Children’s Mental Health Week (set up by the children’s mental health charity, Place2Be), runs from 3-9th February 2020. In order to raise awareness of this, the Early Childhood Team have decided to collaborate to create a resource to be shared with students on their Early Childhood Programme, for them to also share with their colleagues, families and local communities.
This resource includes the team’s own particular avenues of interest relating to young children’s mental health, as well as suggestions for useful resources and activities to support students in exploring this highly valuable topic further.
Rachel Strisino explores the value of laughter for children’s mental health.
Time for a Sniggle
We’ve all heard about how children are struggling to cope with everyday life. The Children’s Society, Good Childhood report, 2017, summaries that children are most happy when they are with their families and least happy when they are at school.
Since 2009 children are less happy with their friends, life as a whole and their appearance. Breaking this down further, girls appear to be unhappier with friends, friendships and appearances, whilst boys are unhappy with their school performances. As children get older, gender as a whole, (gender neutral and trans-gender) appears to play a significant factor in shaping the levels of happiness. If this is what research is suggesting, perhaps we should look more closely at how boys and girls laugh. For example, it could be suggested that boys and girls both laugh in different ways – girls giggle and boys snigger – hence if we combine the two we have a sniggle! A gender-neutral approach. So back to the school and nursery setting. We all know how much pressure there is even on young children to be assessed, measured, behave and on adults to do the best they can. Sometimes this can make early years settings a little too serious. So why don’t we laugh more? There is a large body of academic evidence and internet sources that celebrate the health and well-being benefits for all of us:
Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
Laughter lightens anger’s heavy load. Nothing diffuses anger and conflict faster than a shared laugh. Looking at the funny side can put problems into perspective and enable you to move on from confrontations without holding onto bitterness or resentment.
But, having a laugh can be seen in some situations as negative. My research has uncovered three key potential reasons why;
- Laughter as a way of showing superiority. Joy is not the source of laughter, but that it arises out of believing someone to be beneath the one who laughs.
Derision – Scornful, ridicule, mockery
2) Incongruity – out of place in the context and could distinguish between the vulgar and well-bred in terms of the context that laughing takes place
3) Psychology – often based in ‘relief’ theories. That laughter occurs when you are released from a constraining situation. Freud in particular explains ‘wit’ and laughing as a release mechanism for the psyche to save from psychological expenditure.
It could also link to the relationship of adults and children.
- By default, because of their immaturity children will always be in a power hierarchy with adults.
- Adults may feel if they let the children laugh in class too much they have lost control.
- Adults may feel that the act of teaching, learning and assessing is not achievable if we engage in frivolous activities such as laughing.
- That there is a time and a place for a laugh – generally not in school
- And children may find it difficult to ‘calm’ down if we have encouraged them to laugh.
Globally laughter therapy and laughter yoga are gaining large amounts of followers, particularly in educational settings.
There are lots of videos available – try searching ‘laughter yoga with small children’.
You know your children best so how you adapt the session would be up to you.
But some guidelines offered by the Laughter Yoga University in India are: (https://laughteryoga.org/guidelines-for-laughter-exercises-with-children/ )
Let children choose to be an animal
Play follow the leader
Goldfish face laughter
Intersperse your session and even throughout the day with songs that make children happy.
By Rachel Strisino
You can read the rest of the team’s responses to Children’s Mental Health Week here: