An infant, toddler, and elementary school student walk into a bar…
Already heard this joke before? Good! Because this article is all about how joking around with your kids can benefit nearly every aspect of their development.
It’s true! Loads of studies over the years have shown that:
- Children with more developed senses of humor score higher in tests of intelligence and creativity
- Humor promotes children’s language and literacy skills, since understanding jokes requires a sophisticated mastery of language
- Teaching your children with humor aids learning because people tend to remember humorous lessons better
- Having a great sense of humor can help reduce stress and ease social interactions, enabling your child to diffuse conflict and make friends more easily
Because silliness can do so much seriously good stuff for kids, we think every family should focus on being funny – and it’s never too early to start!
So here’s our five-step timeline for jokes guaranteed to crack your kids up at every age:
Ages 0 and Up – Bring on the Slapstick
Up until your kiddos turn about two years old, your best bet for laughs will be physical comedy that is overt, action-based, and makes you look totally ridiculous. So just embrace it. Wear a bowl on your head, clap your feet together in applause and flail your limbs around.
Kids respond to physical comedy surprisingly early. As young as five months old, infants already find absurd events funny. By eight months old, babies can create their own jokes – despite the fact that they can’t even talk – by making silly faces or noises, starting to hand you something and then snatching it away, pretending to snore, or creating their own outrageous actions like putting shoes on their hands.
A major reason kids find slapstick shenanigans so funny (and not utterly frightening) is that you tend to have a great big grin on your face the entire time you’re clowning around. And because kids are inherently social, they’re able to read your expressions of happiness and laughter, pay attention to the kinds of things that create your glee, and develop a sense of humor themselves.
Ages 2 and Up – Let ‘Em Lie
By the time your kids are two they’ve already built some serious language skills. Even if they’re not talking a lot, they can understand nearly all of the language they hear. Which means verbal jokes can begin generating lots of laughs.
Some of the easiest jokes for younger talkers to tackle are basically lies. So try tickling their funny bones by simply saying things that the whole family knows aren’t true:
- “Isn’t the sky a lovely shade of green today?”
- “Come to the table! We’re having dinosaur for dinner tonight.”
- “I’m going to sleep in tomorrow, so you can just get up, make yourself breakfast and then drive yourself to preschool, okay?”
Ages 3 and Up – It’s Rhyme Time
Right around three years old, kids begin developing phonological awareness, or the awareness of the sounds of language. Thanks to this new attentiveness to sounds, children learn that some words rhyme – and that replacing a word with one of its rhymes is hilarious.
Which brings a whole new category of jokes for the family to share. “Pass the spaghetti and feetballs, please!”
Ages 3 and Up – Catch Up on the Classics
Sharing simple, formulaic wisecracks like Knock Knock jokes around this age can help your youngsters begin to recognize what a joke typically sounds like – and start making some of their own.
You know how these gags go: “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Boo.” “Boo who?” “Stop crying and let me in!”
Our son’s first attempts at Knock Knock joke telling consisted of naming whatever objects happened to be right in front of him. But even that was hilarious in its own weird way – especially when his older sister got involved. Here’s an actual exchange between the two of them:
LITTLE BRO: Knock knock.
BIG SIS: Who’s there?
LITTLE BRO: Barbie.
BIG SIS: Barbie who?
LITTLE BRO: Key.
BIG SIS: Okay, Barbie Key who?
LITTLE BRO: Monster.
BIG SIS: All right, Barbie Key Monster who?
LITTLE BRO: Button.
BIG SIS: So it’s Barbie Key Monster Button?
LITTLE BRO: Uh huh.
BIG SIS: I’m not letting you in. Go away.
Ages 4 and Up – Play With Words
As your children’s language skills develop even further, they’ll begin to appreciate more nuanced aspects of words and jokes that play around with them.
Now homonyms, synonyms and words with multiple meanings can all become part of your kids’ comedic repertoire, so when you ask them, “What kind of fish costs a lot of money?” they can tell you with a super cute smile, “A goldfish!”
The parenting tip to spend more time joking with your kids is probably the easiest homework assignment you’ll ever get. So have tons of fun with it, and share some of the jokes your family comes up with in the comments below!