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By observing Chula and Mieja, I have a rough humor development chart.

  • They both laughed for nursery rhymes like ‘Chubby cheeks dimple chin…’, ‘This little piggy went to the market’…. and ‘Round and round the garden’ around 2 months – 4 months.
  • Then they laughed for peek-a-boo, between 7 months to a year.
  • Then the ‘oopsi doopsie’ phase – If I drop something, either on purpose or by accident, it evoked peals of laughter. This started around a year or so. There is a subtlety in this phase. It initially starts with laughing only after the completion of the event and matures to start giggling at the anticipation of the event. Chula and Mieja are now in the latter stage.
  • Kumbal-oda Govinda (Meaning: following the crowd)– Sometime around 20 – 22 months, Chula used to watch Barney and laugh when she hears or sees other children laughing. It would be a verbal joke, and she would still laugh. It was interesting to observe her do this because I was curious what provoked her to laugh. Questioning her did not bring me any clarity because she did not understand what I was talking about. So I concluded that she laughed just to be a part of whatever was going on. It also reminded me of my childhood. Around 6-7 years I used to watch ‘The Lucy Show’ in television. With the American accent and all, I had no idea what they were talking about, but I would still laugh and my parents used to pull my legs. My father would ask me to explain the joke with a twinkle in his eyes and I would draw a blank :) . My mom also observed Chula laughing for Barney and remarked, ‘Just like you did…’
  • Last month we were at a birthday party. The host hired a clown to entertain the kids. The clown had some slapstick routines, every time he bent down to pick some thing from his case, he would make a loud offensive fart noise. And every time he did that my Chula laughed her head off!! The other kids laughed because the noise was socially inappropriate. Chula still does not know that it is not ‘proper’ to make bodily noises in public. She still does not know the difference between ‘pleasant’ smell and ‘unpleasant’ smell. She takes a deep breath, fills her lungs with pleasant/unpleasant odor and says, ‘Hmmmm, ahaaa, smells like good amma’. Then why did she laugh? I asked her some simple questions and the conclusion this time was that the surprise caused by the impromptu action made her laugh. She still didn’t get the adult version of the joke. This was around 33 months of age.
  • This got me quite interested in (1) What is sense of humor? (2) How does sense of humor develop in children? Are children born with it or do they acquire it? (3) What is the connection between intelligence and sense of humor? (4) Can it be conditioned? If so what can a parent do to encourage the child’s sense of humor? (5) Is there a universal pattern in the development of humor in children? (6) How does humor help a child?

    I did a bit of research about this. People like Aristotle and Darwin did quite a bit of research and ended up just touching the tip of the iceberg. So I am definitely not doing full justice to this topic.

    In simple words, humor is the ability to appreciate the unexpected.

    Is humor nature or nurture? My understanding is that humor is acquired. Because, infants simply do not have the verbal and cognitive ability to process jokes. The baby laughing when tickled is just a response to physical stimulation. As they grow a bit, they see the adults laughing and mimic them. Then they see they can please the adults by laughing and they laugh. Then they realize that some thing falling down and the mother making a funny ‘oopsie-doopsie’ or a parent making a silly face is an unexpected action and they laugh in response to that. Humor development is strongly associated with the brain’s ability to process and support the processed information.

    We do not see animals laughing. Nope I stand corrected, apparently it is proven that even rats ‘laugh’ when their ribs are tickled! But that is just a response to a physical stimulation. What I menat is animals do not perceive jokes and respond to that with laughter. Well, I am not counting chimps, they do seem to have a concept of humor, mostly slapstick. So sense of humor must be a sign of intelligence right? Looks like we human beings come with the biological capacity to laugh, make jokes and understand jokes. Our brains are ‘wired to take pleasure from humor and laughter’. There are three different zones in the brain, each with the synaptic information to process different kinds of jokes (semantic jokes, phonological jokes, and slapstick jokes). By correlating this information with the study (if I may call it so!!) of my daughters, I conclude that the zone for slapstick develops earlier. For the other kind of jokes the brain has to be mature enough to grasp the humor. So is a child shows the ability to understand a phonological joke or a semantic joke before she is expected to, it is logical to assume that her brain is quite mature for her age. Also to see through the current disaster, pick the sliver lining and make a joke about it requires complicated brainwork. So I am convinced that humor is definitely a sign of intelligence.

    Yes, humor can be conditioned. Parents with good sense of humor have children with good sense of humor. The more humorous situations a baby is exposed to, the better his sense of humor.
    At the risk of sounding too Baby center-ish here are some practical tips

  • Play with the baby.
  • Laugh with the baby.
  • Plenty of interaction with the father (The logical reasoning behind this sexist statement is that the mother has more parenting responsibilities and is always a serious task master. But the father tends to be the good cop and his mood is more relaxed. For example, when the baby is scooping her peas and throwing it all over the room, instead of worrying about clean up and nutrition, like the mother does, the father laughs and makes jokes.)
  • Listen to your child’s stories.
  • Encourage her to be creative.
  • Read humorous stories.
  • Use humor as an alternative to scolding.
  • A much as I would like to take credit for this humor development chart for children, it is NOT MINE. I found this section on the web. But I misplaced the link and I am not able to trace it. If some one finds this link, I will be happy to give credit to author.
    **Begin quote
    Here are the general stages of development for what makes children laugh. Keep in mind, though, that it’s impossible to be specific about each child’s development, and stages typically overlap.

    6-12 months: Takes delight in caregiver’s unexpected actions. Example: peekaboo.
    12 to 15 months: Graduates from reacting to something funny to initiating it. Example: putting a cup on Daddy’s head and calling it a hat.
    2 years: Makes “mistakes” to show mastery of a subject. Example: You ask her to show you her nose, she points to her knees.
    3 years: Distorts known features of words, ideas, and objects. Example: asking for a dirt muffin and worm cheese; slapstick and potty humor.
    4 to 5: The pre-riddle stage, when they have the form but not the content.
    Example: “Why does the chicken cross the road?” “To go to bed.”
    6 to 7: Riddles and knock-knock jokes.
    End quote**

    This making mistakes to show mastery of a subject is how rubber duckie and donut originated! So Chula, Mieja can’t wait to hear your knock-knock jokes!

    Sense of humor helps children the same way it helps an adult. Every one loves, accepts and are friends with a person with a good sense of humor. Apart from the social aspect, humor helps people get through the dull, boring, hard, hectic, painful, lousy, anxious, uncomfortable, dark phases of life. Jokes, especially phonological and semantic ones, will help cildren understand the subtility in language. Personally I developed my tamil by reading jokes from Ananda Vikatan/Daily Tandhi. Of course, all of us have heard about the bit laughter + endorphins = healthy body/life/mind.

    Some more interesting information:
    Coming back to one of my all time favorite topics, gender differences, sense of humor starts off the same in children of both sexes. Around 6 years or so, owing to the differences in brain development and the way the information is processed, there are certain things that are more appealing to boys than girls and vice versa. Girls like verbal humor, boys like physical, slapstick and off color jokes! Since society accepts boys making physical jokes, better than girls making physical jokes, the pattern gets set.

    (If the full link is not displayed, click here to read the article.)

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