Monday, March 26, 2012

Laughter is the Best Medicine—at Any Age

This week's topic veers from my usual signing with babies theme to describe a wonderful part of every child's development.

One of the true blessings that comes with being human is the ability to laugh. Laughter takes our minds off our troubles, even if only for a moment, eases tensions, raises our heart rate and spurs our blood to circulate efficiently. And last, but not least, laughter makes us feel happy. No wonder the comics are routinely the most popular part of the newspaper.

What adults often don’t realize is that children begin honing their own comedic skills at impressively young ages. Below are some steps in the development of what we call a “sense of humor” as sketched out by Professor Paul McGhee.

Tickle, Tickle Time: The very first arena for humor is the physical one, with a baby’s first giggles likely to come as the result of a tickle fest. As the baby’s memory develops, the humor becomes even more intense as she begins to be able to anticipate the touch—as at the end of a game like “Gitcha…gitcha…gitcha….GOTCHA!”

The Old “Diaper on the Head Routine”: During the 2nd year, visual humor is added to tactile humor. As they become familiar with the functions of common objects—what they are expected to do--babies begin to find humor in violations of those expectations. That’s why talking into a banana as though it were a phone, trying to stuff your own foot into your baby’s shoe, or putting a diaper on your head brings down the proverbial house!

A Rose by Any Other Name is…Hilarious: In a similar fashion, once toddlers begin to use and understand words, they start to find it funny when words are used in the wrong contexts. Calling a cow a horse, calling a sock a shoe, or making a funny guess about something’s name (“I bet your name is Bubbles! Am I right”?”) is bound to generate a laugh.

Tickle, Pickle, Wickle Time: For preschoolers, now that language is well developed, playing with the sounds of words is fun. This is when tongue twisters start to be entertaining and songs like “Apples and Bananas.”

Riddled with Meaning: As children continue to hone their language skills, they begin to appreciate that words have multiple meanings and that using a meaning other than the one expected is a great source of humor.
Question: What happens when you irritate a clock?
Answer: It gets ticked off!

So, even if you’re heard your child’s joke a million times, go ahead and laugh! Remember, supporting your child’s attempts at humor really is important because, at its core, humor is creative. In understanding that a joke is funny, children are demonstrating the ability to do a bit of mental gymnastics that is not only good cognitive practice, but also good for the soul.

Happy Signing (and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook)!


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs® Program
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
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