“A wonderful thing about laughter is that it destroys any kind of system for dividing people.”
— John Cleese, actor, comedian
A few seconds of silliness can inspire cooperation in even the most difficult situations. Frustrated by a child refusing to clean up? Try playfully tossing items into the air and catching them. Laughing releases endorphins in the brain and stimulates feelings of happiness. Our willingness to be silly also nourishes children’s capacity for humor.
Using comic relief is a social skill that helps children and adults interact more harmoniously. After three years of pandemic – a time when children’s interactions have been limited – exploring the benefits of shared laughter seems beneficial.
When we are tired or in a rushed situation, who wants to stop and be silly? However, our willingness to bring even a few seconds of laughter into a tense situation lightens everyone’s mood. When we surprise children with humor, they often forget why they were refusing to do something.
We all have our own ways to get children to smile: talking like a robot, pretending to fall down, singing in an operatic voice, telling a knock-knock joke. Children love humor that makes them feel more competent than the adult. For example, if you’re urging a child to do homework, pretend that you’re struggling to write a word and misspell it in a crazy way. Ask, “Is that right?”
Paying attention to what makes children laugh helps us to encourage their sense of humor. Most people love getting babies to laugh. Witness grown-ups contorting their faces to get an infant to smile. Babies love physical comedy and the disappearing act of peekaboo.
As children get older, what they think is funny often reflects in ways we don’t understand. As children accomplish potty training and learn more about bodies, they often demonstrate their growth through a fascination with body parts. It’s appropriate to set limits when certain jokes are inappropriate, and we never want to allow put-downs. But we want to encourage children to explore what they think is funny. Praise children for their ability to see humor in situations. Have a family joke night. Make up knock-knock riddles. Notice when older children get a younger one to laugh.
We know when we get a baby to giggle, we are creating the electricity of connection, and no antics seem too silly to try to maintain that current between us. Connecting through humor allows for a feeling of lightness. When we laugh with someone, energies lift, and as John Cleese says in the opening quote, sharp divisions disappear, and we feel united with that person in the gift of good cheer.