When in Doubt, Follow the Giggles
Playskool Advisor Lawrence J. Cohen, PhD explains why laughter is so important to young children, and how to make it part of your every day experiences together.
I read a study once that discovered that the average preschooler giggles over 400 times a day. (The study failed to mention how many times they cry or scream, however). That makes it easy to follow one of the most important tips about playing with young children: follow the giggles.
It really is simple. If something makes a child giggle, do it again. Repeat. When the giggles die down, try a variation. Repeat.
You’ll almost certainly get tired of this before your child does (although we still insist that it is children who have a short attention span, not us grown-ups). If you are sick and tired of pretending you’re wildly afraid of the toy shark (for example), it’s OK to try something new and different to see if that also makes them giggle. But if you strike out a couple of times, be sure to go back to the tried-and-true methods for getting them to crack up.
Why are giggles so important? First of all, giggles are a great sign that a child is engaged with the world and with you. Giggles are a perfect way to feel better, if a child is feeling frustrated or lonely or fearful. And they are also a perfect way for you and your child to reconnect if you have been emotionally disconnected because of fussing, scolding, misbehavior, or separation. In short, giggles are a gentle way for children to recover their natural sunny dispositions when they have been sad or cranky.
You don’t need to be a scholar of sophisticated humor to get preschool-aged children to laugh, but it does help to shed a little of that adult dignity we try to carry around with us. Falling over almost always works (a holdover from the toddler years, when they love to see us fall over so that they can laugh off the frustration of all their falls). Silly voices and goofy singing are pretty sure-fire also. Exaggerated facial expressions work too. Just make sure not to be too scary–you don’t want terrified grins, but genuine giggles.
You may just discover what makes you giggle the most, which is always handy to know.