Fascinating guest talk by Dr Elena Hoicka, an expert on humour in babies and toddlers. Find out how to make your little one laugh and how you can help their sense of humour flourish!
“Humour is a crucial part of life which allows us to bond with friends, cope with stress, and think in creative ways. However, until recently, there was little research about how humour develops in the first place. New research is showing that humour develops very early on.
Babies start to laugh as early as 3 or 4 months, but all babies are different. When your baby starts to laugh, you might want to get them to laugh again. So what can you do? Recent research shows that when babies first laugh, they laugh randomly, so you might not feel like the best baby comedian to start. However, you should still joke around with your baby because that will help them learn what is funny and when to laugh. You can try lots of gags, e.g., funny faces, horse noises, or raspberries – these are all about the right level with babies. But it’s important to remember to laugh at your own jokes – this helps babies figure out that what you’re doing is funny, and not just normal. By the time your baby is 6 months old, they may start to laugh in response to your jokes, which is a great feeling to have!
As babies get older, they might start joking right back at you. From 7 months, many babies start to repeat strange actions when other people laugh, such as funny faces and snoring sounds. Parents report that most infants not only laugh at peek-a-boo, but also produce their own games of peek-a-boo. This is a fantastic time to enjoy each other – so watch out for your baby’s attempts to make you laugh!
One-year-olds up their game. Since they are more physical, they start making more physical jokes, like looking through their legs, spinning on the floor, and tickling and chasing other people. One-year-olds also become more aware of objects and how they work, so you can now add jokes involving misusing objects to your repertoire. You might want to try putting a boot on your hand, or a toy cat on your head. Since your child knows that’s not what you’re supposed to do, they can find the humour in it, and might even copy your jokes. But don’t forget to laugh, or else they might think you’re being serious.
At around two or three years, you can start being more verbal in your jokes. For instance, you might want to joke that a cup is called a “goojooboojoo”, or that cows lives in the sea. Kids at this age not only find this type of humour funny, but they also make up jokes like this on their own. Toddlers and pre-schoolers love word play and nonsense. But it’s important to know their limitations too. While they might laugh at puns, e.g., “What do you call an alligator in a vest? An investigator!” they might not get it the same way you do. For children under 7 years, they don’t understand the double meaning, and instead just think it’s funny because it’s crazy. You could probably get the same response with a joke like, “What do you call an alligator in a vest? A pizza!” Some parents note that their children tell the worst jokes. But if your toddler or pre-schooler is making up nonsense jokes, that actually shows a sophisticated advance in both language and humour development.
While we’ve learned a lot more about early humour in the last few years, there’s still a lot more to discover. That’s why this month we are running the Early Humour Survey at www.babylovesscience.com. Any parent anywhere in the world with a child between 0 and 47 months can participate. The survey asks questions about what types of humour children appreciate and produce, such as peek-a-boo, misusing objects, or saying nonsensical things. We want to discover a few things. First, do children learn to appreciate and produce humour in a series of stages, e.g., peek-a-boo, followed by saying nonsense? Or are children all different, appreciating different types of humour depending on their own personalities, their families, or their culture? Second, we want to find out about all types of children. So as well as hearing from parents of children with typical development, we would like to hear from other parents too, e.g., if your child has Down’s syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or any other form of development. We even want to hear from you if your child has never laughed, since knowing when kids don’t appreciate humour is as important as knowing when they do. By getting parents involved, we can start to learn more about how humour forms. It takes about 20 minutes to register and complete the survey, and you’ll get a summary of the number of joke types your child appreciates and produces when you’re done.”
- Dr Elena Hoicka is a Lecturer in developmental psychology at the University of Sheffield, in England. Her research focuses on the early development of humour, pretending, deception, and learning.