Not long ago, I took my son shopping for a birthday present to give to my friend's little girl. Trying to keep Leo, who is 2, entertained in the store, I held a frilly outfit up to his chest and said, "Oh, don't you look pretty in this dress!" Instead of giving me the simple smile that I'd been expecting, he erupted into hysterics. I was floored. Before then, he'd giggled when I tickled him or made silly faces, but this was a different response: Leo could understand that he's a boy who doesn't wear dresses -- and knowing that was what made the scenario so laugh-out-loud funny to him.
Don't be surprised if your toddler suddenly starts getting a major kick out of all kinds of kidding around, whether it's the giggles from having "raspberries" blown on her belly or truly cracking up over a more complex situational joke. Your child's budding sense of humor may just seem like fun and games to you, but it's serious for her development. "When kids this age laugh at the things around them, and try to make others laugh, it's a sign of social and cognitive growth," explains Dale Grubb, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Baldwin-Wallace College, in Berea, Ohio.
While your child's newfound humor shows that he's developing normally, it's also a pretty good indication that you're on the right track to raising a happy, confident kid. Laughter not only relieves stress, it can also boost creative thinking, foster communication, and help kids make new friends. So it's important for you to encourage humorous play at home -- and to laugh at your child's earliest attempts at joking (even if you don't think that putting a diaper on his head for the eighth time in a row is particularly funny). Need some comedic inspiration? Try testing out these tot-approved gut-busters.