Often what is needed to head off a full-blown melt-down is just a little humor to lighten things up and regain perspective. Let me give you an example. Recently, I had spent a full day washing every dirty article of clothing in our house. A small feat in itself. I hadn’t, however, folded any of it yet. So at the end of the day, I was exhausted, folding laundry on my bed, just trying to get to the bottom of it so I could climb in! Well, my five year-old came in, with body language and a voice that conveyed that he just might try a bit of whining and fit-throwing to get his way as he said, “But I wanted to sit there!” I responded that the bed was “closed”. Then realizing the humor, said, “Get it? The bed is closed with clothes!” He paused for a moment, then his five year-old logic grasped it and his whole demeanor changed. He visibly relaxed, laughed a bit, and then moved to another part of the room to settle in and talk to me about something else.
Humor is an excellent distraction. It lightens the mood and shifts attention, often facilitating either natural or adult-prompted redirection. It’s not always the children who are the ones who need to lighten up. They’re naturals at funny business. In fact, I recently read that, on average, a child laughs 300 times each day, while an adult laughs only 15 times each day. So it’s logical that humor would be a natural tool to use when working with children.
My husband is an expert at using humor when the little ones are being a bit overly dramatic about their most recent injury or frustration. He asks what happened and attends to their needs. Then, if the drama continues, he often says, very seriously, “Now let me make sure I understand what happened,” then recreates the scene in full slapstick comedic fashion, flailing onto the floor or animatedly crashing into the wall, or whatever the drama may be. The kiddos almost always stop crying, at least long enough to laugh. And then, if they haven’t stopped completely, they seem to have to really try to cry over laughing – and laughing almost always wins out.
We can use humor to get attention as we’re working with children, starting off an activity with a silly song, a funny story, or your own comedic antics if you’ve got the gift. It’s hard for a child not to be interested in what comes next once you’ve made him laugh.
Humor can also be used to relate to the child, providing proper perspective on mishaps and disappointments. (“I remember when I accidentally spilled some water on my pants. That wasn’t what I meant to do! How silly! You know what I did? I just changed my clothes!) Laughing at ourselves helps children to do the same. It shows them that sometimes, it’s just “no big deal”.
Humor also builds relationships by providing positive shared experiences. It’s fun to laugh together, and you really don’t need a reason to do it! Building that positive relationship will certainly shade future interactions.
Now, obviously, humor is not for every situation. We don’t want to brush off very intense reactions with a joke, but sometimes we can head off that eruption, letting out a bit of steam with some well-timed humor. Also, humor is meant to be used to laugh with the child, not at her. Never use humor to belittle the child or disregard his feelings. Be aware of personalities and temperaments, and how they might affect the reaction to your humor. Keep in mind that sarcasm relies heavily on logic and language skills that children haven’t developed yet. At best it’s too advanced for children to understand, and at worst, it can be very hurtful. Just avoid it.
So take a look at how you can use humor to lighten the mood, or re-energize your brood. There are many times when laughter truly is the best medicine!
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Photo by maillme.