Updated: Jul 8
Laughter has been known to improve the health of people of all ages for a long time. The act boosts our immune systems, stimulates the release of endorphins, and even relieves us of physical pain by producing natural painkillers within the body. So, we know that we should be laughing, for the sake of our own physical health. But, what about laughter’s psychological benefits? How do the jokes that we make in our everyday lives—starting in childhood—impact our development as human beings?
Well, it turns out that joking itself has incredible psychological benefits for all of us, children in particular.
Kids who Process and Return a Joke as Children Display Greater Social Competence as Adults
Jokes are incredible ways to develop your child’s social competence. One key way psychologists determine the social capabilities of children is in assessing the child’s ability to wrap their head around the “humor frame.” Put simply: Hearing jokes, understanding that they are funny, and producing something funny in return is a fundamental social ability that starts developing in childhood and is crucially important for the rest of our lives.
Joking is also a fantastic emotional tool. It can be so hard to say exactly how we feel, especially as children, faced with powerful and intimidating adults at home and at school. What jokes can offer kids in this setting is the chance to say exactly what they are feeling, safely and thoughtfully. Lighthearted joking lets the joker “test the waters,” allowing them to share real emotion and opinion under the guise of a witty quip. This is so important for children learning to make friends and to interact with superiors, offering them a chance to articulate their own personal feelings in a way that is socially acceptable—and even socially beneficial!
Author: Sarah-Eva Marchese
and Anna Chard
Jokes Help Children Learn How to Bond
Jokes are also fantastic ways to bond with the people around us. One study found that groups of people who spent more time laughing, engaging in what was called “silly” behavior, objectively bonded much faster and stronger than groups that interacted with each other in a more serious way. Now, this makes sense logically; I’m sure each of us has felt like one-liners and banter make us or others more relatable, but it isn’t quite so easy to understand why this is the case.
It turns out that a lot of the psychology behind the phenomenon is due to exactly what we were just thinking about: social competence, which is often measured by psychologists in terms of the child’s ability to understand a “humor frame.” If everyone in a group of people is able to read the tone of the people around them, and if they all feel safe sharing how they’re feeling (carefully), then the group dynamic will be strong. In other words, socially competent people begets socially strong dynamics. The more humor there is in a relationship, the more the children will be able to confidently build relationships in their family and beyond. Everyone will feel a sense of belonging, and their ability to connect with the people around them on a more intimate level will strengthen their individual relationships.
Again, for children, feeling bonded to their classmates, friends, and peers more generally is so crucial during early developmental years; while everything around children is moving and changing and growing—and as they are moving, changing, and growing themselves.—feeling connected to and grounded by those around us is fundamentally valuable for their psychological well being.
Jokes are a Critical Tool for Teaching Healthy Humility
Finally, joking teaches kids to be humble and to not take themselves so seriously. One great method of teaching humility with humor is through the use of the classic dad joke trope, one study found. This kind of “rough-and-tumble” social interaction actually helps kids develop their emotional resilience. In doing so, the joking parent enables the child to practice taking small amounts of negativity in stride—and to respond to that negativity productively—instead of being offended by what could be thought of as a personal attack.
“Dad jokes” also remind kids that embarrassment is a totally okay feeling! There is value in being able to handle the short-term embarrassment that sometimes comes with being your authentic, imperfect self. The sooner we internalize this reality, the more secure and carefree we will feel in social situations. If we can share understanding with children from a young age, we can help them develop a crucially important social skill-set that will prepare them to be fantastic, confident young people.
How to Add More Jokes into Your Family
Jokes are incredibly important tools in the psychological development of socially capable and secure kids. Most importantly, however, jokes allow us to think more about the content of our interactions than about our dynamics with other people. This shift is a sign of being socially secure and confident. They relax our social defense mechanisms and offer us an opportunity to be present in our day-to-day interactions, which is mentally beneficial as well as simply more fun.
