When my children were small and all of us were restrained in seat-belts in the car, invariably bickering among my angels would erupt. If unable to stop the car, singing didn’t help, and to prevent general mayhem within such close quarters, I developed a different approach. Laughing.
Now if you dare to assume I laughed AT the tiny objects of my affections, think again. No, I simply began to force a laugh, that once started proceeded to build into a real unstoppable kind of laughter found only in arenas where great standup comics perform. I know you think this is not possible but it is. Try it. Well, try it when no one else is around. I agree that you might feel strange, a bit off in the head, or silly, but it works.
In the front seat of my car, without reluctance, I would begin to laugh. A real guffaw, no less. Regardless of the looks from passers-by, others sitting at the traffic light, or from the pedestrian who likes to study human nature, I let the laughter loose. My sweeties, in the rear seat stopped all commotion and listened.
“What’s so funny, mommy?” they would demand. I would breathlessly shake my head and just keep laughing. It didn’t take long until the children began to laugh as well. Honestly it is a very contagious behavior similar to yawning. The difference is that laughing creates a neurological change. According to Robin Dunbar, a psychologist at Oxford, the exercise in the muscles of the face actually trigger an increase in endorphins, those brain chemicals that make you feel good. He found in his studies that social laughter creates bonding between individuals and a change in the temperament of everyone involved. Smiling can do the same.
At that time in my life, I really doubt I considered this research at all, however, in doing my own I found that it did exactly that. It created a positive bond in my children and in myself. Not only did my children end their squabbles but they began to interact in very positive ways and I lost the stressful feelings that had begun to cloud my brain.
Needless to point out, I decided to try this at school. When I became aware of stress in the classroom, between students, between myself and students or between the work and the students, I would tell a funny story, a joke or simply laugh. It worked. The anxiety of the situation immediately changed and I was able to help students through the stress of whatever was involved if they were not able to turn around their feeling on their own. Of course this was far from any kind of controlled experiment, but I didn’t let that stop me.
Later as I worked with students who were severely learning disabled and suffered from different behavioral disorders, I found that laughter would often save the moment. It would turn attitudes of defeat, anger, and low self-worth crises toward more promising positive potential and students were able to function more effectively.
I learned to model how to laugh at oneself. My personality naturally offers a frequent target for such behavior. As students observed that laughing at their own mistakes or those things that seem to overwhelm them on a regular basis, they not only benefited from the increased brain chemicals but they learned to recognize feelings within themselves that might create despair. This became a healthy coping strategy to negative encounters. It also allowed discussion about feelings, how laughing with someone is different from laughing at someone.
And though I may not have been thought of as the smartest teacher in the world, and I might have been seen as the oddest teacher my students had ever had, the results of this tiny, miraculous and successful technique for behavioral management was worth it. To this day, I habitually use this easily accessible method for breaking tension between adults I am around and without calling much attention to myself or my methods. I can turn a situation completely around simply by finding the humor in it.
I dare you to try it. Learn to deflect negativity, worry, and dread, tension, conflict and stress with a smile, a laugh, and a rip-roaring fit of glee. It’s contagious and it works.
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