We all like to laugh. It makes us feel good.
Laughter is a vital part of natural development. Humor is a way of engaging others and a way of connecting through a shared experience. Having a good sense of humor is a tool children can use throughout their lives. It helps children become more spontaneous, see things from another perspective, grasp unconventional ways of thinking, and enjoy playful aspects of life. Now is a great time to make humor part of your everyday routine.
Babies may not understand humor, but they do know when you are smiling and happy. When you make funny noises or faces and then laugh or smile, your baby is likely to sense your joy and imitate you. They are also highly responsive to physical stimuli, like tickling or raspberries. Babies know enough about the world to understand that when mom puts a diaper on her head or quacks like a duck, she’s doing something unexpected — and that it’s funny. Here are some helpful ideas to encourage laughter in babies:
- Kissing: Give many short, quick kisses over and over on baby’s ears. Repeat it on the baby’s fingers and toes.
- Waving a Diaper: During diaper changes, wave a diaper over the baby’s face and use words like “stinky” and “pee-u” in a fun, playful tone! Give baby the chance to wave the diaper too.
- Peek-a-Boo: When getting baby dressed, play peek-a-boo with the shirt and pants by covering your face and quickly removing for a burst of laughter.
- Blowing raspberries: Blow on the baby’s stomach and wait for their giggle reaction.
- Little piggy: Use your little one’s toes to play this game by touching each toe while saying the common nursery rhyme “This little piggy went to market, This little piggy stayed home, This little piggy had roast beef, This little piggy had none. This little piggy went … Wee, wee, wee, all the way home!”. Make sure to move from baby’s toes to the baby’s neck for a tickle.
- Pat-a-cake: Use big facial expressions and actions as you sing “pat-a-cake”. You can even take the baby’s hands and help do the motions.
- Chasing/Approaching: Move a few feet away from baby and get on your hands and knees. Pat the ground with your hand as you say “I’m going to get you!” and move toward baby ending with a tickle and a giggle! If your baby crawls, they will enjoy crawling away or maybe even toward you for the tickle!
- Ride-a-Horsie: Have your baby sit on your knees as you bounce her and make galloping sounds. You can even chant one of the many renditions to “Ride a little horsey down to town, ride a little horsey don’t fall down!”.
- Tickles: This may be the best way to get a laugh out of your little one! Raise your hand above baby, start to wiggle your fingers, and slowly move down to tickle the baby. This creates some anticipation for baby too!
- Fun Sounds: It may not be the best etiquette, but slurping liquids, saying “ah” after a sip of a drink, sticking out your tongue and saying “yuck!”, and rubbing your tummy while saying “yum” can get those giggles out! And if you really want some laughter, let out a big burp and a sneeze!
- Funny faces: When you’re sitting face to face with the baby is a great time to work on those funny faces. Stick out your tongue, move your tongue from side to side, open and close your mouth with a big smacking sound, and crinkle your nose.
- Silliness: Just being silly can get lots of giggles out of baby! Tossing a pillow across the room, excitedly pulling tissues out of a box, jumping, and squatting are very entertaining to baby and are sure to make the baby smile.
- Dancing: Crank up the music and move around the room with your best dance moves while singing to the baby. Then pick the baby up for a few twirls around the room with you!
- Put it on Repeat!: When your baby starts to smile during an activity, keep doing it!! Babies respond well to the repetition of games and will soon be anticipating your moves and playing along with you.
Here are some great video examples of encouraging laughter with infants:
Toddlers appreciate physical humor, especially the kind with an element of surprise (like peek-a-boo or an unexpected tickle). As kids develop language skills, they will find rhymes and nonsense words funny. It is around this time that many kids start trying to make their parents laugh. Your child might deliberately point to the wrong facial feature when asked “Where’s your nose?” or put on your shoes and clomp around the house. Here are some helpful ideas to encourage laughter in toddlers:
- Make Mistakes On Purpose: When helping a toddler get dressed, put the clothing item on the wrong part of your child’s body (i.e. pants on head), pause, and then say “Oh no!… silly mommy/daddy. Not there!” and begin laughing! Your child is sure to follow suit!
- Use Funny Words: There’s something about using “potty” words that always make a child laugh. Words like “pee-u, wooooof (while waving your arm in front of your face), and stinky” seem to always do the trick!
- Mirror Play: Looking in the mirror is a great time to work on those funny faces. Stick out your tongue, move your tongue from side to side, open and close your mouth with a big smacking sound, and crinkle your nose. See who can make the funniest face!
- Splash the Water: Shaving cream in the bath tub to make beards, splashing the water, having toys jump into the water from the ledge of the bathtub, and getting a small washcloth instead of a big towel to dry off will definitely make your child smile.
