An essential ingredient in your child's development
In 1952, the classic movie, Singin' in the Rain was released and while the title song is the best known of those in the movie, another, sung by Donald O'Connor, was also a hit at the time. It was called, "Make 'em Laugh" and had a theme that the key to success was to make all around you laugh.
In the Five Enchanted Mermaids blogs over the years, we have set out some ideas for parenting, and today we wish to add a few thoughts on something often overlooked- laughter. Laughing does not often make it to primetime on parenting advice channels, but we believe that humor, and the laughing that goes with it, are fundamental aspects of raising a well-adjusted and successful child.
As parents, we spend a lot of time thinking about how best we can all teach our young children basic skills such as reading, writing, and math, complementing what is taught in school. We take a similar approach to the softer skills like self-esteem, empathy, kindness, and courage. But typically we don't take specific actions when it comes to humor and laughing, it just happens. No planning, no textbook, no advice. So, is that a problem?
A broader question is whether humor and laughing are at all important.
Medical professionals are unanimous that laughing is good for health. They attest that it reduces stress and helps with mental health. They list many ways that laughter helps including reducing heart disease, lowering blood pressure, allowing better sleeping, improving circulation … the list goes on. As most of these are less relevant to children, the main benefits for them beyond stress reduction, are psychological and developmental.
We agree with child psychologists who tell us that a child's wellbeing and happiness can be positively affected by jokes and other ways of making them laugh.
Laughing makes children feel good. It aids in developing their self-esteem and confidence and it helps them not to take themselves too seriously. It also helps them develop verbal and social skills. The school kid with the jokes usually has a lot of friends.
If you are reading this blog, you are interested in better parenting and, I bet, are part of a cheerful family. Laugher will be common and even serious subjects, while treated appropriately, will still be softened by a little humor.
Each family dynamic is different. Some treat everything seriously while others adopt a more cheerful approach. Studies have assessed this dynamic using tests such as the Stait Cheerfulness and Seriousness questionnaire. Families characterized as Highly Serious, usually reflect an environment driven by the parents or grandparents – the grown-ups. The seriousness is caused by many factors but they include a lot of negatives including disfunction, domestic violence, economic stress, mental health issues, family illness, or death. The state of seriousness can be temporary, e.g. after the loss of a family member, or it can be entrenched where it will impact individuals across an extended period. A child growing up in such a family is unlikely to experience joy and laughter and this will impact their development.
Highly cheerful families, on the other hand, use humor to bond. Laugher becomes an expression of happiness. Cheerful families will find laugher and humor easy whereas unhappy families will not. If sadness engulfs the family, perhaps owing to the death of a family member, is humor or laughter even an acceptable behavior? The answer is easy. YES. It may be initially regarded as bad form, but humor is often the best way for breaking out of despair.
As with most things in life, families need a balance. Turning everything into a joke is not productive. Some things are serious and should be treated that way. One of the greatest learning experiences children have is seeing their parents act appropriately as role models. They will pick up on when to be cheerful and laugh and when to take a more serious approach.
So you have decided that you want to help your children to learn and enjoy humor and laughing. What works? It's not one size fits all.
Approaches to encouraging your child to laugh vary as they age. Babies express themselves by crying when they want to be fed, or are uncomfortable, but smile and gurgle when they are happy. Playing with a stuffed animal with them and smiling will prompt a smile back and a gurgle of laughter.
As they grow into toddlers, they start to take in the world around them and find other things amusing, prompting a laugh. It may be the antics of a pet or it may be when their parents amuse them with toys, and by reading stories. A little later, hide-and-go-seek games with toys can cause uncontrolled laughter.
Some ideas for making your toddler laugh:
Read picture books with a humorous theme aloud
Make funny faces
Chase them (don't forget the hug when you catch them)
As the child grows older and becomes a preschooler, they will find different things funny and you will not find the toddler approaches work anymore. The preschoolers will find potty humor funny and also odd incongruities, e.g. seeing a pet wearing a hat.
Some ideas for preschoolers:
Read aloud from more advanced picture books with humorous themes
Dress up your pets and take photos of them
Sing funny songs
As they enter school age, they will evolve further in their humor. Slapstick humor in cartoons or old Three Stooges movies will appeal. As well, as they learn more words and sentences, wordplay becomes interesting and humor-rich.
Watch some old movies together
Start telling jokes
Encourage your child to tell jokes they have learned from you or their friends
Work with your child to develop new jokes
Play humorous games e.g. Twister
Read joke books aloud
This is also the age for the entry of the Dad joke. Dad jokes are typically "bad jokes" being somewhat funny but not very clever. These are the jokes that the child remembers through the rest of their lives and in most cases this is one of their fondest memories of their fathers. Dad jokes create a bond between father and child which is equated to fun and laugher (or at least happy groans, depending on how bad the joke is).
One thing you may have noticed is that all the activities we have described are joint parent/child activities. Sitting them in front of the TV and leaving them to watch a funny movie alone, may be easier but sharing humor and being together when your child is convulsing with laughter is memorable for the parent and even more fun for the child.
So, keep a cheery household and spend a few minutes thinking about how you can help them develop their sense of humor. Memories of your children rolling about with roars of laughter and joy will be the memories you and they will cherish.
Please let me have your comments.
It's worth checking out the song and Donald O'Connor's amazing act in a single take with no stuntmen, special effects, or CGI.
The Five Enchanted Mermaids celebrate diversity in our world and the belief that each child deserves to have a mermaid that looks like them. Through their individual personalities and traits, they weave stories that help teach skills for children in this age group.
The idea for the Five Enchanted Mermaids was born to provide a fun but educational backdrop for girls aged 3 to 7 years. The characters address emotional skills (making friends, resolving conflicts, coping with change, making their own choices, and “being good people”) and educational skills (learning to read, the alphabet, counting, symmetrical shapes, time, the value of monetary coins/notes) that are important at that age in the development of young girls.
The stories use each of the diverse mermaids as a role model for behavior and values.
LifeMadeSimple, LLC and acclaimed children’s book author, Lois Petren, are collaborating to provide a series of books, party accessories, and other appropriate items as mermaid gifts for girls to support these goals.
Visit us at www.fiveenchantedmermaids.com