Humor Facilitates Children's Intellectual Develoment

[Adapted from P. McGhee, Understanding and Promoting the Development of Children’s Humor.  See “Books by Dr. McGhee” to order.]

A good sense of humor provides a broad range of important developmental benefits to children, just as it does to adults.  You can help assure that your own children receive these benefits by actively supporting the development of their humor skills.  Earlier articles posted here focused developmental changes in children’s humor, noting that these are a reflection of underlying progress in the child’s intellectual development.  Those articles help you understand your child’s current sense of humor, so that you can more easily provide humor at the child’s level.  These basic developmental changes will occur regardless of any efforts on your part to support your children’s sense of humor.  It is important, however, to support and nurture their budding sense of humor from infancy on.

You can support your children’s sense of humor by simply spending some time playing with them every day.  This sustains the frame of mind in which they will automatically engage in mental play at their present developmental level.  Also make a special effort to at least occasionally laugh or otherwise respond to their attempts to make you laugh (you don’t have to do this all the time; you’ll run out of steam before they do).  The more you support children’s sense of humor at this early stage, the more likely they are to emerge into adolescence and adulthood with a well-developed set of humor skills that support good mental and physical health, while contributing key developmental benefits along the way.  Of course, it is important to be a positive model of humor in your own life, as well.  This article focuses on intellectual benefits; the next article on children’s humor discusses humor’s positive impact on social and emotional development.

Intellectual benefits

A six-year-old boy in a drug store with his mom puts a box of Tampax on the counter. The person behind the counter says, “Are you sure this is what you want?” The boy says, “Yeah, I’m sure. It says right on the box that with these you can swim, ride a bicycle and play tennis . . . and I can’t do any of those things.”

Since humor (in my view) is really a form of intellectual play, and language is our main vehicle for thought, it comes as no surprise that children love to play with words.  As discussed in the previous children’s humor articles, they first play with the sounds of words, and then with meanings.  The discovery that the same word can have two meanings is an exciting one, and spurs them on to find even more words to play with.  This is why you’ll want to use the humor exercises provided in the next two children’s humor articles to help your six- to 10-year-old strengthen the im casino spielen basic ability to create puns and other forms of verbal humor.  (You’ll also benefit from this yourself!)  The excitement of playing with meanings is at its peak at this point and is responsible for your child’s great interest in riddle books during this period.

One direct result of this excitement about double meanings of words is an enriched vocabulary.  Riddles expose children to new words and meanings, and the repeated telling of the riddles consolidates the memory of those words and makes them more accessible in everyday life.

Reading skills also receive a boost as a result of the keen interest in riddle books and other funny books.  The best way to build reading skills is to find a way to make reading exciting for kids, and nothing beats humor when it comes to generating excitement.  Some kids read the same riddle books over and over again when they can’t find new ones.  The reading skills acquired from reading riddles generalize, of course, to all forms of reading.

In the process of reading riddles and other funny books, children acquire new information about their world in a general sense.  This learning is sometimes direct via the humor, and sometimes very indirect.  All riddles contain general background information about the world in addition to the basic play on words.  This information is assimilated and stored as part of the child’s growing general knowledge base.

Humor also boosts children’s creative thinking capacity.  Research showed decades ago that there is a close relationship between the kind of thinking involved in humor and other forms of creative thinking.  Children who spend more time finding new and incongruous ways of making sense out of words develop a generalized skill of thinking in innovative ways in connection with other questions or problems.  This skill is increasingly valued in all areas of the workplace at present, so this is one way of boosting your child’s eventual success in the work world.

A future article will show you how to use riddles to strengthen your child’s (and your own) ability create his/her own verbal humor.  The skills developed now will serve the child well throughout adolescence and adulthood