Laughter: The Key to Any Child’s Heart

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(Nourishing Smiles, by Becky Johnson)

Sometimes words just get in the way,  especially when pictures tell their own story so well.  Here is a series of snapshots that my daughter (and co-author), Rachel, took one morning as we sat visiting and clowning  around the dining room table where our big blended family had played a rousing game of poker on New Year’s Eve, the night before.  To set the scene: I had been drinking coffee in the kitchen,  when Rachel’s three-and-a-half year old son Jackson hollered, “Hey Nonny, there are cup holders in here!”  (Meaning, “Come put your coffee in one of the cup holders around the table and play with me.”How could I resist?)

Rach happened to have her camera handy and here is what happened next.

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Victor Borge once said, “The closest distance between two people is a laugh.”  I  have discovered this to be unfailingly true.  Not just with friends, but also with my kids and grandkids. In the excerpt below, from our newly released book,Nourished: A Search for Health, Happiness and a Full Night’s Sleep, I expound a little on the blessing of laughter to both grease the skids and brighten the joy of parenting and grandparenting.

 (Excerpt from Nourished…)

I’ve discovered that a kid will follow you to the ends of the earth if you make them laugh. And I will follow any child who makes me laugh to the ends of the earth as well. There’s something irresistibly contagious and fun about parents and kids who enjoy comedic repartee.

I read that comedian Billy Crystal used to wash and blow dry his two little daughters’ hair. Using the voice of Jose Eber he invented a flamboyant personality he called Mr. Phyllis. He would style their wet their hair into funny forms. Twisting it into a horn for example, he’d say, “This is a good look for you. I call it the unicorn.”

Let’s face it: there is no better audience in the world for adult silliness than children. As tiring as little children are, they give us regular endorphin boosts with their smiles, giggles, and funny antics. When my kids were young I scribbled the cute, funny things they did in a blank book. Over time, I began to look at everything my children did through the eyes of Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry (the 80’s & 90’s version of  today’s Jim Gaffigan), imagining how the latest maddening or messy event might be funny if I wrote about it later.

So the day I found my two-year-old pouring the contents of a large box of powdered milk on the head of his seven-month-old little brother, who sat on the floor blinking like a bewildered snow baby, I grabbed my journal and jotted notes about what I was seeing, before stepping in to clean up the mess. Those few seconds bought me time to think, and often to chuckle, before reacting. Over time, searching for the “funny” in the frustrating became a habit and not only helped me find more fun in mothering, but eventually led to a career in writing humor.

These days I try to “catch and keep” the cute things my grandchildren say and do on Facebook, knowing I have a treasury of their “adorable funnies” to re-read, enjoy and share. One of my favorite funny grandkid quips was when my oldest grandson, Nate, was young and asked me, very seriously, if I knew that TV could “rot your brain.”

“Oh, dear,” I said. “Should I turn it off then?”

He answered, “Yes.” Then, wrinkling his brow he appeared to be studying me with concern. Finally shaking his head slowly, he added, “I just hope it’s not too late.”

For awhile, our grandson Georgie lived with us and it like having a short, bright, happy Forrest Gump in the house. He never tried to be funny, his innocence was complete and sincere. Which made him endearingly hilarious. Even this day-dreamy six year old was impressed by how many things his grown-up grandmother could lose or forget in one day. So he was always on his toes with me. The first week I drove him to Kindergarten, I missed the entrance and had to loop back a couple of times. By the second week, he was sitting up in a state of alert as we neared the school. “Nonny! We’re almost at the turn-in place to my school! Stop! LAND HO!”

I cracked up, remembering he’d been watching a lot of Jake and the Neverland Pirates. “Georgie,” I said pulling over into the drop off zone, “I am sorry Nonny is so bad about forgetting things.”

Always looking for a way to encourage me he cheerfully said, “Actually, Nonny. You are really GOOD at forgetting. You are a GREAT forgetter!”

                        A good laugh is sunshine in the house.  William Makepeace Thackeray

Read more about our book, Nourished, and find ordering information by clicking the link on the picture below:

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Nourish Your Relationships: 6 Ways to Be the Crazy Aunt (Or Grandma) Kids Love

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Me and Two of My Favorite Buckaroos: My grandson Georgie and Grand-Niece Jenna

I grew up in a family that adored babies and got a big kick out of the little people among us.

My grandmother Nonny kept the church nursery and when I got to help her by rocking and soothing a fussy baby… I was in heaven. From the moment I got my first child-size rocking chair,  I took the care and feeding of my baby dolls seriously, all my little girl life.  And when I got a real live baby sister, well, call me Little Mama.

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Me, age 4 practicing my nurturing skills on my baby sister. My brother, on the other hand, is calling for back up.

At a typical family reunion, children were the highlight and joy, and telling stories about the cute things they did or said was our favorite form of entertainment. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that I had four children of my own, got a degree in Early Childhood Education, wrote books for children and books for adults filled with funny stories about kids. I would rather sit, talk and play with my grandkids than get a pedicure or eat chocolate cake.

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Shootin’ the Breeze with Littlest Grandson Jackson at my youngest’s wedding this summer

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Goofin’ around with my oldest grandson Nate!

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Hittin’ the slide with sweet grandson Titus

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Getting acquainted with grandson Anthony — soon after his adoption

A few years ago, my cousin Jamie (now a much-in-demand professional nanny) and I were talking about kids with our typical sense of wonder, and how much comic relief they’ve given us through the years.

