What Makes Children Smile?
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What Makes Children Smile?

Our son is getting to that stage where he laughs and smiles, a LOT.  It is over silly things, really, like my thumb popping up from under the table or the proposal of catching him with tickles.  The other night, our dog was joining in on a family game of chase and the chaos that ensued caused him to keel over with laughter.  Literally.  He laughed so hard that he was out of breath.  It is fun to watch anyone laugh that hard, but seeing a baby do it will melt your heart.

What makes children smile and laugh?  I recently read an article called Head, Shoulders, Knees, and…Peanut Butter – What Makes Young Children Laugh? by Paul McGhee, PhD.  The author proposed that there are two basic ideas to keep in mind about children, humor, and laughter.  First, a child developing a sense of humor is an indication of their newest intellectual advancements.  Second, humor is basically a “form of intellectual play–play with ideas.”  Children naturally have fun with both new physical and mental skills.

First Few Stages of Humor

Stage 1: Laughing at Mom and Dad (6 to 15 months)

An infant’s parents are the most important part of his or her life, which makes sense why initially babies begin to laugh at what their parents do.  More specifically, babies laugh at the unusual things their parents do.  When a parent makes a silly face, sticks their tongue out, or pretends to drink from the baby’s bottle, babies find this unusual behavior hilarious.  Infants recognize these silly acts as something outside the realm of their parent’s usual behavior, making it funny and fun to watch.

Stage 2: Ducks Are Not Hats (15 months to 3, 4 or 5 years)

Our son is beginning to enter this stage.  Put a rubber ducky on your head and he’ll stop what he’s doing and reward you with a great big smile!  Children begin to recognize how silly it is to pretend one object is another (i.e. A rubber ducky is not a hat.)  While he hasn’t initiated pretend play of his own, this comes later around age 2, he can identify when we pretend and finds that pretty funny.

These first two stages give every parent a chance for their inner-adult-goofball to shine through!

McGhee points out that humor is funniest during the months after the time when it is initially understood.  This means we’d better take advantage of the sheer joy our son gets out of peek-a-boo before it passes.  This concept also made my wife raise an eyebrow at me – as I still get a good chuckle out of immature jokes.  🙂 But, who doesn’t, right?

In his article, the author goes on to address additional stages of humor that involve language development and children as they go through their toddler and early school years.  You can read about them at: http://www.laughterremedy.com/articles/child_makes_laugh.html