A Heart Full of Laughs: Humour with Our Children

Laughter Collage FYBy Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Most adults agree that children laugh far more frequently than we do.

“I suppose it could be just an urban legend that four- to six-year-olds laugh 300 times a day; I tried to verify the numbers but found no actual research citations. And other blogs on the topic have cited 15-20 as the average number of daily laughs for adults. No matter, really; the point is that children laugh way more than adults do.  And that ought to tell us something”.   Pamela Gerloff, Ed.D. “The Possibility Pardigm: Transformational change for individuals and the world.”

Research show that laughter reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine and increases health-enhancing hormones (such as endorphins), neurotransmitters, and infection-fighting antibodies; as well as improving blood flow to the heart—all resulting in greater relaxation and resistance to disease, as well as improved mood and positive outlook.

Unfortunately, as we becomes adults and stresses and responsibilities increase (including those associated with raising children of our own), our laughter quota can decline.  It is definitely important to treat the serious things in life with the respect they deserve: laughing at a funeral or tangi is not a good look– although sometimes even here we can laugh through our tears, as we remember fun or funny times with the deceased, or how he or she was a person with a good sense of humour.  And there are times when it’s just good to “lighten up” with our kids.  Sometimes seeing the world through their eyes and allowing their laughter to infect us, rather than growling at their noise, can raise the spirits of the whole family– and take stress off us parents (or grandparents or any other adults!).

Muddy Kids Collage Dickens quoteSarcasm

Children don’t usually “get” sarcasm and, while it can sometimes be a funny kind of “banter” amongst adults, it can leave kids feeling unsure of themselves– is it praise or is it sarcastic?  As adults, we become attuned to the tones which denote sarcasm and those which don’t.  Not wanting to appear stupid, kids often pretend to understand sarcastic humour when they don’t, in order to be “in with” and have approval from adults.  Sometimes, at it’s worst, sarcasm can be cruel.  When it is cultivated in children, if adults laugh at and encourage it (because, let’s face it, there is a level at which a sarcastic kid can be amusing to us), it can become the child’s “mask”, hiding who they really are and making them take on a false “role”.  This lack of sincerity becomes apparent to those who meet the child and the older he or she becomes, the less “cute” or “funny” the sarcasm is to adults.  As well as this, sarcastic humour can be quite caustic.  It often focuses on mocking, finding fault, criticising and pointing blame, which accentuates the negative in any situation and usually makes those on the receiving end angry and defensive.

Laughing “with” and Laughing “at”…

Children say and do some utterly hilarious things.  Sometimes our instinct is just to let our own laughter flow, even when it’s not entirely appropriate: I have been guilty of this.  Laughing, for example, when your child angrily calls a sibling “the most stinky poo in the universe”, invalidates and trivialises their feelings without focusing on the issue, the sibling fight. That’s not to say that a couple might not laugh about it in their child’s absence– which can be healthy for the parents’ relationship.  Also, when a child has been trying in earnest to “get it right” and then gets it very wrong, it can be best to restrain ourselves from laughing, even if we think the situation is funny.  And, sometimes, as adults, we have to keep a straight face and give consequences for deliberate misbehaviour– like when one of our sons quietly ate a huge hole in a pavlova we’d bought for a birthday party on the way home from the supermarket (he was wearing more than he consumed); or when our eldest chopped off his youngest brother’s hair and glued it to his feet so he could have “hairy feet like a hobbit”, or, when I asked my then three year old daughter whether she smeared congealed milk and weetbix all over the table on purpose and she replied, “Yes, but I’m just a little kid, Mum!”

Laughing Kiddies Collage FYI’ve found that writing down funny things the kids say or do is a good idea.  Then if they didn’t mean those things to be funny and we stifled our laughter at the time, they are still there for us to see and enjoy later.  Our kids will often laugh until they have tears rolling down their faces at things they’ve said years before, when we pull out their scrapbooks and read them out.  I usually record particularly funny things (and, also interesting or philosophical-type things the kids have said) in a rough notebook as soon as I can, while they are still fresh in my memory.  Later (sometimes as much as a couple of years later) I type all the “quotations” up on my computer and print them off for their individual scrapbooks.  The kids still like to recall how a couple of years ago, our eldest son (now nine), upset at not getting the same number of gumdrops as his siblings in his “goody gumdrops” icecream, declared that he felt “so angry, dogs will howl!”  (Humour can be a good antidote to anger too– although this sometimes has to be quite a bit afterwards).

A friend told me her son came home from his first day at primary school and told her “there’s a girl in my class who speaks Peach!”  The girl in question is Chinese and speaks Mandarin at home: “Oh, I knew it was some kind of fruit,” her five year old said.  The “speaking Peach” story became a little bit famous with kids in the area.  My own son asked me whether it had anything to do with “Annoying Orange”, which our kids sometimes watch on Youtube.

