Laughter is great medicine and it goes down easy. Being a laughing dad is also a fantastic way to narrow the gaps between ourselves and our children, to maintain a good relationship or to repair stressed or even broken bonds.
A couple of years ago I ran a workshop for overweight inner-city kids. The children stayed in an old, three-storey wooden house on our farm, with a long, central staircase. At one point in the evening, two of the teenage girls played too hard with a younger boy, who fell partway down the stairs. He hurt his knee, but not as bad as he hurt his pride.
To resolve the conflict, we gathered all the children in a circle down by the stream and lit a small fire at the center. The boy sat off on his own a short distance away, his back demonstratively turned away from the rest of us. The tension crackled like the spruce logs. The silence was like a wet, woolen blanket.
Now there’s an old game I learned from the Haida people that came to me in that moment. This is how you play it. Everybody sits in silence, stone-faced, and one person is chosen to be ‘it’. This person sits in the lap of another person and does everything he can to make the other person laugh, while making faces and saying things like, “Oh, I love you so much, please don’t laugh”. The one who finally laughs becomes ’it’.
We played this for a while. At first the kids rolled their eyes. Then someone couldn’t help themselves and giggled. The giggle was a spark. There was a losening of limbs and a softening of bellies and soon the energy was flowing and there was warmth again.
The boy, with his back still towards the fire, began to get curious. He slowly turned his head and watched us slyly over his right shoulder. After another while, there was an involuntary smile on his face. And by the end of our circle, he had turned around and was giggling and playing along. As the game drew to a close, the tension was gone, there was renewed trust, and the children were able to share their feelings and make peace.Fathering is as much about sharing knowledge as it is about our ability to play, laugh, relax. Click To Tweet
Laughing Dad Tip: Be Un-Cool
The Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki was a wonderful teacher who said that children learn to smile from their parents. Fathering is as much about sharing knowledge as it is about our ability to play, laugh, relax. We role model not only responsability, but vitality and a visceral enjoyment of life together with our child.
How much we laugh in any given day depends on how much time we spend in good company; laughing is a social activity (we rarely laugh on our own). So laughter is not primarily about humor but about social relationships. This is the conclusion neuroscientist Robert Provine drew after observing thousands of incidents of spontaneous laughter. Which is why laughing together with our child strengthens our connection, and also builds our child’s sense of belonging.
And yet, the majority of the dads I know express a pressing desire for a lot more fun, play and laughter in their lives. There are many different reasons for why we have too little of the good juice and jazz in our lives (making ends meet, navigating our relationships, being stuck in old patterns, being too isolated, feeling exhausted). And then there’s the fact that we’re dads too– studies suggest that men laugh a lot less than women do–we’re more prone to be the laughter-instigators.
Laughter is the shortest distance between two people–Victor Borge
But whatever the science, we can all role model more laughter and silliness by making a comittment to connection and to letting go of being cool, busy and in control. Our sense of joy is directly related to our willingness to let our belly flop over our belt, drop our masks of authority and command, and get down and dirty with our child.
This is not about dignity. It’s about opening our hearts to that part of us that is tired of being productive and keeping it all together, and welcome instead our intuition and spark of genius that is at the heart of us all. It’s saying yes to all that is trivial, unproductive and playful. It’s about letting go of purpose and embracing the pointless, ridiculous and frivolous.
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown stresses the importance of cultivating our sense of play. This asks that we’re willing to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self worth. An addiction to being busy kills our sense of timelessness and appreciation for play.
We can be on the lookout for our children’s natural mirth and allow their joy to pierce our serious sides and awaken our slumbering giggler.
One sweltering summer day when my oldest boy was 5, I was frantically running around the farm in my work clothes, fixing this and that. I was hammering, mowing, sawing, painting, and I had set the sprinkler on to feed a parched vegetable bed. As I was rushing to my workshop, I passed my son who had dropped all his clothes in a pile on the lawn and was running through the sprinkler spray screaming with laughter.
I passed him in a rushed silence and went into the workshop, where I could still hear his yells of delight. On my way back I passed him again, and became aware of the contrast in our ways of being, and I heeded this little voice telling me to join in. He was having way more fun than I was. So I dropped my clothes in a pile on the lawn, and together my boy and I through the spray, buck naked, yelling and laughing.
We continued our game and laughter even after our neighbor called my wife to ask why I was running around naked on the lawn.
Totally uncool, but so much fun.When was the last time you consciously basked in your child's laughter? Click To Tweet
Laughing Dad Tip: Follow the Giggles
When was the last time you consciously basked in your child’s laughter? It’s a wonderful practice. The next time your child laughs, take a moment to open your heart fully and receive her love of life. Let it wash over you and fill every nook and cranny of your heart. Let the peal of her giggles melt your defenses and bring you to your senses. It’s one of the most nourishing ways I know of for remembering who a child is and what delights her about life.
Laughter, says psychologist Lawrence J. Cohen in his book Playful Parenting, is also the soundtrack of having fun. And when we follow our child’s giggles, we’re on the track of building closeness and confidence. When we do something that makes our child giggle infectiously, we do it over and over again. With each shared giggle, the connection grows stronger.
So much of diving into laughter is about an intention of connecting with your child by paying attention to what makes both of you laugh, and tending that place. If you could still use some inspiration for getting the giggles going, there are tons of resources online, but here are a few simple ways to get you started.
Many parents and child-development experts have lamented the loss of free play and the way it has become replaced with lessons, competitive sports, structured activities, and watching TV. I say, let’s quit moaning about it and follow the giggles.
—Lawrence J. Cohen
If your child is still a baby or a toddler, you’ll know how much he enjoys surprise and repetition–funny faces, odd postures, unusual noises. This is the age of slapstick. You can get into a giggle-frenzy at the simplest of situations. If you are doubtful, try fake sneezing, making a loud “aatjoofnnrta” noise and pretending that random things fly from your nose. And make sure you’re genuinely amused yourself.
Older children get into more physical games and wordplay.
One game that is guaranteed to cultivate laughter for anyone old enough to run and young enough to laugh, and works pretty much anywhere (except perhaps a sandy beach in flip-flops) is the sock-game. It’s real simple, which may be why it’s so much fun. Here’s how to play it: everyone tries to get everyone elses sock off of his or her foot. That’s it. Try it, and if you don’t get a single laughter from it, drop me a line, and I’ll send you a new pair of socks.
If you’re in a larger group, you could try my boy’s favorite game of Dox-en-eye, from the Haida people of northwestern Canada. I learned this native game through Rediscovery and this is how you play it: have the participants divide into two teams. Place each team on a line, facing each other, about 10 meters apart. Decide which team starts. The first team has a stick planted in the ground right in front of it. This team silently decides on a specific person from the other team to challenge. In unison, the starting team cries “Dox-en-eye, dox-en-eye, dox-en-eye Peter” (or whoever was chosen).
Peter now has to walk from his line to the starting team, grab the stick and walk back to his team. The starting team can do anything but touch or stand in the way of Peter. If Peter can get the stick and walk back to his team without smiling or laughing, it’s his team’s turn. If the starting team makes him laugh using gestures, jokes, noises, acrobatics, he joins their team. The game ends when everyone is in one team–or when everyone is exhausted from laughter.
These are just a few examples. You’ll know better than anyone else what makes you and your child laugh together. The joyful moments that connect you and your child are spontaneous, playful and heart-warming. Treasure them as moments of deep connection, and learn how to cultivate laughter every day.
Question: What makes your child laugh?