Friday, 27 June 2014

Digger's laughter - Children’s laughter as a clear demarcation of self

Is there anything more delightful that children’s laughter? It’s right on top of the feel good scale. Digger’s husky belly laughter is an obvious favourite in this household. It’s good for all of us. Scientist will have us know that it releases serotonin, and makes us feel close. Laughter is an amazing social glue.

I have been watching Digger closely when he laughs. Trying to hone in on what he finds funny. The first time Digger laughed out loud at something on TV was at Pingu. That little mischievous penguin, the Bart Simpson in the World of Claymation. What’s not to like and laugh about? I completely follow.

As Digger's language is coming along, so too is his sense of humour. For most children it is a learned behaviour, says Louis Franzini who wrote his phd on the subject, much of it published in Kids Who Laugh: How to Develop Your Child's Sense of Humor. Having a sense of humour plays an important role in developing self-esteem, learning to problem solve, and honing social skills, he states. Digger appears to have a keen and good sense of humour, yet more signs of his sunny personality and of his ever-growing cognitive development. In all honesty I am not sure how much we have to do with it. It seems to be who he is. Most days he is a cheeky cheerful monkey who tries to makes us laugh. And he does cracks us up! Frequently. I bet it feels good to him when we too are in stitches. Especially if it is over something he meant for us to find funny.

Digger laughs at jokes he can’t possible understand. He is simply joining in. Like when I told him an old family favourite: the one about the goalkeeper who didn’t have any children because he couldn’t score.

Laughter has so many terrific nuances. A sound and sight of beauty in everyone. We all giggle, gurgle, chortle, chuckle, guwfaw, cackle, snigger, snort. Well, I snort if I really get going. Perhaps not so beautiful come to think of it… Anyway, those involuntary spasms are yet another dimension of layered communication. And a key into somewhere deep and very personal. Or a wall to keep us from getting hurt. Laughter, as giggles, can be an incredible effective form of defence and release, no less so than many tears.

When I called to tell my mum that my first boyfriend and I had split up – SHE LAUGHED!! Say whaaaaa….???!! I was stunned and nearly dropped the receiver. Was she high?! I called her to be a sympathetic ear... My husband says I too laugh at moments that can definitely be taken as inappropriate if not insensitive. He says it is a family weakness. Geez. That is not at all embarrassing… He he. Only good thing to say about it is that is sometimes … sometimes … can break the ice - like at those tense and yet intensely boring management meetings.

Recently, I have been learning a bit about Theraplay. At a course last week, arranged by PAC, Annie Kiermaier gave some wonderful advice, and showed us many new games to play with our children in which laughter plays an important role. I did exactly that when I stepped through our front door later that afternoon. I put down my bag and started playing, and have kept at it since. Kiermaier showed us a short video in which she pretended to be blown over by a child. So now Digger and I do the same. We sit facing each other on the carpet, then lean towards each other, and when he blows in my face I make a big noisy fuss, and roll over. Feet in the air, all the way up and over on to my shoulders. ‘Mummy bum!’ he exclaims with delight.  If he can talk or move from laughing so hard.

Tickling can be fantastic, tantalisingly soothing even, but it has to be done with great care. As mentioned in an earlier blog on touch I have profound memories of being tickled too hard for too long by my father. Tickling has such a strong potential of being too overwhelming and uncomfortable, and so it can be misuse of power. 

‘Is this good tickling or bad tickling?’ Kiermaier suggested we ask, if we can tell when we are tickling our minions. Just adding little pressure will activate other nerve ends than those that respond to soft touch, she added.

True laughter is the best medicine. Studies are now showing it too. It lifts depression and makes sick people feel better. I always knew that things were going the wrong way for me, when I lost my ability to laugh. That is a serious wake up call, inviting me actively to seek and find it. And it always helps.

Grown ups being silly is the best! It is such an indication that they are genuinely engaged. Emotionally it is the real deal. And that is what children need and go for like heat seeking missiles.

It is also worth being aware of the perhaps less obvious sides of laughter. Say a child laughs inappropriately, when you tell them off. That it is a clear indication that you have overstepped their boundaries, and you need to step back.  They are trying to diffuse the situation and their stress – in an effectual manner. And this we can help channel more effectively for us both when we respond more playfully, with loving warmth and presence. Those qualities are key, and will help me any situation if I can tap into them. Laughter then springs naturally.

I am glad someone pointed this darker side of laughter out to me. Because I have seen and felt it as a demarcation with Digger. I did tell him off too harshly, and he did use laughter to push me away rather than draw me in. Outch. He is such a little adult pleaser, so I feel I must take extra care to notice these other ways of him expressing discomfort. And help him shed it.

I can also recommend HandinHandParenting on their view on laughter:

And Larry Cohen:


  1. I love hearing Missy laugh when she's having fun, like being tickled, Daddy spraying her with the garden hose. It's times like that I know for those at least just those few minutes her body is relaxed and she has not a care in the world. I think also us adopters also need to remember to laugh more :-)

    1. I quite agree! A lovely picture you there paint. Summer, garden hose and laughter. A right pick me up! :)

  2. Interesting your points about tickling. Our own theraplay therapist does not advocate tickling at all - mostly because of the misuse of power. However, we do tickle and the laughter is infectious.

    Thanks for linking up to #WASO

    1. Thanks. Yes, I have come across a number of therapist and writing about not to tickle at all. But since I do like a bit of it myself, this is definitely also something I'm exploring in Digger. :) Infectious is the word indeed.