It was Aristotle who said, “The gods too are fond of a joke.” At the Family Peace Foundation we strive to strengthen families and build an environment where children feel safe, valued and listened to. One very powerful communication tool is using humour.

When children are young they think that any lame joke is hilarious but using humour with teens is fraught with danger.

So it’s important that the Family Peace Foundation provide adult carers with some hints, so that the jokes don’t go down like a lead balloon.

All the psychologists that I have ever met, agree that humour is a great tool to use when communicating with teeenagers (or anyone for that matter.) It breaks down the emotional walls , diffuses tension, can smooth over differences, it can focus their attention and give them a brain bath of feel good chemicals.

So on behalf of the Family Peace Foundation, we have pit together the five golden rules for using humor when talking with children and teenagers:

1. Timing is everything.

Great jokes are all about sequencing and timing. Botch the timing or get the words in the wrong order or forget the punch line and your teenager will be laughing at you, rather than with you.

2. Be funny

Some people are just brilliantly gifted (think of the late Robyn Williams, Louis CK or Chris Rock) at telling funny jokes. If that’s you then go for it. If it’s not you then you might not like to leave the humour to someone who really is funny. A big no no, is the use of sarcasm or put downs, as this can trigger defensiveness and shut down the very communication that you are trying to keep open.

3. There is power in the narrative

Telling a funny story is much easier than telling a funny joke. Quite simply, they are harder to stuff up. If you can learn to tell them well, stories will engage your teens and the lines of communication will remain open. In the olden days we sat around the fireplace or dinner tables and the adults shared their stories, don’t let technology take over that role. There are so many voices in your children’s ears, make sure yours is the loudest.

4. Be self deprecating

At the Family Peace Foundation, we believe that there is no such thing as the perfect parent. One of the cleverest ways of engaging teens with humour is to make fun of yourself. There’s something appealing about adults making fun of something stupid adults have done or said. This empathy can build a bridge for communication…especially with teenagers. You don’t have to be the superhero of every story you tell.

5. Don’t overdo the humour don’t let it use you.

Use humour to reel them in. Once your audience laughs hard they are much more likely to listen closely.  But the need for humour diminishes with the length of the conversation. So don’t become a slave to humour. Use humour sparingly (and well) for maximum effect.

There’s no question that a sense of humour can brighten family life.

Start young by blowing raspberries on a baby’s belly, wearing a silly hat or pretending to fall into a pile of leaves to amuse your toddler. As your children grow into tweens and teens, share puns and jokes as their sense of what’s funny grows more sophisticated. The bottom line is that having a laugh together is a great way to connect. A good sense of humour can also make kids smarter, healthier, and better able to cope with challenges.

Laughter really is the best medicine.