Joking around with your child could teach them important life skills. A study by the University of Sheffield implies that children as young as 16 months old can pick up the nuances of humour and pretending from their parents by following their cues.
Parents use a particular tone of voice when being humorous. When toddlers hear this, along with laughter, they understand that they are hearing a joke. Along with this, kids pick up a lot of other skills such as abstract thinking, imagining and bonding.
Researchers from Sheffield University carried out two studies. In the first, parents were told to joke and pretend with their children between 16 and 20 months old, by using actions. These jokes included using objects wrongly, such as putting food on their heads and pretend play such as pretending to wash their hands, with no soap or water available.
For the second study, parents of babies from 20 to 24 months of age were told to joke and pretend verbally with their children. This pretending included telling the toddlers that a round block was a horse. One of the jokes was telling the child that a toy chicken was a hat.
The research, which appears in Cognitive Science, finds parents project clear signs to help the children differentiate between jokes and pretend scenarios. In both studies parents displayed more signs of disbelief with their verbal cues and less belief with their actions when joking around in contrast to when they were pretending. Even the younger 16-month-old babies seemed to be alert to the cues. The children displayed lower levels of belief in their actions. The older kids displayed less belief through spoken word.
Elena Hoicka, from the Department of Psychology, added: “The study shows just how important play is to children’s development. Parents who pretend and joke with their children offer cues to distinguish the difference between the two and toddlers take advantage of these cues to perform. For example, if a parent said something like, ‘That’s not really a hat!’ children would realise it was a joke, and not real, and would avoid putting the toy chicken on their head.
“But if parents were pretending that, for example, a block was a horse, they might repeatedly make the block gallop, which would encourage children to do the same, and understand that the block really was a horse in their imagination.”
She added: “The research reveals the process in which toddlers learn to distinguish joking and pretending. Knowing how to joke is good for maintaining relationships, thinking outside the box, and enjoying life. Pretending helps children to practice new skills and learn new information. So while parents may feel a bit daft putting a toy chicken on their head they can at least console themselves with the knowledge that they are helping their children develop important skills for life.”
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