Researchers believe parents who joke and pretend with their toddlers are helping their children develop life skills.
For many parents, this involvement occurs naturally, however, for some reluctant parents, they can learn to “play around” by merely spending more time with their children.
“Parents, carers and early years educators shouldn’t underestimate the importance of interacting with young children through jokes and pretending,” said researcher Elena Hoicka, Ph.D. “Spending time doing this fun stuff with kids helps them learn how to do it themselves and gives them a set of skills which are important in childhood and beyond.”
Researchers believe parents should be informed of the benefits of joking and pretending with children. Often, all that is needed is a boost in parents’ confidence – easily accomplished through hands-on activitites.
Hoicka’s study examined how two very similar concepts of joking and pretending develop in children aged between 15 and 24 months. Hoicka said: “Both involve intentionally doing or saying the wrong thing. However, joking is about doing something wrong just for the sake of it. In contrast, pretending is about doing something wrong which is imagined to be right. For example, parents might use a sponge like a duck while pretending but use a cat as a duck when joking.”
The study examined whether parents offer different cues such as tone or pitch of voice in order to help their toddlers understand and differentiate between joking and pretending.
Findings reveal that parents rely on a range of language styles, sound and non-verbal cues. For example, when pretending, parents often talk slowly and loudly and repeat their actions.
Conversely, parents tend to cue their children to jokes by showing their disbelief through language, and using a more excited tone of voice.
“We found that most parents employ these different cues quite naturally to help their toddlers understand and differentiate these concepts,” Hoicka said.
“While not all parents feel confident in their natural abilities, the research does show that making the effort to interact in this way with toddlers is important. Knowing how to joke is great for making friends, dealing with stress, thinking creatively and learning to ‘think outside the box’. Pretending helps children learn about the world, interact with others, be creative and solve problems.”