The other day as I was changing my one-year-old’s diaper and she was fighting me with all of the power a gale force wind, my two older children were competing to see which one could impale the other first. I could feel my blood pressure rise to stroke-inducing levels.
This was definitely not my idea of a fun time, but I thought that perhaps a silly song might relieve some of the tension (and my anxiety, I might add!) Sure enough, my one-year-old started to chuckle and ignore for the moment her urge to be independent. The older two children started to make up silly words for the song. A “carpet crisis” was averted for at least that one diaper change.
I don’t always have my wits about me as I did that day to create a silly song on the spot. Pressures, time constraints, my physical well-being, level of fatigue, and amount of sleep may all play a role in what parenting tool I can use at any given time. Sometimes the daily struggles of living with children deplete me of energy and my sense of fun. However, when I can muster up the energy, adding some levity to my day can be a saving grace.
A Case for Using Humor
Because it catches kids off guard, humor can result in increased cooperation from them. It can cut through their resistance without your having to nag and cajole.
For example, you can speak for the family pet by leaving a note for your child: “Dear Emily, Please don’t forget to feed me – I get so hungry during the day. Love, Fido.”
Laughter and humor can be very healing, calming and satisfying parts of life. They can be used to break a tense moment, raise people’s self-esteem, challenge you intellectually and increase the intimacy between people. It is through humor that you add color to your life and share joy with others.
A Word of Caution
Humor is exhibited in a variety of ways and your upbringing, cultural background, gender, religion and socioeconomic status will influence your reaction to joking. You need to use caution when using humor that your words and laughter are not misconstrued and damage your child’s developing self-esteem.
Some of the negative ways in which laughter and humor are used:
- Disparaging laughter – When children are laughed at, they sometimes learn to laugh at their own pain. For example, a child who trips and falls in front of others may jump up, pretending not to be hurt, and say, “I meant to do that. I’m so funny.”
- Teasing – This negative form of humor can be used to irritate, provoke, annoy or ridicule another person. For example, a parent may say to that same child that fell, “Hey, you cracked the sidewalk,” without acknowledging that the child may have gotten hurt.
- Sarcasm and ridicule – Sarcasm and ridicule may stop an unwanted behavior, but at a price. For example, this same child may be told, “Boy, I bet you could trip over your own two feet.”
Children are constantly bombarded with hurtful messages that occur in the media and entertainment, which can be embedded quickly in their consciousness as “healthy,” when in fact they are not. Parents can help their children become aware of these forms of damaging humor by pointing them out when they are used and asking their children to think about how they or another person might feel.
A Little Bit of Help
Healthy forms of humor include ways to express joyous laughter that are not at the expense of others or yourself. You can:
- Exaggerate the situation. “Your day sounds worse than the one in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”
- Accomplish a task with reverse psychology. Challenge a child who is sulking, “Whatever you do, don’t smile.”
- Fly a paper airplane to your kids with a note on it. It might say, “Time to call in the troops – DINNER TABLE NEEDS TO BE SET ASAP!”
- Use another voice or an accent. Use a robot voice or one from a favorite cartoon to gain children’s attention.
- Use fantasy. “Boy, you really wish you could have pizza for dinner tonight. I’ll bet you wish this were a pizza factory, loaded with all kinds of toppings.”
- Use music to get them moving. Put on some marching tunes while doing chores or sing instructions to children; for example, using a song to measure how much time they need to spend brushing their teeth.
- Use props. Groucho glasses, puppets or even a funny hat can help to bring a smile to children’s faces.
When using any type of humor, make sure you take into consideration the age and temperament of your child. Some children may not understand your laughter or may feel you are ridiculing them instead of trying to be helpful or funny. If you sense this, back-track and let your children know that you meant no harm and were not laughing at them.
Remember, too, that joking comes more easily to some people than to others. Temperament and past experiences all play a role in how comfortable you are with humor.
Parenting can often feel like an unrewarding job as you struggle with your children’s attitudes and behaviors. Humor can help to turn the job of parenting into a more enjoyable, fun and energizing one. It is a skill that is well-worth cultivating.By Teri Mahoney, Certified Parenting Educator
For more information about using humor, check out the following book. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.
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