"No, your child is not a sociopath" – here's how to deal with children who laugh in your face when you reprimand them, according to a psychologist

Disciplining your kids can be a minefield, but bearing this tip in mind might help

A young boy in the back of a car grinning while being told off
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do you have a child who laughs in your face when you try to reprimand them? One expert explains how to deal with it.

No matter whether you opt for one of the popular parenting styles or prefer to do things your own way, chances are you find disciplining your kids difficult. Sure, there are plenty of expert hacks for disciplining kids of all ages when you're struggling with a child who won't listen, but it's rarely a case of one-size-fits-all.

One problem many parents face when they're reprimanding their children is a child who laughs back at them or escalates their behaviour further, despite being told to stop. If that sounds like you, trust us, you're not alone, and we've found some expert insight that might help you deal with the challenge.

Mum of three and psychologist Dr. Becky Kennedy has shared her tip for dealing with this behaviour on Instagram, and we think it's worth a try. She reminds parents that "none of this is intentional and they're not actually mocking you, they're just out of control and this is their form of a tantrum."

The solution? Avoid lecturing or yelling at the misbehaving child. Dr Becky explains, "These kids need us to embody our authority, to go stop that dangerous behaviour and then to actively practice the skills they need outside of a hard moment, so they can use that skill the next time they're in a hard moment."

A post shared by Dr. Becky Kennedy | Parenting

A photo posted by drbeckyatgoodinside on

In the caption, Dr Becky writes a few important things for parents to remember when their child laughs or escalates their behaviour while being reprimanded:

  1. I also have one of these kids.
  2. No, your child is not a sociopath. Nothing is wrong with you or your kid.
  3. For the kids we are describing here – their form of dysregulation is escalated behavior and laughing. It’s the way they feel out of control. This IS their “tantrum” – it just looks different than what we expect.

She adds, "These kids need an approach to their rudeness and defiance that actually helps them build the skills they were missing – this is the ONLY way kids change."

Some of Dr Becky's followers were fans of the tip, with one commenting, "Agreed. Those skills you mention in the calm moments would be super helpful." Another said, "Love this and your advice!"

But others were confused, with one asking, "How do we access our authority? What can we do in that moment, please?" One follower added, "Can you give an example of practising the skill when they aren’t having a hard time?"

Fortunately, Dr Becky added some more specific advice in the comments. Replying to one user who asked, "Can you give an example script of what to do when you stop your child from, let’s say, jumping off a chair, and they start to freak out or run away or whine?" Dr Becky gave a detailed response:

"'Ughhhh you really wanted to jump on a chair! Jumping on the floor just isn’t as much fun, huh? I get it sweetie…' – and if your child says back, 'So you’ll let me jump on that chair?' Share back, 'No, sweetie. My number one job is to keep you safe and right now. Safety means making sure you don’t jump on that chair. Still, I know that stinks. And I get that.' and let’s get real – if things escalate further as they can with kids and your child says, 'If you don’t let me jump on that chair, I’m going to hit you!” take a deep breath and stay back, 'I won’t let you hit me, sweetie. I’ll stop you. Because you’re a good kid having a hard time and I’ll always protect you.'"

Another follower asked for some tips that could be used when parenting a tween. Dr Becky offered the following script: "My answer is no and I totally understand that you’re upset. I mean that – it stinks to be 11, and to be as capable and independent as you are, and still feel like your parents get to control decisions that feel important to you."

In related features, find out what gentle parenting is, what tiger parenting is, what permissive parenting is and what helicopter parenting is too.

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.