I have never quite understood how it became socially acceptable to laugh openly AT children, there’s no confusion that it might be WITH, we really laugh AT them. I know it’s a truism that they do say and do the funniest things, but much of the time, they aren’t trying to be funny, much of the time they’re trying to express something that’s extremely important to them.
During a movement workshop in a lovely RC school in central Birmingham, a very keen six year old girl kept asking if she could show me her Irish dancing, and I had replied, yes, that would be lovely, but could she please wait and show me at the end of the session.
Once we’d finished the workshop, she came over to me and very politely asked if NOW she could please show me her Irish dancing. I said yes, now would be perfect and she very deliberately got herself into her proper start position, took a deep breath, and began to dance.
It was possibly the funniest piece of movement I have ever seen. There isn’t a comedian alive who could perform a more hilarious skit on traditional Irish dance, and what made it even funnier was the complete seriousness with which it was performed. I knew I couldn’t laugh aloud, it would have destroyed her, she was putting her heart and soul into her dancing. So I bit my lip and held back the tears of laughter starting to well up in my eyes, concentrating on the respect she deserved to be shown. When she came to her grand finale, I exploded into appreciative applause and praise, and she left the hall with a spring in her step and a proud swish in her ponytail, leaving me free to allow myself a little chuckle in private. She was adorable, and it was a delight to watch her.
The cues were pretty obvious on this occasion, but it can be easy to forget how fragile their little egos are, how easily bruised their sense of self can be at such a young age.
Perhaps you can remember events from your own childhood where you experienced a careless laugh or something of import dismissed by an adult. These things stick with us, and it’s really easy to forget that some throwaway comment or reaction can be deeply wounding to a child.
Of course I’m not advocating a total ban on laughing when children are funny, we all know how delightful it can be when a child realises they’ve made the grown-ups laugh and then they milk the joke for all it’s it worth. I’m just suggesting a little sensitivity, and the baseline rule is true in this as in all things - would you like it if it was you?
Once again, you just can’t know what is going to stick in the super receptive child’s mind. Something seemingly trivial can be there for decades, forever even, so try not to give fuel to the fire of a future therapist’s bank balance and instead bolster the strength in your youngster’s power of individuality.