Guest Blog: For babies, every day is April Fool’s Day

Teasing in Infancy and Toddlerhood

The following is a guest blog post, written by Erikson doctoral student Colleen Wilson, MSW, MSEd

Has your 9-month-old ever started to hand you a toy and then pulled it away giggling? Does your 2-year-old look at you with a grin while they reach out to touch something they’re forbidden to? During these events, it may feel like they’re intentionally teasing you or trying to test your patience.

The bad news is, they are! The good news is, those behaviors are actually good for both their development and your caregiver-child relationship!

The first type of humor babies can appreciate or produce is usually ‘clowning’ – laughing at or making exaggerated facial expressions and movements. This behavior starts at about 3 months and is usually unequivocally fun for both adults and children. But the second type of humor they learn, generally around 8 or 9 months, is teasing, which can be a lot less fun for adults.

The three most common ways babies tease are:

  • Playfully disobeying rules
  • Offering an object and taking it away
  • Disrupting/interrupting daily routines

The three most common reasons they tease are:

  • Boredom
  • Learning how/when to push boundaries
  • To create a greater sense of intimacy with their caregivers

Teasing helps babies understand what boundaries are and when and how they can test them. It also helps them learn that being silly can keep them from getting in trouble for testing these boundaries. Lastly, it usually creates a situation where babies and their caregivers end up laughing together.

Babies tease for the same reason adults created April Fool’s Day – sometimes it’s nice to be jolted out of your routine. This April, while we’re in the midst of an upheaval, tricks are the last thing we want to deal with, even if it’s wrapped in toddler cuteness.

But next time your baby teases you, try to remember that they’re mostly just trying to make you laugh with them. And it has the extra benefit of helping them stretch their humor muscles as they learn about the world.

A slight disruption to your new routine may be good for both of you.

Based on information from: Mireault, G. C., & Reddy, V. (2016). Humor in infants: developmental and psychological perspectives. Springer.