617. Children’s Giggling

If I were playing an instant-word-association game, and I heard the word “laughter,” I might say, “joy,” or “fun.” I usually think of laughter as a good thing. I like laughing, and I like getting other people to laugh. I’ve always preferred to have people laugh with me, not at me, but there have been times when I did what I could to get people to laugh at me, and to me, that was sometimes better than having them not laugh at all. Not that I’ve ever thought people should do nothing but laugh, but I’ve often thought that people weren’t laughing enough, and I’ve tried to do my part to improve the situation.
There’s a kind of laughter that isn’t what I mean, though. Laughter can be a way of masking feelings that don’t have much to do with humor. I’ve often heard children giggling and been at a loss to figure out what they were laughing about. When I was a child, I used to worry that they were laughing at me, and though sometimes they were, more often they were giggling just to giggle; they were unaware of anything particularly funny, but their laughter protected them from having to let people know what was really going on for them. Giggling also happens among adults, but this essay is about children’s giggling. Apply what you want to any adults you encounter.
We adults can get annoyed at times by giggling, and try to stop it. Partly, we’re trying to communicate, and children’s giggling can get in the way of our attempts. But also, we remember when children used to laugh at us, and now that we’re grown-ups, we hope to stop that from happening. It isn’t quite revenge; these aren’t the same children who used to laugh at us. And maybe some of us adults used to be gigglers more than we were gigglees. But many adults, for one reason or another, try to stop children’s giggling when they hear it.
As a volunteer, I don’t try to stop giggles I hear. Their regular teacher can do that. I never liked that role,
and now I don’t have to play it any more. When children speak to me with giggles in their voices, I listen to their words, and unless something actually strikes me as funny, I answer seriously, with no giggle in my voice. Most of them are getting the message that actual humor works with me, but inane silliness doesn’t.
Perhaps children’s giggling can sometimes teach us about the children who are doing it. But first we have to put possible first reactions on the shelf. “Would you mind telling the class what’s so funny?” is a stereotypical reaction, and not a very effective one. Asking or telling a child to stop giggling can work, but I find that it’s best to do so in a matter-of-fact voice. If our tone of voice tells a giggling child that his or her giggling is a big issue, then it can become one. Whether the giggling is an attempt to fit in, an attempt to stand out, or something else, I don’t think it’s a good idea to make a big fuss about it.

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