Be a Clown, a Clever Clown
I get really giddy when I discover that without realizing it, I had actually done something right — something now considered “good parenting” — back when I was in the trenches. I know you’re probably scoffing at that statement, thinking something like, “What; is she being coy? She’s the parenting expert — must have known how to do everything right with her kids (poor kids!).” Wrong. Now I am trusting you, so be gentle with me. Confession: I have no more confidence about the worthiness of my parenting than anyone else does; in fact, maybe less. So now that that is established, let’s move right along.
Here’s what brought this all on: I discovered “10 Ways to Encourage Your Child’s Sense of Humor.” Eureka! Guess what, without even having had the benefit of this suggestion, lo those many years ago (I’m Grandmom now, remember?), humor was the name of the game in my parenting style. Today, there are a few little children who call me “Grandma Silly”! No change in style after all these years. Anything I try to tell you about that is funny will probably fall flat on this two-dimensional screen, but there's no live comedy offered yet on Scholastic.com. (Be patient, though; we’re always looking and planning ahead!)
I found that kind humor had a real calming effect when one of my kids was scared. (I emphasize the word “kind”, because it is very unfunny and unproductive to be sarcastic or mocking when a child is frightened.) Anyway, here’s an example of reassuring humor: We used to watch the Saturday morning cartoon "Underdog." (Yes, I confess, I allowed an hour of Saturday cartoons, the funny kind only.) Well, one day my 4 year old found two wasps buzzing around his bedroom and called out “Mommy, there are wasps in here!” I instantly leapt, two steps at a time, a fly swatter poised in each hand, offering the pronouncement, “There’s no need to fear. Wasp Woman is here!”
Shared media experiences are very useful to draw on at moments like that (and no legal release is needed in the privacy of your home). There's an old Woody Allen movie in which the female lead is raving about some handsome, strong, perfect hero of a guy when wimpy Woody asks, “But can he do this?” while making a contorted movement that no one would ever need to do. That scene has been replayed in our family countless times when someone is waxing poetic about some other person’s great qualities or achievements (like winning a Nobel Prize).
Whether they are macho acting or not, all kids have some anxiety about doing something for the first time, maybe going away to camp or taking a big test. My daughter would approach those moments with questions that always began with “What if?) After responding to the first several such questions, I would greet the rest with, “Sorry, no more what-ifs allowed today!"
So I agree with and heartily endorse the spirit and the content of the “10 Ways…Humor” piece. Of course there is a lot more to many of those “ways” that we could talk about another time. Being playful is easy for many of us; in fact, it’s tougher to get serious. Even a warm supportive home is doable. But how do you build self-esteem? That’s a treatise in itself and a controversial one for another time. Perhaps the most urgent recommendation is #4: “Help her tune in to the needs and pleasures of others.” Yes, you do need to stay emotionally tuned in and value that skill above all. The rest, especially laughing at yourself, are noteworthy too, so take it all to heart. This is no joke!
April 8, 2008