Laughter is Important for Children and Families
Laughter … it is an almost vital element in the lives of most people; and if it isn’t, they’re probably not enjoying life very much. Laughter is among the best things about living. It helps people of all ages cope with their experiences, which is why it has long been called the “best medicine”, and it communicates much about individual personalities and mental processes.
An article entitled Follow the Giggles, published in the Child Development (Ages 0-4) section of this site, encourages parents and nannies to frequently coax laughter out of their young children and charges by exploring what causes the laughter and reproducing those catalysts.
Laughter is a perfect tool for changing bad moods into good moods, and it shows that children are connecting with their parents, their caregivers and the world around them.
In a separate article, published on www.parents.com, Emily Perlman-Abedon explained how, in a household of four children, she and her husband welcome laughter as relief from their daily stresses and anxieties. The couple appreciates the smiles that come effortlessly when little else does.
Citing the book Kids Who Laugh: How to Develop Your Child’s Sense of Humor by Dr. Louis R. Franzini PhD, Perlman-Abedon mentions that in addition to breaking tension, laughter is a tool in the evolution of a child’s social skills, self-esteem and problem solving abilities.
It all makes a lot of sense. Laughter is healthy for everyone, from infants to the elderly; but after reading these interest-peaking articles, I found myself wondering what the experience of laughter is like for an infant. What does laughter mean when it comes from a baby?
As it turns out, it means quite a bit. Laughter is indicative of the specific stages of life that children are experiencing, the developmental processes of their brains and the issues with which they are engaged. It is important for parents and nannies alike to be familiar with these developmental processes, so they might understand what makes their children and charges laugh as well as why, exactly, they are laughing.
Dr. Lawrence Kutner, PhD, wrote an article called Humor as a Key to Child Development, which was published on www.psychcentral.com. In it, he defines smiling and laughter as intrinsic human behavior. He explains that even a newborn will respond to a pleasant smell with an expression that resembles a smile.
As children get older, the stimuli that make them laugh change in correlation with the type of information the child’s brain is most focused on processing. In the case of the newborn, the smile is caused by something physically pleasant, because the physical aspects of life are everything that the child is experiencing. When a child begins to laugh, at a few months old, bouncing might be the physical stimulus that brings about his or her laughter.
Most people are familiar with the scenario of a one year old laughing, almost uncontrollably, at the game of peekaboo. Parents and caregivers have used this technique to arouse laughter from babies for generations (maybe for longer than we can trace), and considering the predominant issue that a child of that age is dealing with, it should come as no surprise.
As Dr. Kutner points out, around one year of age, a child is engaged in self-awareness. In other words, he or she is starting to be able to distinguish between self and others (mommy and daddy) and is becoming aware that objects exist even when they are not in sight. Peekaboo results in laughter, because the child is aware that his or her parent (or nanny) is still there behind those hands and will return in a short amount of time. When the hands part to reveal that person, tension is diffused and the child laughs. It’s a baby’s way of communicating understanding, and it’s a sure fire trick for caregivers to keep an infant happy and entertained.
By the time a child reaches the age of two, he or she is working on, or for that matter struggling with, mastery of language as well as getting used to the concept that there is an order to things in the world. A two year old will laugh heartily at someone who is mixing nonsensical syllables into real words. The child is able to delineate between the two, and laughter ensues because of the recognition of those silly sounds.
In addition, an intentionally misplaced item might provoke intense laughter from a two year old, so for you nannies out there, wearing your glasses around your mouth or your shoes on your hands might get just the response you’re looking for.
For children that are around the age of six, the humor becomes a bit more complex. They are reaching for advancement in the realm of logic. The jokes that will make them laugh will contain semantic humor (plays on words) or flawed logic. The six year old will have control over his or her laughing, and will use it to show off the information learned and the growth accomplished. Dr. Kutner uses an example of the joke where an elephant paints her toenails red to blend into a strawberry patch. A six year old laughs, because the elephant is silly and because he or she is displaying logic superior to the elephant.
Jokes get a little dicey with ten year olds. They are becoming quite social animals by this point, dealing with issues of sexuality, masculinity and femininity. Boys around this age tend to laugh at jokes that contain violence or vulgar sexual reference, whereas girls begin to tease one another about boyfriends and personal preferences. This is their way of gauging what is acceptable in the society around them, and it’s how they hone their social skills. I would not suggest that we share dirty or demeaning jokes with our ten year olds, but it is important for everyone to understand why they have such reactions and maybe cut them some slack.
Thanks to the research of psychologists like Dr. Kutner and the thoughtful prose of writers like Emily Perlman-Abedon, we are becoming a society that shares useful information about child rearing and development. Perhaps we can use some of this knowledge of the nature of laughter to keep our families and our charges laughing and smiling in healthy and progressive ways. After all, everyone should have a good sense of humor. Don’t you agree?