Seeing the Aha! in Ha-ha!

Jokes are beneficial. I kid you not.

It’s good to remember the value of humor. If you’ve ever suffered through a joke told by a child, you might need reminding. When I was a boy, my favorite joke was: “Why did the jellyroll? It saw the apple turnover.” For this and many other similar offences, my family limited me to one joke a day. A joke book in the hands of a child can be a dangerous thing.

Why is humor so important?

It’s a close cousin to creativity. A joke carefully builds a box, then breaks out of it. It causes a train of thought to jump tracks. This is called “lateral thinking” and is at the heart of all creativity. When children hear, understand and repeat jokes, they benefit in a number of ways:

flexibility in thought. Often a joke’s punch line requires the listener to retreat back down through the joke to catch the second meaning of the word on which the joke turns. Take this joke (please): “Two men walked into a bar. The third one ducked.” This makes you go back and re-think what kind of a “bar” I meant. In children, this ability to understand that words have multiple meanings starts at around age seven.

verbal editing skills. A joke told well is a joke that’s pared down to just the essentials, minus the ums, the corrections, the self-inflicted laughter. Learning to share a joke is a wonderful way for a child to learn how to edit his words and find the core of the story. Those skills will help in other forms of communication, verbal and writing.

a diet of surprise. What makes us laugh at jokes is the unexpected twist at the end. Those pleasant jolts of surprise are a good way to regularly stretch minds. Call them “creativity snacks”. They teach kids that breaking outside the ruts of thinking can be fun.

Share a laugh with your children today. Any simple joke will work, but try what I do when I tell jokes in front of school audiences: tell one with a story which requires some thinking to get the punch line. (Here’s a kid-tested favorite of mine.)

Happy laughing.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter