Consider this scenario: Two boys in two different locations have a small accident. Each trips and falls down. Neither is hurt, but they’ve each given onlookers a hearty laugh.
The first child scrambles to his feet, red-faced, and runs away as fast as he can. The other child lies on the ground and laughs along with his friends, and says, “Oh, man! Great way to start the day!”
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Who has a healthier self-image?
The second child’s response is actually indicative of initial mastery of complex skills, and he may already possess an outlook that will serve him well as he grows into adulthood.
“To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity,” writer William Arthur Ward once noted — and he was apparently on to something.
“To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity.”
“Laughing at oneself requires many different skills, including being flexible, taking responsibility for actions, and perspective-taking,” said Boston child psychologist Janna Koretz. “These are hard skills to develop, but important ones for healthy social and emotional development.”
Laughing at oneself even merited a study by researchers on two different continents.
In a 2011 study by the American Psychological Association, Ursula Beermann, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Willibald Ruch, of the University of Zurich, studied 70 psychology students, recording their ability to laugh after being presented with distorted images of themselves in an otherwise serious slideshow.
The findings support what has long been believed: Being able to laugh at oneself is not only a distinct personality trait, but is also linked with having an upbeat personality and being in a good mood in general, and may be the foundation for a sense of humor.
The study findings also offered a link between humor and humility.
“A child laughing at himself represents at least a temporary mastery of these important skills of flexibility and responsibility, which will also promote interpersonal relationships and improve mood,” Koretz said.
Kids as Comics
Jo Ann Grossman, director of Kids ‘N’ Comedy in New York City, has made a career of kids’ laughter, offering stand-up comedy classes to kids ages 10 and up.
“We have found that some kids who can’t find their place, so to speak — they are somewhat nerdy, or don’t perform well in sports or academics — absolutely shine in comedy,” she told LifeZette. “That’s what we foster here. That’s what we’re all about.”
The class descriptions on the Kids ‘N Comedy website confirm Grossman’s words: “Are you creative (weird), intelligent (nerd), and full of interesting opinions (extremely unbalanced)? Then we want you (to take a stand-up comedy class with us)!”
“We see kids blossom through humor,” Grossman said. “The kids’ material has to be original — no copying other comics off of YouTube. We say, ‘Grab your notebook, go outside, and watch the world.’”
Then, teachers help students hone their original written material, and classes culminate in a show performed at Gotham Comedy Club, a legendary comedic performance spot in New York City.
“First we get the kids to write to express themselves, and then we turn that material into funny,” Grossman said.
“Isn’t it an important skill at any age — not to take ourselves so darn seriously?”
Grossman’s teachers are invested in kids – and, of course, in comedy.
“One of our teachers was even on ‘Last Comic Standing,’” Grossman said with a laugh. “She went pretty far, too!”
When asked if the ability to laugh at oneself is an important skill for kids, she answered with a question: “Isn’t it an important skill at any age — not to take ourselves so darn seriously?”
So parents, keep up the knock-knock jokes, the giggles, and the self-deprecating laughter. The dividends of your child having the ability to laugh at herself will keep paying off – for a lifetime.