You’re either born with a sense of humor or you’re not, right? Wrong, say humor researchers (yes, that’s a thing!). Not only have they discovered that humor can be taught, they’ve also linked a sense of humor to several life-changing benefits.
Here are simple ways to develop your little one’s funny bone during the first 2 years of his life.
Humor and bonding reinforce each other. Using humor helps you create and sustain a warm, supportive relationship with your child, and that relationship helps your little one feel safe using humor when it’s time to begin experimenting with it (typically between 9 and 12 months of age). Cracking a joke is a social risk, and feeling emotionally safe with you will help him practice his budding comedic skills.
From day one, you can weave humor into your interactions with your baby. Even before he can smile or laugh back, he pays close attention to you. He learns to associate your funny faces, silly voices, and raspberries on his belly with positive social interaction.
It will become increasingly easy to be silly when your baby’s social smile and laugh appear (by around 3 months and 4 months, respectively). Who can resist acting goofy when it elicits baby giggles?
As he gains cognitive, language and play skills, you can use more sophisticated humor. When symbolic (pretend) play appears, for example, you can crack him up by bypassing a toy spoon and pretending to feed a stuffed animal with a shoe instead.
Laugh at Your Child’s Jokes
When your little one starts cracking jokes, encourage him by laughing. If you giggle when he holds out a toy for you and then snatches it away, he will likely do it over and over. Not only does this delight him, it gives him the confidence to take the social risks involved in developing a sense of humor.
This has limits, of course; a joke involving something dangerous or mean shouldn’t be encouraged. Be mindful not to shame him for a botched joke, either. Try redirecting him: “That hurts kitty. Ouch! Let’s find something else that’s funny.”
Teach Your Child What’s Funny
Researchers have found that babies as young as 6 months old use social referencing to learn what’s funny and what’s not from watching their parents react to situations that are outside of the norm. Oftentimes babies see something surprising and don’t know what to make of it. If grandma busts out in a silly dance and your baby looks at you for guidance, point at grandma and laugh.
Use Humor as a Disciplinary Tool
Discipline isn’t always a laughing matter, but there are times when using humor can diffuse a stressful situation. What’s more, infusing your discipline with humor can promote attachment, coping skills, and emotional intelligence. You can find tips on disciplining with humor here.
All of these suggestions can cultivate your child’s sense of humor, but being silly can also take the edge off when you get caught-up in the busyness or stress of parenting. The next time you’re having a tough parenting day, turn on some music, grab your little one, and do a funny dance. You may be surprised by how it changes your mood!