Some years ago my mother and my aunt were sitting next to each other at the funeral of an elderly relative. Both were crying and sniffling. My aunt picked up her purse and started rummaging through it, my mom watching her. My aunt finally comes up with a tiny mangled shred of tissue. My mother whispered “that’s not enough tissue for all this” gesturing to their tearful faces. My aunt whispered back “it’s for my gum”. And that did it. The two of them broke out into giggles, covering their mouths and elbowing each other because they couldn’t stop laughing but also felt the seriousness of the occasion did not call for laughter, which of course just made them giggle harder.
Why We Laugh
Laughter serves many purposes. If you’ve ever wondered why people laugh at the wrong moments, let’s examine what laughter does.
- Brings people together
- Improves mood
- Connects body and mind
- Alleviates stress
- Strengthens the immune system
- Increases endorphins
Why We Laugh at Inappropriate TImes
I hear about this in my office all of the time. Another mom, sitting on my couch, half sheepishly laughing at herself half frustrated and half overwhelmed (welcome to the natural state of moms- having all of the feelings all at once). This mom is telling me about an incident with her kid where she had to bust out the serious voice and have a teaching moment and her kid responded by laughing at her. She told me “I just lost it then and started yelling”.
In that moment of seriousness her kid probably felt the tension of the moment, pressure to perform, and maybe fear or sadness. When you look back over the benefits of laughter it only makes sense that this kid started to laugh in the middle of a serious moment. Just like my mom and aunt- they were feeling loss and sadness. Of course their bodies found a way to connect, to ground, to reduce stress, to spit out their gum.
What to Do When Your Kid Laughs at You
So the next time you are trying to discipline and your child laughs at you. Pause before following the instinct to assume it is mocking and remind yourself of the needs laughter can serve. Your child may be in need of connection or stress reduction in that moment. Try asking your child “are you uncomfortable right now?”. You could also try some physical reassurance “I’m going to hold your hand while I tell you this so that you know that it’s serious and also safe, not scary”.
Understanding why your child is laughing can open the door to connection in tough moments.