It is now well understood that “Laughter is the best medicine” and this is particularly true for children. Sharing laughter is a core component of Aware Parenting, because of the powerfully transformative healing effects of laughing and because focusing on fun and light-heartedness profoundly deepens our relationships with our children. Laughing reduces tension, anxiety and anger. It resolves discipline challenges and promotes cooperation. It supports healing from stress and trauma. It helps to counter stressful situations and reduces anxiety. The benefits of laughter therapy are well documented. Laughter play also strengthens our bond with our children too. It is very effective for releasing painful feelings, especially around fear, embarrassment or shame. It brings lightness to the mood and totally transforms the energy when there is stress in the air. And it is fun!
In addition, it builds closeness and confidence and helps our children to develop self-esteem, social skills, problem solving skills and resilience. The contribution of laughter to physical health is also now well documented including reduced blood pressure, improved sleep, endorphin release, reduced stress hormones, improved gut health and digestion and strengthening our immune system.
So playing with our children in a way that gets them laughing is such a helpful strategy to use in our parenting, as often as we can. If you are facing a challenge with your children and you don't know what to do, try some laughter-inducing play - you will always be glad you did! If you are feeling stuck in parenting, go for the giggles. If you find something that makes your child laugh, keep doing it. If they are laughing, then we are laughing and then they laugh even more. As Charles Dickens said “There is nothing so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour”.
There are so many ways to we can playfully encourage laughter with our children, whatever their age:
- playing peekaboo
- making silly faces or silly noises or using silly voices
- power-reversal play
- nonsense games
- getting things “wrong” like trying to brush your hair with the toothbrush
- exaggerating anything in a silly playful way
- falling over
- sharing jokes
- doing try not to laugh challenges with each other
- exaggerating being frightened of something or pretending to be outraged by their behaviour
- insisting that they don’t do something as a way of inviting them to do exactly that, e.g. “You won’t get off the couch now will you” or “you wouldn’t steal my book now would you?”
- singing silly songs or rhymes
Sometimes laughter feels inappropriate or children laugh at times that aren’t funny e.g. laughing if someone is telling them off or if they are feeling scared. This is such a natural spontaneous response and is a way of releasing fear or tension through the laughter. When our children react to stress with laughter we are seeing them using a powerful innate stress release process. When we understand this, we are so much less likely to be annoyed or angry about them responding in this way. Instead we can admire their connection to this natural healing response and visualise the stress and tension leaving their bodies so that it is not stored inside to create challenges down the track.
One thing that is important to remember is that not all games that promote laughter support our children – such as tickling. Whilst tickling does create laughter, it is not the healing kind because the person being tickled so often feels very powerless and hurt. They are laughing but it is an important distinction to note that they are not CHOOSING to laugh and they want the tickling to stop. So the only time tickling is helpful for healing laughter is if we are playfully threatening to tickle them and they are escaping from us and we then pretend to be annoyed that we can't catch them, but always with a light hearted approach, and never actually tickling.
All these benefits of laughter for our children apply to us too. So if we are feeling overwhelmed or stressed then laughter helps us return to feeling more calm, patient and balanced. If we are still holding lots of pain from our childhood, then laughing can be a very powerful way for us to release some of our trauma. If we are feeling frustrated about parenting challenges, moving into playful connection can transform the situation to feel so much more manageable. And sometimes we need to laugh at ourselves as a powerful way to counter and soften feelings of guilt or worry in parenthood. Some of my favourite ways to get some more laughter in my life is jokes with my family and with good friends, watching funny films or YouTube videos, listening to other people laugh or sharing funny stories.
As Charlie Chaplin said “A day without laughter is a day wasted” so I invite you to find new ways to bring more fun and heart to the serious business of parenting. For more inspiration about this I highly recommend the books Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen and Attachment Play by Aletha Solter. Happy playing!
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