The popularity of funny homemade videos on TikTok and YouTube is evidence of our love of all things silly. While we all can use a good laugh every now and then, no one appreciates silliness more than children. Experimenting with sounds and facial expressions, crisscrossing senses (say, using touch when smell or sight might be far more appropriate. If you are a parent, you get the picture), endless repetition of behaviors and words accompanied by endless giggles – this is the bread and butter of early childhood fun. Propensity for silliness is not only a developmental necessity on the way to maturity and gravitas, but it can also be an early indicator of positive psychosocial traits and out-of-the-box thinking. As parents, we might find it useful to follow children’s lead in the noble pursuit of silliness. Collaborative play that features contingency, power reversal, and role reversal can be fun not only for the little ones, but also for the adults. Here are a few reasons to take silliness very seriously.
Comfort and safety
Laughter as an expression of joy that helps us tolerate our innate vulnerability. For a child or an adult alike, a feeling of joy offers relief from pain, confusion, neglect, self-doubt, or fear. Being silly is your child’s way of easily accessing that feeling. When you participate in silly play, you are modeling a way of experiencing life as safe, fun, and joyous. This sets tone for the child’s emotional experience of your household and beyond.
The ability to cope with stress
A feeling of safety and comfort allows kids to develop and tune up their ability to self-regulate and cope with stress. Kids become aware of difficulties and limitations early in life. As babies and toddlers, they struggle to effectively communicate their needs, and are faced with many obstacles to gratification in their early explorations of the world. What helps kids cope with difficulties and setbacks is their ability to have fun, relax, and be silly. This is how children learn to develop a more nuanced approach to challenges and bounce back from disappointment.
When you play with your children in the way they want you to, you are demonstrating that you value their world, their way of seeing things. When their rules and needs are respected and considered, they may show reciprocity when it comes to your rules and needs. Being silly with your children offers a unique and intimate view of their dynamic thinking, their early affinities, and boundless creativity. This way of connecting will help you develop better communication and a tighter bond between you.
While the traditional view of children’s success centers around academic excellence, a more contemporary view includes being happy, healthy, caring, social, able to collaborate, innovate, and think dynamically. However you think of it, learning appears to be the path to success. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University, had researched ways in which children learn, and came to the conclusion that all learning has social origins. Collaborations and positive relationships enhance learning. Kids learn most effectively when things are joyful. Engaging in silly play with your children to “lighten things up” is a great way to facilitate learning and help your child’s future success, no matter how you define it.
The reason some parents don’t encourage or engage in silly play is that they feel it is counterproductive when it comes to teaching discipline. But, as we previously mentioned, being open to engaging with children on their level and their turf promotes mutual respect and acceptance. That means that if your child will likely be more willing to follow your lead and prompts regarding rules, if you occasionally consider theirs.
Silliness is all about combining things and ideas that generally don’t go together. Interestingly, so is creativity, be it in sciences or the arts. A world where previously disconnected things are now in relationship with each other (an adult man in a banana suit, a baby in charge of a large corporation, etc.) may give us some laughs, but the same principal can also greatly influence our culture and our daily lives (a phone that’s a television and a map, a watch that keeps track of your health stats, etc.). So many bright innovative ideas that color our life in the 21st century originate from the single step in an indefinite direction, away from the norm. Being silly means playing with the established rules. It’s permission and an invitation to think outside the box.
As you see, decompression, coping, innovation, feeling close to your child, and knowing you are having an impact are just some of the benefits of silly play. So, put a colander on your head, socks on your hands, make funny faces, speak gibberish, hop around, and enjoy being silly together!