Making your child giggle isn't just fun and games. It's also a great way to help him learn.
Mom holding daughter in her lap
Credit: Shannon Greer

Got Giggles?

Kai Mirel's first belly laugh came at 13 months, when he watched his older brother, Kaan, stumble over a toy and fall on his butt. "He just cracked up," says his mom, Trisha, of Redwood City, California. "I was amazed."

While a baby's little giggles are great, there's something special about seeing a 1-year-old howl when something strikes him as funny. "Laughing in response to things he sees is a sign of your toddler's growing intellect," says Maureen O'Brien, PhD, author of Watch Me Grow: I'm One-Two-Three. It shows that your child knows how structures and patterns are supposed to work -- and that he recognizes the humor when they don't.

Experts say a playful, supportive environment is important for nurturing your child's funny bone. That's why it's important to laugh at his earliest attempts at humor. But be forewarned: Once he gets the desired response, he'll turn you into his personal laugh track. "Kids this age really go for repetition," explains Susan Goodwyn, PhD, coauthor of Baby Minds: Brain-Building Games Your Baby Will Love. "If you chuckled the first time he stuck Mr. Potato Head's glove where his nose should be, you'll need to do it a second, third, and fourth time too."

As you grin and bear it, remember that you're helping to boost his confidence. So play along -- and try these other ways to develop your child's sense of humor.

Surprise Her

At 1, your child is mastering the concept of object permanence -- the realization that things still exist even when they're out of sight. That's why she finds peekaboo hilarious. You can also try having your child "hide" under a blanket while you search for her ("Where did Jackie go? I can't find her anywhere. Perhaps she's hiding under this chair."), then act astonished when she pulls the blanket off her head.

Once your child hits 18 months, kick the game up a notch: Place a toy under a towel, then swap it for a different one when she's not looking. When your child pulls it off, she'll be amused to see an entirely new object. This exercise will improve her problem-solving skills as she tries to figure out what happened to the other toy.

Your child may also start using the element of surprise herself. Robert Gruszka delights in sneaking up on his parents and shouting "Boo!" (a trick he learned from watching his mom startle his dad). "The more shocked we look, the more he laughs," says his mom, Amy, of Thornton, Pennsylvania.

Play with Words

As their language skills and comprehension improve, toddlers start responding to verbal humor, such as rhymes, songs, and nonsense words that just sound funny ("App-oos and banoo-noos, anyone?"). "A child has to know the correct name for an object before he'll laugh at a mispronunciation," says Dr. O'Brien. Your child may also find it funny when you mislabel things, such as calling a shoe a shirt or your dog by the fish's name. Look for ways to inject humor into your child's activities. When you're chanting "ring-around-a-rosy," try changing the last line to "we all bark like dogs." But there's no need to turn into your toddler's personal jester. He'll also find humor in books with silly drawings (such as those by Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boynton) and in listening to tunes from kid groups like Ralph's World and Milkshake.

Be Silly

Your 1-year-old will develop an appreciation for physical humor, so take advantage: Put a banana up to your ear like a telephone, try to take a bite out of a ball, or pretend to drink from her bottle or sippy cup. She'll know what these objects are really for, so she'll be in on the joke. You can also "fall asleep" while playing with your child. When she taps you and you "wake up" startled, she'll be in stitches.

Mom and toddler playing together
Credit: Shannon Greer

Get Physical

Horseplay is a surefire way to generate giggles. Toddlers always laugh when you bring the "tickle monster" out to play. The mere sight of your wiggling fingers may get your little one going. "Your toddler thinks to himself, 'We've played this game before, and I had fun.' He's learned to anticipate the pleasure," says Dr. Goodwyn. But vary your repertoire. Pant on all fours like a dog. Tumble over when he pushes you. Or pretend he's too heavy to pick up. The goofier you act, the more your child will love it.

Mom-Tested Tricks

My daughter can't resist fake sneezes. The louder they are, the more she laughs.Jennifer Thomas; Cape Coral, Florida

My husband crawls up behind our son and says, "I'm gonna get you!" Brycen laughs so hard he gets tears in his eyes.Becky Chandler; Aiken, South Carolina

Sebastian thinks it's a riot when I do sit-ups in front of him.Marina Pronina; West Lafayette, Indiana

Christopher's daddy swings him back and forth saying "tick-tock, tick-tock." Then, when the "alarm" goes off, he tickles him. That move can turn tears into howls of laughter in no time.Jennifer Hetrick; North Wales, Pennsylvania

I drop to all fours and roar like a dinosaur. It never fails to make my son squeal with delight.Thaddeus Rex; Chicago

Laugh-Out-Loud Toys

Toddlers like toys that giggle along with them or surprise them with lights, sights, and sounds, like these.

  • The Shake, Giggle, and Roll Ball combines silly music, wacky sounds, and a whole lot of contagious canned laughter. ($15;
  • Everything your toddler touches on the Learn & Groove Musical Table makes some noise -- from a banjo-playing frog to a book that sings the ABCs and teaches colors and shapes. ($40;
  • When your child tickles T.M.X. Elmo, the lovable red furry monster slaps his knee, falls to the ground, and cackles hysterically. ($40;

Copyright © 2007. Reprinted with permission from the July 2007 issue of Parents magazine.

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