Humor is much more than a reaction to a funny event, it is really a series of complex thinking processes. Children first need to notice what is happening and recognize that it is not usual or normal. In order to respond on an emotional level, kids have to figure out if this unusual situation is funny or not. Then, children need to match their feelings to their behavior, either laughing or displaying another reaction. That’s several things that all need to be connected.
Have you ever listened to kids telling jokes? They do not always get the right punch line, because they are still figuring out the connections and developing their sense of humor. To make it even more complicated, the intention underlying a joke is not stated, only hinted at. For instance, when a parent tells a child “I”m a fierce pirate and I’m going to chase you and get you to be my prisoner,” that is what we would consider a joke. A child needs to be aware that the words, no matter how fierce they sound, do not match the intention, which is to play a game. In order to have the appropriate emotional response, which would be squealing, laughing, and running away while trying to get caught at the same time for the tickle and hug, the child needs to understand the situation on several levels. To do this takes practice. Even adults sometimes make mistakes when it comes to humor and jokes.
Dig up a treasure of pirate jokes and share them with your child.
(And with me in the comments!) Knock, knock. Who’s there?