A good giggle can go a long way...

Play and laughter are fun ways to connect with our children, but did you know laughter can be a healthy stress release and promote good mental health as well? A good giggle can even be a way to tackle behaviour challenges.

Humans are born to laugh, and laughter brings joy to our lives, promoting the release of endorphins – the feel-good hormones that help to relieve stress, reduce physical pain, and improve emotional wellbeing. In fact, a 2017 study by Finnish and British researchers, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, confirmed this when they observed that when participants watched comedy films with their friends, endorphins were released in the brain. What’s more, in a 2021 German study, participants watched funny videos for an hour and their levels of stress hormones decreased.

Perhaps we all know this instinctively when we play peekaboo with babies, or chase a toddler who delights in escaping from us. Laughter is nature’s way of keeping us happy and healthy. With so many mental and physical health issues caused by stress, raising our children with a daily dose of the giggles can help to inoculate them against future challenges.

Laughter can also help parenting feel easier in the moment. Connection builds cooperation. Laughter can help to ease parenting challenges, because when children feel more connected to us, they are less likely to try to ‘tell us’ through their behaviour when they aren’t feeling good.

When a child doesn’t want to get dressed, or take a bath, often what they are really seeking is more connection with a parent. Perhaps they had a difficult day at nursery, or they are just experiencing sensory overload after new experiences. For young children, (and even adults) it can be hard to verbalise how they are feeling, so often a ‘no’ is the only way they can express themselves.

Enter, ‘giggle parenting’: dealing with behavioural challenges with laughter and connection. For example, if your toddler won’t let you brush their teeth, you could pretend to ‘brush’ their eyes, their ears, or their nose, acting all confused about why you just can’t seem to get the right body part. They will laugh and laugh, relishing the chance to feel powerful while you are acting befuddled.


If your child won’t get dressed, you could try putting their clothes on a stuffed toy, then realise your ‘mistake.’ You could verbalise out loud: “Hmm, this doesn’t seem right, let me try again,’’ and they may laugh and laugh at your failure.

Just 10 minutes of play can shift the mood, and afterwards your child might have forgotten all about their ‘no’. They may be more happy to cooperate with you and brush their teeth, get dressed, or take a bath.

While laughing with older children can look different, the same principles apply. Give them the opportunity to play with role reversal, giving them the power for a while. For example, while you might despair at how much time your child plays computer games, you could try having a go at the game with them. No doubt you won’t be as adept at playing as they are. Making mistakes might get them laughing, while feeling confident about their own abilities.

You may not feel like the most playful parent in the world, and play might be the last thing on your mind when you’re struggling to get your child to cooperate. When you just need to get out of the door, spending time playing games can be frustrating. But it’s worth investing the time whenever you can, as that connection pays off later. A happy, well connected child is more likely to say ‘yes.’

4 ways to bring laughter into your parenting

The more powerful role. The best ‘giggle games’ are when your child gets to feel competent, and in control. Perhaps you play wrestling, with them trying to push you off the sofa and they always get to win, or a game of chase where they always manage to escape. 

Repetition. When children find a game they love, they may want to repeat it multiple times. While it might seem boring, or try your patience, stay focused on the benefits and let them direct the play. 

If it ends in tears, you haven’t failed. Sometimes playful connection time helps a child to feel safe to express a deeper upset. It might come out as a tantrum about a broken cookie, or the wrong colour cup. While the reason might seem small and petty, there’s no need to try to fix or stop the emotions. Often it’s best just to stay close, offering warmth and empathy, to give your child the message that expressing feelings is perfectly OK. 

Nurture yourself. Don’t forget to nurture yourself with a healthy dose of laughter. Few of us grew up with parents with endless free time to be present in child-led play. Few of us got to laugh freely, and we may have memories of being shamed or criticised for getting too ‘giggly.’ We can counteract our own laughter triggers by spending grown-up time enjoying comedy, hanging out with a friend who always makes us laugh, and just remembering it’s OK to be playful and silly. When we give ourselves free reign to enjoy the comedy side of life it’s so much easier to allow our children to do the same.