The sound of a child’s laughter is a powerful and rewarding experience. As a public speaker, performer, or business leader, understanding what makes kids laugh and how their humor differs from adults can help you build rapport, effectively communicate your message, and leave a lasting impact on your young audience. Mastering the art of engaging children not only helps you in your professional journey but also enhances your communication skills in various settings. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the science of making kids laugh, provide practical tips to help you engage with young audiences, and highlight what to avoid when addressing children.
Children’s humor differs significantly from that of adults. According to a study by McGhee (1979), children’s humor develops in stages, with each stage reflecting their cognitive, social, and emotional development. Younger children, for instance, find humor in physical actions and simple incongruities, while older children appreciate more sophisticated wordplay and jokes (1).
1. Embrace “Impolite” Humor:
Research suggests that children find “rude” or “naughty” humor particularly hilarious (2). Topics like smelly socks, underwear, and bodily functions can elicit laughter from young audiences. Including a few age-appropriate “impolite” jokes (such as a personal experience story) can help you build rapport and make your presentation more engaging. Use these sparingly and appropriately. (Do Not be creepy, racist, or call out any kids in the audience to make a joke at their expense.)
2. Use the Rule of Three:
The Rule of Three is a principle that suggests things are inherently funnier in threes (3). This concept applies to children’s humor as well, making it an effective tool to engage young audiences. Incorporate the Rule of Three into your jokes or stories to create memorable and humorous moments.
3. Play with Language:
Children enjoy playing with words and exploring new sounds. Use silly language, rhymes, and even nonsensical words to engage their imagination and make them laugh.
4. Incorporate Songs and Music:
Music can be a powerful tool for engaging children. Silly songs or rhythmic speech can capture their attention and make your presentation more enjoyable.
5. Balance Fear and Laughter:
Children enjoy feeling scared, but only to a certain extent. Introduce mild suspense or mystery into your stories without overwhelming them to strike the perfect balance between fear and laughter (4).
6. Keep It Active and Interactive:
Children have shorter attention spans than adults and need more action to stay engaged (5). Keep your presentation lively and interactive, acting out moments and using facial expressions and voices to maintain their interest.
7. Communicate with Your Audience:
Establish a connection with your young audience by looking them in the eye and acknowledging their presence. Encourage their participation and respond to their feedback to create a shared experience.
8. Surprise Them with Unexpected Reactions:
An unexpected reaction or twist can make a joke or story funnier for children. By subverting their expectations and introducing surprising elements, you can keep them on their toes and increase the humorous impact. For example, if a character in your story is expected to scream when they’re scared, have them laugh instead. This unexpected reaction will create a memorable and amusing moment for your young audience.
9. Play with Fear – But Not Too Much:
Children enjoy the thrill of being scared, but only to a certain extent. Introduce mild suspense or mystery into your stories without overwhelming them. Strike the perfect balance between fear and laughter by adding playful and spooky elements that will intrigue and entertain the children without causing undue distress.
10. Keep the Action Going:
Kids love action-packed stories, so keep any anecdotes full of excitement and consider acting out moments to engage your audience further. Utilize physical comedy and animated storytelling to maintain their interest and make your performance more dynamic and appealing.
11. Use Facial Expressions and Voices:
Utilize various facial expressions and voices to bring your stories to life. For example, pretend to be a buzzing fly with exaggerated facial expressions, and children will likely find it hilarious. Experimenting with different characters and sounds can create a fun and engaging atmosphere for your young audience.
12. Communicate with Your Audience:
Establish a connection with your young audience by looking them in the eye, acknowledging their presence, and making them feel involved. Encourage their participation and respond to their feedback to create a shared experience. By adjusting your performance based on their reactions, you make them feel valued and engaged.
13. Reactions Matter:
A character’s reaction to something not being funny can itself be very funny, especially if it’s the opposite of what’s expected. For example, if a character slips on a banana peel, their overly dramatic or nonchalant reaction can amplify the humor of the situation.
14. Commit to Larger-Than-Life Characters:
When acting out characters in a joke or story, fully commit to their larger-than-life personalities. Embody their mannerisms, expressions, and voices to captivate your young audience. This level of commitment will inspire children to retell your joke or story with the same enthusiasm and enjoyment.
15. Tread Carefully with Romance:
Children often find romance and kissing stories “gross” rather than endearing. Instead of expecting an “aww,” be prepared for a “yuck!” However, you can still use this reaction to your advantage by incorporating it into your performance or joke, making the situation more relatable and humorous.
16. End on a Big Laugh:
Aim to end your performance with the biggest laugh. If you notice that a particular moment consistently generates the most laughter, consider ending your routine there. This will leave your young audience wanting more and eagerly anticipating your next appearance.
Children have limited patience for lengthy setups and delayed punchlines. Keep your jokes concise and to the point, ensuring a faster payoff and sustained engagement.
Avoid overly cynical humor or jokes targeted at adults, as these may not resonate with children and could diminish your efforts to connect with them.
3. Patronizing Tone:
Children can sense when they’re being talked down to and don’t appreciate condescending attitudes. Speak to them in a respectful and age-appropriate manner, acknowledging their intelligence and understanding.
4. Underestimating Children’s Comprehension:
Never underestimate a child’s ability to understand and remember information. They often have an impressive capacity for retaining details and can surprise you with their insights.
While some exaggeration is useful for comedic effect, avoid overdoing it. Children can follow your performance if you speak clearly and articulate your words.
6. Forgetting Audience Interaction:
Remember to make your young audience a part of the experience by engaging with them and involving them in your performance. Active communication with the children helps them feel more connected and invested in the experience.
7. Getting Grumpy with Audience Interruptions:
It’s important to maintain a positive attitude when dealing with interruptions from children. Instead of getting angry or frustrated, try to manage these moments with patience and understanding. However, if interruptions become excessive, address them calmly and firmly to maintain control of your performance.
Note: It’s okay if kids are quiet. That means they’re listening. –and they won’t always find the same things funny as you expect. It may be something completely different.
Understanding and adapting to the preferences and sensibilities of children can greatly enhance your ability to engage and entertain them as a speaker. By focusing on elements that kids enjoy and avoiding potential pitfalls, you can create a memorable and enjoyable experience for both you and your young audience.
What are your favorite ways to make a child laugh? Do you use any of these? Share your ideas, please!