What is big and yellow and comes in the morning to brighten a mother’s day? The school bus! For single parents, or parents who both work full time, child care is a great solution. Even parents who stay home with their children can appreciate the much-needed break that preschool provides—but all parents want to know that their kids are going somewhere that is safe with an environment that will foster their growth and wellbeing.
The first 5 years of life is a fundamental time in a child’s development. Their minds are very limber, they acquire skills like understanding language and rhythm, they learn to read, and they fine tune their motor skills. Studies have shown that stress can be toxic to healthy development during these years. Abuse, neglect, illness, and injury can lead to negative emotional and physical challenges later in life.
But stress is not just experienced by toddlers who are neglected or abused. We are not born with coping skills; they are developed over time. We all know how stressful new experiences can be, like the first day at a new job. Think about how stressful it would feel for everything to be a new experience. Children can feel overwhelmed, even when they don’t express these feelings out loud.
Toddlers who have a strong, positive emotional connection to their parents and caregivers exhibit lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in their brains. Cortisol tells your body it’s in danger and instigates the ‘fight or flight’ response. Although some cortisol is normal, high levels have been linked to many negative health effects, including obesity. In small children, excess cortisol can stunt their physical growth and even their brain development.
High levels of cortisol are no joke, but what do you suppose is the best medicine for lowering stress? You’ve got it—laughter! As parents, we want our children to learn all they can during these developmental windows of opportunity, but let’s not take these early stages of life too seriously.
It’s important to choose a school or care center that fosters your child’s education and encourages laughter and play. Besides the benefit of lowering your own stress with their contagious laughter, here are 3 other reasons why it is so important that children laugh.
Humor bonds those who share it together. Laughing with others is powerful. It triggers feel-good emotions, creating a stress-free environment where people feel more uninhibited. It has been linked to living longer, being more creative, and having a better overall state of health. By laughing with your children, you will create a warm environment that is free from criticism and encourages openness.
When children are exposed to humor, they naturally pick up on how humor strengthens relationships and attracts others to us. Try using humor the next time you are trying to diffuse conflict. Kids learn through experience, with the right example your kids will learn how humor can help them foster healthy relationships of their own.
Humor is a very healthy coping mechanism, making it an important part of our mental and emotional health. It can act as a buffer in stressful situations, like during disagreements. It also can help people through difficult times or heal painful situations. When you laugh, you naturally feel more relaxed and re-energized to face the world again.
Children don’t have the life experience that adults do. This is beneficial, in that they also don’t understand the severity of certain situations, like financial troubles. Because they are not yet equipped to cope with heavy burdens like this, it is better that they don’t understand. But not understanding situations doesn’t mean that they are immune to the stress others are feeling around them. Children are very in tune with their environment. How you cope with life will become their learned behaviors.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t teach kids that some things are serious, but a healthy balance is necessary for kids to grow into emotionally well-adjusted adults. This will help them deal with life stressors, develop good relationships, and work well with others in the future.
We have already discussed what profound effects laughter can have on your mental state, and its ability to lower your cortisol levels. But did you also know that it actually has positive physical repercussions as well? Studies have shown that giggling can actually have a positive impact on your body by:
- Stimulating organs—increasing your oxygen flow, stimulating your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increasing the amount of endorphins released into your brain.
- Relieving stress—by lowering your blood pressure and your heart rate.
- Taming tension—by stimulating your circulation and relaxing muscles.
- Improving immune function—positive thoughts help to release neuropeptides that fight off major illnesses.
- Relieving pain—by producing endorphins and releasing natural pain relievers into your system.
With so many benefits, encourage your children to chuckle tonight! Pull out the funnies, turn on a show, and enjoy getting healthy—the silly way!