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What's So Funny? How Young Children Grow Through Laughter

Ever wondered why the typical one-year-old can't get enough of games of peek-a-boo, while two-year-olds love nonsense words and preschoolers think “bathroom humor” is hilarious? Children use developmentally-appropriate humor at different stages to engage with others and learn about the world.

So, why do infants love peek-a-boo? At around eight months old, babies begin to understand the concept of “object permanence,” learning that even when they can't see something, it still exists. The child who laughs at peek-a-boo has figured out that the person behind the hands has not gone away, but is still there – a connection the child would not have made just a few weeks or months earlier. From the baby's perspective, peek-a-boo is very suspenseful. The baby knows the adult is hiding behind the hands, and predicts the adult will reappear – but when? The baby is relieved and laughs excitedly when the adult reappears.
Babies also love it when adults make silly noises, and participating in humorous games teaches them how to take turns and develop early conversational skills. Older babies begin to enjoy sillier humor, for example dropping a toy from their high chair or stroller repeatedly and watching someone pick it up and return it over and over again. Adults may find babies' interest in repetition tedious at times, but of course it is through repetition that children learn.
Children begin to develop a true sense of humor at around two years of age, when they often use laughter to release excitement built up during physical activity. Children also engage in laughter in more social situations, and will often respond in groups to something funny.
Preschoolers generally love slapstick humor. They're used to seeing adults in control of situations, and are often frustrated in their own efforts to master the world, so they love the unexpected sight of an adult doing something silly or “wrong.” Being chased, especially by an adult on all fours, is lots of fun, and they also enjoy jokes involving mispronounced words and nonsense syllables. They demonstrate their own growing mastery language and motor skills by laughing when others do something silly.
And of course, once potty-training becomes an issue, preschool children become interested in “bathroom” humor. Not only do the jokes give them a playful way to work through some of their anxieties around toilet training, they also enjoy testing adults and measuring their reactions to their jokes.
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These articles provide information of a general nature only, and should be used only to supplement your knowledge. We hope you find the articles interesting, but cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in these articles. Nothing in these articles is intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult with your own physician if you have any concerns about your own health or the health of your child.