The blossoming of a child’s sense of humour is as miraculous, slow and, at times, painful as the cutting of their first tooth. When you see your baby holding the floor with his first ga-ga gags, you may have a sneaking suspicion that you are nurturing the next Harry Hill. In due course, this belief will sadly be dispelled as you are subjected to an endless stream of a four-year-old’s bottom jokes.
Maddening though fits of giggles at teatime may be, children should be encouraged to laugh because, as well as being good for their social and mental development, it is incredibly good for their health. When we laugh, levels of “good hormones”’, such as endorphins and neurotransmitters, increase, and T-cells, which combat viruses, are activated and get ready for battle. The stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, decrease. Muscle tension is lowered, circulation and breathing patterns are improved, and the amount of oxygen in the blood rises, which promotes healing. Laughter acts like a safety valve for the body’s energy, with a good laugh producing an increase in heart rate that is equivalent to 15 minutes on an exercise bike.
So how can we ensure that our children get their recommended daily amount of laughs? Even us amateur entertainers can guarantee a giggle if we know how. Children’s author Michael Rosen has entertained children with comedy for the last 30 years. “Two key concepts for entertainers are surprise and anxiety,” he says. “Disappearing, re-appearing; not knowing what’s going on. You have to create an expectation in words or movement and when the audience least expects it, you disrupt or invert it. So get the words of nursery rhymes wrong, or pretend to eat the plate instead of the dinner.” And how about a joke? What would Rosen suggest? “What’s green with wheels?” Er... a green car? A green train? “Nope. Grass. I lied about the wheels.” Oh, dear .
This article previously appeared in Junior magazine as a print article