Jamie suddenly asked. “Can you believe there are people who aren’t bonkers over babies and little ones?”

“I know!” I said.  “Just think of what they are missing…”

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My husband “Poppy” and me with our godsons, Boston & Hudson!

Last week I got to take care of a little darlin’ eight-year-old girl, my friend’s daughter, for a few hours.

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A Book Girl, after my own heart!

Here is my Facebook Post from the end of the day:

I will tell you my secret with kids: at some point, try as they might to be shy, they cannot keep themselves from laughing when I am around. My little charge was pretty quiet this morning, a bit shy, using mostly head nods in response while I chatted away.

“I can’t find my apron!” I said, “And I just had it on. I wonder where I put it? I should probably tell you that I forget and lose things alot. I may need your help finding stuff. Oh, well, I will just put on another one. Good thing I have lots of aprons.”

Then I opened the top oven door and burst out laughing. There on the pan was about 50 baby carrots, charred beyond recognition. Carrots I put in the oven and forgot about THREE nights ago. I brought the pan over to this little girl, who was lying on the couch sweetly and said, “Look at this! I burned all these carrots.”

Her eyes got big, and then I added, “I know what you are thinking. It looks like tray of cat poop.” With this she laughed, and began chatting and making herself at home.

A few minutes later I was starting to feel suddenly over-heated so I took off my apron, and realized that I was WEARING the missing one under it, too. The whole time I’d been looking for the missing apron, I had been wearing it! These things, too, amuse small children.

A man, a lawyer friend, who had never had children commented, “Short people scare me. I am so glad there are people like you who love ‘em.”

That started me thinking…..

My nieces, Tori and Whitney snuggled up with me, "Crazy Aunt Becky"

My nieces, Tori and Whitney snuggled up with me, “Crazy Aunt Becky”

And so, off the top of my head, I came up with these suggestions for making friends with the short set.

Be a Hit with Kids! 6 Ideas to Help You Connect with Littles 

1. Be Silly & Helpless:  Laugh at yourself when you goof up – it makes them feel like you need someone to take care of you, and usually they’ll rise to the occasion to help you out.

2. Use the word “poop”: Sometime in your conversation, use the word “poop”. I don’t know why it works but kids will think you are funnier than Will Ferrell. Don’t over-do it, just say it once in a blue moon when they least expect it.

3. Learn to Make PlayDough: This stuff (recipe at end of this blog) makes a large ballof  soft squishy dough in no time. Kids of all ages love to help you stir the ingredients together, and get a charge out of watching the magical way the liquid quickly turns to dough in the pan. Give them a rolling pin, some cookie cutters, some dull plastic knives and they will not only be occupied but, mesmerized. They’ll look at you as if you are the reincarnation of Julia Child and Houdini.

4. Do the Straw Trick:  If you want to have a 7-year-old boy eating out of your hand, all you need is a straw. It takes a little practice but you simply insert one end of the straw into your armpit, folding your arm over it tightly, put the other end of the straw in your mouth and  blow. The noises that come forth will give you Pied Piper-like power over any male under age 12.

5. Flatter Them Like Crazy.  When you ask children about themselves — what they like, what they did today, what they plan to do tomorrow – act like you’ve just seen giant daises sprout from their heads. “What? Are you KIDDING me? You know how to say your COLORS? Like, ALL of them? Do you even know RED? Can you show me RED, because that is a really HARD color to find.”

Then watch them giggle, stand up straight and show off their talents as if they were the world’s greatest authority on Crayons and Rainbows. Flattery will get you everywhere. Spread it on thick.

6. Use Wild Stories to Sedate Them: If small children are upset in that way that makes them act like a rabid dog, make up a wild story to distract them. Say, you forgot to get bananas at the store and now 3-year-old world has fallen apart, life is not worth living, they are inconsolable and perhaps even face down on the floor in a fit of No-Banana-Induced Despair. As we do.

Try saying, “Hey! Did I tell you WHY we have no bananas today?!?  It was because that ol’ hungry purple gorilla. Yes. That’s right. A purple gorilla was sitting in the middle of the grocery aisle yesterday, and eating ALL the bananas. He didn’t even leave ONE teeny tiny banana for any of us other shoppers..”” This should stop the fit in mid-air as their brains latch on to the magnet-like charms of an ever- escalating crazy story. Just keep going with it, making up wilder and wilder scenarios until the child is laughing and ready for re-entry to sanity again.

A new friend-in-the-making, Miss Gabey -- at this year's 4th of July party

A new friend-in-the-making, Miss Gabey — at this year’s 4th of July party

I have found 1) humor and 2) creativity to be the two greatest Secret Weapons to putting more fun into  parenting, grand-parenting, and babysitting.  Or just being a hit with your friend’s kids. No need to be afraid of Short People. They are the world’s greatest source of joy and entertainment, once you figure out what to do with them.

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Best Ever Recipe for Kool-Aid Play-Dough

1 c. flour

1/2 c. salt

2 tsp. cream of tartar

1 tbsp. cooking oil

1 c. water

One packet of unsweetened Kool-aid any color or flavor (or a few drops of food coloring)

Put all ingredients in a saucepan, and stir it until it’s smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is a doughy lump. Put playdough on wax paper and let it cool a little bit. Then make it into a ball and keep it in a sealed container or Zip-loc bag when the kids are finished making their creations.