Children and laughter: A winning combination

Laughter is an easily learned and reinforced developmental skill.

Often when we think about children, we have a vision of fun, play and laughter. Play is learning for children and laughter is a big part of play. Michigan State University Extension offers programming for families that reinforce how laughter and humor are directly connected to a child’s development; humor can build a child’s vocabulary, reading skills and can assist with creative thinking.

Young children often find humor in the unusual. They enjoy stories, rhymes, silly situations and word plays. When children hear a joke or something that we find funny they have to think and draw on their life experiences to figure out what the joke is about. Children’s humor changes as they grow and develop more advanced thinking skills. Children will develop a sense of humor as they progress developmentally and at their own pace.

The first year– Early laughter is often a reaction to a primary caregiver. By about six-months-old a baby will laugh at behaviors that are not typical. You may have seen a recent video clip of an infant laughing hysterically at his father who was ripping paper. Infants recognize behavior that is out of the norm and often react to the change with laughter. Many babies enjoy the game of peek-a-boo or other games that are unpredictable. A jack-in-the-box toy or toys that pop up when a button is pushed can initiate a belly laugh from a baby. Pretend play is entertaining for most 1 to 1-and-a-half years old children who will make believe that an object is something else or will use it in a humorous fashion; putting a sock on his hand rather than his foot.

Toddler years – As children begin to develop language skills they will play with words; often calling something by the wrong name on purpose. Rhyming becomes a hilarious way to practice new-found vocabulary. Picture books are popular with toddlers who enjoy the silliness of pictures that use common objects to depict something else. How are You Peeling by Saxton Freymann and Joost Eiffers is a children’s book about feelings where pictures of vegetables represent different emotions. Playing “chase” games or making mimicking funny faces can put a toddler into humor hysterics.

School age children – Riddles and nonsensical knock-knock jokes are favorites of children in the later preschool and early elementary grades. Encourage your child to dress up, tell stories, or to write his own funny story. Sharing children’s books can have you and your child laughing together as you help them learn to problem solve with the characters in a book. Two books you may want to explore include Don’t let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Williams, or A bean, a stalk, and a boy named JACK by William Joyce.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Laughter is good medicine”? When we laugh, physical changes take place that affect our internal organs. As we draw in oxygen-rich air our lungs, heart and muscles are stimulated. Research shows that when we laugh, endorphins are released in the brain to produce a feel-good emotion. Laughter has been shown to boost our immune system and improve our cognition/understanding of a situation. Humor and laughter are important social skills and can assist children as a stress reliever when challenges present themselves. Laughter is a happy sound; easily understood in every language. It is one early childhood developmental skill that you can easily reinforce and enjoy while you are doing it!

For more on information caregiving or family issues that affect you, visit the MSU Extension website.

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