Parenting: Training A Child Not to Tease

‘To tease’ is ‘to pull,’ ‘to tug,’ ‘to drag,’ ‘to vex [or carry] with importunity.’ A child teases when he wants something from his parents, and fails to get it at the first asking. He pulls and tugs at his parents, in hope of dragging them to his way of thinking, or to consent to his having what he wants in spite of their different thinking.
-H. Clay Trumbull

temper tantrum

Mr. Trumbull opens this chapter with a strong opinion:

If a child never secured anything through teasing, he would not come into the habit of teasing; for there would be no inducement to him to tease.

Mr. Trumbull suggests this area of child training can be quite difficult to adhere to and in the same breath quite simple to administer. As to the administration he points to a simple rule that a one Mrs. Susannah Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley, used to say of her children; “that they all learned very early that they were not to have anything that they cried for, and that so they soon learned not to cry for a thing they wanted.”

A good logical rule. Easy to understand. Easy to see how it might result in desired outcomes. Adhering to this rule in my estimation is where we need to think a while. In my limited observations with children who tease, as Mr. Trumbull calls it, the teasing tends to let on as soon as a child is told no. While this isn’t always the case, (some children will tease right from the outset), this is the moment that we will consider.

He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, It is folly and shame unto him. – Proverbs 18:13

This word folly comes from the same Hebrew word that we derive foolish. and confusion from. I wonder if answering a child without understanding the matter fully is foolish and will confuse them into thinking something something is aright that is actually quite off? As inadvertently teaching them, “I tease to get what I want.” 

It appears as if at this moment of answering a child lies the whole of whether they may come to learn to tease. Let us take in a simple example.

A child comes to his father and asks for a quarter. For whatever reason the father says no. The child then teases and pulls and says “oh but father please will you, I need it so.” The father then gives his full attention to the matter and asks; “What will you do with the quarter, should I give it to you?” Innocent enough is this exchange, no crying or tantrums or yelling or losing of tempers, and still at this moment the child learns the need for teasing as a way to get his father’s full attention in a matter. Let us continue. The child answers that his teacher has asked him to bring a quarter to school to buy an eraser. The father then replies, “But of course my child, here is a quarter.” Again no anger abounds nor frustration takes hold, a fairly insignificant interaction on the surface. Still, at this moment I wonder does the child not start to believe that teasing is an important and even necessary skill in their progress in life. If so we see that it is not the parents failure to stick to their guns that trains a child to throw fits, but rather the parent’s foolishness to answer too quickly in the negative without understanding the matter.  When the understanding comes the affirmative is found to be apropos.

So therein perhaps lies an opportunity to set up for proper training in tantrums. This idea that parents ought not to give their decision until they have given due consideration and ‘heareth it.’  Mr Trumbull puts it this way, “In order to give promptly, to a child’s request, an answer that can rightly be insisted upon against all entreaties, a parent must do his thinking before he give that answer, rather than afterwards. Too often a parent denies a child’s request at the start without considering the case in all its bearings; and then, when the child presses his suit the parent sees reasons for granting it which had not been in his mind before. The child perceives this state of things, and realizes that the question is to be settled by his teasing, rather than by his parent’s independent judgment; and that, therefore, teasing is the only means of securing a correct decision in the premises.”

Another tip Mr. Trumbull gives at the close of this chapter on training a child not to tease is that when the answer is given, in proper consideration, that it be given with such “kindly firmness” that the child will not think of pressing his suit by teasing. There is something in my estimation about the countenance of a parent who is unwavering that is comforting to a child.

One last piece of piratical habit to consider is this.  When a parent receives a request that requires decision consider one of the following approaches.  Both I think will lend themselves to the reality of the situation.

  1. Do not render a decision until at least two or three questions have been asked and answered.  Perhaps having a set of go-to questions would aid the parent who may need some time to come out of what they were doing and come in to their proper consideration of the matter.  After all it is not about the quarter, or the treat or whatever the requests topic may be, this is indeed about the appropriate rearing of the child for their own goodly nature.  Here is a generic question:  “Why that is an interesting question my dear, why do you ask that?” more simply put, why?
  2. Delay the decision. Should the parent recognize that they are too deeply involved at the moment to give the child’s request due consideration or should the parent recognize that the request in and of itself requires council, simply delay the decision rather than giving an hasty reply.  “That is an important question my dear child, your father will require some time to consider such an important question. We will talk more about this latter.”

-A takeaway from Hints on Child Training by H Clay Trumbull

As always good books, takeaways, stories, and/or lessons learned on the subject are most appreciated.