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What's Funny to a School-Age Child?

  • So did you hear about the colt with a cold?
    He's a little hoarse.
  • How about the pig with a rash?
    He needed a little oinkment.
  • If these jokes get a laugh at your dinner table, we're guessing you have a school-age child.

    Orange Ya Gonna Laugh?

    Around age 6 or 7, kids start to understand language well enough to know that words can have two (or more) meanings. As your child develops this cognitive ability to grasp different meanings, riddles, jokes, and puns start making sense and will be a top source of enjoyment for the next 3 or 4 years.

    Kids this age delight in their newfound ability with an insatiable appetite for jokes of all stripes. Don't be surprised if it feels like you're living with Jay Leno, with every meal an opportunity for a monologue. What your child is really doing is enjoying the ability to make these connections and to finally be the insider, the one with the info and the answers.

    What Else Is Soooooooooo Funny?

    General categories of humor that kids this age often find funny include:

    So this sponge lived under the sea in a pineapple… Kids love nonsensical situations, especially when they involve grown-ups. The Amelia Bedelia series of books are favorites because the main character has such silly responses to rational requests (when asked to "draw the drapes," she draws a picture of curtains, for example).

    Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk! Whether it's eyes getting poked, heads getting hit by hammers, or an anvil falling on the head of Wile E. Coyote, kids often find violence to be funny. (Itchy and Scratchy on "The Simpsons" have made a running joke out of this for years.) It's OK if they find these antics funny, but be sure they understand that these situations aren't real and shouldn't be imitated.

    The old boutonniere trick. Slapstick and practical jokes can be very funny for school-age kids. Watching someone get sprayed in the eye with water or jumping out and yelling "boo" might have kids rolling in the aisles. But teach the difference between a good-natured practical joke and one that hurts someone physically or causes hurt feelings.

    As kids get older, they may deal with anxiety by laughing or making inappropriate jokes. A friend tripping or falling down or a sibling being punished may cause laughter. Some kids also can't help laughing when they're in trouble with a parent or teacher. In both cases, laughter is a way of relieving fear or anxiety.

    Why Does Humor Matter?

    The ability to see and understand humor is increasingly important as kids move into school. As early as preschool, those with a strong sense of humor are better liked by their peers, and have more friends, higher self-esteem, and a more positive outlook on life. They're better able to deal with their own quirks and are more tolerant of others.

    Most important, kids who can smile at their own mistakes are better equipped to handle teasing, bullies, and the adversities of childhood, both big and small.

    Encouraging the Yuks

    For an adult, school-age humor can get a little tiresome. But there's really no downside to a child's love of jokes, riddles, and puns. Playing with language introduces new words and meanings and builds vocabulary. Repeating the same jokes or riddles develops memory skills. And poring over joke books teaches the value and enjoyment to be found in reading. Finally, kids learn many creative life and problem-solving skills by studying jokes and making up their own.

    So what can you do? Keep your child well supplied with material. Buy or check out joke books from the library. Look for jokes, riddles, and puns together online. And best of all, make your own. Play the pun-a-day game. Memorize riddles and try to stump each other. Tell jokes and see who can keep from laughing the longest. Not only will you and your child share enjoyment, you'll be working on your own mental agility.

    Other fun things to try:

    • Play a backwards day. Wear pajamas all day long, eat pizza for breakfast and pancakes for dinner.
    • Play the "Make Me Laugh" game — everyone takes a turn trying to make the group laugh doing whatever he or she thinks is funny.
    • Watch a funny movie together, rewinding your favorite parts.
    • Make your own funny home video — scripted or not — and stage a private screening.

    And don't forget those good old standbys from your childhood: staring contests, tickle fights, and pillow battles — whatever gets you giggling. The most important thing is to have a playful attitude.

    Laughing With Kids

    It's important to encourage your child's sense of humor, which is finally starting to resemble yours. He or she delights in telling jokes that make you laugh and in "getting" jokes that you tell. Let this excitement about the humor in language be contagious.

    And beyond simply enjoying jokes together, be a good humor model. Look for the humor in everyday situations. Laugh at yourself and deal lightly with irritations. Use humor as opposed to scolding; crack a joke to ease tension. You'll not only be giving your child the tools needed to handle difficult situations in the future, you'll find that you feel better too.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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