How to Make a Baby Laugh

Once your baby lets loose with his first irresistible giggle, you'll do just about anything for a laugh. Check out our age-by-age guide to learn exactly how to tickle his funny bone.

baby smiling and laughing
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Getting the giggles is an important part of your child's development. Indeed, having a sense of humor plays a major role in building self-esteem, learning to problem solve, and honing social skills, explains Louis Franzini, PhD, author of Kids Who Laugh: How to Develop Your Child's Sense of Humor (Square One). "It's one of the most desirable personality traits," he says. "And parents can, without a doubt, help foster it." Happily, it's one skill you'll reinforce with pleasure. Here's how to make a baby laugh as he grows.

Making a 3-Month-Old Baby Laugh

Babies usually let out their first laugh around 3 or 4 months of age. But since kids this young don’t understand humor, they giggle because of a physical arousal (such as bouncing on your knee) or textural experiences. They may also laugh as a form of imitation.

The Joke: Mom is playing pat-a-cake with me, and she’s laughing up a storm.

Why It Makes Baby Laugh: Your tot is copying you. Special brain cells called mirror neurons hard-wire your newborn to imitate your actions, so he'll unconsciously return your smile and, in a few weeks, mimic your bursts of laughter. "It's like going to a comedy club," explains Gina Mireault, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Johnson State University, in Vermont. "You laugh because everyone else is laughing."

But there's another reason this game never gets old: Mom isn't usually this goofy. "A lot of humor in children is based on their realization that something is out of the ordinary or surprising, what we would call incongruous," says Doris Bergen, Ph.D., distinguished professor of educational psychology at Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio.

Making a 6-Month-Old Baby Laugh

Six-month-old babies have the capacity to let out hilarious belly laughs, and they’ll giggle at experiences that are unfamiliar. Just make sure you’re laughing and smiling along, too!

The Joke: Dad is pretending he's a chimp.

Why It Makes Baby Laugh: Pop may look crazy, but he's having a good time. Clowning around, whether you're making slapstick body movements or weird facial expressions, is right up your 6-month-old's alley because it's just plain kooky. The odder you act, the closer your baby will study you for emotional cues (a behavior called social referencing) to see that you're playing around and not going nutty. By smiling and laughing at yourself, you send signals that say "I'm having a ball" and encourage your baby to enjoy the absurdity, not panic.

"Parents need to give their infants cues to make clear, 'This is safe and this is fun.'" Dr. Mireault says. "Deadpan doesn't work with babies." Dads tend to be more successful clowns than moms, in part because they're apt to be more physical and uninhibited, Dr. Mireault adds. So let yourself go bananas. That dorky smile on your face will show your little one that you're trying to entertain him, not having a psychotic breakdown.

Making a 9-Month-Old Baby Laugh

As your baby’s brain develops, he’ll start recognizing things that are decidedly out of his ordinary realm of experience. He’ll find these strange happenings funny.

The Joke: Mom is wearing a shoe as a hat.

Why It Makes Baby Laugh: It's absurd. Your tot needs to perform some impressive mental gymnastics to comprehend this. She first has to know that shoes go on feet, not heads—a fact she's picked up in the past few months by watching the people around her.

In true tot fashion, anything that's funny once is funny five times in a row. "Parents forget this because it's so simple, but if there's something that makes your baby laugh, repeat it," says Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., author of Playful Parenting. "We adults tend to get bored, but for a baby, everything is so new that it might still be funny 20 or 30 times."

Making a 12-Month-Old Baby Laugh

As babies get older, they rely less on watching adults to know what's funny; they begin to make the call on their own.

The Joke: The cat meowed.

Why It Makes Baby Laugh: For babies this age, odd sounds are particularly hilarious, as evidenced by a few popular YouTube videos that show babies laughing hysterically as Dad makes strange, high-pitched pinging noises or tears a piece of paper. (Search YouTube for "laughing baby" if you need a pick-me-up.) Experts aren't sure why certain words and sounds are comedy gold, but hey, whatever works!

Making a 15-Month-Old Baby Laugh

Around 15 months, you’ll notice a role reversal: Your baby tries to make you laugh!

The Joke: Your toddler is tickling you.

Why It Makes Baby Laugh: "Babies seize on figuring out what people find funny," says Vasu Reddy, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Portsmouth, in England. "By the end of the first year, most kids are doing something to elicit laughter." You may have noticed this around 7 or 8 months, when Baby made a silly face over and over because it cracked Dad up. But by 15 months, some tots are really starting to work the room, and a tickle attack on Mom has the added fun of being a zany role reversal.

Making an 18-Month-Old Baby Laugh

At 18 months, your little one has the world (or at least his portion of it) largely figured out, so nothing is more hilarious than making a blunder intentionally, or pointing out when someone else makes one.

The Joke: She makes a mistake on purpose.

Why It Makes Baby Laugh: "When toddlers make a deliberate mistake—for instance, singing the wrong words for a song they know—they're demonstrating an awareness of cognitive incongruity," Dr. Bergen explains. The joke is that they know what's supposed to happen, but it doesn't, like when Mr. Noodle on Sesame Street uses a banana as a trumpet. With your kid’s budding language skills, he just might tell you that a cow says "baa," or that Mom's name is Daddy.

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