The many joys of laughter

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Some of the most satisfying sounds are, reputedly, a fire crackling, rain on the roof, waves breaking and children’s laughter, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Last week, I talked about the benefits of encouraging humour in our youngsters and it seems that, in doing this, there are benefits for us, too.

Apparently, one minute of laughter is equal to 10 minutes on the rowing machine, according to William Fry, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He refers to laughter as "internal jogging" as it can provide good cardiac, abdominal, facial and back muscle conditioning and strengthens our immune system.

Since it appears that most of our laughter arises from spending time with family and friends rather than from jokes, and since humour and laughter are important in a child’s development, developing a sense of humour in our youngsters is a no-brainer.

So, here are some more things to consider:

Do things that have everyone laughing together.

Provide plenty of good, shared humour experiences through movies, television and books.

Begin a funny story that the kids take turns in contributing a sentence to, or ask "what ifs?"; for example, "what if people had three legs?".

Have a riddle or joke of the day.

Have our own riddle book and give them half an hour or even 24 hours to come up with the answer to a riddle. Get them thinking. Appreciate all attempts at the solution. After all, humour has an intellectual base as it generally involves playing with ideas and words.

Take a little time to appreciate their jokes. To end a joke session that’s becoming tedious send them away with a joke or riddle of your own.

There’ll also be times when we need to draw the line on humour. Youngsters need boundaries even when it comes to humour.

Make sure they understand the difference between gentle, impersonal teasing and ridicule. The latter isn’t funny for the victim and will quickly be picked by siblings or playmates and used to torment.

Help them learn appropriateness or otherwise of certain sorts of humour. What might be hilarious among friends in the playground isn’t necessarily right for the dinner table.

We can even measure how we’re doing. It seems that, on average, a child laughs 300 times a day, which is apparently much better than we parents do at only 17 times a day! And that may only be because, as comedian Red Skelton put it, we’re always only "one laugh away from crying".

Since, as another comic put it, "the parent who laughs, lasts", and with all the health benefits of laughing, there’s good reason for us to join in with our youngsters and do a lot more internal jogging ourselves.

 - Ian Munro

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