Laughter is no laughing matter
What would you say if I told you that laughter is no laughing matter and it needs to be taken quite seriously – especially from a child development perspective? Children start developing their personal sense of humour from a young age. They will smile but babies don’t actually start laughing until approximately 3-4 months at which point the vocal chords are stronger and more developed than they were at birth. A baby’s sense of humour will develop along with the baby. It will start with laughing at faces and voices, to laughing at objects falling (and the game you engage in by constantly picking the object up), to word play and a child attempting their own manipulation of sounds and words to make their own jokes. Babies and children love to laugh.
Playing turn-taking games such as peek-a-boo will encourage a child to laugh. Laughter, believe it or not, also has a way of developing our language skills. Infant directed speech (IDS), also known as motherse, is a way that we naturally, with little coaching or encouragement, tend to engage with infants and children. When we engage babies with IDS, they laugh.
Linking this to language development, laughter does several things and develops several important skills we must acquire to use language effectively. Laughter usually occurs at the end of a sentence - especially in a joke. Laughter will be triggered by the change in tone to mark the end of the sentence or the moment which you expect a reaction from your audience. This is important because infants are catching the way which tones are used to convey meaning. Infants will catch on to a tone that signals laughter or a tone that signals a parent’s disapproval.
Because laughter naturally occurs at the end of a sentence it is also reinforcing turn-taking in communication. Laughter inspired by change in tone or a joke will reinforce sentence structure. In popular rhymes which include tickling, the punch line for tickling always occurs at the end of the verse. It’s the build up and the anticipation that makes children laugh. The laughter signifies the end of a sentence and the turn of the next person to vocalise.
I learnt this week that laughter is embedded into us and wired into our brains. It exists within us and evolves with us as we grow and develop. This has been shown through studies of children who are born Deaf and blind. These children will have never seen or heard laugher. Yet if you tickle them - they will laugh. Without any auditory or visual stimulus they are still able to experience laughter. We’re pre-programmed to use laughter as a positive response.
Laughter is an important form of human interaction. Both adults and children laugh to establish a rapport with others. It puts us at ease in social situations and engages us with others. Laughter has a wealth of positive physical benefits for both adults and children. Using laughter to encourage language in children will help develop their skills as effective communicators.
Laughing along with babies and using infant directed speech will help reinforce and develop what our brains are already prepared to do naturally. Play a game of peek-a-boo, use a silly voice when reading a story. Don’t be afraid to have a laugh with babies and children. In fact, you’ll be doing both you and the child a world of good. And that is no laughing matter.