The things that parents or teachers think are funny might be not so funny to kids - and vice versa. Although kids often derive a sense of humor from family, friends and teachers, there can be some dissonance between groups which leads to kids laughing at inappropriate times in various settings. While laughing can be almost an automatic response to something a kid observes or thinks, there are some ways to help them realize that they can choose when and how they laugh.
Children vary in their self-control abilities at different ages and developmental stages. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, preschool children might be able to learn how not to interrupt while elementary-age children may be able to learn how to express anger appropriately (instead of hit or scream). Since laughing is often automatic, with little space between the stimulus and the behavior, it is important to be realistic with expectations of how quickly children will be able to control laughing. This may take time and plenty of practice.
Talk About Laughing
Open an honest discussion with kids about laughing and the different reasons people laugh. Laughing is funny and some people even report that it's therapeutic, according to Luke Burbank of National Public Radio. A problem arises when kids laugh at someone else's misfortune or jokes that others do not find funny. Talk to kids about what they find funny, times they've laughed when it's inappropriate or have been laughed at, how they feel when they laugh or others laugh at them and how they think the sense of humor develops. Many kids might relate to the humor they watch on television or see in their friends.
Model Appropriate Laughing
Since children are always watching others and the adults in their lives, it is important to model laughing in appropriate circumstances. Parents or educators can talk all day about when laughing is appropriate and when it's not, but if they aren't walking their talk kids will pick that up, too. Share examples from your life and talk about the different types of humor we can use at home, school, church or a friend's house and how laughing can be perceived by others. KidsHealth.org also recommends staying away from bathroom jokes, especially for young kids.
What can children do when they feel compelled to laugh at inappropriate times? Kids need to know they are making choices all of the time. Even though laughing is pretty automatic, help children see they still get to choose if they laugh. Ask them to notice the choice to laugh and what comes right before. For example, they might notice a giddy feeling and then the laugh, or excitement and then the laugh. Share ways to notice feelings and still choose how we respond, such as taking a break when they feel the need to laugh while taking a few slow, deep breaths.
Teach children how to observe others, notice how they feel and choose not to laugh. Practice role playing some silly scenarios where a child might be inclined to laugh and share how to listen, empathize and take deep breaths instead. According to child psychologist Kara T. Tamanini, who writes at kidsawarenessseries.com, the combination of talking with kids, teaching them how to respond appropriately and practicing real-life situations will help children learn to discern and learn necessary social skills.