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Kids and Humor: Helpful or Harmful?

The word silly is from a Greek word, selig, which means blessed. When is the last time you blessed your family with silliness? I love the sound of a child’s laugh! When children engage with their parents or peers in a mutually enjoyable activity, there is nothing better. It builds connection and the brain architecture for cooperation and learning. It is just plain fun!

What could go wrong? While humor and silliness can be helpful in promoting optimism, developing positive relationships, and releasing stress, there are times when it can become harmful. A key consideration is the idea of mutual enjoyment or entertainment. Does everyone involved feel like it is fun or funny? Humor should never be at the expense of another person’s well-being.

When a child’s personal boundaries are disrespected by someone’s actions, or when they feel embarrassed, humiliated, or afraid, the fun is no longer funny. Even if the intention is light-hearted, the person on the receiving end may feel hurt by something that is said or done in jest, especially in a relationship where trust is at stake.

Have you heard about the egg prank challenge that is going viral on a popular social media platform? In the egg prank challenge, a parent sets up a baking activity to record with their phone. What a fun activity, baking with mom or dad. Oh, wait! The parent tells their child they are going to crack a raw egg. The child is most often looking at the bowl of ingredients and the egg, seemingly excited about what is coming next. The parent then hits the raw egg against the child’s forehead (sometimes more than once) in an effort to crack the egg and add it to the bowl of ingredients. The child is stunned and often crying or visibly upset. Parents doing the prank and posting the clip may find it entertaining and receive likes or shares on their post. But what is the cost to the child? Is this mutually enjoyable, light-hearted fun for a child?

Children of all ages like to have fun. We as adults can benefit from sharing humor in ways that promote positivity and playfulness.

Here are some considerations to ensure that humor is not harmful:

  • Is there any potential physical harm? For example, hitting a child’s forehead with a hard object.
  • Is there potential emotional harm? For example, teasing a child about a sensitive subject, like their weight.
  • Will this undermine a child’s ability to trust the adult? Is the prank tricking them into eating or drinking something that tastes bad?
  • Avoid pranks or jokes that teach children that it’s fun to hurt others and laugh.

Positive humor can be helpful when:

  • The child is enjoying the interaction.
  • The child wants to stop playing a rough-and-tumble game, and you honor that request.
  • The child is having a rough day and you try to cheer them up with a joke or riddle.
  • Playfulness leads to cooperation. For example, making silly faces while brushing your teeth.
  • The child knows it is a game and wants to play. For instance, does this sock belong on my nose?
  • The child is in charge of the play. This could be a game where Grandpa is pretending to sleep and snoring loudly. When the child shouts, “Wake up,” Grandpa pretends to be startled and says, “What, what was that? Oh, it’s you!”

Consider the stages in humor development and have some fun:

  • The first audible laugh is at about 4 months of age.
  • Infants and preschoolers love funny sounds, silly stories, and rhyming words and songs.
  • School-aged children love funny cartoons and movies, joke books, and props like slime and silly string.
  • Adolescents like to create humorous movies and music, play practical jokes, and exchange inside jokes with friends. (Remember that practical jokes and inside jokes should not be at the expense of someone else’s well-being or dignity.)

Check out this 30-minute webinar The Power of Play! (On Demand)



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About Michele Tryon, CCLS

About Michele  Tryon, CCLS Michele Tryon, CHKD community outreach coordinator and parent educator has worked with children and families for 30 years, providing services in the hospital, home, school and community setting. Michele is a Certified Child Life Specialist, a Certified Positive Discipline™ parent educator, a nationally recognized trainer/consultant for Nurturing Parenting Programs™ and co-author of The Nurturing Program for Parents and Their Children with Special Needs and Health Challenges©.