We all know there’s nothing better than a good belly-laugh, and watching our children laugh and find things funny is a wonderful sight to behold. How can we encourage our children to see the funny side of things and develop their sense of humour?
Humour is particularly important for children because it helps them develop and maintain a positive outlook on life and is a wonderful way to release stress and tension. Laughing releases the feel-good hormone, endorphins, so it’s actually essential to your child’s well-being that they laugh and experience happiness. Developing your child’s sense of humour also enhances their creativity and lateral-thinking ability, as well as their comprehension.
Each society has its own notion of what is comical, which suggests that humour has a cultural basis. However, even within a culture, there are different responses to humour. We all know how children, adolescents and adults do not find the same things amusing. What is it with 3-year-olds and toilet humour?! Values and morals also determine what is humorous, as can be seen from the fact that ethnic jokes were a lot more acceptable before the triumph of the civil rights movement.
the elements of humour
It is said that in battle, the victors express primitive laughter and the losers weep. Interestingly, a number of theorists believe the roots of laughter are actually based in aggression and hate. People are often amused by someone tripping on a banana skin, as they perceive that in this instance the audience has triumphed. The more dignified the victim, the more humorous it seems to be. Battles can also be fought using words, for example when Dorothy Parker was informed that a particular actress was always kind to her inferiors, she remarked: “And where does she find them?” To ridicule something or someone is to triumph using language.
Placing two features together that do not usually belong together can also be humorous. Comedy happens when logic is destroyed and something unlikely appears. This may be in the form of a contrast, e.g. a thin Laurel and a fat Hardy. Exaggeration is another common way of achieving incongruity, as when a situation is blown out of proportion, the rules of logic no longer apply. Bringing inanimate objects to life is yet another way of creating incongruity.
When something is expected and does not happen, the result is often comedic, e.g. a person goes to sit down but the chair has moved. It can be equally amusing for something to happen when nothing is expected, e.g. a bucket of water falls on an unsuspecting someone. The element of surprise can be defined as the absence of what ought to be. Humorous forms of surprise can also be found in language, as vast arrays of English words have more than one meaning. Puns are one such example of this and often form the basis of jokes, e.g. why was there no card playing on the Captain’s ship? Because the Captain sat on the deck.
So how do we develop our child’s sense of humour?
Here are some activities which will provide a platform for you and your children to discuss what makes them laugh and have some fun together.
- Ask your children to briefly describe the type of things which make them laugh, and try and find any common themes.
- Discuss the background information on each element of humour with your children to compare how their own experiences fit with this.
- Choose a comedy video to watch and as you watch the video, identify scenes representing the different elements of humour.
- To highlight triumph-based humour, discuss with your children inappropriate types of insults, e.g. non-racist, sexist, etc and the difference between cruelty and wit.
- Create or recall some humorous witty insults (e.g. he was so lacking in intelligence, he tripped over a cordless phone).
- Explain the elements of incongruity and then collect several visual film clips reflecting a variety of scenes from different genres. Together write dialogue or play music which is amusingly incongruous (e.g. two cowboys in a shootout with romantic dialogue or ballet type music).
- To explain the element of surprise, supply your children with magazines and coloured paper and ask them to cut out various aspects of pictures and join them together to form an image that surprises the viewer (e.g. a granny lifting weights with oversized lips, or a baby’s head on a warrior’s body).
- As an overall learning activity, give your children an opportunity to create a comedy trailer which incorporates all the elements of humour that have been explored above.
By Paula Galey