What's So Funny?

Joking Around

Nothing is too corny for a toddler, but here’s what typically makes 1-year-olds laugh.

  • The ridiculous. By now, your child has developed a routine and knows what to expect from her world. When you do something out of the ordinary (without frightening her), she may find it humorous, Dr. Skidmore says. Utterly inane acts, such as wearing your toddler’s pants on your head while changing her diaper (as my husband used to do), are likely to spark giggles. Those pants, she now knows, belong on her legs, not on your head.
  • The predictable surprise. Babies and toddlers spend many months mastering the idea of object permanence: the concept that things and people exist even when they’re out of sight. Games like peekaboo reinforce this notion of how the world works. Your child now knows that you’re hiding behind the chair, and when you confirm her suspicions by jumping out playfully, she’ll be delighted and express that feeling with laughter.
  • Incongruous humor. Your toddler may also gig-gle at things that should be a certain way but aren’t. “First comes visual incongruity -- if your child sees a picture of a dog wearing a fluffy hat, for example, she may laugh,” Dr. Bergen says. “The ability to spot this incongruity develops at age 11/2 or 2.” Later, your child will crack up at language incongruity (like when Daddy is called “Mommy”). And by preschool, when humor becomes more conceptual, she’ll laugh at the wordplay in a knock-knock joke, for instance.

Life's a Comedy

Nurturing your child’s emerging capacity for humor is like presenting him with a lifelong gift. Laughter is a mechanism for pleasure and a powerful tool for coping with life’s difficult moments, Dr. Skidmore points out. “While having a good sense of humor may not necessarily make kids smarter, it will enrich their lives.”

If your 1-year-old throws a tantrum at naptime, de-fuse the situation with humor: Nibble on her belly as you carry her to her crib, for instance. In your daily routines, teach her to embrace life’s silly side. Make kooky faces or slap a sticker on your nose to trigger giggles.

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