argument

Joke about the situation, not about the other person.

  • Say, in a conciliatory way, “How did we get here? This is ridiculous!” 
  • Add perspective. One time, I lost my luggage on a trip and took my anxiety out on my mom. “BUT WHAT WILL I WEAR TO DINNER?!” I yelled at her. With a little smile giving away her pleasure with her joke, she responded, “Well, I guess you’ll have to go naked.” It did not make me laugh, but I did realize the absurdity in my thought process and it ended the argument. 
  • Be self-deprecating to show there are more important things, such as your relationship and the other person’s happiness than being right. For instance, when I would argue with my dad and raise my voice to say something self-righteous or “That’s not what I mean!”, he would cower, look up at me with puppy dog eyes, and whimper as if I had scared him. It changed the power dynamic in a funny way and always made me giggle.

Once the joke has been delivered, there is often a break in the conversation. Use that gap to rebuild your relationship. 

Talk about the problem later, when you are both in calmer moods. “The best time to sort out an argument is when those involved in it are not overly emotionally invested in the argument itself and the tempers have been extinguished” (How to Use Humor, 2015). After you have both laughed and smiled, give each other some time to yourselves before returning to the conversation.

If you try to defuse tension with humor, but it backfires or your joke was not that funny, say so. “I was trying to lighten the mood, but I guess I did a terrible job with that joke.” Then you can laugh at how awful you are at telling jokes.

Don’t Feel Like You Have a Good Enough Sense of Humor to Do This?

Me neither.

My husband is great with humor. He has been practicing self-deprecating jokes since he was young to help him form relationships. (That is partly how he snagged me.) But for those of us not like my husband? Robinson, Segal, and Smith recommend you:

  • Read comics.
  • Practice telling jokes.
  • Watch silly movies.
  • Dance around to cheesy music. (My family likes to sing silly songs).
  • Play with the “experts”, i.e. animals, babies, and toddlers.
  • Practice bantering with sales people.

References:

Abraham, K. & M. Studaker-Cordner (2013). Parenting coping skills: How to use humor to defuse fights with your child. EmpoweringParents.com

Robinson, L., J. Segal, & M. Smith (2015). Fixing relationships with humor. Helpguide.org

How to use humor to stop an argument. (2015) WikiHow.