Kids and Humor: Beyond Booger JokesShare

Monday, April 12, 2010

By Mary Armstrong-Smith, Community Partners Director

Charlie is my great-nephew. He’s four years old and is one of the funniest kids I know. He often spends weekends with my sister Pat, his grandmother. Recently Pat told me, “After Charlie's bath I told him to hurry and get his pajamas on before he got cold, and he bowed down, rubbed his hands together and said in a deep voice, ‘Whatever you say, Pat!’"

Charlie cracks me up. He exhibits a charming combination of both adult and child-like humor abilities, moving at lightning speed between poop jokes and eyebrow-raising sarcasm.

For years we’ve heard about the benefits of humor for adults. The physical benefits include increased dopamine and endorphins, better relaxation response, reduced pain and lower stress. Humor has cognitive benefits as well, assisting with creativity and problem-solving. Appropriate use of humor can elevate your mood, lift depression, increase self-esteem and help you be more resilient in the face of adversity.

The same benefits apply to kids. Humor is a powerful tool for success in life. The old idea that a sense of humor is something people are born with (or not born with) just isn’t true. In fact, kids develop a sense of humor from their interactions with the adults around them, and it begins in those early days when parents try to coax a smile from a newborn!

Louis R. Franzini, PhD, is the author of “Kids Who Laugh: How to Develop Your Child’s Sense of Humor.” Franzini says, “Why should you make a conscious effort to develop this quality in your child? Because a well-developed sense of humor is a genuine asset to any child and helps ensure a strong, positive self-image. A child who enjoys and remembers a joke or riddle and passes it on to others feels an enormous personal accomplishment and establishes friendships at the same time.”

So how can parents and caregivers help kids develop a sense of humor? It’s not like they have “Kids’ Night” at the local comedy club! First, it helps to remember that humor is, at its core, a creative act. It’s not all about jokes. In fact, jokes are just one tool to use in developing humor.
Here are a few suggestions for helping kids develop humor skills:

Game night: Have a family game night once a week. Playing board games like Monopoly or Candyland helps kids learn to strategize and work together. You can make it even more fun by changing the rules or by playing in teams. Kids take their social cues from the adults around them, so use this as an opportunity to model being able to have fun even if you lose the game.

What Happens Next: Play a portion of a funny movie or video. Stop it at some point and ask everyone what they think will happen next (make sure it’s one that no one has seen yet!). Kids can use their imaginations to create amazing—and sometimes hilarious--outcomes!

Backwards Meal: Just for kicks, serve a meal in backwards order. Start with dessert, then the main course, then salad or soup. Involve the kids in the menu planning.

Harmful versus Helpful Humor: Talk with your children about how some kinds of humor can hurt people. Jokes or comments that attack a person’s appearance, ethnic background, religion or other personal attributes can make people laugh at someone else’s expense. While much humor has a target, it’s best to stick with targets that don’t cause individuals harm. Jokes about football teams or cafeteria food are a safer bet than jokes about someone’s weight or age.

Greeting Cards: Look at some funny greeting cards with your kids and try to come up with your own funny lines for the cards. (Just remember, if you’re on a roll and falling down laughing in the aisles, they might ask you to leave Walgreen’s. )

License Plate Game: Many license plates in Indiana have two or three letters along with the numbers. Ask your kids to come up with a funny phrase to match the letters. For instance, BDC might stand for “Baby Driving Car” or TNW could be “Truck Needs Washed.”

Dr. Franzini shares some online resources for humor in his book. Here are a few that might be helpful to you:

• Halife: This site includes jokes, riddles, and other fun activities for kids, as well as humor for adults that is nonetheless appropriate for family consumption.
• Humor Matters: Part of a larger site “dedicated to the power and practice of positive therapeutic humor,” this site presents a slew of kid-safe riddles.
• PBS Kids: Created by the Public Broadcasting Service, PBS Kids provides a joke site, games, silly stories, and many more fun—and funny—activities for kids.

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