All of us know we feel better when we are laughing than when we are angry, sad, or even just dutiful. Scientists, sociologists, psychologists, and comedians study laughter and humor. They have made some fascinating discoveries.
Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen-a psychologist who specializes in children’s play-says, “A sense of humor offers huge advantages in life. It’s one of the best ways people have figured out to cope with things that are difficult.” Some of the advantages of being able to laugh easily are the ability to build strong friendships, being well-liked by peers, managing frustration, diffusing conflict, and less depression. A good sense of humor is also linked to intelligence, self-esteem, creativity, and problem solving.
Is everyone born with a sense of humor? Robert R. Provine, a professor of psychology and neuroscience says, the foundations of humor are part of our genetic makeup and the ability to laugh precedes language. Some people, however, are born with a more easy-going disposition than others. But humor can be taught too. Like a muscle, it needs to be exercised regularly to work properly. A good sense of humor is best caught from a good role model.
Shared laughter helps build strong bonds between baby and parents long before a baby talks. Laughter, from infancy to adulthood, is an expression of social bonding. We even laugh more frequently in a social setting than when we are alone.
Teaching humor comes naturally as we all like to tickle our baby’s toes or make faces or sounds that cause our baby to grin and then laugh. By 6 or 7 months babies have a sense of how their world works and they begin to enjoy seeing their world turned upside down. This is the very essence of humor. Intellectual development is necessary to understand different types of humor. We can see intellectual development when our 1 year old laughs at songs sung is a silly voice and then when our preschooler laughs when we act like a banana is a telephone.
So what can you do to encourage your baby’s sense of humor? Up to 6 months, physical play triggers baby’s laugh. Tickling, nibbling toes, and games that introduces the element of surprise bring on giggles. During the second half of the first year, babies love slapstick comedy. Babies laugh at anything that creates a sense of tension before the punch line, like peek-a-boo. Toddlers understand humor that uses pretend play. They know how to use many things the correct way, now using them in an absurd way tickles their funny bone. By 3 years, they delight in wordplay. Calling things by the wrong name will get giggles and even get them to attempt making up silly words. Exaggerations and funny clothes tickle them too.
Humor is a great tension release mechanism. They have shown that breast-feeding moms who have a good sense of humor have elevated levels of melatonin in their breast milk. Melatonin helps their babies sleep more soundly. When we can laugh at stressful situations, we teach our children by example how playfulness defuses tension. Our children learn tension regulation by watching us.
Laughter is infectious. When our baby is laughing, we begin to laugh. “Humor and fun make your household run more smoothly,” says Paula Spencer. We can use humor as a discipline tool to turn a tantrum into a giggle-fest. Doing some silly stunt can get your wailing child to stop and watch and then begin to giggle. Finding the ‘funny’ in spilled milk or explosive poop teaches by example the value of humor.
So why not indulge in some infectious laughter. After all, parenting is at least an 18 year long job. Life has lots of stresses and frustrations, but don’t take it so seriously that you can’t enjoy a belly laugh often with your kids. A childhood filled with laughter and fun has benefits that last a lifetime.
I am endebted to BabyCenter.com for this article about humor. Their article, Fun and Funny Kids, covers the topic from infancy through adolescence. For our purposes, I’ve condensed what they had to say for babies through preschoolers. To read their whole article see Fun and Funny Kids.
For another article on how parents can help their child be a happy child, see Parent.com’s article, Happy Child