Ya Gotta Have Fun
Parenting kids from hard places is often filled with trauma and pain. So in our families, even more than others, we need the benefits of laughter. You probably have noticed this on your own, without reading any scientific journals. When you are able to step back and laugh at how ridiculous your situation is, it helps! When you are able to be joyful and notice the sweet moments throughout the day it gives you the strength to keep moving forward.
But there is actually science proving what we have felt to be true all along.
The Mayo Clinic reports,
Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen, which then stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
Laughter increases and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. This increase and decrease actually leaves you more relaxed than before you laughed. Which is why you often sigh and slouch after a good laugh.
Laughter stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress, like headaches and muscle tension.
Laughter makes it easier to cope with difficult situations.
Laughter helps you connect with other people and increases trust and intimacy.
Laughter lessens your depression and anxiety and makes you feel happier.
So the challenge for you as a parent is then, how to bring laughter into your home that is often a place of stress. It must be a conscious decision. As parents we must choose to follow the Q-TIP rule (Quit Taking It Personally). When drama is flying around your home at MACH-5 you need to sit back and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Just as a gratitude journal helps increase your thankfulness at the end of the day, finding someone to laugh with in the moment, helps increase your joy during the day and connect with those you are trying to love.
One of the best ways to create an environment of laughter is to play together. It is easy to do with babies. You hold them in your arms and make funny faces and sounds and they giggle, which makes us giggle. The sound of a baby laughing is the cutest! However, playing together becomes more of a challenge as they get older. You may have to become a bit more creative to but finding moments of laughter and play will help improve your child's functioning. As Sergio Pellis a Canadian researcher told NPR, Unstructured free play "changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain... It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain's executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems... Play, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork."
If you have been reading my blogs you may remember that mothers who are stressed during pregnancy, often pass on higher levels of cortisol to their children which can last for years after they are born (Attachment Blog April 2018). But now we learn that laughter and unstructured play can decrease cortisol levels. Attachment Disorders often create strain and stress as the child struggles to figure out how to relate to adults. It may take years, but laughter and play will allow the child to learn how to trust and bond with their family.
In Chapter 16 of The Call to Love I share some of the ways that we intentionally created moments of laughter for our family. Like the time we went zip lining in Tennessee. It was not something I was looking forward to, but laughing above the tree tops really did decrease my fear of heights and bonded us together as a family. There are seasons when we have been able to afford trips to Disney, but there are also times that we have just shared a good laugh over one of Roy's Dad Jokes.
The opposite of play is not work, but depression -Dr. Stuart Brown
As parents, Roy and I try our best to put ourselves out there and create moments of laughter and play with our kids in order to make our home a place for healing and hope.
So your challenge for this week is to try to laugh a little more than you did last week. I know it's hard. I know you have a lot of stress going on within the walls of your home. But if you can create moments of laughter and play it will help improve your life as well as healing the brains of your children. I'd love to hear what you did and how it worked! Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Check out Roy's blog from Feb 2018 on the importance of father's spending time with daughters in order to build those relationships as well as his blog from July 2018 on how to play and connect with teens.
2. Real Simple's article, The 5 Health Benefits of Play is a great easy read continuing this conversation.
3. The American Psychological Society's Journal Publication on how laughter and play decreases stress hormones is a little more challenging read, but quite interesting.
4. This NPR article on how play builds better brains in children gave me some of the information I used to write this blog. I found it helpful and you might as well.