By Alice Cohn
Sure, we all want our children to say the alphabet, count to 100, name colors, and read and write their names as early as possible. But perhaps more importantly, we also want our children to smile and laugh, to take on life with joy and pleasure and optimism — to be happy.
Experts agree: our children need a healthy, well-developed sense of humor if they are to successfully and happily manage everyday life. Our children are not born with a sense of humor — it is something they learn; and their ability to find “the funny” is based upon what they know. As parents, we play the most critical role in this happy chore ... starting with the tickling and the peek-a-boo games in the early months of a child’s life and continuing with the jokes and funny stories shared, and the books and other media provided to the child throughout his growing years.
“Laughter is one of the most important elements to maintaining a happy family,” says Brenda Allen, a Bellevue mom of two. “It really is good for the soul, no matter how old you are,” she adds.
LAYING THE GROUNDWORK
Humor, laughter, intelligence and creativity develop hand-in-hand in a young child. If you’re a 1-year-old, you need to know that a sock goes on a foot in order to laugh when Mommy puts it on her nose. If you’re 8, you need to understand the double meaning of “foot” to know why it’s funny that a mother sent her son three socks when he wrote and told her he’d “grown another foot” at camp.
Children love to make jokes because it is a wonderfully fun way for them to demonstrate new skills and knowledge. Try calling Daddy “Mommy” or Grandma “Grandpa” and watch how your 3-year-old howls in delight. Encourage him to show what he knows — call the dog a “kitty” or the tree an “apple.” Laugh along with your child so he knows that a sense of fun and humor is a good thing. Your jokes will improve as your child gets older — I promise. Humor helps with getting kids over difficult moments, too.
“When one of my kids has a meltdown, it helps for me to defuse the situation with humor,” says Cammie Ely, a Brentwood mom of three. “With my 1-year-old, I can nibble on her belly and help her get over a bad mood ... of course, my older son takes more skill than that,” Ely adds.
WAYS TO BUILD YOUR CHILD'S SENSE OF HUMOR
There are lots of way to build your child’s sense of fun and humor. To lighten up the atmosphere in your home, here are some techniques to use:
Begin a story such as the following: “One day, a boy was walking along the street. Fortunately, it was a nice, sunny day. Unfortunately, ...” The next player adds an unfortunate occurrence, and then says, “Fortunately, ...” The next player continues with a fortunate event, which is reversed on the next turn with an unfortunate. Continue as long as you like ... and toss in your own, wacky ideas to show them the way to make it even more fun.
Start a story and stop at an exciting point. Let your child continue the story until he runs out of ideas. Then you can take up the story again. You might begin with something like, “Once there was a little girl who went for a walk with her mother. All of a sudden they came to a meadow. The girl saw a beautiful flower and began to pick it. ‘Wait!’ said her mother, ‘It might be magic!’ but it was too late. The girl picked the flower and ...”
Put some unusual objects in a bag, for example: a button, a rubber animal, a clothing tag, an eraser, a ring, a piece of chalk or a magnet. Then let your child choose three things and tell a story that includes them. Your child will also enjoy making story bags for you.
• Make puppets for storytelling from using socks or paper plates with sticks.
• Make a book of your family’s favorite jokes.
• Read fun books together including Dr. Seuss’ collection. Make funny rhymes together.
• Search “Knock-Knock” jokes on the Internet and print them out for your child.
Alice Cahn is vice president of programming and development for Cartoon Network’s kids businesses, focusing on original entertainment programming for preschool aged children. Cahn has more than 25 years experience in early childhood education and preschool television and is a mother of three.