While Mom goes about her daily chore of making up the bed, her three-year-old daughter Samantha dives right in the middle,  just in time for the sheet to drape over her. But instead of fussing, Mom pretends not to notice the giggling lump in the center of the mattress, and continues with her task. Eventually Mom says aloud, “I wonder where Samantha went. She was just here a minute ago.” After a few seconds of hysterical laughing, Samantha flings the covers away, and reveals her whereabouts to her mother.

Like Samantha, young kids are naturally playful and open to humor. But like a lot of other qualities in youngsters, a sense of humor must be nurtured to thrive. When children laugh, the benefits are endless, and they stick around long after the giggles have subsided. Laughter “helps build self-esteem, connects kids with others, and makes children healthier, and more optimistic,” says Donna Horne, of the Washington State Family Child Care Association. Laughter has also been shown to release endorphins in the body, increase blood flow, relieve stress, improve digestion, lower blood pressure, and ward off depression.

“A young child’s humor is not as complex as that of an older child or adult. Preschoolers love simple visual and verbal humor such as silly antics, songs, games, funny rhymes and stories,” says pre-kindergarten teacher Tonya Matthews. Here’s how to encourage a sense of humor in your preschooler, and help him reap all the valuable benefits laughter can bring.

  • Create Laughable Moments Don’t wait for humor to fall into your lap. Create laughable moments for your child by watching funny movies, making up silly rhymes, butchering the words to his favorite tunes, or reading funny books. Some hilarious children’s book selections include Silly Sally by Audrey Wood, and Bark, George by Jules Feiffer. You can also tickle your preschooler’s funny bone by tying scarves around your heads and playing silly pirate games, or cranking up some music and doing a goofy dance around the room.
  • Be Spontaneous Funny moments don’t always have to be planned. You can help your young child have a good chuckle by doing something totally unexpected. Next time you’re serving breakfast, do it with a bowl on your head. This type of spontaneity will indulge your child in a bit of humor while teaching him to seize the small moments in life.
  • Laugh at Yourself Be open and willing to laugh about your misfortunes. This helps kids keep things in perspective, take themselves less seriously, and learn to better deal with disappointments in life. This attitude also encourages creativity in kids, and gives them the tools they need to learn how to think outside of the box.
  • Laugh Out Loud Parenting is a serious job, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let loose, and laugh at things you find funny. Laughter is truly contagious, and when you giggle out loud, your child will quickly follow suit. So laugh loud, and often.

The gift of humor is priceless. And when you create opportunities to laugh, do the unexpected, and laugh out loud, you create an environment that improves the quality of life for your preschooler, and gives him the kind of happiness that will spillover into adulthood.

Other Things You Can Do to Make Your Preschooler Laugh:

  1. Add humor to familiar games by modifying them. For instance, play hide-and-go-seek with your youngster, and pretend you can’t find him. Or play a game of tag, and pretend to stumble, and fall every time you get close enough to tag your child. Your preschooler will get a kick out of the fact that you’re just too slow to catch him.
  2. Preschoolers are old enough to know what types of sounds common animals make. So if you really want to crack your child up, point to pictures of different animals, and make the wrong noises for each one. For instance, instead of saying “oink, oink” when you point to a picture of a pig, say “quack.”
  3. Stand in the mirror with your child, and see who can make the silliest face. Preschoolers love this!
  4. Tell your preschooler that you found a new hat, and plop a pair of shorts on your head. Your kiddo will burst into laughter, and swiftly remind you that shorts don’t belong on your head.