Developing a Sense of Humour in Your Child

Developing a Sense of Humour in Your Child.

People who laugh often are emotionally and physically healthier.

Laughing together naturally helps people to bond and feel part of a group. This explains why babies laugh enthusiastically to connect at a social level with a loving caregiver from around 4 months of age – long before they are able to catch a joke.

Humour also often helps to resolve conflict between people. What’s more, psychologists say many people instinctively use it to work through difficult situations and inner conflict in their own lives.

Laughter is also good for us on a purely physical level: it strengthens our immune systems while relieving stress and lowering our blood pressure.

Jokes and word plays develop language- and social skills in children.

Long before children are able to catch a joke, or say why a certain joke is funny, the jokes that we share with them help build vocabulary. And, when they’re around 5 years old, they help children to discover double meanings, think and speak figuratively and view things from another person’s perspective.

A sophisticated sense of humour goes hand in hand with high creativity scores and a high IQ.

According to fMri scans, people perceive something as funny when their brains are surprised by it. Interestingly, a complex brain region is activated when this happens. A number of communication channels travel through this area that all work together to help humans function intelligently.

Called the temporo-parieto-occipital junction, it plays a role in the brain’s ability to process language, visual-motor recognition, symbol recognition, processing of self, working memory, musical memory, facial recognition and object recognition.

We learn and remember more when learning is combined with humour.

Laughter stimulates dopamine production and it increases blood flow to the brain. As a result, our brains are switched on when we laugh. We become more interested and involved and we find it easier to remember, solve problems and think creatively.

What makes young children laugh?

Adults laugh when they recognise the familiar. Children laugh when they’re shocked by the new.

~ Elizabeth Hardwick

From 4 months up to primary school age:

The very first jokes that children share with loving caregivers are purely physical. An example would be bouncing your 4 month old on your lap to the rhythm of a familiar rhyme and then “dropping” the child at the end of the rhyme by opening your legs, while you’re securely holding him with your hands around his chest, under his arms.

Researchers say babies laugh in response to this experience because the shock of the “fall”, combined with the relief of safety and the recognition of the familiar face, is highly enjoyable. And, over time, they naturally learn to anticipate the fall, which makes the whole experience even more exciting.

At the Practica Program we start playing with fun and jokes from 4 months of age. Social games like these help caregivers to bond with babies while stimulating the relevant brain regions to prepare them for learning to process and self-regulate their emotions later in life.

Practica Parents can find these games, along with many others aimed at making babies laugh, under the Social Development section in every month’s list of advised activities. New games are added month to month, but familiar ones should be repeated as you build your repertoire as a fun-loving family.

The physical jokes that we play with our babies naturally evolve over time into “rough-housing” or “rough-and-tumbling”. Researchers say that young children learn to self-regulate and establish personal boundaries when they rough-house with parents. And, as a result, these children have better social skills and leadership abilities when they enter primary school.

From 6 months up to 12 to 15 months:

During this stage babies’ developing sense of humour slowly but surely causes them to laugh when a trusted caregiver does something out of the ordinary like using a funny voice to say a familiar rhyme, or when the person sneezes, walks funny or pretends to drink from the baby’s bottle.

They typically laugh when something that they’re familiar with is used in the wrong way, like when you wear a shoe on your head as a hat, or pretend to mistakenly think that a teaspoon or a pencil can be used for brushing teeth.

*Also bear in mind that, from a baby’s perspective, hiding behind a blanket in a game of peek-a-boo is a way of “joking” with a trusted caregiver.

From 2 years until 3 or 4 years:

During this phase children think it’s funny when we call something or someone by the wrong name or when we act dumb.

For example, “I see Grandma and Grandpa in this photo. Here’s Grandma (pointing to Grandpa) and here’s Grandpa (pointing to Grandma)!” or “I know what a cow says! A cow says ‘quack quack’!”.

*Children learn to enjoy these jokes when you have a playful demeanor and laugh at your own jokes. The playfulness is contagious and, depending on your child’s temperament, he or she may try to crack similar jokes. Be on the look-out for them, so that can react appropriately.

There are 4 more kinds of jokes that are funny to children when they are between 3 and 5 years of age:

1. They laugh when people play with the sounds of words.

Any word that sounds funny has the potential to tickle their funny bone. The meaning of the particular word is not important to them.

For example, “What’s on the menu at this restaurant? Please, waiter! I’d like to order a waffle for Mr Bear, a baffle for Mrs Bear and a gaffle for me!”

Another example would involve playing with the sound of someone’s name, such as “Nadia-ke-padia” or “Hello, my dear Nadia? Maybe it’s Noo-dia? Or Nee-dia? Oh, of course! It’s Naaa-dia!”

2. Silly word combinations also make them laugh.

For example, “Daddy is a proper bookworm! What are you? A book-bunny? Do you think I could be a book-bird?”

*You can also change a familiar rhyme in an unexpected way, e.g. “Twinkle twinkle little … boat, how I wonder if you’re a … goat!”

3. They laugh when someone distorts something, like an action or the attributes of people, animals or objects.

Examples include when someone speaks with a helium voice, or does something like pretending to have a real conversation with a pet, when you draw a dog with wheels instead of legs, walk around in a pair of slippers that look like dinosaurs or use a spoon to cut something at dinner, saying, “I wonder why this knife isn’t cutting today?”

*Physical humour (“slapstick”) is a variation on this theme and it’s funny to all children from around their first birthday and most people continue to appreciate this kind of humour into adulthood.

4. Children of this age typically love children’s jokes, but they don’t understand them.

They enjoy learning to ask and answer riddles to make people laugh, such as: “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side!” and “How do you know there’s an elephant in the refrigerator? You’ll see his footsteps in the butter!”

From 5 years onward many children, who have been exposed to these jokes, try to create their own variations, and they end up being funny because they’re not funny at all! E.g. “Why did the chicken cross the road? Because he wanted to visit his friend.”

Researchers say it’s perfectly normal for children to not grasp why jokes are funny before their 9th birthday. In fact, when you ask a younger child why they’re laughing at a joke, they’ll admit: “I don’t know!”

*Trying to explain a joke to a child who is younger than 9 years of age is counter productive. The best way to respond to a non-funny joke is to simply laugh as if it’s funny and appreciate the social gesture.


– Keep a record of funny things that happen in your family so that you can share a good laugh when you need to connect as a family. This is a great way of creating something that psychologists refer to as “a strong family narrative”.

*Jokes should obviously never be at anyone’s expense.

– Sing the Tooty Ta song as a family. Singing a fun song or saying a finger rhyme is probably the easiest way of sharing a bit of silliness on call!

Listen here to listen to the song on YouTube

*Die Afrikaanse vertaling is “Duime op, arms terug, voete oop, knieë saam, boude uit, tong uit, oë toe, maak ‘n draai!”

– Play a silly game where any question is answered with the words, “mashed potatoes”.

Watch here how to play “mashed potatoes”

* Die Afrikaanse vertaling is “Pap pampoen!” of “Slap spaghetti!”

– Create a special spot in your child’s room or in your living room where you display pictures of children laughing in funny ways, photos of your child laughing and your family laughing together, funny objects and pictures of animals that are acting funny.

Developing a child’s sense of humour is one of the many facets of child rearing that add to the quality of life of every person involved.

Over and above the intellectual, social, emotional and health benefits that families reap when they take laughing together seriously, the closeness and memories that are created are priceless.