News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

    April Fools! Using Humor in the Household

   The other day as I was changing my one year old’s diaper and she was fighting me with all of the force of a gale wind and my 2 older children were competing to see who could impale the other first, I could feel my blood pressure rise to stroke-inducing levels. This was definitely not my idea of a fun time, but I thought that a silly song would help relieve some of the anxiety (all my anxiety, I might add!) Sure enough, my one year old started to chuckle and ignore her urge to be independent at that moment. The older two children started to make up silly words for the song. A "carpet crisis" was averted for at least that one diaper change.

   It is not always possible to have my "wits" about me as I did that day to create a silly song "on the spot". Pressures, time constraints, my physical well being, level of fatigue and amount of sleep may all play a role in what parenting "tool" I can use at any given time. Sometimes the daily struggles of living with children can deplete us of energy and our sense of fun.

   However, if you can muster up the energy, humor can be a very effective parenting tool. It can help relieve the stress of the moment, turn a potentially negative situation into a positive one, and aid in the connection we can feel with our children. Because it catches them off guard, humor can result in increased cooperation from our children. It can cut through their resistance without our having to nag and cajole. For example, we can speak for the family pet by leaving a note for our child: "Dear Emily, Please don’t forget to feed me – I get so hungry during the day. Love, Fido."

   Laughter and humor can be very healing, calming and satisfying parts of life. They can be used to break a tense moment, raise people’s self-esteem, challenge us intellectually and increase the intimacy between people. It is through humor that we add color to our lives and share joy with others.

A Word of Caution

   Humor in our society is exhibited in a variety of ways. We have all been exposed to different types of humor. Our upbringing, cultural background, gender, religion and socioeconomic status all influence our reactions to humor. One has to be careful when using humor. Sometimes words and laughter can be damaging to a person’s self esteem, especially the developing child’s.

   Jean Illsley Clarke, in her book Growing Up Again, highlights some of the negative ways in which laughter and humor are used:
      * Disparaging laughter - When children are laughed at, they sometimes learn to laugh at their own pain. For example, a child who trips and falls in front of others may jump up, pretending not to be hurt, and say, "I meant to do that. I’m so funny."
      * Teasing - This negative form of humor can be used to irritate, provoke, annoy or ridicule another person. For example, a parent may say to that same child that fell, "Hey, you cracked the sidewalk," without acknowledging that the child may have gotten hurt.
     * Sarcasm and ridicule - Sarcasm and ridicule may stop an unwanted behavior, but at a price. For example, a child with a healthy appetite can be told scornfully, "You don’t miss a speck of food, do you?" The child may walk away feeling guilty about his or her eating habits.

   We are constantly bombarded with the above aspects of humor from different avenues of the media and entertainment. They can be quickly embedded in our consciousness as "healthy", when in fact they are not. Parents can help their children become aware of these forms of hurtful humor when they are exposed to them by pointing them out and asking their children to think about how that other person might feel.

   A Little Bit of Help

   Healthy forms of humor include ways to express joyous laughter that are not at the expense of others or ourselves. Parents are invited to try any of the following suggestions, some of which were taken from the book Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to A Happier Family by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish:
      * Exaggerate the situation. "Wow Sarah, your clothes are going to be so dirty and smelly if you don’t get them to the laundry room, even they won’t be able to stand themselves."
     * Accomplish a task with reverse psychology. "I really don’t want you to eat your peas. You better not eat them or I won’t be able to have them for lunch tomorrow!"
     * Fly a paper airplane to your kids with a note on it. It might say, "Time to call in the troops "DINNER TABLE NEEDS TO BE SET ASAP!"
     * Use another voice or an accent. Use a robot voice or one from a favorite cartoon to gain children’s attention.
     * Use fantasy. "Boy, you really wish you could have pizza for dinner tonight. I’ll bet you wish this were a pizza factory, loaded with all kinds of toppings."
     * Use music to get them moving. Put on some marching tunes while doing chores or sing instructions to children, like when they are brushing their teeth.
     * Use props. Groucho glasses, puppets or even a funny hat can help to bring a smile to our children’s faces.

   When using any type of humor, we should make sure we take into consideration the age and temperament of the child. Some children may not understand our laughter or may feel we are ridiculing them instead of trying to be helpful or funny. Remember, too, that humor comes more easily to some people than to others. Temperament and past experiences all play a role in how comfortable we are with jokes and humor.

   Parenting can often feel like an unrewarding job as we struggle with our children’s attitudes and behaviors. Humor can help to turn the job of parenting into a more enjoyable, fun and energizing one. It is a skill that is well worth cultivating.

   Have fun trying some of the above tools and have a happy April Fools Day!

Written by Teri Mahoney, Certified Parenting Educators
March 2003
Volume 5/Issue 5
The Parenting Center at Abington
is a non-profit, non-sectarian community service organization.

Editor of News and Views: Deanna Bosley,
Certified Parenting Educator

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586

Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.
The Abington Board of School Directors assumes no responsibility for the opinions, information and possible typographical errors and omissions, etc. that maybe reflected herein.

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