The first smile and the gurgles of laughter that baby shares with us are truly magic moments in the early days of parenthood.
But when does a baby’s smile and laughter become a true sense of humour?
According to Dr Paul Hutchins, from the Child Development Unit at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, a baby’s sense of humour simply starts to flourish from those first smiles and giggles, just as crawling leads to walking and babbling leads to a little one speaking in a complete sentence.
“Babies smile in response to another person’s smile within weeks of birth. In the early months babies are responding to physical fun, like a tickle or a raspberry on the tummy, with a smile and a laugh,” he says.
Here are some ways to help your baby develop a sense of humour.
‘Do funny parents have funny kids?’
Strictly speaking, there’s no funny gene. A sense of humour is not inherited, but we’ve all met families that share similar characteristics — the laid-back family, the highly-strung family, the never-crack-a-smile family or the laugh-a-lot family.
“All human qualities tend to be traits that exist in families, and that applies to emotional responses, like happiness, feeling anxious and displaying humour,” Dr Hutchins says.
When it comes down to it, babies are fine mimics. If you’re having a laugh, chances are baby is trying to enjoy the joke too.
‘But what if I’m not a funny mummy?’
Baby’s developing humour is not all about watching parents cracking jokes and acting the twit.
“The most important thing is to encourage fun and playfulness from the earliest of days,” Dr Hutchins.
“Some parents are inherently more playful than others and find it easier to talk and play with their children. All parents have to be themselves and we know the most effective style of parenting is to give love, clarity, encouragement and confidence.”
9 steps to developing your baby’s sense of humour
1. Get physical!
Baby humour starts with tickles and raspberries.
2. The mime artist
Mummy smiles, baby smiles. Mummy pulls a silly face, baby tries to copy.
3. What’s going to happen next?
Play games based on anticipation, like peek-a-boo or ’round and round the garden’ where baby learns that a big tickle comes after “One step, two step?
4. What’s wrong with this picture?
Mummy is pretending to drink from baby’s bottle and Daddy is wearing a nappy on his head! Babies love this kind of incongruity. It’s very funny when something is not quite right!
5. Rhyme and repetition
As baby’s language starts to develop play games with sounds and words. It’s time for nursery rhymes, rhyming words and lots of repetition. Dr Seuss books are perfect!
6. Clowning around
The more you laugh and positively respond to your child’s humorous antics, the more they will perform?over and over again.
7. Make the humour age-appropriate
If you’re itching to plonk the baby in front of South Park, think again. The humour needs to be appropriate to the child’s developmental level (Then again, if South Park makes Mummy roll about laughing, then that could be pretty funny for the baby!)
‘Are funny kids more intelligent?’
“If you’re talking IQ, yes,” says Dr Hutchins.
“Developmental stages of humour, like most developmental skills, happen more quickly in children of higher ability, particularly in the area of language. Meaning children with a higher IQ (i.e. verbal/visual/mathematical ability) not only develop language quicker, but they also have heightened emotional awareness and understanding of subtle language differences.”
Before you start worrying about your child’s IQ, remember that there are other forms of intelligence. A child with a talent for deliberate silly walks and silly dances could excel in what is called ‘kinetic intelligence’ (a remarkable ability to move in an accurate, fluid, controlled way).
‘Should I worry if my child doesn’t have a sense of humour?’
Child development expert Sharon Donaldson says that parents are usually correct about noticing developmental problems, although they may not realise the specific nature or degree of the problem.
“By three years of age, your child’s sense of humour should be obvious,” she says. “And you, as the parent, will understand what makes your child laugh and what doesn’t.
“A child who shows signs of being withdrawn, is silent most of the time, and is not laughing, would require a developmental assessment by a paediatrician.”
As always discuss any specific concerns your have about your child with your health care provider.
‘Why is a sense of humour such a useful tool for children anyway?’
“It’s been very clearly demonstrated that humour, a sense of optimism, belief in one’s self and approval from others are very important for long-term well being, emotionally and physically,” says Dr Hutchins.
And then there are the social advantages when it’s time for school and socialising. We all enjoy being around people who can make us laugh, and children are the same.