by Elaine Stone
"Laughter is an instant vacation," comedian Milton Berle remarked. Abraham Lincoln said, "With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die." There is something indispensable about laughter.
Imagine life without it. People were made to laugh, smile, and consider things funny. Grandmothers for centuries have referred to "funny bones". Scientists have never been able to locate them, but laughter is a common part of every human's make-up. Every human has the ability to laugh. Question is, do we?
KidsHealth.org states, "Children, on average, laugh 200 times per day. Adults laugh 15 to 18 times per day." Somewhere between birth and senior adulthood laughing diminishes dramatically.
A University of Maryland study on laughter and heart disease stated, "When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy. In addition to the domino effect of joy and amusement, laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body. Humor and laughter strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress."
So, why do adults stop laughing and what can they learn from the young ones under their roofs?
"We tend to think of humor as part of our genetic makeup, like blue eyes or big feet. But a sense of humor actually is a learned quality that can be developed in kids, not something they're born with." Kids Health.org explains.
In essence, comics are not born, they are made. A sense of humor is a free-opportunity trait. Everyone can have one. If laughter, silliness, jokes, and humor are expressed in a child's home, he will grow up with a more developed sense himself. If a home is ruled by seriousness and sullen behavior than a child's sense of humor will be less developed and, as age sets in, life will be viewed less from a humorous perspective.
The advantages of a well-developed sense of humor are numerous. "Having a sense of humor plays an important role in developing self-esteem, learning to problem solve, and honing social skills," explains Louis Franzini, PhD, author of Kids Who Laugh: How to Develop Your Child's Sense of Humor. "It's one of the most desirable personality traits," he says. "And parents can, without a doubt, help foster it."
Studies have shown that children with a sense of humor are more popular and make friends easier. Humor teaches children to look at things from different perspectives. It builds vocabulary and teaches that words can be used in different formats for different meanings. It also allows children to imagine and to be creative in looking at situations. This gives a huge boost to their problem-solving skills as well as their intellect. Tom Cottle, PhD, a psychologist, says, "But having a good sense of humor is much more important than just having the ability to tell funny jokes. It's a frame of mind that allows you to see the lighter side of life. Humor transforms reality to help us cope with stressful experiences."
Laughter brings connection. It allows families and friends to share experiences. It is a powerful tool in strengthening relationships. Jokes and riddles told over and over to subsequent generations bond families together. "Uncle Charlie always told that joke." "Grandpa Smith used to love to scare people." Humorous family experiences are unique and give a family identity.
Is there a humorous family situation that has been repeated and laughed about for years? Those give families a sense of connectedness. Is there a movie the family loves to watch because it causes family laughter? Or a game that usually ends in silliness or hilarity? Humor has a powerful way of helping people relate to one another. "Laughter occurs when people are comfortable with one another, when they feel open and free. And the more laughter [there is], the more bonding [occurs] within the group," says cultural anthropologist Mahadev Apte.
A sense of humor is an outlook comes from having perspective. Children can only arrive at a developed sense of humor when it has been nurtured and taught in their homes. Parents need to be playful and silly with their children. They need to exhibit for their children how to laugh at themselves, how to de-stress with humor, how to see the whimsical and funny in everyday experiences. Children need to hear their parent's laughter. They need to see how humor fits into everyday life. They need a chance to practice their own emerging humor and be encouraged to develop it. They need parents who will join in when silliness and laughter bubble to the surface. They need parents who are willing to act like a child, once and a while, and who haven't given up laughter for stodgy suits and stuffy personalities.
Be spontaneous. Laugh; it is contagious. Break out some music and have family dance night. Try Karaoke in the living room for some jovial merriment. Tell stories about comical things that have happened. Share cartoons together. Read jokes in the newspaper. Watch Lucille Ball on old reruns. Tickle feet. Play "follow the leader". If a child is watching a video for the 100th time, join in the song and dance. Chances are laughter will follow. Watch funny movies. Read funny books. Play dress-up. Laugh at "bed hair" in the morning. Play charades. Laugh when children say and do goofy things. Have some "inside" family words/phrases that trigger laughter (usually stolen from funny family experiences). Find humor in even stressful situations. Every family is enriched by a home filled with joy. Just because normal adults laugh less than children, doesn't mean "normal" is good. Strive to be abnormal in the humor department. Make comedy a central part of "home".
Crack Them Up!
Want to get a good chuckle out of your toddler? Here are a few ideas to please a young audience:
• Do something the child knows is obviously wrong, like pretending to brush your hair with a toothbrush or putting a hat on your foot.
• Ignore the obvious. Pretend not to see the child right in front of you and instead search under the bed, in the closet and under a stack of books while asking, "Where is my little boy? I don't see him anywhere."
• Have ordinary objects talk or make funny sounds. Yell "plop" as a scoop of mashed potatoes is put on her plate. Ask her teddy bear for advice on what to wear. Pretend the towel is a drying machine that makes different odd noises as each body part is dried off after a bath.
• Play along with his silliness. If he is pretending his shoe is a telephone, take your own off and talk into it like it is the most normal thing to do. Make comments related to the situation such as "Is this a telephone or a smellyphone?" or "I have to hang up now. My foot is cold."
• Try some physical humor such as pratfalls, silly dances and funny faces.
(http://www.toddlerstoday.com/articles/kid-connections/knock-knock-who-s-there-5411/, accessed May 2010)
The Benefits of Laughter
Physical health Benefits:
• Boosts immunity
• Lowers stress hormones
• Decreases pain
• Relaxes your muscles
• Prevents heart disease
Mental health Benefits:
• Adds joy and zest to life
• Eases anxiety and fear
• Relieves stress
• Improves mood
• Enhances resilience
• Strengthens relationships
• Attracts others to us
• Enhances teamwork
• Helps defuse conflict
• Promotes group bonding
(http://helpguide.org/life/humor_laughter_health.htm, accessed May 2010)