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The high value of humor in the home

By Hattie ClarkStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 14, 1988



Chicago

Go for it - a good guffaw. A belly laugh does wonders for one's day, says Sandra Meggert, who flies around the United States conducting workshops on the high value of humor.

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She doesn't promise that humor will turn one's life into a merry-go-round of clowns - but it can defuse a family's firecracker moments, or coax the tenseness out of an up-tight job situation.

Dr. Meggert, a resident of Seattle, works in the field of counseling and guidance. She contends that adding dashes of humor to daily life ``is based on the philosophy that we do have choices about how we respond in any given situation. We can respond with anger, or with humor, or however we choose.''

Meggert grew up with a jovial father who fielded jokes freely. So she's convinced humor is handy to have around the house. And parents must be the models.

But nix to ribbing, ragging, or razzing, because these brands of humor laugh at youngsters, making them the brunt of the jokes. Meggert condones only laughing with a person, or laughing at oneself.

Parents know about humor, but often they don't use it, she says. That's because they're so busy trying to make their kids do something - or not do something. Humor gets edged out by shouts, sharp words, and the no-Oreos-for-you pronouncements.

In the end, kids may shape up under this laughless regime. Then again, they may not. For some, obedience may run only skin deep while underneath, they seethe.

It's Meggert's view that when humor abounds, kids are more prone to choose to follow parents' bidding. The verbal tugs of war scale down to give-and-take parleys.

Sometimes humor comes built-in, but more often than not, it needs cultivating. So Meggert lists skills parents can practice to bring humor into the home.

First off, ``laugh at yourself,'' she advises. ``Be able to tell a funny story about yourself,'' your foibles, your mishaps.

Kids pick up this approach, learning that they, too, can both profit - and laugh - at their own mistakes. It's a strategy that teaches them to roll with the ups and downs rather than fall flat with defeats.

``And learn to create puns. Use them to break the intensity of situations,'' she says. ``It sometimes takes a big shift in thinking,'' but here's how Meggert suggests a family go about a punning program.

Use pencil and paper at the beginning until the thinking process becomes so automatic that it can be done in the head. Draw a circle, and write a main topic within. In this instance, write in ``telephone,'' an apropos choice, since the pretend situation finds a teen-age daughter constantly on the phone - much to her dad's dismay.

Numerous spokes should radiate from the circle, and on each, place a related word such as ``dial, numbers, receiver, cord, ring, caller, etc. Now play with the words in unusual ways until a pun appears,'' Meggert explains. And she comes up with ``ring around the caller.'' Parents can press their point this way, with a pun, when laying down the law. Or, with anger. It's their choice.

``The things that irritate us are generally behaviors. It's not that we dislike a person - it's that we dislike what they're doing,'' she says. Punning can underscore inappropriate actions rather than condemn people.

Meggert, who has sung alto in a string of choirs and choruses, also likes to put some singing into a family's overall humor plan. When a five-year-old child tracks mud across the kitchen floor, mom might sing her complaints.

Since it's different from the usual ``Don't do that!'' the melodic complaint might register more. And when kids have gripes, tell them to ``sing it,'' or no one will listen.

Singing, like punning and laughing at oneself, serves to distance people from the fracas at hand. And with distance comes new perspective - and possibly new solutions - to the sticky or heated entrapment.

``We get so engrossed in a situation that it's hard to take that step back to look at the situation from another perspective,'' Meggert says. ``Humor offers us this opportunity.''

``Using humor doesn't mean that you'll accept inappropriate behavior. Not at all,'' she comments; the rules are still there, iron-firm. They're merely embellished with laughter rather than infused with fury.