Kids love to laugh, but it is hard for adults to figure out sometimes how to find what a group of them will find funny. Jokes may or may not strike their funny bone. Many times they won’t ‘get’ the punchline or it only brings a slight chuckle. So, how can we guarantee to hit the ball out of the park every time with any group of kids?
Here are 6 guaranteed ways to ensure you can make kids laugh…
- Say ridiculous things
- Surprise them with the unexpected
- Use slapstick comedy. It works.
- Alliteration Always Amuses
- Start little games and let them catch on
- Chase the giggles right out of them
In a study published in the American Physiological Society’s journal Advances in Physiology Education, researchers found that laughter in the educational setting helped students in three ways. It helped with discovering, creativity, and learning.
There is a lot more that goes into each of these 6 strategies and research shows ample benefits of children’s laughter. So, let’s look at these steps in depth to make sure you have the concepts down. Then you can start hearing the sounds of laughter all around. Laughter is beautiful.
You know what’s fun? Kicking and punching on a heavy bag. Check out my list of kicking bags for adults and kids in all the main martial art styles.
#1 Say The Ridiculous To Start Kids Laughing
When you are talking to kids, you can’t talk to them like you would adults. Even when you are explaining something they need to know, you have to engage them on a level that will attract their attention. Unbeknownst to you, they are not listening to most of what you say.
Much of the time they are trying to get as much daydream and plans for what they are going to do after you finish talking as they can. They have learned your tones, pauses, and expressions enough to know when to repeat what you have said or give a yes or no answer.
To keep them present, make kids laugh. You have to say things that are totally off the wall. This they definitely find funny. It doesn’t have to be inappropriate like some people think. Comedians even think that is necessary for adults. It isn’t. It just has to be something that doesn’t fit and makes kids stay with you in the moment.
Here are some examples of what I do, and it works every day, all day.
- When kids are supposed to be sitting cross legged on the floor, teachers will tell them, “Sit criss cross applesauce”.
- How do I do it? I don’t think I have used the word applesauce in a decade when telling them to sit cross legged. I refuse. I say…
- “Sit criss cross BANANA sauce.”
- “Sit criss cross BALOGNA sauce.”
- “Sit criss cross DIRT sauce.”
- How do I do it? I don’t think I have used the word applesauce in a decade when telling them to sit cross legged. I refuse. I say…
- Let’s say you want to hand something to a child. You never just hand it to them.
- You always play keep away.
- This is usually accompanied by a, “Would you take this?”
- and a, “I don’t have all day.”
- If you are telling them to do something, you can’t just give them straight directions. Make it ridiculous…
- “Go put your shoes on,” is too boring.
- Try this, “I need you to go get your shoes and put them in your pants. Then put your socks on your ears and meet me by the door. It’s time to go.” And then add, “Why are you still here? Those shoes won’t climb into your pants by themselves.”
- Be ready though. They may come to you with them in their pants laughing. Just go to the opposite end of the spectrum.
- “Shoes don’t go in your pants! Get those on your smelly feet!”
The most important part about making kids laugh is energy. Kids love energy. You can control their moods by getting excited about something. They will want to know what you are excited about.
This will usually prompt one of two responses from them. They will mimic your excitement and become excited themselves, or they will become interested in why you are excited.
Both of these options will have their attention directly on you and what you are doing. There is also an added bonus. For calling attention to deviant behavior, you can tone down the energy and your voice to a serious level. This spotlights the graveness of the topic. Once the action is corrected and/or a consequence given, ramp up your energy and voice again.
This gives you their full attention and aids in discipline and respect for you or the one leading the drill, project, or room. Kids need to learn their place, but that doesn’t have to mean we need to be drill sergeants. We need to bring the fun and we need to take it away. That is how you get kids in the mood to laugh, but still respect the boundaries you have set in place.
#2 Doing The Unexpected Usually Brings Laughter
Along with saying the things that they don’t expect, you also have to physically do the things that they didn’t see coming. This will cause their minds to come back to you from whatever imaginary plane they drifted to while you were ‘rambling’. Well, that’s what they think you are doing.
