Stop the Snark: How to Deal with Sarcasm in Your Child

By Tracy Wright
Two young boys making silly faces

“Oh wow… I can’t WAIT to hang out with my brother all day.” Parents of tweens and teens… did you spot that? Yup that’s a clear case of sarcasm! Couple that with a classic eye roll, and you’ve just been snarked! So, how should you deal with sarcasm in your child?

As annoying as this behavior may be coming from your once sweet angel, experts point out that sarcasm can note a sign of intelligence.

According to psycholinguist Penny Pexman at the University of Calgary, sarcasm requires teens to use more brainpower to fully understand the meaning of a statement. While this may evade a younger child, the tween’s/teen’s more sophisticated and developed brain can actually grasp sarcasm.

Teens tend to primarily use sarcasm as humor and to gain attention from their peers, but it also may be a way to express themselves “because they are unwilling or unable to directly communicate their feelings,” said Dayton’s Children’s Hospital. While sarcasm is more apparent to a more mature brain, it doesn’t mean that teens are fully emotionally ready to state their thoughts appropriately.

“…Children and teens do a lot of things because they don’t know how to express emotions appropriately. To make matters worse, they learn a lot from watching other kids and people around them who don’t know how to express themselves appropriately either,” said James Lehman, MSW, social worker and founder of Empowering Parents.

Still, while sarcasm is often used as an emotional shield or a way to make friends laugh, it can often come across as offensive, obnoxious or hurtful to friends, family, teachers and other authorities. “The fact that a behavior is common doesn’t make it acceptable. It’s a mistake to view sarcasm as inevitable with our kids. You can try to temper sarcasm in your child by following some guidelines,” says Dayton’s Children’s Hospital. It is important to know how to deal with sarcasm in your child.

Guidelines for tempering sarcasm in children

Know what is unacceptable and what you can mildly ignore.

Teens respond to parents’ interventions just as you’d expect—they will do it more. You know some snark is likely, but warn your children that you won’t accept disrespectful or hurtful behavior, Lehman said.

Practice what you preach.

Make it known that sarcastic comments that lead to hurt and disrespect will not be tolerated in your household. This means you as parents too! You have to role model good behavior if you want your child to take these rules seriously.

Take the opportunity to have open discussions about respectful behavior in your family.

Your child is old enough to be able to talk about complexities of language and expression. Dayton Children’s Hospital recommends suggesting alternatives rather than just enforcing punishment, which can often be ineffective. “Here’s the best way to teach kids these [important communications] skills— ask lots of open-ended questions to provoke discussion. Don’t let this degenerate into an interrogation of your child. You’ll need to be willing to share your thoughts as well.”

Be aware of what they watch and listen to.

Behavior can be modeled from adults and peers, but children are also influenced by what they see and hear on TV, movies and social media. Make sure you know what your child is viewing and keep lines of communication open about what is purely entertainment and what is acceptable in real life. For example, a quip from a sassy child to their parent on a Disney show may be funny as you watch but disrespectful in real life. Make sure your child knows the difference.

Finally, do not take this behavior personally.

They love and respect their parents, but they are finding a way to manage their own behavior and circumstances. “After a day filled with grown-up rules and expectations at school, expressing [their] opinion harshly helps [them] feel as if she has some control over [their] life,” Parents Magazine said.