Babies and children

Joking gives kids a head start in life

Joking gives kids a head start in life Helps build social skills, creativity

Parents who joke and pretend with their toddlers are giving them a head start in life skills, researchers said.

A study by child development experts at Stirling University found that joking and pretending by parents with their toddlers were important in building children's social skills, learning and creativity.

Study leader Dr Elena Hoicka said: "Parents, carers and early years educators shouldn't underestimate the importance of interacting with young children through jokes and pretending.

"Spending time doing this fun stuff with kids helps them learn how to do it themselves and gives them a set of skills which are important in childhood and beyond."

The study investigated how joking and pretending develop in children aged between 15 and 24 months, Although they appear similar, they are very different concepts.

"Both involve intentionally doing or saying the wrong thing," Dr Hoicka said. "However, joking is about doing something wrong just for the sake of it.

"In contrast, pretending is about doing something wrong which is imagined to be right. For example, parents might use a sponge like a duck while pretending but use a cat as a duck when joking."

The study found that parents offer different cues such as tone or pitch of voice in order to help their toddlers understand and differentiate between joking and pretending.

It also found that parents rely on a range of language styles, sound and non-verbal cues in order to help their toddlers understand and differentiate between joking and pretending.

When pretending, parents often talk slowly and loudly and repeat their actions. However, when joking, they tend to cue their children to the jokes by showing their disbelief through language, and using a more excited tone of voice.

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and is to be presented at its annual Festival of Social Science.

Dr Hoicka said: "We found that most parents employ these different cues quite naturally to help their toddlers understand and differentiate these concepts.

"While not all parents feel confident in their natural abilities, the research does show that making the effort to interact in this way with toddlers is important.

"Knowing how to joke is great for making friends, dealing with stress, thinking creatively and learning to 'think outside the box'.

"Pretending helps children learn about the world, interact with others, be creative and solve problems."

This article was published on Fri 28 October 2011

Image © Tatyana Gladskih -

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