Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

The Phenomenon of Sibling Teasing: Three Mothers' Perceptions of Their Children's Teasing Behaviors

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

The Phenomenon of Sibling Teasing: Three Mothers' Perceptions of Their Children's Teasing Behaviors

Article excerpt

Teasing is often regarded as a rite of passage, a normal and common activity of childhood. Yet teasing is a complex relational issue involving many elements, such as intent, verbal utterances, nonverbal behavior, meaning, interpretation, and emotional affect. Teasing within the sibling relationship can be a source of great parental frustration, as parents often lack a clear understanding of how to address the behavior. Mothers' perceptions of their children's teasing, their own self-history with teasing, and responses to observed teasing scenarios may directly affect the nature, form, and function of sibling teasing, at times acting as an unintended license to tease.

Keywords: teasing, early childhood, mothers' preceptions


This article reports on the perceptions of three mothers as they engaged in research conversations about their children's teasing and the potential implications of those perceptions that emerged. One primary purpose of the study was to gain an understanding of the nature, form, intent, and responses of young children to experiences of teasing within their sibling relationship from the instigators and recipients themselves. Sibling participants in the current study included two brother dyads and one male-female twin dyad. The mothers from all three families also participated in the study and are the focus of this article. Mothers' perceptions of their children's teasing behaviors were garnered through interviews and informal conversations with the researcher. The mothers' perceptions provided an opportunity to examine parent histories and child-rearing beliefs in relation to teasing, as well as the potential impact of those beliefs and actions as a license to tease between siblings.

The construct of teasing lacks a definitive definition and often is conflated and subsumed under such terms as verbal aggression, bullying, sarcasm, humor, irony, and word play. Despite the lack of clarity, teasing is a phenomenon experienced by many young children and can be a source of great stress, with "lasting powerful effects" (Georgesen, Harris, Milich, & Young, 1999, p. 1266). And despite the fact that teasing incidents can range from prosocial affects (such as give-withdrawal games between an infant and mother) (Eisenberg, 1986) to hostile intent (such as name calling, taunting, ridicule, and insult) (Mooney, Creeser, & Blatchford, 1991), most young children label teasing as a negative act (Mills & Carwile, 2009; Mooney et al., 1991; Shapiro, Baumeister, & Kessler, 1991).

In opposition, teasing has been credited for specific social and relational benefits to the involved parties. As Eisenberg (1986) noted, family members often utilize teasing to promote positive interactions, and peers have been found to tease to express affection, promote playful interactions, and as a means of building or maintaining group membership (Shapiro et al., 1991; Thorne, 1993; Voss, 1997). Moreover, teasing can function to increase one's social standing and popularity within a group (Keltner, Young, Heerey, Oemig, & Monarch, 1998). Thus, given the constructive functions of teasing found in previous studies (Meyer & Driskill, 1997), it is important to avoid dismissing teasing as solely an antisocial and hostile act. One must attend to the characteristics of teasing as encompassing elements of mock challenge (and sometimes but not always aggression), play, and ambiguity (Mills & Carwile, 2009) and consider that teasing lies on a continuum of social interaction from playful encounters to hurtful confrontation.

Thus in the current study, teasing was defined as "an intentional provocation accompanied by playful off-record markers that together comment on something relevant to the target" (Keltner, Capps, Kring, Young, & Heerey, 2001, p. 234). This allowed for the verbal and physical teasing of the young siblings to be recognized. The sibling teasing observed in this study included pulling hair, verbal jeers, poking, name calling, give-and-withdrawal activities, purposeful and repeated disruption of another's play, saying the opposite of what was true, keep away of desired objects, social or household norm violations, goading, and taunting. …

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