Go the wrong direction and pretend to get lost. Pretend that you can’t do something they have seen you do a thousand times. Forget something that you just told them not to forget and try in a very over the top manner to remember it. This is what I mean about doing the unexpected.
Here is an example of something I use every day to make kids laugh. If I find I am explaining something a little too much, I have a sudden bout of narcolepsy. You know what that is, but just in case you can’t quite put your finger on it here is a definition from Lexio.com.
A condition characterized by an extreme tendency to fall asleep…Lexio.com
Yep, I lay right down in the floor and ‘snore’ loudly. They will shout, laugh, and decry your attempts to fake them out. Never admit that you were faking, just play it off as if it really happened and keep going. You will keep them wondering if you are serious and they will keep their eyes and attention on you for a while. They want to see if it will happen again.
Another way to do this is to always pretend there are invisible trip wires everywhere. I am always pretending to fall towards a child at least once a day. If they get to the point that they are not buying that you would actually fall on them, then do it. Well, not totally.
I usually sit on them slightly if they are sitting or ‘fall’ beside them if they are on the floor and put my legs on them. This will make kids laugh for sure. To them it is hilarious if an adult does something embarrassing like fall down.
This especially works if you are calling their bluff and really land on them (softly of course). If they don’t think you will, and you do, that’s funny in a kid’s mind.
I love talking to one kid as he is watching me and maybe a little girl is off to the side watching us both, then walking into a wall I ‘didn’t see’. Just run your shoulder or arm into it and pretend to bump your head (don’t really bump your head, it is even better if they know you are trying to fake them out). I even pretend to get mad at the wall.
This especially works if you are giving them instructions or telling them about something ordinary. If they don’t expect it, and they know you really didn’t get hurt, they will laugh. This brings us to our next point. Kids not only like the unexpected action, but if that action is embarrassing to you or it looks like you got slightly hurt, it will make them chuckle.
#3 Slapstick Comedy Is King In Kid World
The threat of injury in reality is not amusing, but if it is certain that it is acting, kids will definitely crack up. You have to take a cue from the master of slapstick, Charlie Chaplin. If you watched the above video and didn’t chuckle after a while, you have kicked the little kid in you right out. If you want to see more from Chaplin, check out his last film as Little Tramp at this link from Amazon.
To really take advantage of slapstick comedy to make kids laugh, you will have to learn to sell it. What I mean by that is, you have to over play injuries, then recover like nothing happened. This adds the unexpected, then reassures the kids visually that it was an act, making it okay to find funny.
There are many examples of how you can use this that will work in most any setting. It just takes some adaptation of the techniques for more quiet and serious settings.
For instance, I drop things all the time and act like I just can’t pick it up. It ‘takes one of the kids’ to pick it up for me (of course I drop it again). This can be done in a loud and boisterous way if the setting allows for it. It can also be done subtly in a more quiet one.
You can drop a book or something loud and exclaim something about how you can’t believe how slippery it is. Or you can do the same thing with a pencil or pen and mime your reactions in a quieter environment. It just takes some practice and you will be cracking up all the kids around you.
One way to do this is giving fives. At first I move my hand repeatedly. I bait them in and move it at the last second. Sometimes I lift it way too high and ask why they haven’t given me five yet. Once I’ve done this for a bit, I will let them get my hand.
Here is the best part. I act like it really hurt. I shake my hand. I accuse them of trying to knock off one of my fingers, or something like that. This is the part you have to oversell. They want to find it funny and will know it is okay since you are poorly acting. That is the best way to do slapstick to make kids laugh.
Whatever it is that you do, just do it periodically and mix it in with others in this list. Doing something the same way everyday will get old. On the other hand, kids love routines that they can predict. The balance comes in mixing things up and keeping them guessing. Be serious for a while, then do something outrageous.
