The Power of Laughter
by Karen Deerwester
Adding humor to your children's lives.
First, the reports claimed it was the adults who had lost the gift of laughter. They said children were laughing 400 times a day, while the adults were only laughing 15 times a day. From Norman Cousins to Patch Adams, adults were being told to lighten up—that wellness depends on it. Now, some people are worried that children are laughing less, also. Say it’s ain’t so!
Is childhood laughter going the way of unstructured play? Are our preschoolers too busy maintaining their academic edge? Are school-aged children busy with a full schedule of quality-enrichment activities? It’s time for you to take a reality check on your child’s laugh quotient. How many times a day is your kid laughing?
According to Gail Choate, from Laughs to Go and the clown-in-residence at Holy Cross Hospital:
Laughter boosts the immune system by decreasing the body’s cortisol levels (an immune suppressor)
Hearty laughter speeds up the heart rate, improves blood circulation and increases oxygen consumption
Laughing for 15 seconds a day adds two days to a person’s overall lifespan
Laughter increases antibodies in saliva, combating upper respiratory infections
Laughing causes the body to secrete an enzyme that protects the stomach from forming ulcers.
And these medical facts say nothing of the cognitive, social and emotional benefits of a sense of humor. After thinking about all these advantages, I’m ready for a little more laughter—how about you?
Problem is, you just can’t plan a good laugh. But we definitely need to create space in our lives for good old-fashioned, gut-splitting laughter. The children in our lives will show us the way as long as we remember to give them time and permission to enjoy the funny side of life. Caution: what children find funny isn’t always “mature.” Not to worry – immaturity is also a much-needed respite in a world filled with competition and performance pressure.
So, with apologies to all the spontaneously funny people in the world, I’ve made a list of how and where to add humor to your family life:
Slip-on-a-banana-peel funny: Children love physical humor. They love seeing adults lose control in playful ways. So, next time you’re trying to get your child’s attention or refocus your child from some nasty candy display in the checkout line, try a pratfall, act as if your feet are glued to the floor or pretend like the grocery cart is driving you. Surprise your children by letting them see you do something unexpected. I promise, they will respect you more.
Underwear funny: Children have us adults beat in this category. A great children’s book by Mary Elise Monsell, titled Underwear!, says it all: “I’ll bet you can’t laugh, even if you say the word ‘underwear’ ten times.” The same goes for fart, booger and all those other silly potty words. Mature adults may not want to initiate these humorous happenings, but we can certainly read along with joyfully immature children’s books like Walter the Farting Dog and Good Families Don’t. Good families do, and your child will have the self-esteem to prove it.
Word funny: Rhymes and silliness, poetry and limericks—as soon as children learn how language works, they realize how much fun it is to turn language upside down on itself. Make up verses to Down by the Bay or read Shel Silverstein and Bruce Lansky poetry. Imagine the possibilities of children believing that words are fun. Imagine the sense of power your child will have knowing you can’t wait to hear his next verse.
Never-thought-of-it-that-way funny: Humor gives all of us the chance to see the world from a fresh perspective. It may be animals that talk or cars that fly. Humor is your license to believe in the unimaginable. In books like Mem Fox’s The Magic Hat, your child can become the wizard and learn that anything is possible. With a foundation like that, your child just might be another Einstein or Bill Gates.
Whether we are giggling at ourselves or finding a new humorous connection to someone else’s situation, the gift of laughter is priceless. Adding humor to your lives will allow your child to grow into a wonderfully fun and funny person. And who knows—it might just help you to live longer, too!
© Family Time Inc. 2005
Karen Deerwester is the
owner of Family Time
Coaching & Consulting,
director of the Mommy &
Me Program at The Ruth
and Edward Taubman Early
Childhood Center at
B’Nai Torah Congregation
in Boca Raton and the
parent expert writer for
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