Encouraging your toddler’s sense of humour

Seeing as it's April Fools' Day, our child psychologist reveals how to get your little one laughing

Did you know that boys and girls find different things funny?

Humour is an essential part of your toddler’s emotional development. It’s a shared experience that helps you both to bond, is a great tension-reliever and an instinctive way for your child to show happiness. Laughter is an expression of pleasure in all cultures.


Toddlers are wired to respond well to humour. They are usually more attentive to stories that contain an element of humour and this can be a positive way to gain their interest and attention.

Boys and girls laugh differently

Boys and girls tend to have slightly differing senses of humour: boys recognise and respond to visual humour more easily than girls. When young boys and girls are shown cartoons, silly drawings, or even an amusing scenario involving a clown, boys usually laugh sooner than girls – and boys’ humour tends to be at the expense of others.

If your little one rarely laughs at your antics or stories, don’t worry too much. Laughter and intelligence are not closely connected. One study found that although children with learning difficulties had a problem understanding cartoons, they laughed as much as children who didn’t have learning difficulties.

  • Age – 1 year
  • What Happens – She’s no longer focused on herself and looks to others to provide fun.
  • Game – Play peek-a-boo. Hide your face behind your hands, then peer out saying, “peek-a-boo”. The excitement may make her laugh even though she’s seen it before.
  • Age – 2 Years
  • What Happens – She likes humour that involves arm, leg and body movement.
  • Game – Play humorous action rhymes, such as “I’m a little teapot” or “Ring-a-ring-o-roses”. She also enjoys reading books that involve her lifting up a flap on the page to discover what’s hidden underneath.
  • Age – 3 Years
  • What Happens – As her imagination develops, she laughs at imaginary situations.
  • Game – Encourage your toddler to use her toys in creative ways. She may, for instance, laugh when a character ‘accidentally’ falls over. Or show her a silly picture you’ve drawn, such as a dog wearing sunglasses.
  • Age – 4 Years
  • What Happens – She likes the unexpected, but make sure surprises don’t frighten her.
  • Game – Read her stories with unexpected endings. Or pretend your feet are stuck together and you can only jump. Or put on a funny mask when she’s not expecting it.

Ways to have a real giggle with your child

  • Relax – humour is often funniest when spontaneous. Be at ease when you’re with your toddler and you’ll find laughter arises without any effort. Just be yourself and she’ll think, “Mum’s laughing so I’ll laugh.”
  • Accept her humour – what makes you laugh won’t always make her laugh, and vice versa.
  • Point out funny things – if you see something amusing in what she’s involved with, help her see the funny side and laugh along with her.
  • Praise her – explain that her sense of humour is a wonderful trait and that others will like her because she’s fun to be with.
  • Use humour positively – if you and your toddler are having a day of arguments, use humour to break the tension. Make a joke, or just laugh and give her a cuddle.

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