"Annoying Orange": I do find him a tad annoying, but our kids, particularly our five year old son, think he's hilarious.  Through their eyes, I can see the funny side too.  My five year old says he wants his 6th birthday party to be "An Annoying Orange Party", whatever that means...

“Annoying Orange”: I do find him a tad annoying, but our kids, particularly our five year old son, think he’s hilarious. Through their eyes, I can see the funny side too. My five year old says he wants his sixth birthday party to be “An Annoying Orange Party”, whatever that means…

Kids attempts at “compliments” can be amusing too.  Our seven year old son recently told us: “Mum, your skin is like wobbly jelly!  And Dad’s is like old, crusty pie!”  Charming– oops, there I go with the sarcasm.  (He really did intend to compliment us!).

Children can be vain too.  Many adults secretly are, but the openess with which children express their vanity is really funny, like when my four year old daughter’s ballet teacher asked the group of little girls, “what will make our end of year concert really, really beautiful?” and my delightful one (watching that sarcasm there) piped up loudly, “me!”

As well as all this, things kids say can be funny because they give us a window back into our own childhoods, our own “forever years” and we remember what it was like to view the world as a child.  My five year old son very seriously asked me the other day whether our family car “is a hot wheels car?”  At first I didn’t understand and asked him what he meant.  “You know, Mum!” was the quick reply, “if we tip the car upside down, has it got hot wheels written on the bottom like my toy cars at home?”

Post-mortem Stress Relief… better to Laugh than Cry

A post-mortem analysis of a tough time with the kids can shed a humorous light on a situation.  There’s been many a time when, writing down such things or describing them to my husband at the end of “one of those” days has made me laugh rather than fall into tearful self pity and thoughts of “Help, I must be the worst mother on the planet and my kids are totally our of control!”

Laughter_Header_100x100The following was written a year or so ago, after a particularly full on trip to the doctor’s with our children…

Mortifyingly Embarrassing visit to the Doctor

(Wednesday 4th September 2013)

Today I had a mortifyingly painful and embarrassing time with all four children at the Doctor and Pharmacy. First they all crawled under the chairs in the waiting room. Son #2 had his Lego “Bumblebee” Transformer and kept losing bits off it and then crying loudly—I’d told him not to bring it. Once in the Doctor’s office, son #3 threw a ball which hit the doctor in the face (actually right on her glasses). Son #1 and son #2 stacked toys, chairs, themselves and their brother and sister up on the scales. They also generally trashed the office, including climbing on the bed and playing with the stethoscope. On the way out of the Doctor’s, son #2 fell over on the path and scraped his knees, knuckles and hand. We then had to go back into the surgery to bandage him up. Poor son #2 nearly deafened everyone in there. After son #2 was sorted out, we went to the Pharmacy to pick up a prescription. For some reason, all four children  felt the need to run madly and yell and touch everything. Amongst all this mayhem, my daughter was inviting anybody and everybody to her 3rd birthday party (a pony party). In future years this will be funny. That’s why I’m writing it down now.

(Son #1, 8 yrs 1 mth , Son #2, 6 yrs 1 mth, Son # 3, 4½ yrs, Daughter, 2 yrs 11 mths)

Childhood Laughter Across Generations…

Recounting funny stories from our own childhood or ones from the family tree about amusing things people have said and done makes children laugh, as well as giving them a “sense of belonging” in their family group and in history.  (See the article “Tree and Leaf, A Child’s place in Family and Social History” on this blog).  As well as this, it makes them realise that we all (whether intentionally or not) say and do funny things and have lighter, laughable moments in our lives.

Valda FY

This photo from the 1940s shows my mother-in-law (the girl on the right with glasses) and her mother and sister in the foreground. It was meant to show mother and daughters after a fun game of tennis, but no one realised that the photographer also captured her two brothers fighting in the background near their house. I love the informality of this photo: kids are kids, whatever generation they’re born into. Our kids love seeing this picture of their Nana and their two squabbling Great Uncles.

This photo

This photo was taken on September 7th, 1979.  I know that, because it is of my 9th birthday and I got this lovely doll (which now belongs to my daughter) that day.  My younger brother (left) was jealous that I was getting all the attention, as the “birthday child”, and that I had received such a big present (not that he wanted the doll, he just wanted a similar sized present and was out of luck, because it wasn’t his birthday).  My brother is scowling crossly, while I simultaneously try to smile for the camera and get him to smile as well.  Right as I did this, the photo was taken.  In 1979 you didn’t take heaps of photos like people do now.  This was “it”.  I love how our grandmother (“Nanny”) is standing behind us, smiling with her two “angelic” grandchildren, but oblivious to the drama playing out.

A Bridge to Childhood…

Children don’t laugh all the time and, although they laugh more openly and more often than us, they frequently express anger and sadness more readily (and often more vocally) than we do too.  In general though, laughter (genuine laughter) builds bonds between people.  For us adults, it can be a bridge back in time to the days of our own childhood, when simply funny things were, simply, funny.

Humour Yellow Collage FY

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