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Use Humor in Building Relationships

Relationship encounters are usually more inviting if children expect they’re going to be fun, and maybe even funny. Using humor effectively requires paying special attention to the relationship. In order to be humorous, you can’t merely superficially attend to a child, you must be very present to the nuances of the interaction. Humor is often based on a special awareness or sensitivity regarding the child.

I’ve always found it easier to present a difficult task, whether to a student or to one my own children, if I could find some way we could laugh together about it. For example, when I was trying to get my daughter to clean up her room and complaining about the closet stuffed with all the debris that had originally been spread throughout the room, she and I were both able to relax a little because I seasoned my dismay at the closet by adding some humorous fantasies concerning it. Here were a few of the statements I used: “I opened the door and thought one of the dogs might be in there, and I would not have been surprised to find you had stuffed your sisters in there as well,” and “Actually, you win a prize for getting so much stuff into your closet. The prize, however, is a fun-filled evening of closet cleaning.” I closed with something like, “And I want you to remove not only the dog, the cat, the mice, and whatever else should not be in a closet, but also the things that belong in dresser drawers, your desk, your bookshelf, and in your sisters room-from which you can smuggle them back again some other time.”

My statements may have come across as a bit sarcastic (if I remember rightly, I was accused of being sarcastic), but I think there was a few smiles of both of us in the exchange of dialouge, And I think the instructions to clean up may have been a little easier to hear because of my attempts at humor.

In tutoring children, I found that the use of humor could often be made a part of the work. For example, I remember once teaching spelling where the child was to write the new word on the chalkboard as I wove the same word into an ongoing humorous tale. In order for me to continue the story, the child would have to spell correctly the next word on the list.

Working with Hilda, I relied on things that would amuse her in order to draw out her interactions with me. Her first vocalizations, a response to humor, were done through, were done through the puppets who snored loudly, coughed, sneezed, and groaned, all of this in the context of a story I was weaving with the puppets as main characters in a comic drama.

Jokes and riddles proved to be a humorous way of facilitating learning. Sandy’s limericks and poems were often considered by her to be funny, especially when they were “naughty.”

Laughter can be a healing force. When I’ve helped a child deal with an embarrassing situation by exaggerating it until it could be laughed at, or by casting it in some laughable drama, I’m sure the wound of embarrassment had healing salve put on it.

To be able to laugh at one’s mistake and human frailties has always been healthy, helpful, and healing for wounded self-esteem.

Self-esteem is also involved with seeing oneself as an entertaining person, someone people enjoy being with. It makes you feel good about yourself for having made others laugh and smile. Your self-esteem grows when you can bestow the gift of humor. I often remark to children: “What a gift your sense of humor is! How helpful it will be in your life!”

I recall a counselor friend saying that she thought what helped us survive in our counseling work was that we had developed a warped sense of humor, one that kept us constantly looking at ourselves and life with a certain amount of amusement, no matter how serious or emotionally heavy things became. I propose that people in general, but especially those who have to work with children, would do well to develop such a warped sense of humor and to look at life through glasses tinted with amusement.

Self-Esteem Priniciple: Humor can be a great antidote for low self-esteem, especially when children want to get out of their low state quickly.

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