What makes children laugh?
“Four-and-a-half-month-old Thomas laughs when we play “giddy-up” with him, when I sing him songs while making faces, when I give him noisy kisses or when we tickle his neck with the tips of our noses!”
- Marilyne Launiere
Before the age of 6 months, babies are sensitive to visual stimulation. They react to the funny expressions of people around them: grandpa, who sticks out his tongue or big brother, who makes funny faces. They also react a lot to physical stimulation: tickling them, spreading their arms open and closed quickly, rolling their little bodies from left to right, noisy kisses, or the ever-popular “Itsy, Bitsy Spider”—a game babies adore. Three-month-old Myriam loves it when her daddy or mommy run their fingers along her body singing: “The itsy, bitsy spider climbed up the waterspout…” tickling her gently when they get to her neck.
“Nine-month-old Elizabeth squeals with laughter when she hides her face under her blankie to play peek-a-boo with us.”
- Geneviève Désy
After 6 months old, adding funny sounds like “choo-choo,” “beep-beep!” “poot-poot!” etc. makes it even more fun for babies. From 8 months on, they notice incongruities, i.e., things that are out of the ordinary, such as mom dancing with a shoe on her head, daddy imitating a monkey or grandma hiding her face behind her hands.
“I’ll give my son a ladle instead of a spoon to eat his bowl of cereal. It totally cracks him up. Now, he plays the same trick on me!”
- Domenic Calcara
At around 18 months, toddlers will entertain themselves by finding other uses for objects. For example, they’ll place a wastepaper bin over their heads and pretend it’s a hat or use a hairbrush as a telephone. According to Dr. Paul McGhee, a researcher specializing in humour and laughter, this is the step that marks the actual birth of a child’s sense of humour.
“Esteban enjoys playing with words. He’ll replace words in songs and say “hello” instead of “goodbye” when it’s time for bed.”
At around age 2, children discover that words can be fun. They laugh when we mix up 2 words, calling a cat a dog, for example. They like to rhyme and find anything related to pee and poo hilarious. However, they will only laugh if very few elements are changed or they lose their reference points.
“For my 4-year-old son, it’s questions along the lines of: why can’t we put the table in the garbage can? Why can’t we put the TV in the fridge?”
- Anne-Marie B.
Between 3 to 5 years of age, children enjoy repeating words that rhyme and inventing words that have no meaning. To make your child laugh, Francine Ferland suggests proposing odd meals to him. Why not a cereal pie or an apple sauce soup, for example? A study conducted by a team from Université de Montréal, led by Stéphanie Alexander, has shown that children can understand irony from as early as 4 years old.
“My husband often answers my 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter with nonsense. Now, she notices the tone he uses when he’s having fun and she laughs, saying: ‘No, daddy’s being silly!’”
- Christine Sauvageau
Unlike adults, toddlers can laugh at the same joke 20 times in a row. Repetitive acts reassure them and help them anticipate certain situations so they can enjoy them even more. But to laugh, children need to feel secure, or else the joke is guaranteed to fail, notes psychologist Bruno Fortin. This is why the same funny face will make a confident child laugh and a child who doesn’t feel safe, cry.