- Tickles: Tickling continues to be a go-to way to get your child to let out a giggle. Raise your hands above your child and move down to tickle his/her tummy!
- Chase: Get some energy and giggles out while you chase your little one around the yard. Use phrases such as “I’m going to get you!” and exaggerate your arm and leg movements while running.
- Dancing: Crank up the music and move around the room with your best dance moves while singing to your child. Use a brush or spoon as a microphone. Don’t forget to include your child by allowing them to have the microphone and be twirled around the room by you!
- Pretend Sleeping: Lay down next to your child and begin to snore loudly – moving your legs and arms as you snore, then quickly pop up.
- Pretend Play: Pick up a banana instead of a phone when it is ringing, accidentally spill a cup of water while playing in the kitchen and exaggerate “ooops!” while bringing your hand to your mouth or face, or accidentally lose things during play by putting it on top of your head and looking around with shrugged shoulders.
- Silly Play Sounds: Panting like a dog, fake cough, fake sneeze. Try putting a small item on your head and sneezing it off (a-a-a-chooo!!!!).
- Bubbles: Pop bubbles in new ways like stomping, clapping, popping with your elbow, and jumping up.
- Join Your Child in Play: Follow your child’s lead during play. Allow them to give you directions. This will for sure bring about a big smile!
- Fun Sounds: It may not be the best etiquette, but slurping liquids, saying “ah” after a sip of drink, sticking out your tongue and saying “yuck! or Ew”, and rubbing your tummy while saying “yum” can get those giggles out! And if you really want some laughter, let out a big burp and a sneeze! This can be great during play with pretend food too.
- Spice Up Your Food Display: Use cookie cutters to make the bread on a PB&J into a star or dinosaur. Draw a smiley face using ketchup on your child’s plate. Make “ants on a log” with celery, peanut butter, and raisins. A little creativity can go a long way!
The video below shows a fun game you can play with your toddler to encourage laughter:
A preschooler is more likely to find humor in a picture with something out of whack (a car with square wheels, a pig wearing sunglasses) than a joke or pun. The incongruity between pictures and sounds (a horse that says moo) is also funny for this age group. Here are some helpful ideas to encourage laughter in preschoolers:
- Use Funny Words: There’s something about using “potty” words that always make a child laugh. Words like “pee-u, wooooof (while waving your arm in front of your face), stinky, booger” seem to always do the trick!
- Jokes: Have a joke-telling contest.
Check out https://frugalfun4boys.com/knock-knock-jokes-for-kids/
- Tickles: Tickling continues to be a go-to way to get your child to let out a giggle.
- Chase/Freeze Tag: Get some energy and laughter out while you chase your child around the yard. Add the rule of “crawling under a person’s legs to unfreeze them” as part of the game.
- Dancing: Crank up the music and move around the room with your best dance moves while singing with your child. Use a brush or spoon as a microphone. Look up dances you can learn together like the Chicken Dance, Macarena, Hokey Pokey, Cha-Cha Slide, and The Worm.
- Bring Silliness to Create Everyday Fun: Name a day of the week a silly name (i.e. Tricky Tuesday, Wacky Wednesday, Fun Friday) and allow something out of the ordinary to happen during the day. For example, allowing your child to eat spaghetti without a utensil, wearing a swimsuit during bath time, dressing up as pirates for the day, or using a silly phrase in place of another word (i.e. instead of “yes” say “you bet ya!” or calling the car a watermelon).
- Cooking: Let your child cook with you… and maybe you accidentally put too much flour in the mixer and it goes everywhere! Use cookie cutters to make the bread on a PB&J into a star or dinosaur. Draw a smiley face using ketchup on your child’s plate. Make “ants on a log” with celery, peanut butter, and raisins. A little creativity can go a long way!
- Strike-a-Pose: On the count of 3, everyone freezes!
- Duck, Duck, Goose: This classic game will for sure make them laugh. Change the name to “Fish, Fish, Shark!” for a new twist.
- Obstacle Course/Relay Races: Create a simple obstacle course including crawling under a chair, running backwards, crab walking, and jumping jacks. Have your child put on an oversized t-shirt or your big shoes to complete the course. Make it even sillier by making mom and dad do it to!
- Read Funny Books: Here are a few of our favorites…
- Click, Clack, Moo.. Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
- Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein
- I Broke My Truck by Mo Willems
- Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
- A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell
- The Day the Crayons Quit by Oliver Jeffers
- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff
- Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton
- No David! by David Shannon
- Curious George by Margaret Rey