As parents, it is important to include humor in our kids’ everyday life. It doesn’t have to be a crazy, time-consuming undertaking at all. Here are three really easy and quick ways to add it into your life, even if you don’t feel like humor comes naturally to you:
Try slipping funny banter into car ride conversations
Put a joke of the day in your child's lunch box
Don’t be afraid to poke fun at yourself or simply laugh and acknowledge when you make a mistake!
Being a parent will for many of us feel like the greatest and most important task we ever undertake. In our effort to exert the right amount of authority and get the homework done on time, it’s easy to forget the most important gift we can give our children is not just to teach them humor but to show it in our parenting. Doing so will create the strongest bond within your family, and set kids up to create similarly strong bonds as adults. The more humor we can add to our kids’ days, the happier, healthier, and more capable they will be.
Here is a list of some of the best jokes to share with children.
What do you call a famous fish?
What kind of cheese can never be yours?
Why don’t elephants need suitcases?
Because they already have trunks!
Orange you going to answer the door?
What animal always breaks the law?
What did 0 say to 8?
What did one ocean say to the other?
Nothing. They just waved.
6. Why do bananas put on sunscreen before they go to the beach?
So they don’t peel.
Why don't crabs give to charity?
Because they're shell-fish.
Where do fish save their money?
In the river bank.
Why did the fisherman put peanut butter into the sea?
To go with the jellyfish.
Did you hear the rumor about butter?
Better not spread it.
What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back?
What’s the favorite fruit of twins?
What do you call a pig that knows karate?
A pork chop.
What do you call a fish with no eyes?
Why did the chicken cross the playground?
To get to the other slide.
What do you give a sick lemon?
What do you call a sleeping bull?
What side of a cat has the most fur?
What do you call a snowman with a sun tan?
What sound do porcupines make when they kiss?
What did the slow tomato say to the others?
Don't worry; I'll ketchup.
How does Darth Vader like his toast?
On the dark side.
What’s black and white and black and white and black and white?
A penguin rolling down a hill.
How do celebrities stay cool?
They have lots of fans.
What did the fisherman say to the magician?
Pick a cod, any cod.
How do bees get to school?
On the school buzz.
What do you call a flying police officer?
What do you call a fake noodle?
Why can’t leopards play hide-and-seek?
They’re always spotted!
Why don't eggs tell jokes?
They'd crack each other up.
What do you get from nervous cows?
Why was the broom late?
What has two legs but can’t walk?
A pair of pants!
What’s a pretzel’s favorite dance?
How do you make a tissue dance?
Put a little boogie in it.
What’s a tree’s favorite drink?
What did the egg say to the frying pan?
You crack me up.
What do you call cheese that isn’t yours?
What is a kitten’s favorite color?
Why did the cat run away from the tree?
He was afraid of the bark!
What do elves learn in school?
What’s a ghost’s favorite fruit?
What’s brown and sticky?
Bergen, Doris. (2003). Humour as a Resource for Children. In E. Vanderheiden & C-H. Mayer (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Humour Research (Chapter 16). Palgrave Macmillan.
Graham, E. E., Papa, M. J., & Brooks, G. P. (1992). Functions of humor in conversation: Conceptualization and measurement. Western Journal of Communication (Includes Communication Reports), 56(2), 161–183.
“Humor: How It Affects Your Mental Health and What You Can Do to Develop a Good Sense of Humor.” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/how-does-humor-affect-mental-health.
Hye-Knudsen, Marc. Dad Jokes and the Deep Roots of Fatherly Teasing. 22 Feb. 2021, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/357773918_Dad_Jokes_and_the_Deep_Roots_of_Fatherly_Teasing.
Savage, Brandon M et al., “Humor, Laughter, Learning, and Health! A Brief Review.” Advance in Physiology Education, The American Physiological Society, 29 Mar. 2017, https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/advan.00030.2017.
Terrion, J. L., & Ashforth, B. E. (2002). From ‘I ’to ‘we’: The role of putdown humor
and identity in the development of a temporary group. Human Relations, 55(1), 55–88.