Finding Your Child’s Funny Bone

Finding Your Child’s Funny Bone

As many of you may have heard, I have gotten so interested in writing for this newspaper that I have decided to give up Pediatrics and become an investigative reporter. OK – April Fools!  And speaking of April Fools, what a great opportunity to remind everyone about the importance of humor in your children’s lives.

Humor is one of the best ways for a family to connect.  It makes life fun for children and for parents. It teaches a child to be spontaneous, to not take themselves too seriously – and studies suggest that children with a good sense of humor are happier, have higher self-esteem, are more liked by their peers, are less stressed and are better able to handle the adversities of childhood and life in general.  In addition, people who laugh are healthier, less likely to be depressed, better endure pain, and may even have an increased resistance to illness.  Yet children are not born with a sense of humor – they need to develop one – and parents, this is where you can help.

How can you do this? Well, if you have a baby, they can’t understand humor yet –but they do know when you are smiling and happy.   When you make a funny face, your baby will sense your joy and even try to imitate you. Toddlers love physical surprise humor, like peek-a-boo or an unexpected tickle.  A preschooler loves a funny picture like a cow in sunglasses and may begin to enjoy noises from bodily functions – especially if they bother you.  School-age children love to tell simple jokes and riddles, and as they get older like me, they may start to use puns and other forms of word play.  Wit and sometimes sarcasm may also appear at this age and can continue into adolescence.

The bottom line, parents, is that if you can be playful and humorous with your child, he or she will be too.  Be aware of what your child finds funny, too.  Even if your child’s joke doesn’t work, laugh and praise them for trying to be funny. And, of course, be able to laugh out loud at yourself.

It’s also important to set boundaries on humor. As a parent, you can help by watching how you use humor.  Too much bathroom humor is not a good thing.  Don’t laugh if the joke is inappropriate or could hurt feelings, even if unintentionally, and teach your child to avoid this type of humor if they attempt it.

Hopefully, tips like this will be a lot more than just a laughing matter when it comes to helping your children find their sense of humor. 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids.