Teaching Character: Humor
When Tina Fey accepted the Mark Twain prize for American humor, she acknowledged that funny people often come from a difficult childhood or troubled family. Then she promptly looked up to her parents in the audience and said, “They are giving me the Mark Twain prize for American humor…what did you animals do to me?”
And then she sorta let it slip that it was a good time to tell them she’d be putting them in a home.
So tread lightly here…just joking!
Do as I Say, Not as I Do
I talk a lot about modeling behavior and for teaching humor, that’d be the most obvious place to start. For one, I think our actions are a better teacher than our words ever will be.
I remember growing up my Dad would joke about “do as I say, not as I do.” Mostly this was around Mardi Gras time when he’d be riding around in (actually on) his friend’s Triumph convertible, with only his grass skirt and beer to help him adhere to the hood like a squashed bug. That man did have a joie de vivre to go along with his twisted sense of humor, I tell you what. OK, maybe not the best example.
Often you’d have to look for the twinkle in his eye to tell if he was joking or serious. And that twinkle taught me a lot about humor.
So nurturing your inner funny bone can go far in nurturing your child’s.
But, no. I’m not going to go through the many steps to being funny. Mainly because I’m not funny. I’m especially not going to tell you the one funny joke I know*** More importantly, I think E.B. White was right when he said, “Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.”
I will say that kids of all ages find different things funny. Your teen isn’t going to burst out laughing and giggling if you lift his shirt and blow a zerbert. Throw you a stink eye (or something worse), definitely! But not a laugh. And your toddler will stare at you perplexed when you toss out a little sarcasm.
It’s pretty safe to say that younger ones like mixing up words, falling down, and fart noises. As they age, then get ready for lewd jokes, puns, and sharpening intellect.
Using Humor in Parenting
However, all jokes aside, humor in parenting is a double edged sword. Why is it not all fun and games? Because humor - while it is an unmatched tool in Ninja parenting - can seriously undermine a parent’s authority. No joke.
If you are positioning yourself as your kid’s comic relief, then you might be giving the impression that you are not to be taken seriously. That your word is fluff. That you are more friend than parent. And that’s no place of strength from which to steer your parenting ship.
Possibly fake crying, throwing mock tantrums, pretending to whine or other ways that strip you of your parental integrity all in the name of fun might not be the best idea. I’m not saying; I’m just saying. It’s like knowing the difference between funny humor and mean humor. There is a line.
Luckily, having a sense of humor isn’t just about being an entertainer. A sense of humor is the ability to see situations from a less obvious or expected point of view. It’s about being playful, lighthearted. Essentially knowing how to own your inner authority without being authoritative and rigid. No easy task.
There are two, no three, no wait seven…OK a bazillion books that tickle kids (and parents). A few of my favorites are:
1. Mo Willems. Just about everything he writes makes me laugh out loud. Like a child’s version of David Sedaris or Tina Fey for that matter. Kids, and the parents that read to them, gobble up his books over and over and over again.
2. Dallas Clayton. If you don’t like the the word ‘awesome,’ then feel free to disagree with me. But. Dallas Clayton is one awesomely funny dude.
3. Dr. Seuss. ‘Nuf said.
There’s got to be some books out there that you’d recommend, too???
And just to be clear, I’m not talking about humor as a way to avoid disciplining. Or a way to discipline. Or anything having to do with disciplining. There is a difference between authority and discipline. And it’s a difference that makes a difference.
Ok, ready for my joke?
***These two strings walk up to a bar. The first string walks in and orders and the bartender throws him out and yells “I don’t serve strings in this bar. The other string ruffs himself up on the street and curls up and orders. The bartender shouts, “Hey, didn’t you hear what I told your buddy?”
The string says “Yeah.”
The bartender says, “Aren’t you a string?”
The string says, “No, I’m a frayed knot…”
photo credit: nosha