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Opinion: teasing gets an approving tick

Teasing games are a form of fun, and involve joking or trying to playfully scare a child. They are considered a form of verbal play and important in supporting children’s development. According to Wendy Haight, teasing involves “imagination, symbolic thought and complex social interactions and skill development”. But how do parents use this strategy to build strong relationships with children?  My research has found that in everyday interactions, parents find moments for teasing young children. Teasing involves a form of affection and emotionally relating to children. This also builds foundations for how children are able to emotionally connect and relate with other children.

Consider this example of a father teasing his 6-week-old baby daughter. The father holds his baby in his arms and they look at each other. The father creates this teasing game with the baby’s dummy; he puts the dummy gently touching her lips. The baby responds with sounds. The father says: “You want to talk, don’t you?” and he places the baby’s dummy close to her lips. The baby responds, gazing back and says “mmm, agu”. In these moments of emotional teasing, the father and baby exchange intense looks, create sounds and gently tease using the dummy. The baby is able to respond through sounds and gazing back to her father. As young as 6 weeks old, this baby is able to understand more about her immediate world and develop a close relationship with her father. As this experience develops, the father also communicates his love to her daughter while he gently holds her in her arms and looks deeply at her with love. They demand each other’s love and attention. For strong relations to develop, strong emotions of love and care are needed.

Teasing is fun when practised with care and in a loving environment. It allows parents and young children to connect emotionally. The more complex the teasing interactions are, the more children are able to develop their own complex and imaginative interactions. Young children can also develop symbolic play though teasing games. Imagination and symbolic play are important for young children’s learning and development.

Gloria Quinones is a lecturer in the faculty of education at Monash University.

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