Laughter – A very serious business!

I fondly remember one evening, when my daughter and I spent an hour laughing hysterically. 

It all began when I started reading my new book.  She started to take it from me, wanting some connection.  A little pixie part of me emerged, as I took my book and ran to the other end of our home, and climbed onto our bed, and stood reading my book.  She ran after me, laughing, and took my book away.  She ran to the other end of the house, laughing as I chased her, and then pretended to hide it.  I pretended to find it again and ran back to the bedroom again.  We repeated this over and over again. 

The laughter was fun for both of us, but also healing.  It helped her heal from feelings of helplessness when she didn’t get her need for connection met, or when she didn’t get to choose what happened.  No doubt it also helped me heal from feelings of powerlessness from when I told myself I couldn’t find a way of getting my needs met.

Laughter is rarely recognised as a potent source of healing.  Tears and tantrums help children release grief, sadness and frustration, whereas laughter allows them to heal from fears, frights and powerlessness.  Healing from fears may also require accurate information.

Rick’s daughter laughed after he spoke to her in a stern voice.  He felt very frustrated, wanting respect.  He hadn’t yet realised that her laughter was her psyche healing from the fear she was experiencing. 

Another boy, Patrick, threw his breakfast on the floor, and laughed as his mother shouted at him.  From a mainstream parenting perspective he was “wilfully misbehaving,” yet from an Aware Parenting point of view, he was healing from something from his past, perhaps the fear or confusion he had felt the last time his mother had shouted at him for throwing food on the floor.

When a parent embraces laughter as healing, parenting becomes a more joyful venture. 

For example, a parent can enjoy his children running around laughing in the evening, rather than telling them to stop.  Children spontaneously laugh and cry at the end of the day to release stressful events of the day.  Engaging with them with trust, the children’s laughter and tears will help release stress hormones from their bodies and thus sleep more easily and calmly.  The saying, “It’ll all end in tears,” becomes welcomed rather than feared.

Trust is central when a parent understands the healing power of play – trust that a child will want to play about the things he needs healing from. 

Sophie asked her mother to get into the cardboard box they’d brought the shopping home in.  Phillipa went along with the game, and then said she wanted to get out.  When Sophie tried to stop her, Phillipa got the gist of the game and sad in a mock scared voice, “Help, let me out.”  Sophie laughed and laughed as they played together in this way for the next half and hour.  Phillipa noticed that her daughter was much happier as she set off for preschool the next day.  The teacher called Phillipa over to tell her about an incident the previous day where another child had closed the Wendy house door when Sophie was inside.  Sophie didn’t say to her mother, “I just need to heal from the feelings of fear I felt yesterday in the Wendy house, would you just pretend to be afraid and stuck in the box?” - which is why we need to trust our children.  

Anytime they are doing something and laughing, however annoying it is to us, likely chances are they are trying to heal and needing our loving help.  A parent won’t often know what a child is healing from.  Understanding is not necessary for it to work.  Fears, phobias, and traumas can be healing from in this way.  

All that is necessary is a balance – as Aletha Solter, the founder of Aware Parenting describes, as a balance of attention between safety in the present and feelings of distress arising from the past trauma.  Dr. Solter gives us an example of this balance (in Helping Young Children Flourish) when she tells the story of her daughter being terrified after an earthquake.  She went back to co-sleeping after having been in her own bed for several months.  After a month she was still afraid.  Sleeping together was providing safety, but not allowing the stimulus of the feelings required for healing to occur.  She was too afraid to sleep alone, too overwhelmed by the feelings to heal. 

To find that balance, they played the earthquake game, where they turned the lights off, sat on the bed, and Aletha said “earthquake”.  Sarah laughed and laughed.  They played the game several nights in a row and on the third night Sarah felt safe enough to cry as her mum gave her loving presence.  The following night Sarah said, “you don’t have to sleep in my room anymore.”

Thus, laughter is as healing as crying, only for different reasons and different feelings.  Parents practising Aware Parenting often need to remember that supported play and laughter are very important to our children; and leads to even more joy and connection between parents and children.