Does your toddler have a sense of humour?

Laughing at you, or with you? It’s all the same to your toddler, who loves having
a good chuckle, says our child psychologist

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The sound of your toddler’s giggles is probably a familiar one, and they’re about so much more than laughter.  Her busy brain is processing the things she sees and hears, and triggering her sense of humour all the time. Laughter helps you and your toddler bond together during those early years.

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Some parents seem to think that only bright toddlers laugh, but there’s no clear connection between laughter and intelligence. Whether it’s slapstick, word play or just something that’s tickled her, your little one has a very adaptable sense of humour.

What those giggles mean

Your tot uses laughter to communicate a range of feelings to you and it’s a serious form of non-verbal language. Typical messages communicated through laughter include:

  • “I’m having a great time.” The happy giggle is most frequent among toddlers because they haven’t yet learned to stifle their laughter.
  • “I’m feeling a bit nervous.” The anxious smirk is not really laughter at all. Her facial expression is a nervous reaction.
  • “I’ve been naughty and you’ve caught me red-handed.” The guilty laugh may be heard when your toddler’s caught doing something she shouldn’t be doing.
  • “I’m really excited.” The joyous scream is more an expression of 
a thrill than an expression of humorous laughter.
  • “I just can’t help it!” The spontaneous laugh is heard when your toddler finds something that genuinely sparks her sense of humour.
  • “I can’t believe it!” The disbelieving chuckle arises when your toddler sees something that’s strange, but still amuses her.

How early humour develops

At 1 year old, your toddler begins to find situations amusing when they’re unusual. For instance, if you put her shirt on back to front and then smile at her, the chances are she’ll start to laugh. By 18 months, the focus begins to shift away from herself towards others.

As she turns 2, she’ll add movement into the equation. For instance, now that she can toddle around freely, she laughs at activities with actions, like reading a book with you that involves her lifting up the flaps. The anticipation of guessing what’s underneath makes her chuckle excitedly. Her ability to understand symbolism means she can now laugh at things that require her to use her imagination. That’s why she might giggle furiously as she sits her dolls round a table. They represent people in her life and she’s playing with them in her imagination.

Another feature that influences her sense of humour is her ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. She thinks something out of the ordinary is hilarious. Cartoons are popular because they show the impossible in a way that captures her imagination.

Try this…  

Put your child’s favourite teddy up your jumper so that the teddy’s head juts out from the top, just under your chin. Then walk up to your toddler and chat to her as normal. She’ll burst out laughing.

Ways to get a laugh from your little one

  • Relax when you’re with your toddler. You’ll find that laughter comes with little effort.
  • Use incidents that occur naturally. Remember how she laughed when you dropped 
that plate of biscuits?
  • Don’t make fun of her. Encouraging your toddler to laugh at herself and actually laughing at her are different.
  • Use repetition. She still bursts into fits of giggles at something she’s already heard you say a dozen times before.
  • Use slapstick. She falls about with laughter when she sees someone on television get a custard pie thrown in their face.
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Did you know…

When young boys and girls are shown cartoons, silly drawings, or an amusing sketch with a clown, boys usually laugh sooner than girls.

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