Why Laughter Is a Sign of Learning

What's So Funny?

Of course, not all kinds of comedy deserve our praise. Humor can be hurtful or just plain gross, says Cottle. And what one group finds hysterical, another may find offensive. "It can be very confusing to children," he adds, "because some of the most socially unacceptable things are a riot."

For toddlers, such humor usually centers around all things bathroom-related. "Right around potty-training time, children become fascinated with their body, its functions, and what comes out of it," explains Timothy Jay, PhD, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Massachusetts, and author of What to Do When Your Kids Talk Dirty (Resource).

Obsessing over poop and pee is a totally normal way for children to deal with the challenge of managing bodily functions; gaining such control can be daunting for a young child. Experts suggest taking this phase in stride. Overreacting to bathroom humor may unwittingly reinforce the idea that it's taboo, which only makes it funnier to toddlers; they live to get a rise out of Mom or Dad. "Bathroom humor is a way children test the boundaries of social acceptability," says Franzini. "The trick for parents is to set appropriate limits without making too much of a big deal out of these situations."

So if your child tries a stunt like pulling down his pants in the supermarket or yells "Poop!" in public at every opportunity, Jay suggests the following strategy: "Simply say, 'We don't use toilet humor here,' or 'Yes, that was funny, but once is enough,' then try to divert your child's attention."

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