Ever notice how adults always laugh AT young children whenever the little kids are answering a question or explaining something?

Have you ever noticed that on any kind of talk show in which a child is being interviewed or asked questions, the audience laughs at the child’s response, or at the way they explain things?

This happens only when the youngster is under the age of 9 or so. I’ve never witnessed this phenomenon when the child appears to be older than 9.

Why do the adults in the audience laugh?

(I’ve also witnessed this phenomenon plenty of times in person, so I certainly don’t mean to imply it occurs only in live studio audiences.)

It’s one thing if the child is telling jokes and delivering punch lines as part of a comedy act, or obviously trying to elicit chuckles from listeners.

But this is not what I’m referring to.

The child is simply answering questions about a variety of topics, for whatever reason he or she is on the TV show for.

Why do adults feel a need or compulsion to laugh (and it often sounds “canned”) just because a young child is answering questions or explaining something?

  • Yes, we all know that young children aren’t very articulate.
  • Their vocal mannerisms and inflections can be quite quirky.
  • Their voices may fluctuate among different tones and pitches.
  • They may contort their faces and mouths while speaking.

But is this any reason to laugh at them?

Why is it so hard for adults to just sit tight and silently as young kids talk?

These same men and women wouldn’t dare laugh out loud AT another adult talking about the same topic!

Imagine what some 5-, 6-, or 7-year-old must feel like, hearing all this laughter erupt, after they explain something or answer some questions.

Might this reaction from adults make a little boy or girl feel inept, weird or like an oddball?

“The answer to this depends on several factors,” begins Stacy Kaiser, a southern California-based licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert with a special interest in the topic of bullying. They are as follows:

–  The closeness of the relationship, if any, between child and adult

–  Child’s maturity level and awareness of what’s taking place

–  “Culture in the child’s family when it comes to humor,” says Kaiser

–  Child’s self-esteem

–  Intent behind the laughter

Kaiser explains, “Some children can be very perceptive and know what is underlying an adult’s laughter. The question is – is the child being laughed at or laughed with? If the child is able to determine the difference it could impact his or her self-esteem.”

This article, as already mentioned, deals specifically with laughing AT. Watch any talk show in which a boy or girl under age 9 is a guest.

But TV aside, you’ll see this phenomenon universally in any setting in which a young child is talking to adults — regardless of topic.

Again, I do NOT mean little kids deliberately hamming it up while wearing a crazy wig or while imitating a funny cartoon character.

I’m referring to when young kids are engaged in conversation with adults or answering questions.

I’ve witnessed hurt on the faces of ADULTS who are laughed AT by other adults.

I wonder if these same “hurt” adults laugh at little children who are merely answering a question or describing a situation.

Suppose adults engage you into conversation, and you quickly notice they are laughing AT you as you describe — without trying to be comical — your day or some event.

Chances are pretty high that the self-consciousness would begin kicking in.

If you already have a less-than-robust baseline of self-esteem, you’ll begin wondering what your shortcomings are in social situations that make people laugh AT you.

Other adults, with a stronger baseline, won’t give a hoot if listeners are laughing AT them.

And yet a third demographic will stop talking and snap, “What’s so funny?”

Adults who laugh AT children claim it’s because they’re cute, adorable and charming.

“No one likes to be laughed at,” says Kaiser.

“However, if a child has been raised in a family where people tease one another or laugh at one another, he or she is more likely to be able to withstand someone laughing at him.”

But if you laugh at kids you don’t know well, then you don’t know what kind of family structure they have, do you?

There are people who believe all of this laughing is perfectly okay; otherwise we’d be raising kids with weak backbones.

Ironically, it’s a fair bet that these very critics are often the first ones to become very defensive when someone gently criticizes them or even makes a little suggestion!

If you don’t want your child to grow up to be “weak,” then enroll them in martial arts, encourage them to speak their opinions (without swearing or yelling), and give them plenty of opportunities to figure things out for themselves and make choices (within age-appropriate parameters).

These three approaches are part of the recipe for becoming a very successful, self-confident, rock-solid adult.

“If a child is uncomfortable or self-conscious because they are being laughed at, it could impact their self-esteem, make them turn around and make fun of others, or make them withdraw and even isolate completely,” says Kaiser.

For those who believe it’s perfectly okay to laugh AT little kids, here’s a few questions:

  • Why do you impose an age cut-off where you’d no longer do this?
  • Is it because any child over the age of 9 can’t be adorable and cute?

Again, imagine you’re explaining something at a business meeting, and you begin hearing this chuckling and muffled laughter coming from several co-workers.

How would you feel? Imagine asking them why they were laughing at you, and they say it was because you were cute and charming. Would you buy this?

So why should a child be any better at processing being laughed at?

With over 100 TV appearances on major networks including CNN, NBC, CBS and ABC, Stacy Kaiser brings a unique mix of provocative insight to many topics such as anger management, office relationship issues and parenting.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.