“I left a baby gift for you on your doorstep. It’s the perfect thing for a mom with four boys.”
My friend mentioned this to me casually as we both worked in our neighbor’s kitchen, preparing refreshments for a wedding.
The “impulsive three-year old” section of my brain wanted to drop what I was doing and immediately run next door to tear open this gift. What could possibly be the perfect baby gift for a mom who had just had her fourth boy? It was even more intriguing to me because this friend is an amazing mom herself. She has seven children, and while I’m sure she has stories that would contradict my accounting, every one of them always seems so well-behaved, so kind, so creative, so smart, and so sweet. She certainly knows a thing or two about motherhood, and so I hoped that this gift was some secret of the trade. A talisman from my Jedi master.
The “responsible adult” section of my brain won out, and I helped out with food for a few more hours before making my way home to find a small wrapped box on my doorstep. I slid my fingers through the tape and pulled out the box.
And started laughing immediately.
Here’s a look at what I found inside:
That binky. I laughed because it was hilarious, but I also laughed at myself for thinking the gift would be so serious.
Then I let one of my older boys pop the binky in my little guy’s mouth, and soon all the boys were laughing too. The baby, watching all of us, started laughing as well.
The older boys took turns taking the binky out and putting it back in. Every time they pulled it out, the laughter paused as they held the binky – and their breaths — and the baby looked around, puzzled. Every time it went in, the boys started laughing at the baby. Every time the boys started laughing, the baby started laughing at the boys. And my husband and I couldn’t help but laugh at them all. For a solid evening, the whole family was just rolling with laughter.
I may have overanticipated the potential parenting power my friend’s gift would have, but it didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t completely off-base either.
The parenting lesson it taught me (whether intended or not) was this:
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn to laugh. Have fun. It really does make parenting easier and more enjoyable.
In Gretchin Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project (*affiliate link), she talks about the importance of laughter in our lives. She writes, “Laughter is more than just a pleasurable activity…When people laugh together, they tend to talk and touch more and to make eye contact more frequently.”
Not surprisingly, these are all factors that lead to stronger connections between people.
Comedian John Cleese said, “I’m struck by how laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance, any sense of social hierarchy when you are just howling with laughter.”
It’s true. Playful laughter builds relationships, and as I find over and over again, all development and learning happens within the context of those relationships. Clearly, no relationship is more important to child development than the one between parent and child, so it makes sense that we should laugh together.
It’s been said that children laugh 300 times a day, while adults are only in the single or double digits. These numbers are easily disputed, though if you you’ve been around children and take this author’s perspective, counting multiple points to your child’s rolicking laughter vs your single polite chuckle, it certainly seems plausible.
If we know children are wired for play and that they learn through playful interactions, and we know that they are eager to laugh, it seems we would do well to start speaking that same playful, language.
Here are a few ways you can use humor and laughter as one of your positive parenting tools:
Change the Mood
Everyone overslept. Someone spilled the milk. The toilet overflowed. Some days it seems that nothing is going your way. Our kids feel it too. Choosing to find a moment to laugh in the face of tension can shift the whole mood of the day, bringing you closer together, rather than setting you at each other’s throats. As Marjorie Hinckley said, “The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.”
Children are an easy audience. Throw a little slapstick their way. Insist that you can’t find the blanket/stuffed animal/little piece of preciousness that you have to hunt down each evening, while at the same time balancing that object on your head or have it poking out of your shirt. Channel your inner Chaplin and pretend to bump into walls or nearly drop something. (I don’t even have to pretend. Skills.) Acting silly isn’t your thing? Read a funny book at story time and live vicariously through great characters and clever writing. (This is one of my all time faves.)
“You’ve Been a Great Audience”
Respond when your children show their silly side too. Laugh, look surprised, overreact, play along. Their attempt at comedy is a vulnerable act, a bid for your engagement. Humor has a back-and-forth dance, just like other conversations, so make sure you do your part.
It isn’t all a comedy act. Just playing together opens many of the same opportunities for vulnerability, connection, and laughter. Rarely does a game of Uno, tickle tag, or horse end without some giggling and connecting.
Laugh at Yourself
Nobody’s perfect. But sometimes your kids think YOU are. Model that we all make mistakes and that it’s OK by laughing at yourself when it’s appropriate. “Oh my goodness, I wrote the wrong name on this! That was so silly!”
What Humor is Not…
Using sarcasm, teasing, or laughing AT children doesn’t apply when we’re talking about humor as a positive parenting tool. These practices don’t build connections or bring you closer. They drive wedges and push people away. Don’t use humor as a bad excuse for insensitive or disrespectful behavior.
Used correctly, humor can bond us as parents and children, strengthen our connections, improve communication, change the trajectory of a day, lighten our loads, and lift our spirits. That’s pretty powerful stuff.
So, I suppose even a mustache binky really can be a secret talisman afterall.