If you get the hang of this, you will be like the Pied Piper. Every time you come into a room, kids will come out of the woodwork to see what crazy thing you are libel to do next. Just take note, kids don’t care if you have a bad day, are sick, or just lost your dog. They want the same person that made them laugh the last time. Be ready to deliver.
#4 After Alliteration Amusement Always Arrives
Especially for the younger kids, adding alliteration to the mix will push them towards laughing if it doesn’t bring it on all the way. Just look at how most picture books are written. The rhyming in many of them is playing on the same tendency of young children to laugh at alliteration.
I know you probably know what that is, but just in case it is on the tiniest tip of your tied tongue, here is a definition from Merriam-Webster.com.
the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllablesMerriam-Webster.com
For example, if I were going to tell a child we are going to the zoo, I wouldn’t just tell them. I would do something like this…
“You know where we’re going?”
“We are going to Boo at the Zoo to watch the cows go Mooooo!”
Of course I would sell the ‘moo’ and maybe become a bull with finger horns and run after them. The sounds to them are funny because they are unusual and have a pattern that is recognizable. The funny part is, why don’t we do that all the time if it has such a distinct pattern. Weird is sometimes funny to kids.
Older children who can get riddles and punchlines to jokes like to feel the accomplishment of ‘getting’ the joke. These aren’t as accessible to younger kids. They respond more to simpler rearranging of speech patterns that they don’t get to hear all the time. It makes them feel as if they ‘get it’.
To make kids laugh with alliteration is very close to simple rhyming. I use this all the time with hellos and goodbyes. I never say a simple hello or goodbye to a child. Even if they are not feeling well or injured somehow, they will usually always be ready to at least give a ‘high five’.
Rhyming on hellos and goodbyes are great fun. They will come back to you with many rhymes of their own and surprise you. Some come back with gibberish, but I just give them an ‘I ain’t buying what your selling’ look and tell them that those aren’t real words. That becomes a joke in itself.
How can we develop a few go to rhymes for hellos and goodbyes? Simple. Find a way to say hello and find and animal or character that goes with it.
- See you later alligator.
- After while crocodile.
- Not too soon baboon.
- Goodbye butterfly.
- See you around clown.
It won’t take long and you will have a large list that you can pull from whenever you see your favorite Little Ninja. You will make kids laugh from the moment they see you until the time they leave. It is all about energy and knowing what kids actually find fun and funny.
If you are trying to get kids to giggle using things that adults find funny, it could possibly work. Usually though, it won’t. If you really want to tickle their funny bone, find out what kids normally like to laugh at, and give them what they want and not what adults want.
You will have slobbers coming out of their mouths in no time. No, really. Get them laughing enough and they will loose control of their ability to keep the slobbers in their mouths.
#5 Start A Game And Let Kids Catch On For A Laugh
This one is almost like improv. I have honed the ability over the years to let kids know I am messing with them and to play along without words. Its all in how you approach it.
One way I do this is to spontaneously not be able to find a kid. I can be looking right at them, talking to them, or even have them hoisted over my shoulder. It doesn’t matter. I suddenly have lost track of them.
This works well when there is at least another kid there to watch it happen. They will begin to try to help you locate the ‘lost in plain sight’ child. I look under ridiculous things too: books, papers, rugs, etc. You want the kid being looked for to join in as well.
Many times I will start, ask other kids where the child went, and only turn slowly to give time for them to move with me to stay behind me. If they don’t move, I look over their heads, ask where they went and tell them to get out of the way, ‘I’m looking for someone.’
All the kids in the room will join in trying to help you locate the kid right next to you. Once I have done this for a bit, I make a big deal about ‘finding’ the child and ask, “Where have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
Kids love games. You can make a game out of anything, really anything. Think about how we get babies to open their mouths when we are feeding them.
“Here comes the train into the station… chuga chuga chuga.”
This is a simple game for simple little minds. Kids of all ages are looking for their next game. You can be the dispenser of games. All it takes is a goal. Sometimes this means you are the clueless one like in the ‘can’t find that kid that was just here’ one from before. Sometimes it is a quick little game of ‘you’re it!”
