HOW PEEK-A-BOO HELPED DARWIN BOND WITH DODDY
Children love to laugh. And like the British weather, their mood changes quickly. A child can be devastated one moment- because Billy stole their ball- sobbing and wailing- and then quick as a flash they're chasing Suzy round, and spying on Tommy behind a tree. As parents we get frustrated when our children can't "focus on the task at hand"- when instead, they drift like clouds- and won't : get their coat on, come down for breakfast, put their toys away. Children are butterflies- they flit from flower to flower- after whatever's sweet. When parents understand this, it becomes our greatest ally.
We accept that like butterflies children flit about, and we work with it. Because our job is to build healthy connection with our children- over years, no matter what they do. Again and again, they will need connection with you- to feel safe, loved and valued. Connection is the sunshine that warms a child and helps them grow.
Laughter and play are easy ways to keep the connection alive. Humour has saved me countless times. As parents we need a humour detector- like a smoke alarm- always on- so that we notice and grab opportunities to laugh with our child. The fantastic news is that children are ready to laugh at anything.
Charles Darwin wrote about the importance of laughter for child development in his 1872 book 'The Expressions of the Emotion in Man and Animals. The bearded scientist was the first to research peek-a-boo! In 1877 he published a paper on his careful observations of his son Doddy.
A game of peek a boo elicits an 'incipient laugh' at 110 days. Three or 4 weeks earlier he received a little pinch on his nose and cheeks as a good joke. I was at first surprised at humour being appreciated by an infant only a little above 3 months, but we should remember how very early puppies and kittens begin to play.
The Baby Laughter Project which takes laughter very seriously, confirms that peek-a-boo is a universal game- most parents in most cultures play it. It really takes very little to make a child laugh. Children need to laugh. Laughter helps them feel connected.
But it's not just babies. Children always need laughter. In one of my home education music groups we play a game- 'I sent a letter to my love.' As we sing the words, one child walks around the circle and drops 'the letter' behind another child. They stand back to back and then race around the circle to snatch-up the letter. Children love this game. One boy, aged 4, disrupted the game by pinching the letter and running off to the loo. He did this a few times- spoiling the game. Other children got angry. When he swooped to get the letter a third time, I called out: "Look! A cheeky magpie! He's taking the letters to his nest. I bet he's got lots of treasure." All the children laughed. The boy relaxed. Last week when we played the game he didn't pinch the letter. He sat contentedly on hid Mum's lap. Humour is the best medicine. It can transform most situations with children. It avoids shame- it keeps the atmosphere light. Just what butterflies need- because it's their nature to flit about.
When he got home his Mum spoke about boundaries- and told him to stop stealing the letter. But my magpie joke, and the warm laughter of the group helped him feel connected. Feeling connected, valued and loved- then he could join with others. And that is what children want- to feel connected. If an elderly Victorian scientist with a ridiculous beard can do it, so can you. Laugh with your children.