Therapist shares why kids laughing and not showing remorse when they're told off is completely normal (and makes total sense)

They aren't 'wrong' reactions

Two little boys laughing
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Some children laugh or don't show remorse when they're being told off - according to a therapist, this is totally normal and parents need to understand why they do it.

For parents, setting firm boundaries with their kids is a priority. From the strong boundary to stop your kids running away from you in the street, to screen time boundaries recommended by experts, having them in place is a way to keep children safe and manage their anger when situations don't meet their expectations. 

Some parents might therefore be shocked and angry if a child doesn't respond to being told off in the way they're expecting. When you've done the groundwork to set behavioural boundaries and expectations, a kid who reacts by laughing or not showing remorse is being 'awful,' aren't they? No, they're actually responding in a completely natural way, and parents need to understand the sensible reason behind these reactions.

Posting to Instagram, child and adolescent psychotherapist Zara Kadir, shares everything you need to know about moments of 'misattunement and rupture,' while sharing a personal anecdote about her own child reacting to being told off in a way that his teacher disliked. Here's how the expert explains what's happening in kids' heads when an adult is cross with them:  

While children being told off can laugh or lack remorse

  • Attunement. Kadir wrote "Small babies are 'fused' to their primary caregivers. They are in a constant dance of attunement whereby the infant learns their emotions and experiences through the parents' responses.
  • Overstimulation. The therapist continues "A mother and baby playing peek-a-boo are enjoying reciprocal play until the baby looks away, indicating 'I'm overstimulated.' An attuned mother sits back, allows space and either waits for the baby to look back and play, or supports the baby in reflecting their need."
  • Misattunement. The post adds "Imagine the same scenario but instead of sitting back, the mother chases the baby's eye gaze and tries to keep going. The baby cannot regulate their own central nervous system and becomes more upset, overwhelmed and alone, as they don't yet know how to identify or communicate their need."
  • Rupture and repair. "Being attuned all the time isn't possible. It's a constant process of deciphering your baby's cues and meeting the need. When you don't quite get it right, you then go through 'rupture and repair.' The aim is to do it as soon as possible to maintain a deep connection with your child," Kadir explains.
  • Physical autonomy. "Around 18-24 months when a child develops more physical autonomy, the process of misattunement can become more frequent. For example, a toddler sees a dog on the other side of the road and excitedly begins running over. The parent responds with fear and anger because it wasn't safe" the post adds.
  • Conflicting emotions. "A child that laughs when told off is a child that's experiencing conflicting emotions. 'I'm enjoying this but now I'm scared because you look cross, now I feel alone and need you but don't know how to get close to you.' The uncomfortable feeling shows as avoidance and laughter," Kadir concludes. 

After explaining the psychological process, Kadir explains that her son, aged five, was told off for throwing wet tissue paper in the toilet at school. What his teacher was most annoyed about, was the perceived lack of remorse to the telling off - she refers to this as the 'misattunement,' he was excited at his game, and his teacher approached with anger.

Kadir believes the teacher should understand five-year-olds don't make good choices, realising his actions were developmentally appropriate. Instead of anger, she advocates the teacher setting a boundary instead, and telling the children to clear up their mess calmly, while explaining why their actions were wrong.

The comments were divided, with some applauding Kadir for relaying an important piece of information, and others suggesting she was normalising bad behaviour. Whichever way parents choose to view the explanation, it's certainly an interesting way to understand kids' reactions that can baffle or anger us as parents.

For more on raising kids, we take a good look at authoritative parenting and permissive parenting. If you and your partner disagree on parenting styles, a psychotherapist shares how to manage your differences.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.