One way I even do this for myself is to set goals in whatever I am doing that seems tedious and give myself little rewards. If I am writing a paper for grad school, reading some dense book, doing taxes, or going over my inventory I break it up into sections and give myself something fun when I reach a division point.
Sometimes it is going a round or two on a heavy bag and sometimes it is a couple videos like the Charlie Chaplin one above. Kids are no different and you can turn the mundane into a game with prizes and rewards.
If they have a lot of homework, make it a game. If they have three subjects with assignments in each, that can be divided into six sections. Each subject can be divided in half. At each section point maybe they can shoot basketball, play a video game for 10 minutes or so, or just veg on the couch. Each one should be celebrated with a high five and ‘nice’ or two.
The laughter will come the more you do it and don’t forget to make them miss the ‘fives’. That is sure to bring a laugh or two, even if older ones only laugh when they catch your hand with the five.
#6 Chasing – They Loved To Be Chased
Okay, so you have probably notice when you haven’t chased your kids enough. You will get the overt, “Bet you can’t catch me.”
But, that is not the only time that they like to be chased. If you spontaneously turn into a zombie and repeat ‘brains’ as you amble towards them, they are suddenly in the mood to be chased.
If they still sit there, give out some noogies and pretend to eat their brains. If this happens I usually announce loudly in my best zombie voice, “This one now zombie. Where more kids?”
If there are more kids in the house or room, they will squeal with delight and scamper from everywhere. For teens and some adults, the thrill of a roller coaster is that near death experience packaged in a safe amusement park ride. For younger kids, chasing is a taste of the same thing.
Another version of this is ‘the claw’. Most dads have the claw down pat. Moms can get in on it too. The trick to having this one make kids laugh is you playing the part of their advocate. Warn them about the claw. You can’t control the claw. No one can. Tell them to run and don’t let it steal their brains.
If they are ‘acting big’ or ‘unafraid’, I usually take them to the floor with the claw and say, “The claw is not satisfied with only your brains, it wants your arms and legs too!”
I then ruff them up a bit. This usually gets them ready to run once you let them up after a few seconds of manhandling.
The best form for the claw is to grab the wrist of your ‘claw hand’ with your other one, as if you are trying to stop it. You will ultimately fail, and sometimes it will turn on you before continuing after the kids. Make a show of it and they will want to show you how fast they are while trying to get away from the claw.
You could go the complete game setup route like hide and seek or cops and robbers. These will start by choosing who is in what role and the rules. Keep in mind that you are going to cheat. You always cheat. And when they call you on it, admit it.
“Yep, I’m a big cheater. Now, you are goin’ down!”
And the chase is on.
Side note here. You may have one of those controlling personalities in one of the kids who gets actually mad if you cheat. Don’t let this go. This is a great teaching moment before you get back to the laughter.
Explain that this is all for fun and they aren’t allowed to dictate how the game goes. You are the adult and they are the kids. Getting mad will make it to where they have to sit out. I do this many times for this very reason.
In the martial arts, failure and defeat breeds good character. You learn the most from them and gain the most virtue because of them. Failure and defeat are not the goal, but they are part of the process.
If a child playing these games only focuses on being the winner, then they can be brought around to enjoying the game itself with out having to put everyone’s performance in a hierarchy.
Hierarchy is a great motivator in some situations. But when it is time for laughing and fun, it most definitely gets in the way.
The Kids Laughing Takeaway…
Start practicing all of these and make sure you put yourself out there enough to fail a few times to get kids to laugh. Like I said, you learn more from failure than success most of the time. You learn what to tweak and then you try again. This helps you to own the technique, either in making kids laugh or in martial arts.
Don’t forget that kids really want to play games and laugh. Try to inject this into everything you do. You will soon be the one they light up for when you walk into a room.
Some people think giving them gifts or buying them things will do the same thing. This actually frustrates them and they see you as their fix for the consumer addiction they so easily develop. Be the one that gives them what they really want and need, your attention.