Baby's Early Laughs

From Sight Gags to Word Games

In the first year of life, incongruity humor is, for the most part, based on action and visual appearances. But in the second year, once a toddler begins to use language, incongruity can be verbal as well. For example, you ask your child what a cat says and she answers, with a sly smile, "Moo!" Also around their second birthday, children start to understand rudimentary conceptual humor -- for instance, if you pretend not to know their name and call them something else.

Humor is now more interactive as your toddler initiates games, deftly follows your lead if you start one, and even elaborates on things, such as adding another word to your rhyming pattern or substituting a nonsensical word for the usual one in a phrase.

Kids learn in toddlerhood how to charm and work a room. They discover easily that they can be center stage and get laughter and attention, says Elizabeth C. Vinton, MD, a clinical instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

Toddlers trying to make people laugh often do the following things:

  • Imitate adults who made her laugh -- draping a blanket over her head, for instance, and then pulling it off with a big "Pee-Booo!"
  • Clown with animated faces and movements
  • Go for the comic effect of distortion, such as putting a shoe on her head or making her juice cup talk

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