Go on, grin wide... I just did, reading how children laugh 200 times a day on an average and adults about 15 to 18.
This means having a kid around pretty much gives you the chance to plug a gaping humour deficit. Indulge in positive parenting. Besides busting the blues and giving life a lilt, a laugh together is quite the coolest connect.
Humour is what makes something funny, a sense of humour is the ability to recognise it. It’s what makes children optimistic, have higher self-esteem and handle differences (their own and others’) well. Good humour through their formative years keeps kids smarter, healthier, coping with challenges. Apart from reigning top of the pops among their peers, the ability to bounce sunny side up equips children to handle change, from moving town to being teased at a new school.
Putting play to work can diffuse the dark. In our family, the Disney ditty The Ugly Bug Ball became a cheer-up game. ‘Once a lonely caterpillar sat and cried/to a sympathetic beetle by his side...’ went its lyrics both kids loved. If my daughter felt teary, she’d brighten visibly when I simply said: “Caterpillar, here comes Beetle. Want to talk?” Tickle them and those funny bones grow fast. Few parenting processes fascinate me more than the wait-and-watch of an evolving idea of fun. To see a small mind sprout from wanting slapstick to sly, droll to wry and then laugh out loud to Wodehouse is magical.
Children best put you through all the paces, starting with puckish physicality. First you blow raspberries on a baby’s belly or bury your nose softly in its tiny navel. The giggles greeting you will echo within forever. Then you might put on a silly mask, horse around chasing a child from room to room. Or pretend to fall into a pile of leaves in the garden to hear nonstop squeals of delight.
Children are joyously literal. A 10-year development study saw mimicry emerge early on, with babies no more than a year old beginning to impersonate others. They can tell apart what’s funny from what isn’t by the age of two. At six or seven language-based humour like riddles and other word play is welcomed. Hitting the tougher teens, they devour the beauty of black comedy. Voila, you share deliciously twisted puns, subtler sophisticated jokes. Clamp down on sarcasm. Tongue in cheek is fine, full-on cheeky isn’t.
As a parent, trying humour over anger is a lot less stressful as you set limits. Because play is a young person’s world, it’s where they live. And when everyone’s on edge we need play most. Borrow other people’s lines, make them your own. A recent ruse I use is to take a deep breath and not count to 10 but browse through “A Zits Guide to Living with your Teenager”. One of my favourites: ‘How can you live with something that constantly annoys you? Remind yourself that someday it’ll go off to college.’ Lighten up. What else is there to do!
Meher Marfatia is the author of 10 books for children and two for parents. She has mothered her own kids well past the terrible twos and almost past the troubled teens. Reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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