Keep 'em laughing

Sharing laughter with your child - at any age - will promote a lighter heart. (File photo)

Moving from “kid” to “teen” isn’t easy. Everything is changing – their bodies, minds, emotions, friendships – making life feel out of control at times. Now, research from the Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that laughter can help kids negotiate this tricky passage.

Brain scans while 6- to 12-year-olds watched episodes of America’s Funniest Home Videos turned up something that surprised researchers: Even though a kid’s sense of humor is still developing, laughter "tickled" the same brain networks that light up when adults start guffawing. Developing these networks with regular doses of age-appropriate humor, the scientists suspect, could help them build the resilience they’ll need later on.

“Humor is a very important component of emotional health, maintaining relationships, developing cognitive function and perhaps even medical health,” researcher Allan Reiss, MD, who directs the Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research at Stanford, noted in a Stanford University report about the study. “In particular, we think a balanced and consistent sense of humor may help children negotiate the difficult period of pre-adolescence and adolescence.”

If your first thought is, “time to break out the joke book,” good for you. But here’s the challenge:  Your kid’s already laughing more often than you are. By some accounts, kids laugh 200 times a day, adults just 15 to 18 times.

The best way to encourage a healthy sense of humor may be to work on your own – and be a part of theirs. Being a humor role model – laughing at your toddler’s goofy dancing, your second grader’s endless supply of knock-knock jokes, your fourth grader’s gross-out jokes (OK, within reason) – amps up enjoyment of the funny side of life. So does making time to read the comics together, laugh at a hilarious TV show or movie, enjoy a funny book. Sharing humor shows them that funny is something adults do, too, and not something they’ll have to leave behind as they grow. It also gives you a chance to help them tone down bathroom jokes and to teach them why mean or off-color humor is just not funny.

How do you make time for laughter with your kids? How has their sense of humor changed as they’ve grown? Let us know!