One day when my daughter was 7, she came home from school, hit one of her younger brothers for grabbing one of her toys, and was promptly sent to a time-out. Frustrated, I asked, "How is it that you behave well at school all day, and yet you can't walk in the door and last five minutes without being punished?"
Hannah replied, "I forgot I'm supposed to be perfect all the time, duh!"
Caught off guard by her sarcastic remark, I laughed. (Bad choice, according to experts, who say laughing at your child's behavior means you'll see more of it.) "Sarcasm is a developing skill in 7- to 8-year-olds," says Teresa Buchanan, Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Education at Louisiana State University, in Baton Rouge. "Often it's something they are just trying on to test what they can get away with." Learning subtle ways to be clever and challenge authority is part of growing up, but sarcasm can be hurtful. Coming from a kid, it can be an indirect way of being rude that may prompt a chuckle from time to time but can sometimes become an obnoxious trait. We've got ways to help your child distinguish between what's funny and what's funny at someone else's expense.
Consider What You Say
Kids at any age may copy a communication style they hear regularly, but if you use sarcasm frequently your child may be even more inclined to follow suit. "He may not understand the impact of his words on others, so you have to set an example," says Fran Walfish, Psy.D., author of The Self-Aware Parent. For instance, if you complain about a messy room by saying, "I see you picked up like I asked," you are modeling a tone you don't want him to imitate. Instead, be direct by saying, "I'm upset that I asked you to clean your room and you didn't." Also beware of sarcasm that you point at yourself. If you've been known to say, "Another fabulous dinner by Mom," after burning the chicken, don't be shocked if your child makes the same announcement next time.