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Ask the Experts

My Child Laughs at Everything

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

My 9-year-old daughter laughs uncontrollably at everything, even when it's not funny. It gets very embarrassing. Even when she's in trouble she laughs. She can't control herself. What can I do to help her get this giggling under control?

Answer:

There are a couple of possibilities here, but first let's talk about laughter in general. Laughter is a unique type of human expression that involves complex physiological and emotional processes. It is thought that laughter does several things for us: it can lower stress, reduce pain, improve our blood pressure, help us cope with feelings such as sadness or anger and enhance social interactions. In short, laughing can make us feel better.

With that in mind, what makes a child laugh at inappropriate times? Often it stems from discomfort or anxiety. Perhaps your daughter is masking underlying feelings when she laughs at the wrong moments (such as when she's in trouble) or she is so uncomfortable that she laughs in an unintentional attempt to cope with her feelings. You might try talking to her about it at a time when she is not in trouble, and when the topic of conversation isn't so heavy. We're all familiar with the stress of having to keep silent or keep still in a serious situation, then having uncontrollable giggles (made all the worse by the need to keep quiet). Try to be understanding when she tells you she can't help it.

Another possibility is that your daughter has figured out that her silly laughter really gets on your nerves. Children can be really good at pushing our "buttons," and 9-year-olds in particular love to do it. Getting Mom or Dad rattled is endlessly entertaining, especially when one is otherwise in trouble. Think about it - when she laughs like that, you get side-tracked from whatever you were lecturing her about because you focus on the laughter. It lets her off the hook, and it reinforces the behavior. If this seems to be the case, the best way to handle it is to tell her calmly that you don't like the behavior, and that you will not respond to her when she acts that way. Then, walk away from her or have her leave the room until she can act appropriately.


Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

05/12/2010:
"My 5 year old daughter often laughs silly during the day and now I'm kind of remembering myself when I was a child cause I used to act the same way, even not being able to control myself when I was told to stop it. Of course I always let her know how unappropriated it is but inside me, I feel embarrased cause I felt that she acts like that because I kind of 'inheritated it' to her. But now that I'm reading, I might realize that probably my mom used to have some kind of stressing behavior against me that I am now repeating against my daughter. I hope that someone else could comment about how to identify and defend our children from our own repeating behaviors."
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