Some of the happiest moments for us as parents are when our babies giggle. We share in their joy, being in the moment, feeling deep connections with each other. As comedian Victor Borge said, ‘’Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.’’
I can remember the joy I felt when my daughter first laughed at the age of three months. She was still at the stage where she enjoyed lying on her play mat gazing at the world around her. I would take the opportunity to learn some German, sitting beside her. I was doing exercises in a book, and at one point I made a mistake and exclaimed, ‘’Oh, no!’’ She laughed.
Babies and toddlers love it when we make mistakes. Usually we are the all-knowing adults, while they are the ones still learning about the world. When we get things wrong it reverses the power role, and this can have a transformative effect.
Many of the things that get our children giggling are things that also make them tense. They may laugh about things that scare them, or areas of their lives where they lack confidence, or about the things they are still learning to do.
For example, the traditional game of peek-a-boo helps with separation anxiety, building our baby’s confidence that we will return. We can take the less powerful role, and let our babies do the hiding, or act surprised to see them when they reappear. This releases their anxiety, as they begin to trust that when we go away we will return again.
A baby learning to crawl or walk may find it hilarious to see us walk across the room and then “fall over” in a playful way. Or if she is swinging on a swing, she will often find it funny if her legs “kick” us over, and we fall to the floor with mock exaggeration. Laughing can build a baby’s confidence and help her feel brave taking these developmental leaps.
Laughter brings fun and joy to our time with our babies, but it also has a very serious purpose. It reduces blood pressure, raises endorphin levels, reduces stress hormone levels, and strengthens the immune system. When babies get a chance to laugh away tensions and have our warm attention and close connection while they do so, they’ll be less likely to build up stress that is then acted out in difficult behaviour when they get older.
We can literally build our child’s wellbeing by picking up on what makes him laugh and repeating it again and again to really get the giggles flowing. We can also notice the areas in our baby or toddler’s life where they have tension and use laughter to diffuse the situation.
Sometimes parents warn children away from laughter play. We all know the saying, “It’ll all end in tears.’’ It’s worth bearing in mind that if our baby or toddler gets upset shortly after laughing a lot, it’s not necessarily a sign that there’s anything wrong in the present moment. Play and connection give children the sense that we are available to listen to them, and they bring up feelings that have been simmering under the surface. Tears have been found to contain the stress hormone cortisol, so sometimes babies and toddlers cry for what seems like no apparent reason (or for a small and petty reason!), because they are releasing stress. It could be from an over-stimulating day or from any big or small upsets that they have experienced.
Being there to listen and give your babies cuddles helps them tune in to your calm, loving state. They can release their feelings and regulate their emotions, as long as you stay with them. It won’t be long until they’re giggling again!
By Kate Orson
Kate Orson is a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor and mother to a four-year-old daughter. Originally from the UK, she now lives in Basel, Switzerland. She is the author of Tears Heal: How to Listen to Our Children. Connect with Kate on Facebook or follow her blog Listening to Tears.
Photos by Cloudia Chen
Cloudia Chen is a portrait photographer specializing in Family and children’s portraits, as well as Swiss CV, business headshot and event photography. Before settling in Zurich, she lived in Mainland China, Hong Kong, London and the South of France. Her photos and articles have been published in various social media and popular travel magazines in China. To contact her please visit her website www.cloudiachen.com.