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What Makes Your Child Laugh?

If someone had asked me this question when my son was a toddler, it would have instantly made me smile. Just thinking about his belly laugh, the way his eyes twinkled, made me feel shutterstock_84783586good inside and conjured up fun times. I could have listed many things because we laughed a lot. Whenever we played with a soft cloth ball, he would cackle whenever he missed catching it and it bonked him in the forehead. He laughed when he was ticked, whenever he saw a dog run by, and when he heard a raspberry sound. Just with this simple question, anyone who asked could have learned a lot about us…that we liked to laugh, we played together, we weren’t afraid to be silly, that my husband was an important caregiver, and that my son was motivated by balls, funny noises, tickling and animals.

Simple Questions Can Yield Great Information

Using simple questions like these can be very effective in helping you get to know the a new family or child care provider. You can find out about the parent-child relationship and the parent’s perceptions of the child. The answers can also help you find a direction for intervention. Maybe most importantly, a question like this can help make a timid parent feel more comfortable by inviting her to talk about something she knows a great deal about.

What To Do with What You Know

Now think about how you, as an early interventionist, could use the simple information I described about my son. You know that he tries to catch a ball when thrown to him but misses. He engages with others, hears well enough to hear the raspberry, can visually follow or at least notice the movement of an animal, isn’t overwhelmed with the sensation of tickling, and may be beginning to understand early turn-taking. What you now know could be used when completing the IFSP, specifically related to our daily routines and activities, functional info for the assessment, and context for outcomes. You also have knowledge you can access during intervention visits to engage my son and me, and more importantly, to help me engage him in ways that help us address our goals.. Lots of info in a simple question, huh?

…But What If the Answer Doesn’t Come?

On the other hand, what if I had replied “I don’t know.” or “Well, he really never laughs.” These answers also telling. When a parent doesn’t know what makes her child happy, that should give you pause.

You might wonder: Is the mother the child’s primary caregiver? Who else is involved in the child’s care and how does he react with them? Do the mother and child have a healthy attachment? What does the child’s “laugh” look like (because maybe you and the mother are thinking about different behaviors)? Some children produce a belly laugh from the first giggle, others laugh with a quiet smirk, and still others laugh silently with their eyes, especially if the child has neurological or muscle tone concerns.

If the parent says the child never laughs, you might wonder: How does he show emotion? What are possible reasons for why he doesn’t laugh? Answers like these also spawn additional questions that inform the next steps in the EI process. I’ve met children who have troubled attachments, who have undiscovered visual impairments, who have muscle tone issues in the face, or who struggle with engaging and responding to others – all who appeared to never really laugh. It might be easy to stop digging when you get answers like these, but in fact, digging deeper is really the key.

Sometimes these simple questions can open doors, like when parents struggle to share information or know what to say.  When a simple question or its answer makes you pause, then there’s information to be gleaned there too.

What simple questions do you ask to help you learn about families and their children? What are your “go-to” questions to get the conversation started?

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For more ideas for simple and effective questions, visit the IFSP & Outcome Development page on the Virginia Early Intervention Professional Development Center site. Scroll down and look for the “Good Questions” series of handouts and the “Tell Us About Your Child” handout.

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5 Comments to “What Makes Your Child Laugh?”

  1. Dana,
    Absolutely spot on. Amazing! Thanks for the sharing! Laughing is such a great way to “get started” w/a family, and I have found most of the time that when a parent or family gets that laughing “ball” rolling it really increases their involvement and participation! I especially liked the part in here about children that don’t necessarily “laugh” like we expect a child to laugh. That was rich rich rich information! Thanks so much for the work and effort! I love these posts and often use them as launching pads for conversations w/my families.

    Nathan Travis

    • Thanks Nathan! Love your point about how laughing can actually increase participation! We all are more likely to do something if it’s fun, right? Not just the children! Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. As an Early Interventionist I know there is not that one “magical” question to get a family to share all the situations, activites and interests we want to learn about, but this question can be a game changer. I often ask “what makes him/her giggle?” It can completely change the tone or the direction of a visit. Many families I meet have children who have tons of medical stuff going on. What they expect from others is an update – almost like morning rounds at a hospital – an update on appts/conditions/feeding amounts/meds etc…so the question about giggling makes them stop, think and usually smile themselves – if it is a child smiling or that infectious giggle – we then talk about real family stuff. Also, if a parent/caregiver is only seeing the negative in a child – it can move the direction of the conversation to sharing stories of when things go well, what is fun or easy. Huge for parent responsiveness. And I get to learn about the playful side of the parent/caregiver.

    • So well said, Vicki! You’re right, many parents are expecting more formal questions or questions that focus on problems. Imagine how stressful that can be, to have to answer questions like that coming from strangers. Asking an question like this one instead can set the tone, put the parent at ease, and help you get where you eventually need to be, which is exploring “family stuff” that may feel quite personal. I love what you said about this being “huge for parent responsiveness.” Parent responsiveness is what EI is all about! Thanks for adding your perspective!

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